Friday, December 24, 2010

On Another Year, Another Christmas

I have just spent a good deal of time reading over my three final posts from last year. I had thought that this might serve me well in assessing how “far I’ve come” over the past year. And in some ways, it has.

My mood at this time last year was dreadful. I simply couldn’t get out of my holiday funk. It was a time filled with change, some of which I disclosed in those posts and some of which I did not disclose until posts written after the holidays. Some of those things have changed and some have not.

At this time last year I had just begun my first dating experience following my wife’s death. Though it was somewhat short-lived (three and a half months from start to finish), it was a necessary learning experience. It was also the item I did not disclose at this time last year, but I pledge to let you all in a bit sooner if/when I should date again. I did not see direct evidence of that relationship having a negative impact on my holiday mood, but I am certain that it must have.

What emerged as the most obvious contributor to my “bah-humbug” mentality were the changes in my extended family over this time the previous year. At the time I thought that neither of my brothers would be coming home for Christmas, but one of them had a change of heart at the last minute and decided to come after all. The other did not. And sadly, that is one area that has not changed over the past year. At least not in a positive way. Unfortunately, my relationship with that brother (and his relationship with every other member of the family) has only become more strained. It has been touch-and-go with him for years, but it has really started to affect my daughter this year. I have tried to talk to him about it (even again recently), but unfortunately I get more excuses than I do genuine communication that might help solve some of these issues. It’s an unfortunate situation and one I had hoped would be on the mend by now. But at least my sister is consistent and seems to value family as much as my parents and I do.

At this time last year I had just finished most of the decorating, card sending, and shopping, which was uncharacteristic for me. This year I finished the decorating early in December (due to our trip to the Midwest over Thanksgiving), had the cards mailed out this past Monday, and had the shopping and most of the wrapping done with two days to spare. I started listening to Christmas music two weeks before Thanksgiving (which goes against one of my staunchest rules), due mostly to the release of this holiday collection. And I’ve just had a genuinely jovial outlook toward the holidays this year.

Now, that’s not to sugarcoat the frustrations I shared (and alluded to) in my last post. Those things are all still very real and very much on my mind. I spoke with the dentist about my periodontal surgery and he concurred with the periodontist. I can do this sometime in the near future, or I can continue to put my teeth at risk of having to be extracted down the line. Periodontal surgery is still tentatively scheduled for March 2011. I did receive a check that will help defray the costs some and also helped replenish my dwindling emergency fund, so I am not quite as worried about finances as I was when I wrote the last post. And my water heater is not only fixed, but it was an inexpensive repair and I don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars to replace the entire unit right now!

The good news in all of those things is that even though I’ve had things on my mind that have weighed me down this holiday season (and still do, unfortunately) they have not managed to crush my overall outlook like similar circumstances did a year ago. And a brighter outlook has allowed me to find a little more joy in the holidays this year.
My daughter and I always spend the first week of our Christmas Break from school at home, before heading to the Midwest to see our extended family. And we always try to make the most of that special time together. This week we visited some of her old daycare teachers and had lunch with some friends/former co-workers of mine. We also visited an area lighthouse with a new/old friend (someone from my childhood that I have recently become reacquainted with. And for those of you who are wondering, there’s no dating potential-this particular friend is a man.) We carved out some time to see Tangled, which vastly exceeded my expectations. And we headed to the beach for our annual Christmas Eve excursion. And in the midst of all the excitement, my daughter managed to lose three teeth, two of which were the coveted “two front teeth” she had so desperately wanted to lose before the Big Day. Tomorrow, after all of our morning festivities, we’ll hit the road for the first part of our journey to see the rest of the family. It’s been a busy week, but I’ve found in some instances being busy can be a good thing.

So what can I conclude from all of this? Am I na├»ve enough to believe that grief cannot strike when my mood is “up”? Absolutely not. It already has this season and it will continue to. Do I think that I am somehow untouchable because I’m not in the same kind of rut I was in last year? Not at all. There are still plenty of negative circumstances surrounding these holidays and life in general. They have just not affected my overall outlook in the same way similar things did a year ago.

My daughter asked me last night how many Christmases this makes without her mother. She seemed surprised when I told her it would be the fourth. She sadly does not really remember Christmas with her mother, but thankfully we have video she can watch to supplement what her mind will not conjure up. She had some tough moments early in the season and has done more visible grieving than I recall her doing at this time last year. My moments of grief have been more subtle, but still very much a presence. During this, my fourth Christmas without her, the overall grief has abated some. I know this does not mean it will do the same next year, but I think a general pattern of abatement is likely.
Which makes me all the more mindful of the widow/ers who are still newer at this than I am. For some it will be the third or second or even the dreaded first Christmas without their husband or wife. If you are reading this and fall into that category, know that you are on my heart and in my prayers more at this moment than any other. And know that each Christmas is different. If this one is particularly hard, the next one may be better. And if it isn’t, then perhaps the one after that will be.

Wherever you are in life as you read this, I’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2011.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Random Updates

I don’t really know how to begin this post.

And that has been a good portion of the reason for my absence from this site the past few months. There have been things I have wanted to write and times I have wanted to write them, but the two have not crossed paths. And even then, the posts have not been taking shape in my mind the way they usually do before I ever sit in front of this screen (and even now there have been much longer pauses in my keystrokes than normal). In order for a post to make the site (generally) it has to flow from my brain through my fingertips. And that just hasn’t been happening.

Now, I won’t lie and say that I don’t know the reason(s) for this, because I do. Sheer busy-ness has been one of the main culprits. I rarely play the single dad card, but in this case I must. For those of you who are new to this site, I live 800 miles from my closest relatives. So everything that needs to be taken care of in a day/week/month/year falls on my shoulders. There is no dropping my daughter off at grandma and grandpa’s so I can do this or that. Now, I realize that I made the choice to stay here after my wife died, but one of the unfortunate consequences has been not being able to update this site nearly as often as I would like.

I have also had a lot weighing on my mind, some of which I unfortunately cannot go into here right now. I can sum things up by saying there have been some health issues, some family issues, and some possible financial issues. Actually, that one I can go into here. I found out the day before Thanksgiving that I am going to require some extensive periodontal surgery in the spring. Well, really anytime is good, but I don’t think I’ll have the money until then. I’m not a perfect financial planner, but I do have a budget and live within my means from month to month, so money is not as constant a worry as it once was. But I don’t have dental insurance. And my emergency fund is not prepared to take that kind of a hit right now. And truth-be-told, I’m a bit of a control freak about certain things, and oral surgery was not part of my overall plan (even though I have known it might be a possibility for a while). And on top of that I found out I am likely going to have to buy a new water heater…

But I digress.

Most nights I have been falling asleep earlier than normal. I’m a night owl by nature and most nights recently I haven’t seen ten o’clock. Which is good for my overall health and well-being. But it’s short-lived. It inevitably comes in cycles and I end up with nights like the past couple where I cannot get to sleep until the normal time or even later. (It’s the middle of the night as I type this, though I will not likely post it until tomorrow). So I’m exhausted when I need to be alert and sometimes alert when I need to be exhausted. And as if that wasn’t enough, I had a dream about my wife last weekend. It was the first one I’ve had in a very long time and was similar to the first few dreams I had after she died. Only this time she was already in the hospital when I found out she was going to die and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Those dreams never get any easier to take.

But actually, as many of my long-time readers will note, the sleep issue is not really such a new pattern with me after all, so I guess I should get to the updates.

My daughter started first grade in August. I didn’t think that first grade would be a grief-trigger for me, but I was wrong. Parents expect to have difficulty letting go when their child starts kindergarten, but first grade should be old hat, right? It was in all of the normal, routine ways. But my wife was in her second year of teaching first grade when she died and that thought has bombarded my mind many times over the past several months. I think about the skills my daughter is learning that my wife taught to her students now four and five years removed, the books she read with them, the papers I helped her grade. And to complicate matters, my daughter’s teacher is a young expectant mother whose baby is due near my daughter’s birthday. She does not remind me of my wife in appearance or demeanor, but the new mom dimension has been hard to think about at times. Those were such happy times, and while I’m thrilled for her teacher and her husband, it still amplifies my own sense of loss. I think it would be that much harder if my wife had been teaching first grade when our daughter was born, but thankfully she was still teaching third at the time. And my daughter’s teacher is expecting a boy, which somehow helps a little as well…

We spent a lot of time trying to see family this fall. Living as far apart as we do, we welcome any chance we get to meet family, either where we live, where they live, or somewhere in-between. In October we met my parents in-between one weekend and my wife’s parents in-between the next weekend. It was a lot of time on the road for a little bit of quality time, but it was well worth it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, so the week before Thanksgiving I made the official decision (I had been contemplating it for a long time) to head back to the Midwest for Thanksgiving. That’s not something we do every year and it was a decision which was complicated by a few factors. Normally I have the day before Thanksgiving off, but due to some school cancellations early in the year we were required to use that day as a make-up day. On top of that, plane tickets were outrageously priced (a thousand dollars for two weekend plane tickets was also not in my budget), so we were locked into driving. Fifteen hours each way. To be with family for two and a half days. I know a lot of people would have taken the day off and pulled their child/ren out of school, but I made a rule before kindergarten that I would only keep my daughter out if she was too sick to attend. (Which, interestingly enough, happened the day after we drove fifteen hours home!) Even so, it was still worth making the trip to be with family for Thanksgiving and a few other special events…

The weekend after Thanksgiving held a milestone of sorts. It was the anniversary of my first foray into the dating arena. I didn’t actually think about it until the day before and am not sure I would have at all had it not been in such close proximity to Thanksgiving. But I did think about it some. A year later, it’s not a decision I regret making. But it’s also not one I’m anxious to make again anytime soon, no matter how many “nice Christian girls” my friends and co-workers want to set me up with…

And now Christmas is upon us. Last year at this time I was in a rut and had difficulty being excited about Christmas. Thankfully that is not the case for me this year. We got the house decorated last weekend, the Christmas shopping is about half-completed, and the cards are in a box on the kitchen table ready to be signed. Having a brighter outlook toward Christmas this year has been a huge blessing.

Mostly because my daughter is struggling so much with it now.

My daughter continues to experience her grief in waves, much like I do (though not always during the same periods). But sometimes it blindsides her as well. Last weekend was one example. If you’re not a widowed single parent of small children, then you’ll have to take my word for this next sentence: Comforting my grieving child is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. When she says things like “Mommy will never get to watch me open presents again” or “Mommy won’t ever get to read me a Christmas story again”… there are no words that can heal that kind of pain. But even worse than trying to comfort her without being patronizing, is having to watch her endure the kind of pain that grief can bring and not being able to do a thing about it…

So I guess that is my update of sorts. Now that I’ve typed it, it seems as scattered as it did in my head. But I wanted to get something on here for those of you who have been genuinely concerned about my absence. I truly do appreciate your messages and Facebook comments. I’m slightly better about returning e-mails than I am about posting here or on Facebook, so should I go missing again, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

It actually kind of brightens my day when you do.

And right now my days could use a little brightening.