Day 708: Smoke Detector

You know that really annoying chirp smoke detectors make when they’re not working? Well, the one in my boys’ room has been doing it for a couple days. Replacing the battery didn’t help.

So tonight, when we got home from baseball, I got a small stool and a screwdriver and I replaced that stupid thing all by myself.

It’s not that it was hard. It was literally two screws and installing batteries.

It’s just that, well, I’d never done that before. It’s one of those things I would have asked Vance to do. A “man job,” if you will. Those are always a little triggering for me because they reinforce the loss. They highlight it.

Tonight instead of waiting for someone else to do it, my dad, one of my sons, a friend…I just did it. It wasn’t a big deal.

But it was a very big deal.

Day 678: Card

In a conversation with an acquaintance who had also lost a spouse way to early, it was mentioned that widows often remember very little, if anything, from the first year. I’ve found that to be both true and false. Some things I remember with laser focus. The ER. Crying when I went the first time to try to pick out a headstone. Watching my son at his father’s grave. Those are burned into my memory and my soul.

But other things, well…I don’t remember at all. Mother’s Day is one of them. Did I buy gifts or cards for the moms in my life? Did my kids try to make the day amazing for me? Probably, but sadly, that whole time is forgotten for me. Grief does that sometimes. Just one more way death steals from us.

Vance always bought sappy cards for holidays. After he died, I found a pile of Mother’s Day cards that he’d bought but never sent. That was typical Vance. Follow through was sometimes hard, but he always had great intentions and a whole lot of love.

I’m more a humorous card kinda gal myself. There were a lot of things like that with us, where we were complete opposites. Sometimes that meant we complimented each other well, others meant that we butted heads. But I regress.

This year I went to buy a Mother’s Day card for Vance’s mom, who lives in a different state. There were all kinds of cards. Mom. Mother. Grandma. Even sister. But I couldn’t find a single one made for a mother-in-law. Much less one that was for a mother-in-law that no longer has her son.

I picked up card after card, but none of them were right. I love her but she’s not my mom. She’s Vance’s. Thinking about that brought up all kinds of emotions and thoughts. Sadness. There are other people struggling with this loss. Big days are hard, not just for me. Guilt. I haven’t done enough to help others with this. Fear. My kids only have a mom now. Is that enough? How can I ever be enough to compensate for that?

As I stood there, I almost collapsed in that card aisle. Again. I just felt so weak and wanted to curl into a fetal position on the floor and wail until the hurt went away. Honestly, you would be surprised at how often that happens. There’s something about shopping that is just ridiculously hard when you’re grieving. Maybe it’s the plethora of products. Surround yourself with enough things and eventually one of them triggers a memory. Who knew?

I finally found a card that wasn’t perfect but would do. I wrote a private note that I hope conveyed my feelings better than the actual card. Hopefully next year will be easier and Hallmark will make a more inclusive line of cards.

Day 663: James 1:27

The other day, two men spent over three hours at my house, fixing a broken door and a clogged dryer vent, which was partially caused by a leak in my roof, which was supposed to have been fixed less than two years ago but apparently was not. This “quick fix” turned out to be a not-so-easy easy task.

This isn’t the first, or even the second time they’ve been here. They’ve moved appliances, ripped out old flooring and more.

I’ll be honest with you. These guys haven’t been our lifelong friends. Vance would have known them but to the best of my knowledge, they’d never been together outside of work or maybe the occasional a church service or function. They’d never cracked open a beer with him or been to our home before Vance died.

But their wives have become my friends and they come as a package deal. So when I need an extra hand or two, these fellas show up and they do the things I can’t. When they leave, they don’t ask for anything. In fact, they refuse to take any compensation, despite the fact that they often not only give of their time but also buy the occasional part or two for whatever project they’re checking off my honey-do list.

I thought about telling you their names but here’s the thing: They would hate that more than just about anything. These guys aren’t doing one bit of this for attention, recognition or praise. They are doing it because they are hard workers who love well through their work.

You’re never going to see these guys in a pulpit. They might not come to a Bible study every week. But the religion these guys have, looking over this widow in her distress, well, that’s a Biblical one. One I’m forever thankful for.

Religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look over widows and orphans in their distress…”

James 1:27a NIV

For the record, these aren’t the only ones who have been helpful to me. Many men and a fair amount of women, have chosen to care for this widow and her fatherless children. I’ve written about it before and this probably isn’t the last time you’ll hear me say this, but I am so abundantly, eternally thankful for those who have loved us well as we travel this new road.

Thank you.

From the depths of my heart. Thank you.

Day 650: Mani/Pedi

I’ve been getting my nails and toes done now for almost a year.

Before I’d never done it. I considered it a waste of time and money. After all, there were other things that were more pressing.

But before our vacation last year, I decided I wanted pretty toes to put in the sand. So I got a pedicure.

I started therapy a few weeks after we got back. At one point, my therapist said I should do something just for me, so when I left her office, I went and got my nails done. I’ve been going every few weeks since (with a few breaks because of covid).

For me, having my nails done has become a big deal. On days when getting out of bed seemed impossible, my self-esteem tanked, my house was a wreck, or life just seemed like too much to control, I could look at my nails and think, “At least these are pretty.” Having nice nails has given me a small sense of control at a time when I really needed it.

I’ve always had pretty giant hands for a woman. As a teenager, I was so embarrassed because mine were always almost or as big as the boys’ hands I wanted to hold. Having long, pretty nails makes me feel more feminine. More girly. It probably just makes me more high maintenance, but oh well. I’ll take what I can get for now.

Day 649: Employment

I’ve always been the girl with the plan. I mean, the last couple of years that’s all gone to crap, but it’s still essentially who I am. I like to know what’s next.

Had you asked me ten, five, or even two years ago what my job would be in 2021, I would have told you that I was going to remain a homeschool mom. The plan was to get everyone through at least sixth, but probably eighth grade at home.

Then Vance died and everything changed. I stayed home with the little boys that first year, which I think was the right thing for all of us. I needed the normalcy. They needed the extra time with their mom. We all needed the extra time to cry ourselves to sleep and just stay in bed on the hardest days.

This year I went ahead and sent the littles to public school. They have thrived. They are building relationships, playing sports, and learning. The adjustment was probably harder for me than it was for them. My days alone were sometimes overwhelming. Not that there was too much to do. Mostly, I was overwhelmed with a lack of accountability and the opportunity to spend way too much time curled up in a ball on my bed or losing myself in binge watching the latest Netflix phenomenon. Thankfully, covid meant opportunities for substitute teachers were high. I spent a great deal of time in all three school buildings in our small town. For the past couple of years I’d spent quite a bit of time in the elementary and high schools but with my limited availability (wanting to only do a few days a week and mostly wanting half-days), I just didn’t spend much time at the middle school. This year that changed. I was able to become a known face there and spent more than a few days roaming the halls and classrooms of BMS.

In God’s big plan, he knew that was exactly what I needed to be doing. Last month I interviewed for an opening in the sixth grade there. A few days later, I got the call offering me the job.I had to wait to share this until the school board made it official last night. I’m super excited to be taking this on. Kids are my calling. The idea of having a roomful of them to call my own makes my heart happy. Best of all, I’ll get to have Asa as a student one more time. I think that’s God’s way of confirming for me that this is the direction I’m supposed to go. Not exactly the plan I’d had, but I still get to be a teacher-mom to one of my kids for just one more year. If that’s not a God Sighting, I don’t know what is.

Day 648: Hobby Lobby

My house has become somewhat of a mini Hobby Lobby showroom. I’ve got so very many signs with inspiring words that my kids make fun of me and say I can’t buy anymore. Whatever, kiddos. Like that stops me. Momma buys what momma wants.

Today I went in to HL because I was feeling a bit emotional and decided retail therapy was the way to go. It was not, and not just because my bank account is now down $130 either.

Do you know how freaking hard it is to go into Hobby Lobby when you are already an emotional basket case, when you’ve been contemplating how hard it is to even think about growing old alone? How when you’ve spent over half your life being, well, half of a couple, a team, a marriage and then suddenly one day, you’re just not anymore. No one decided not to be married anymore. No one chose to leave. He was just taken. I was just left. On days like that, Hobby Lobby is not the place to go to feel better.

They don’t make cute little signs that say “Being single is awesome!” or “Alone is cool.” Nope. All the dadgum signs say stupid things like, “Always and forever” or my favorite one today, “so I can kiss you anytime I want,” and blah, blah, blah, blech. It’s enough to make a girl wanna vomit. Or maybe just sit down in the middle of the aisle and cry right there on the floor while a not-so-great instrumental version her favorite love song ever plays overhead.

Seriously, like every freaking aisle has these signs. Not one says “Widowhood: Not for the Weak,” or “Let’s grow old alone and bitter.” Because who in the world would buy those signs? They would suck. Seriously….

And in the middle of holding back the tears and writing this post in my head – because that’s how I cope, I write in my head and then on my laptop – I snapped this picture. I couldn’t get a square without getting both signs; the stupid cutesy one for couples and the one below, the one that says, “Because when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing.”

Dang it.

It really is an amazing life I have. A freaking amazing life. As a friend reminded me tonight, I need to focus on the things I have control over, not the things that are out of my hands. To remember that as hard as it is right now, God is not done with me. It’s all in his hands. Good advice. Here’s hoping I can follow it.

Day 595: Independent

It’s 2021 and I’m strong, independent, fierce, single-mom who’s kicking butts and taking names. Or at least, that’s what I think I’m supposed to be. I mean, that’s the cultural expectation. Do it all. Do it well. And by all means, do it by yourself.

But you guys, I just can’t. That’s not who I am right now. I’m totally dependent. When my pipes in my kitchen wall froze this week, I knew what to do. I opened the cabinets under the sink. I brought in the space heater. I turned up the heat in the house. I even got a hairdryer out and ran it up and down the wall for quite some time. You know what else I did? I called my dad to verify that I was doing the right things. I texted a couple of my friends and one of their husbands to double verify, because I doubted myself and my ability to handle things on my own.

Know what my dad did? He showed up. With a windchill that was literally 50 plus degrees below freezing, he and Joyce braved the weather and came to make sure I was taken care of. We weren’t expecting anyone to brave that cold and the snow had drifted high in front of the door. “Don’t you have a snow shovel?” he asked me. I told I didn’t know where it was. That one had burned up in our house fire a few years back and I thought I had bought a new one but I couldn’t for the life of me find it.

He called several times that day to check on the pipe situation. They did eventually thaw out (eight long hours later!) and he was really happy for me. He reminded me to keep the cabinets open and the faucet dripping.

The next day he came back over, this time with a snow shovel. And while I sat in my warm cozy bed, my daddy shoveled my sidewalk and brushed the snow off our cars. He came back again today, after we’d gotten a few more inches, and did the same. So tonight, my sidewalk is clear and my windshields are clean because my daddy is still taking care of his (44 year-old) baby girl. It makes me feel so loved.

And at the same time, it mades me mourn for my own baby girl. That when she’s in her 40s or 30s or 20’s or even the rest of her teens, she won’t have her own daddy to do these things for her. Lucky for her, our daughter is much stronger and much more independent than her momma.

Day 577: Tension

Last week I wrote about how much I miss Vance and I ended the post saying how I’m very much still in love with him. It’s true. I am. I think I always will be, no matter what happens in my life or how long I live. He’s a part of my story; a part of me that will never go away just because he’s no longer here. I don’t want to stop loving him.

That said, I find myself attracted to other men now. Men who are right in front of me, still breathing. Maybe even some much more than others. Maybe enough to take some risks and see what happens.

And there’s tension in that. Because how can I still be in love with Vance and simultaneously be thinking of pursuing someone else? There’s not an easy answer for that. I don’t know how, I just know it can. It is. My heart is big enough for that even if I can’t explain how.

I sometimes wonder if being so honest here has been a mistake. If sharing the hardest parts of my grief has made me undatable. If another man might think I could never love him well because of it. If someone would think the standard set before was unreachable because Vance was who he was. If I’ve shot myself in the foot, so to speak.

That’s just a part of the tension in documenting this journey publicly. How do I be real and vulnerable without over sharing? I’m going to be thinking about that for a while. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing. I’ll always write, even if it’s just for myself. It might mean I stop sharing so much though. But it might not. What do you think? Am I too much?

Day 568: Friday

I don’t know what it was about today.

Maybe it was having to introduce myself in this semester’s classes and trying to decide what to say about my family. Talking about my kids but not my husband would likely leave the impression that I’m divorced. Mentioning that I’m recently widowed might seem like a plea for extra attention or favors. Not mentioning them at all just seems cold.

Speaking of, maybe it was the bitter cold wind this morning. It did feel like my fingers were going to fall off at recess.

Maybe it was being tired from working every day this week. I slept through my alarms and woke up late this morning. Not so late that I didn’t get to work on time, but late enough that I didn’t feel very put together.

Maybe it was not getting to share with Vance about how my week in a longer-term sub job had gone. How I’d connected with some of the kiddos and how much I was enjoying having a classroom again, even if only for a couple weeks. I’ve never had a class that I couldn’t share with Vance.

Maybe it was telling a student that yes, I was her daddy’s fourth grade teacher. And her uncle’s. And I coached her aunt’s volleyball team and my husband coached her in basketball. Maybe that walk down memory lane to our early years of marriage just triggered the wrong things today.

Maybe it was the dream I had last night. The haunting one where Vance hadn’t really died and these last 18 months were all some weird misunderstanding. The one where he came back to me, healthy. He’d been in some coma or something but it was over and he came home. Dreams are weird and the details don’t make sense. Case in point, in this crazy dream, Vance was inexplicably kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel. Then I had to pay back all of the life insurance money because he was actually still alive. The weird coma and kidnapping didn’t matter. Only that he was alive mattered. Except, when I woke up, he was actually not still alive at all and even though the dream was way crazy, it was so very real. I’d seen him in my dream. Heard his voice. Touched his skin. It so very real, but when I woke up, the knowledge that it was just a dream became the most real thing in the world.

Maybe that’s why walking through the grocery store after work was excruciating. Why I wanted to collapse into a puddle when I walked by the instant oatmeal packets. Why I had to literally sing out loud the words, “You’re gonna be okay,” as I passed the frozen vegetables. Why there was something on every single aisle that made me think of Vance.

I don’t know it was about today. I just know that today I realized that I’m still very much in love with my husband.

Day 541: Christmas Eve

As I lay here tonight, on Christmas Eve, I can’t help but think about how angry I was two years ago when my husband went to bed early. He hadn’t bought very many presents, he’d wrapped even less, and Santa still had to come.

But there was Vance, fast asleep in our bed by 10 pm. The kids were up much later, and I…well, I stayed up to make the magic happen.

I was so angry that night. I felt like I’d been mistreated; unappreciated. Maybe even taken advantage of. I remember taking a picture of him sleeping and thinking about posting it with some snarky comment about how “Dad makes the Christmas magic” or something equally awful. I didn’t, but in my heart I fumed.

Vance, who woke up hours before me on a regular basis to go to work to support our family, had fallen asleep, hours past his regular bedtime. And instead of appreciating him for it, I begrudgingly filled the stockings, stuck the presents under the tree and went to bed angry.

Christmas morning I still hadn’t let it go. Of course, I hadn’t told him I was mad. He should have just known, right? But I was passive aggressive and ruined the morning for myself.

That afternoon I finally let it go and we went to the park for an epic Christmas Day Nerf battle. It was awesome. The entire family played and we laughed and laughed and laughed. Vance was good at shooting all of us but he got shot some, too.

I had no idea that would be his last Christmas. It never even occurred to me as a possibility. Nevertheless, it was.

Now, two Christmases later, I bought all the gifts, wrapped them, and I’m waiting for the kids to fall asleep so I can put the stockings under the tree.

But Vance isn’t sleeping in our bed. His side is empty. I keep thinking that I wasted our last Christmas Eve being angry about such a stupid thing as a very tired, very hard working man going to sleep. Sigh.

If you’re lucky enough to be sharing your bed with someone you love tonight, don’t waste it. Don’t be angry that he’s sleeping while you’re still up. That he didn’t get you what you wanted for Christmas even though you put it directly in your Amazon cart and all he had to do was buy it. Let that crap go. Because it doesn’t matter. It really, really doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you still have a chance to laugh together in the morning. That maybe next year he’ll buy you a kick butt gift that blows you away. That tomorrow you can kiss him goodnight and use his warm body to heat up your frozen feet. What matters is the moments you get to spend with him. Don’t waste them. Trust me. Don’t. Waste. One. Minute.