Thursday, November 8, 2012

Today's PSA

I posted this as my status update on Facebook on Tuesday, November 6th, and I feel it bears repeating.  I have added to what was originally posted so while this is definitely full of TMI, my actual Facebook post was not quite so detailed.  

"Today's PSA (which has nothing to do with politics): Ladies. No one knows your body better than you. You know which are the super cute jeans, which pants make you feel like a cow, which outfit makes you feel like a million bucks and which PJs look enough like normal clothes you can pull off wearing them to go buy milk. You may not know how you got the bruise on your shin, but you know how you earned each and every one of your scars, right down to the one on your wrist resulting from scratching at your Chicken Pox when Mom wasn't looking when you were nine.  You know which days the mirror is your friend and which days it is the most evil thing ever invited (for which you think some man is totally responsible).

But more importantly than what the world sees, you know your innards. And you know when something is wrong. Either something doesn't fit the way it should even though you haven't gained weight, there's lumps where there shouldn't be, you've experienced a drastic change even though you've changed nothing in your life or your Spidey sense starts waving red flags saying "Yo! This just ain't right!" Do not ignore this. After you've done what we all know not to do and Googled all your symptoms and have determined either everything is fine or you have some rare disease native to an indigenous tribe on some remote island no one has ever heard of and feral cats you found on page 12 of your search, go see your doctor to confirm it. Because sometimes something and nothing have the exact same symptoms. If it's something, you don't want to be too late and wonder "if only..." And if it's nothing, peace of mind is the best gift you can give yourself.

Like many of you, I am participating in a 30-day gratitude challenge. Today, I am grateful I spoke up at my annual exam and my awesome doctor listened. I am also so incredibly grateful I did not have to wait long to learn that my symptoms were just a polyp and not uterine cancer."
For me the symptoms started off gradually and then became pretty apparent.  I've been on the Pill forever because I'm not regular without it.  I mean really not regular.  As in between 14 and 38 days between cycles which were incredibly heavy the entire time and lasted between 5 and 8 days.  The 8-day flows were usually the ones that came 14 days apart.  So I either went for long stretches or it felt like it was always that time of the month.  Lots of fun when you're in high school and college!  Plus, it made me sick.  I vividly remember being so sick one time when I was 16, I couldn't even keep down a sip of water.  I remember this because I had to participate in a church mock fashion show that evening and wasn't sure how I was going to pull it off-and I didn't want to have to explain why I was sick when I looked perfectly healthy.  (I was much better by then).

So the Pill has been a Godsend for me.  After James died, my doctor and I decided to keep me on it.  I was messed up enough without throwing my hormones out of whack on top of it, and truth be told, I don't want to go back to having to guess every day "Is today the day I start?" and constantly having to be prepared for it.  I'm a control freak and this is something I'd been controlling for years so why stop now?

Because my body, it turns out, had other ideas.  All of a sudden, I wasn't in control.  Instead of good ol' Aunt Flo being her predictable self, she started arriving when she was supposed to but was leaving when she damn well felt like it-some "visits" were the usual 5 days, but over the last several months, she started sneaking in a few extra days here and there. The last two months were both 8 days.  My initial thought was maybe I'd just been on the particular pill I'm on for so long it was just no longer effective?  

I would have gone with that if duration had been the only change.  But it wasn't.  Flow increased substantially too.  I went from one really heavy day to two or three, depending on if it was a 5-day or 8-day period.  With the last one, I was still passing quarter-size clots on day 8.  The biggest change, however, was I went from very light to no flow at night to waking up one morning every month covered in blood-it looked like I'd suffered a miscarriage during the night. 

It just so happened that the bulk of the change happened after I'd already scheduled my annual exam.  My doctor is awesome and therefore popular so it's hard to get a "date" with her.  (Much easier when she's concerned because you are symptomatic for uterine cancer, however!)  I had been documenting the changes so I could have an informed conversation with her.  I asked her about a hysterectomy.  And then while I waited for surgery and did the whole "what if?" thing, I realized while logically I know my chances of having biological children at this point are pretty slim, it turns out I'm not ready emotionally to completely give up on that.  So last Thursday I had a hysteroscopy with D&C.  I had a polyp removed that was pretty much filling my entire uterine cavity and I had the lining scraped so there isn't as much there to shed each month.  When the phone rang Monday and I recognized my doctor's number, my first thought was "Oh shit.  They never call this soon when it's good news."  Thankfully, it was-pathology on both the polyp and cells from the uterine lining were benign.  Hopefully, this procedure will put me back to normal and no further options will need to be explored as my doctor suspects it will.  Because as awesome as I think my doctor is, I've seen far too much of her lately and would love nothing more than not to see her again until next October!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Better Off?

Let me start by saying I have very little interest in politics.  I'm concerned about education because while I don't have children, I am very aware the youth of today will be the ones running the show when I am old and I'd like them to have a clue as to what they are doing.  I have strong opinions regarding patient treatment, but I honestly don't know how much of that is political and how much is corporate greed or both.  I'm a registered voter but also a procrastinator so sometimes I remember to fill out and mail my ballot on time; other times I find it in a stack of filing several months after the fact.  I do have to thank the local politicians, however.  Thanks to all the annoying messages I kept coming home to, I finally got around to cancelling my home phone.  (Just FYI, I don't need a phone call telling me which candidate to vote for.  I figured out how to register to vote; I'm pretty sure I can figure out which candidates are in my preferred party.  The little R's and D's next to their names are a pretty big clue.  Also, I don't need to be patched in to the town hall meeting already in progress.  If I wanted to know what was going on, I'd go to the meeting).

With the upcoming election, the mudslinging is ramping up.  Pretty soon, we'll be grateful for the holiday ads because anything other than yet another commercial with a politician claiming they are going to this or that and their opponent sucks will be preferable.  Ever notice politicians always tell us what they are going to do but never how they plan to do it?  Though I try to tune the ads out, I've noticed a theme developing.  And that is "Ask yourself:  are you better off than you were 4 years ago?"

Well, let's see.  Four years ago tomorrow, I was supposed to be getting married.  Instead, I'd been grieving the man I planned to spend the rest of my life with for 8 months and most of the time couldn't tell you what day of the week it was.  Instead of my beautiful California wedding, my dear friend took me to the Japanese Garden.  And when I should have been saying my vows, I was literally crying into my cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory.  (Don't worry, no cheesecake was harmed in my torrent of tears).  I had no sense of direction, I had no real purpose in life, I had no idea who Heather was and I only got out of bed every morning because it's hard not to when you have a 25-lb cocker spaniel jumping on your bladder because he wants breakfast.

I did manage to vote.  I'll admit I voted for Obama.  I have lived in Arizona and have nothing against John McCain.  (I did have concerns about the possibility of Sarah Palin calling the shots if something happened to him, however).  But he's yet another good ol' boy with one foot in the grave.  The country needed change so I voted for the candidate I thought would have a better chance of seeing the big picture.  I voted for Obama for no other reason than I felt the country needed someone younger who wasn't already set in his ways.  And I did it knowing that 4 years would not be enough time to turn around the mess made by his predecessors and fearing Americans would expect just that.  This is the age of instant gratification, after all.

So now it's time to vote again and since I keep hearing it asked, I started thinking about whether or not I am better off compared to 4 years ago.  Well, let's see.  I still have no idea what my purpose is, but I've regained my will to live.  I'm not entirely sure my sense of direction, but I've always been directionally challenged and can say with certainty I am at least moving forward-at least most of the time.  I have a much stronger sense of self.  I've started making goals again.  Small ones because I'm well aware that long range plans can easily be derailed.  But it feels good to have things to look forward to again.  I am more surrounded now by people who genuinely care about me than I have been at any other time in my life.  I get tired of feeling like I'm constantly fighting an uphill battle and doing it alone, but I'm also one of the strongest people I know.  I'm noticing a confidence that wasn't there before, or if it was, it was very well hidden.  I get lonely and I miss what I had.  But at the same time, I'm grateful for what I have now, which is an awful lot of good things to be thankful for.  I have a good life that I am pretty happy with.  And yes, I still cry and get sad.  I still have oh so fun moments of PTSD.  But I have joy in my life again, even though sometimes all I can do is shake my head in amazement and ask "How is THIS my life?"

Am I better off than I was 4 years ago?  You bet I am.  And it has nothing to do with politics.

Monday, June 11, 2012

You would have been 46 today.

Instead, you are forever 41.  Happy Birthday, Honey.

Friday, May 18, 2012

May 18, 1980

While looking at Facebook this morning, I was reminded that today is the anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helen's.  It has been 32 years since she blew her top.

May 18, 1980 was a Sunday.  I was a 6-year old living in Eastern Washington at the time.  I vividly remember my brother (then 3) and I were playing outside when it suddenly started to get dark.  This was highly upsetting:  dark meant bedtime and how could it be bedtime when we hadn't even had lunch yet?  But, nonetheless, we went inside to get ready for bed.

We didn't really understand what was happening when told a volcano erupted.  We also had no concept of Western Washington.  We knew of places like New York and Las Vegas-that's where Grandma lived.  But that was the extent of our understanding of the world. 

Dad packed us up in the car and took us to "Tickle Hills" to watch the ash come in.  I honestly have no idea where "Tickle Hills" is or what it's real name is; that's just what we called the fun road in the country that made your stomach drop when you went down the hills (*).  And there were a lot of hills!  As a grown-up, all I can think is that would be a real bitch to navigate in the winter when the roads are covered with snow and ice!  (I also have a feeling if I were to travel it now, I'd be all "Really?  This is it?")  The hills were much more exciting than the ash-it just looked like grey snow.  And being that it was now spring, snow was pretty anti-climatic.  Been there, done that!

We received enough ash that we had to wear masks to leave the house.  Dad had several bottles of it that he kept for years.  I wonder what happened to them?  Ultimately, it was decided to cancel the rest of the school year, so technically, I never finished kindergarten.  It doesn't seem to have affected my life too badly...

Several years ago, James and I decided to take a drive one day.  It was a "let's see where this road goes" type of drive.  We ended up at Mt. St. Helen's.  It was the first time either of us had ever been there.  And it was amazing.  Everything was all lush and green and then we literally rounded a bend and could see nothing but devastation.  The mountain is still recovering.  And every now and then she threatens to blow again. 

The biggest sense of amazement I have remembering this is that I'm actually old enough to remember something that happened over 30 years ago.  How the heck did that happen?!?!

(*Out of curiosity, I Googled it, not expecting to find anything.  Turns out the name of the road really is Tickle Hills Road.  Huh.  Who would have guessed?)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Setting Goals

A good friend of mine is taking a management class.  One of the assignments he was given was to come up with some goals for 30-days, one year, 5 years, 10 years and his life.  I told him I don't agree with this assignment as there are too many variables you can't account for or control.  I also told him I'd have a hard time with this assignment because if you ask young widowed people how they've changed, one of the most common answers he'd get would be "I no longer plan for the future."  He thought this was dumb.  (Not how he put it-how I translated it).  I pointed out we all had futures planned and they were shattered so why plan for something for which there is no guarantee?  But it also got me wondering if the reason so many widows and widowers get stuck in the grieving process is because we don't plan?  We don't give ourselves anything to look forward to.  I agreed to sit down with him and both come up with a list of goals. 

I've been thinking about this assignment and how I'd respond if it had been mine.  I imagine my perspective as a 38-year-old widow would be a lot different than that of the 22-year-old college seniors I suspect make up the majority of my friend's class. 

This would have been easy to answer at twenty-two.  My answer would have been that I was going to graduate, find a job in accounting, and start working toward my CPA license.  I was going to be married by 25 with two kids by 27, living in our own house.  With a cat.  White picket fence optional.  Ultimately, by 32, I was going to have my own CPA firm and would start traveling the world.  My ten year plan was set and it was pretty straightforward and simple.

Ah, yes.  To be wide-eyed and twenty-two again with the whole world ahead of me.  Shortly after graduating from college, I moved to Portland.  I started working for a small glass company that went out of business a year after I'd been there due to a bad investment prior to my joining the company.  I took (and failed) the CPA exam three times (poor study habits were to blame for that).  I went to work for the local Caterpillar equipment dealer and realized I liked working in the private sector.  I decided not to pursue  my CPA license or my own firm.  No long tax seasons for this accountant, thank you very much!  I did earn my Oregon state tax preparer's license in 2002, but finally let in go in 2010 as I wasn't using it, had no plans to use it and could no longer justify paying for the required continued education for nothing.  My career plans definitely did not turn out the way I planned them at twenty-two and I'm good with that.

At twenty-five, I was supposed to be married to a family-oriented man no more than four years older than me.  On my 25th birthday, I was as single as they come and hadn't had a date in months.  It wasn't until the end of my 25th year that I met James, a man who was anti-marriage, absolutely did not want children, thought cats were a complete and total waste of fur and who was 7 1/2 years older than me.  We did end up with our own house (no picket fence)-the only part of my 22-year-old self's picture perfect family life to actually happen.  And we did see part of the world, that being the cruise we took in 2007 which had ports in Mexico, Haiti and Jamaica.

And then James died when I was 34.  And part of me died too: the part that cared about living.  The part that cared whether or not I had a future.  I had to stay alive, of course, for the two dogs we got in lieu of my desired cat.  The boys were only 5 at the time, and no one else knows their quirks like I do.  But I only had to get through the time they had left and then I could die too.  That was my future plan, my only goal in life.  Didn't care if I got hit by a bus right after the second one died-just as long as I lived long enough for them.  My life stopped and I had no desire to see it start again.  What was the point?  The plans I had were gone and there was no guarantee I'd be here to see new ones through.  Five years is a long time.  Hell, even one year feels like an eternity. 

But slowly I started to care again.  Slowly I started to remember there were things I'd like to do. I still had (and have) a bucket list, which mostly involves travel.  There's still parts of the world I want to see other than Mexico and Jamaica, both of which I have now been to twice.  There's adventures I want to try, like hot-air ballooning and the experience of Mardi Gras.  I still want to parasail-now mostly because it seems the Universe doesn't want me to, given I am 0-for-2 when it comes to trying.  I want to see the Braves play in Atlanta.  Other goals aren't that exciting:  I'd like to pick up another rental house at some point and pay off my credit cards by the end of next year.  It's a start to the list and it does feel good to start thinking that a long, happy future does exist for me.  I am, however, still very well aware there's no guarantee that tomorrow exists.

I don't want to do these things alone.  I want to have someone by my side with whom I can enjoy them.  It turns out my 22-year-old self and my 38-year-old self have a lot of the same life goals.  I want to fall in love and have an engagement that ends in a wedding this time instead of a funeral.  I want us to travel the world.  And I want us to live in our own house with my dogs who have been informed they are not allowed to die-ever.  (No cat-I've been converted to a dog person).  The white picket fence is still optional.  After all, some things never change.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Normal Girls Eat Cheeseburgers

I grew up eating meat.  We were poor and ground beef was inexpensive and versatile.  I never really considered myself much of a meat eater, however, and always said I would easily be able to give it up.  In December 2010, I did.  I knew I needed to make some changes to my diet but just couldn't motivate myself to do so.  So, when a friend said he was "going vegan" for a week to make amends for upsetting the girl he was dating at the time, I said it would be easier for me to be vegetarian for a week than for him to be vegan-despite his being a lifelong vegetarian. 

The timing worked out well for this.  I had a sinus infection at the time but despite following the directions, I kept throwing up my Amoxicillin-and everything I ate.  Ultimately, I had to be taken off of it.  So, my system had been cleansed, though not in a traditional manner, as recommended before starting a diet lifestyle change.
Other than missing bacon (mmm bacon) and  the convenience of meat, I did not find it hard to be vegetarian, though I did find a few chain restaurants to not be vegetarian-friendly.  But overall, Portland is very vegetarian friendly.  Actually, it's pretty friendly to most lifestyles. 

Over time,  I started to notice I kept getting sick and finally was able to attribute it to onions.  My dad was allergic to them and it turns out as much as I love them, they don't love me.  It also turns out that onions are used to flavor about 95% of vegetarian dishes and cannot always be left out.  So this added an extra challenge-vegetarian without onions. 

Then I had LASIK in October, and I came out allergic to food.  I've never been particularly healthy-not necessarily sick, but not really healthy either so chances are the food allergies have always been there; it just never occurred to anyone that perhaps I should be tested for them.  In November, an IgE blood test revealed an allergy to Baker's yeast with the antibodies present for several other items.  Researching that was frustrating, to say the least.  It's not a common allergy (of course not) and it's controversial.  Not to mention, most research is centered around the bacterial yeast, Candida, that naturally occurs in our bodies and I'm allergic to the fungal yeast found in the yummy goodness known as bread, pretzels, pizza dough, vineger, etc. 

So now I can't eat onions, bread products, condiments, salad dressing, most sauces, alcohol (also allergic to sulfites), and grapes.  I started to eat chicken and pork again.  I quickly learned you can't be allergic to yeast and highly intolerant to onions and be a vegetarian.  Unless, of course, you only want to eat dairy, fruits, veggies, and pasta. 

Armed with a better understanding of food allergies and their symptoms (which strongly resemble what you go through when you are grieving), I realized there was something that was still making me sick.  So I made an appointment with an allergist for the skin-prick test.  It revealed I'm allergic to yeast (I wanted a second opinion), almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios with a mild allergy to spinach (seriously?  How is that even possible??), potatoes and peaches.  Sigh...although I seem to be fine eating potatoes, and I don't really care for hazelnuts and peaches so no loss there.

Neither of these tests were what I considered to be comprehensive as they only tested a limited range of items: 23 for the IgE test and 56 for the skin prick test.  So on the recommendation of a naturopath, I went in for the EAV method of allergy testing, which is an electroacupuncture method and pretty much tests everything you can think of.  According to this test, I'm allergic to wheat, which came up negative on the skin prick test but positive on the IgE test; however, I do not have Celiac Disease.  This test also showed positives for sugar (not tested previously but she said almost everyone tests positive on this), dairy (negative on the other two tests), tomatoes (also positive on the IgE test) and chocolate (um, not just no, but HELL no).  On the environmental side, I'm pretty much allergic to leaving the house.  Negative for yeast, alcohol and sulfites. 

Frustrated, I asked how I could test positive for something on two tests but not the third.  She said she considered the EAV method to be 85-90% accurate and if I tested positive two out of three times, I should assume I'm allergic to it.  I should also assume an allergy or intolerance to foods I know to make me sick-which is what I'm trying to narrow down with all these tests.  Again, sigh.

I'm very frustrated right now and don't know what to do next.  I guess I'll start by looking at the three test results side by side for commonalities and go from there.  The thing I found interesting about this from an emotional standpoint is that for the first time in 4 years, James wasn't the sounding board I want to help me figure out a game plan.  Someone else is-a friend who has become quite the presence in my life in a short amount of time-a definite sign of healing.

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about pink slime in ground beef.  (Eeww).  All the talk, this frustration of still not being sure of what I am and am not allergic to and driving by Carl's Jr on a regular basis has me wanting a nice, big bacon cheeseburger.  However, if you take off all the things I may or may not be allergic to, I can have the hamburger patty and the lettuce-as long as there's no seasoning containing autolyzed yeast extract on the patty.  I haven't had beef in 15 months so it would probably just make me sick if I ate it now.  And it's not so much that I actually want the cheeseburger; I just want it to be an option.  I just want to be normal.  And normal girls eat cheeseburgers.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Numbers Game

I often hear from other widowed people who are thinking about dating again that they only want to date another widowed person as it would be better to date someone who "gets" it.  I certainly understand this and at one time I was one of them. 

When I first started to entertain the idea of dating again, I contacted someone through Craigslist who had stated in his profile he had lost his partner.  It only took three e-mails back and forth to realize we had shared grief but nothing else in common.  I told him I was sorry but I didn't feel we would have a connection and wished him the best.  Since then, I have met several awesome widowers-one of whom has become a great friend-but none of whom I am compatible enough with outside of shared grief to have a successful relationship.  In addition to that, I find our conversations tend to center around our late partners, and while it is great to be able to talk freely about James, I want my relationship to center around us while respecting the past that led us to each other.

Dating, regardless of your circumstances, is a numbers game.  And when it comes to being widowed young, the odds for dating a fellow widowed person are greatly in favor of the widower.  I have read the ratio of young widows to widowers is anywhere from 7:1 to 12:1.  Curious, I looked at the stats for my Meetup group, as that is the only thing for which I have hard statistics to use for a basis.  Currently, the ratio of widows to widowers is 3.39:1.  I was a little surprised it was actually this close as the ratio of women to men at our monthly dinners is closer to 7:1.  Historically, the ratio of members who have attended at least one dinner since I started the group in July 2008 is 5.38:1.  Only 30.7% of the widowers have ever attended a dinner compared to 48.8% of the widows, meaning over half the members have joined the group but have never joined in (typical for Meetup groups of any kind).  Historically, the ratio of widows to widowers who have attended more than one dinner is an even 5:1. 

So far for 2012, the ratio of members who have viewed the site to see when and where we are meeting is 3.82:1.  Fifty-three members have viewed the site, which represents 46.4% of the group total.  Only 14.9% of the group members have attended at least one dinner so far this year; the ratio of widows to widowers is almost 50/50.  However, two widowers just joined the group last week and while they attended tonight's dinner, there is no history for them and nothing to indicate at this point if they will attend another dinner.

This makes me glad that I am not dead set on dating a widower.  I'm finding the odds of just meeting someone with whom there is mutual interest and attraction are pretty slim.  This area has an overabundance of single women (in general) in the age range of 30-45 compared to the number of men in that same range.  If I stick to just the widowers, well, I might as well buy another dog in preparation for my life as the crazy dog lady at the end of the block.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Movie Collection

When the purge process was started, I knew the hardest thing for me to go through was going to be the movie collection.  I also knew this is what I would tackle last and would put off for as long as I could get away with it. 

James and I didn't have a lot of common hobbies but movies was one of them.  It was not uncommon for us to go to Hollywood Video and spend $40-we had a hard time passing up the 3 for $24 movie deals!  And as Hollywood was only about a mile from our house, it was convenient for us to rent and/or buy movies on a regular basis.  As a result, we built up quite a collection, though we didn't buy nearly as many once we joined Netflix.

Netflix brought with it a new tradition for us.  We set it up so we could have unlimited movies in a month with three movies allowed to us at a time.  Most Sundays would be Sunday surprise and movie night.  I would try out a new recipe-the Sunday surprise portion of the evening was what I made for dinner and whether or not we liked it-and we would randomly select two of the three Netflix movies to watch.  Occasionally, we went with Sunday standby-a favorite recipe instead of a new one-and picked the two movies we were in the mood for or picked one that had randomly been passed over several times, but mostly it was a new recipe and random selection for the movies.

And then James died.  I stopped cooking.  I stopped watching movies.  It was just too hard without him-there was no joy in watching the movies alone and cooking for one is just too damn depressing.  Although over time I started to do both again, it was nothing like before.  The movie collection sat neatly next to the TV gathering dust, with the occasional viewing of one-usually because someone came over and we decided to watch one to kill time.  From the perspective of my friend, I had a bunch of movies I wasn't watching.  Movies that were just taking up space and cluttering up the living room.  Mentally, I agreed.  Emotionally, what I had was a lot of memories of a tradition I loved and wouldn't mind sharing with someone else again someday.  Not to mention how much it cost to build up a collection that big! 

Since December, when the subject of how I was going to tackle the movies came up, I either said I didn't know or I changed the subject.  I'm really good at avoiding things I don't want to deal with. Donating the movies, to me, was the final step in closing the door on my life with James.  Something deep down I knew needed to be done to move forward but something I didn't want to do-what if I do this final step to make way for a new love and a new love never comes?  Would I resent getting rid of that part of my past (even though I have a list and could replace the movies)?  And would I resent my friend for making me do it? Even though no one was actually holding a gun to my head and making me do any of this, part of me felt like I was being forced to do it.  I needed someone to blame for this part of my life I sure as hell did not ask for.

On my friend's birthday, I told him I was at his mercy and it was the one time I wouldn't argue or tell him no.  He told me to start going through the movies.  I told him no.  Yeah, that agreement didn't last long!  I should have told him why I was hesitating but I didn't.  He went to the bathroom and I pulled out a movie I knew I was never going to watch, put it on the table and when he came back I told him I started the movie process.  The next morning, I'd identified about a dozen movies I definitely want to keep and six I could part with; by the end of the weekend, I had 42 movies set aside to be donated to the labor and delivery department of an area hospital.

That was two weeks ago.  After that, I went back to not wanting to deal with it.  But the back of my mind was churning and identifying movies I could part with.  But my doubts were still there.  And then my friend gave me a great suggestion:  she said to just box them up and put them upstairs.  That way they were out of the living room but not gone.  After a few months, if I didn't miss them, give them away.  If I wasn't ready, hold on to them longer.  And if I absolutely hated it, put them back.  I decided my next step would be to identify the movies I have not yet seen and want to see and then I'd box up the rest-eventually. 

This past weekend, I pulled about a dozen movies off the shelf to watch.  I've ripped all my CDs to MP3 format so the CD shelf is empty.  I put the "keepers" and the "to be watched" on the CD shelf to segregate them and so it wasn't just sitting there empty.  My friend came was over and I told him I'd always known the movies would be the hardest.  I still didn't tell him why-other than it was the final step in closing the door on James and I.  He responded I was making way for love.  I responded with a reluctant nod and "yep."  Love I don't believe is in the cards for me because it feels that has already come and gone from my life.

Sunday morning I packed up the rest of the movies.  I just got up and did it.  There were a few tears but also a sense of relief.  Mostly I just felt numb-something else I've become really good at.  I moved them out of the living room and into a spare bedroom.  They are packed up but still available if I change my mind.  I went out for the day and as soon as I got home, I moved the case into the garage, taking pictures of it first so I can give it away on Craigslist (I have another one should I change my mind about all this but I don't think I will).  I moved the CD case into it's place so the big, empty space isn't quite so empty.  After four years, one month and 5 days, I closed that door.  I told my friend she could have the movies for a garage sale she's planning to help with the costs of sending my godson's soccer team to regionals this summer.  Any she doesn't take will go to the hospital.

"When one door of happiness closes, another one opens; but often we look so long at the closed door we do not see the one that has been opened for us."-Helen Keller (also attributed to Alexander Graham Bell, and probably a bunch of other people as well).  I don't want to look at the closed door.  I want to feel like there is one that has been opened for me but right now I feel like I am stuck somewhere between them.  I can see a door in front of me, and I can see there is light under it-it is waiting to be opened.  But the one just closed is a lot easier to reach.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Out with the Old and in with ?????

I was fortunate in that when James passed away I was able to keep our home.  Granted, it's a little big for one person and two cocker spaniels, but it's home.  It's the house I have now lived in for about 6 1/2 years-the longest I've lived in one location since I was a child.  It's the house I love and am in no hurry to leave-mainly because moving is a pain.  It's a house that can hold an awful lot of "stuff."

James and I didn't have a lot when we met, both of us living in one bedroom apartments.  But then we moved into a two bedroom apartment and got an entertainment center and a futon.  And then we moved into a three bedroom house, so we added office furniture.  And then the dogs (puppies at the time) got a hold of my Atlanta Braves Beanie babies, so we bought an armoire to put our collectibles in.  And then James decided he didn't like that our dressers were so mismatched.  So we bought an armoire for the bedroom for him to use as a dresser and to put the TV on.  And then I got a NordicTrack and an AbLounge (guess how often those are used).  Our book, movie and CD collections kept growing, so we needed places to store them.  And because there was still shelf space we just kept adding to it...

Then my dad died and my brother eventually got tired of paying for a storage unit so he shipped all my childhood things to me.  And then James' dad died and we brought home things from his house.  And then my mom decided she didn't have time for her crafts so I got all her craft supplies.  And everything pretty much ended up living in the guest room.

And then James died and I was left in a house full of stuff.  A house, as I said, that is really too big for me and two small dogs.  But it was my security blanket so I didn't do anything about it at first.  And then I started to think about moving and ultimately came to the conclusion I'd downsize the stuff and then I'd downsize the house.  I said this for over a year without doing anything about it-I was going to get to it but I had too many other things going on.  And then I would start on it and it was just too overwhelming so I'd stop.

And then someone entered my life and without ever having heard me say "first I'll downsize the stuff and then I'll downsize the house" said I needed to remove the clutter from my house but it'd be really overwhelming and he'd help me.  We picked the weekend of December 8th to get started on it.

Up to this point, I'd donated a lot of James' things but I'd reached a place where I just wanted everything that had belonged to him gone.  I started with the kitchen prior to my friends' arrival and realized this wasn't feasible as a lot of James' things I still have are things I actually use (like the pots and pans).  But I quickly filled a couple of boxes of other stuff:  seriously, how many vases does one person need?  I don't know, but I'm pretty sure it isn't 13!  And why was I keeping commemorative glasses from events I didn't even go to?

I ended up having a massive breakdown as I came across a couple of pieces of James' Steelers memorabilia I hadn't given away, namely his over-sized throw blanket I'd given him for Christmas less than two months before he died.  I stood there clutching the blanket sobbing my eyes out for a good 15 minutes.  Luckily, my friend did not witness this.  He didn't have to-he could see it on my face when he arrived.  I didn't think I'd be able to do it.  I still wanted to hold on to my security blanket.  But I've known all along I have to do this to continue to move forward.  I have to close one door to allow another to open.  And not only that, I have to be in a place where I can allow myself to walk freely towards the open door.

My friend told me I could keep one item, but I'd have to write a paper to justify keeping anything beyond that.  He was expecting a lot of resistance, but once I got going, there was no stopping me and he just let me go.  By the end of the weekend, we'd taken two very full car loads to Goodwill.  I had two car loads to take to my favorite non-profit.  We'd given away two (of my 5) book cases, and a piece of never used exercise equipment (not the above mentioned never used equipment either!) on Craigslist.  We weren't done by a long shot, but we made a pretty good sized dent.   

Items were set aside to be given to specific people.  Over the next couple of weeks, my dolls, the dolls I was saving for the daughter I will never have, went to the nieces of my best friend.  Pictures went to James' family.  My father-in-law's belongings went to his sister.  My guest room went from an audition piece for an episode of "Hoarders" to a mostly empty space.  The futon remained, but the entertainment center-the first piece of furniture we bought as a couple (actually I bought it when I moved in with him in exchange for splitting rent)-was given away via Craigslist. 

I was greatly encouraged to do this by several people.  They all told me that once I got rid of the clutter, I'd be a lot happier.  I knew I needed to move out the past to allow a future to move in-to make room for someone new.  But what if I went through this process and someone new never entered the picture?  Would I regret it?  I still wonder that.  And I didn't feel lighter or happier-this wasn't just closing the door on my life with James.  This was closing the door on my life since birth (I had stuffed animals that I'd had since I was a baby).  This brought up a lot of memories-both good and bad.  I don't like not knowing what is around the bend for me and seeing my rooms being emptied out made me feel empty inside.  I couldn't look at my guest room without having a panic attack.  When I finished it, my friend was posting my filing cabinets on Craigslist.  (I went from two very full 4-drawer filing cabinets to one 2-drawer I was able to pick up that perfectly matches my desk).  He asked how I felt about it and I burst into tears.  I told him the emptiness of the room was how I felt my life was now going to be. 

It's still a work in process, though the purging phase is coming to an end.  I'm running out of things to donate-finally.  My friend has done several small repairs around the house and has plans to help me with some other things outside when the weather is nice enough for it.  I've only had a couple of days when I've really wanted to go to Goodwill and get all my stuff back, so I'm avoiding going in to the one by my house.  (Actually, it's a Goodwill Outlet so I generally avoid it anyway as I always feel I'm going to end up with cooties when I go in there).  I am starting to feel a little freer.  I do feel more aware of my surroundings in some ways; I've been noticing more how people respond to me.  There hasn't been anything so far that I've thought "I wish I would have kept that."  In fact, I keep looking for more to donate, which has me afraid I'll go too far in the other direction and won't be able to stop purging.  I don't feel quite as empty and I'm losing the feeling that I've done this all for nothing.  It's growth and it's long overdue.  And now the things I wasn't using, the books I wasn't reading, the clothes I wasn't wearing can be enjoyed by others who will use, read and wear them.

But the fear of the unknown future is still looming over my head.  Too bad I can't just put that in a box and take it to Goodwill.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Moving James

James and I didn't really talk about our final wishes.  I was only in my early 30's and he was going to live until he was 80, so we didn't feel there was much of a need to do so.  He did know he wanted to be cremated, however, but figured he had plenty of time to figure out where he wanted his ashes spread.  Turns out he was wrong.

After James died, I had him cremated as I knew to do so.  But since he didn't have time to find the perfect spot to be spread, that meant I didn't know what to do with him.  So I put him on the mantle between the picture used at his funerals (yes, plural) and his favorite picture from the cruise we took in 2007 that I'd blown up, framed and given him just a month before as an anniversary of our engagement present.  (We didn't celebrate it-I had a coupon for a free 8 x 10 print from Walgreens and that is just how the timing worked out).  It was a shrine of sorts but not the least bit over the top as the cruise picture is of the harbor in Ocho Rios, Jamaica and we aren't in it.  Most people just think it's a picture of boats unless I explain the significance to them.

James sat on the mantle until December 2010.  My best guy pal convinced me we should co-host a Christmas potluck for the New in Town Meetup group members who had nowhere to go.  I didn't want to put a damper on things by having to explain who James was so I decided to move him.  I'd been feeling it was time to do so anyway.  I left the picture of the harbor but moved his picture upstairs to the office and put him on my dresser as I still don't know where to spread the ashes.  I've also decided that when the dogs go, I want to cremate them, put them with James and spread them all together.  Though the body is just a vessel, I want the boys to be reunited with him and this is how I can make that happen.  However, they've been informed they aren't allowed to die so this is really a non-issue.

The other night I was cleaning off my dresser.  Being that it is right by the bedroom door, it becomes cluttered easily with socks that didn't quite dry all the way or whose mates ended up in a different load (or abducted by sock monsters), things that need to go downstairs, gifts that don't have a home yet, etc.  As I was standing there looking at the dresser, I realized I didn't want James to be there anymore.  I don't know where this came from, but the feeling was pretty strong that he just belongs elsewhere now.  But where?

My first thought was to put him back on the mantle.  But the mantle is now covered with pictures of me and my closest friends, with one exception.  The mantle shows where my life is now, and to return James to there would be a step back.  (The picture of the harbor is now in the office on one of the bookshelves).  Putting him in the office didn't feel right either.  I realized as I was trying to find a new home for him I don't want him on public display (although his urn looks like a decorative vase; I chose it for that reason).  But I didn't want to shove him in a closet either, so my options were limited.

I put him on the bookshelf in the back bedroom (aka the craft/exercise room).  He's there with my mug from my high school graduation night party, my college diploma, my bouquet from my best friend's wedding, a porcelain dove, and a few other memorable items from my transition from child into adult.  Incidentally, his black and gold urn matches my diploma.

That same night I had a dream about him.  I don't dream about him very often and when I do, it's usually not pleasant.  Usually, he's far away for work and due to the time change, I can't get in touch with him, or he's leaving me for someone else.  In this dream, I was at a "cabin" in the woods ("cabin" that was bigger than my house!).  I was taking a nap and had a dream he was there going through our Tae Kwon Do uniforms.  I was worried he was going to be upset to discover I'd given his away (they were in a box I took to Goodwill that day in my for real awake life).  But he just put on one of mine and a mullet wig and was pretending to be Elvis.  (This is totally something he would have done).  I debated for a bit and then went and asked him why he died.  I both needed and didn't want to know.  He laughed and said "I chose to die so I could lives."  While I debated pointing out the use of "lives" as plural vs singular, he just wandered off and disappeared.  I woke up from my dream within a dream and my friend was sitting on the bed.  She asked who I was talking to-apparently I'd been talking in my sleep but wasn't coherent.  I told her about my dream of James and then we went to get a couple of packages ready to be mailed.  In my dream, he was definitely happy without a care in the world, which is true to how he was in life as well.

I've felt a sadness the last couple of days since all of this has happened.  I know James didn't die on purpose and it was just a dream but it was still hard to have my mind tell me he made a choice and that choice was a life that doesn't include me.  It's weird not to have him publicly displayed in my house-the door to the room he is in now is kept closed to keep the boys out.  (Most things in my house are somehow "spaniel proofed"), but I don't feel that was the wrong decision either.  It's just another step in moving forward-in getting myself to a place where I can let someone else in (in the seemingly unlikely event someone should actually come along, that is) should that be the plan for my life.  And there is also the uncertainty of where my life is actually heading these days that is making me want to dig in my heels and just stop time for a few minutes so I can catch my breath, clear my head and my heart and then continue to press on in a way that I can only hope would make James proud.

Monday, January 23, 2012

MY House

It wasn't long after James and I met and started dating that we moved in together.  We were pretty much unofficially living together after 4 months (dang, that was fast!) and officially after six.  We first lived in his apartment for a couple of months and when that lease expired moved into a bigger apartment which incidentally is about a mile from where I live now. 

In the summer of 2001, we bought our first house, which we lived in for a little over two years before moving to Arizona.  It was back to an apartment for 7 months before we bought a cute little house in Gilbert.  About a year later, we were unexpectedly able to come home and in October 2005, we moved into our new home, which I was fortunate enough to be able to keep after he passed away.

Like everyone, the downturn of the housing market has affected me and selling would not really be in my best interest at this time.  Plus, I love the house even if it really is too big for just me and two dogs who are on the small end of the mid-sized dog scale.  And for where my life is right now, it's in a good location.  (And we all know the #1 rule of real estate: location, location, location). 

I knew interest rates were going down to ridiculous levels which made my 6% rate seem like double digits.  But I kept dragging my feet on refinancing.  And then I got my annual escrow analysis.  And I was short almost an entire year's property taxes which meant my payment was going up about $200/month.  Um, excuse me, but WTF?  So I called and found out that they paid property taxes as they should have (which I verified with the county), and then did a system upgrade.  (First rule of system upgrades in my experience:  things go wrong). When they did the upgrade, not all the tax payments carried over and mine was one of them (naturally), so it showed as still needing to be paid.  The lady I talked to said she'd request the analysis be rerun-meaning to me they knew there was a problem but weren't going to automatically take steps to correct it unless customers called and complained.  My revised analysis showed a shortage of about $600 and an increase of about $50/month.  That's much better.

And then I got the letter from my insurance company that my homeowners policy had been cancelled.  So I called and found out the renewal premium had not been paid.  The agent offered to call my mortgage company and follow up on that, which I thought was probably a good idea.  But after I cooled down, I decided I deserved an explanation.  I was told they didn't receive a premium statement.  So I asked if it was standard procedure to not pay the insurance if they didn't get a statement and was told that typically they just pay the previous year's premium and pay the difference when they know what it was, but in my case for some unknown reason, they just didn't pay anything at all.  Awesome.

The next day, I called the bank we use at work and started the re-fi process (which has been an ordeal in and of itself).  You don't get to screw up my account that badly and keep my business.  Plus, a 3.625% interest rate is MUCH more attractive than 6.0%.  Today, about two months after I made that first call, I finally went in and signed the papers so I now re-own my own house (yea!).  It's amazing what a pain it is to prove you can pay less per month for the same house for which you are already paying the mortgage.

It was about an hour before I left work to go sign the papers that I realized I have lived in this house for just over 6 years, which other than college is the longest I've lived at one address since graduating from high school (Dad would be so proud-and shocked.  He used to tease me that he had a single entry for most people but an entire address book for me).  I also realized that I have now lived in this house alone for twice as long (give or take) as I lived in it with James.  That was a weird revelation.  I wasn't really sure how to feel about that-it's just so surreal.  But after the initial shock wore off I actually felt a little empowered by it.  It's MY house now.  It has been for quite some time but for the first time, I feel it.  While I've made a few changes here and there, I don't have to leave anything the way it is.  I can do whatever I want to the house with no guilt.  I can put in the laminate floors I want, get new kitchen counters and paint every room if I so choose.  I've already painted a lot of the upstiars but it wasn't done with the freedom I feel now.  And now I just want to change it all up.

It's a good feeling.