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.