Goodbye

Posted in grief, Hope, love, marriage, relocating, Suicide, Writing on November 30, 2009 by todora

Virginia Byway signThis morning I drove across Virginia, over the Blue Ridge Mountains and crossed over into West Virginia.  This life is over, the life I had with Hal, and tomorrow a new one starts.

I met Hal in 1981 on Langley Air Force Base in Hampton.  He usually sat at the operator’s position of a computer system–back then a computer occupied the square footage of a good-sized home and was still less powerful than the one I’m typing this blog entry on.  I would walk past his position, say hello, and then continue to the communications room, where I worked.

Hal and I were married at the main chapel on Langley on July 16, 1983.  Later that year we were transferred, and we eventually returned to Langley in the summer of 1987.  We lived in Virginia from then on.

On October 5, 2007, Hal’s memorial service was held at the Langley main chapel, the same chapel where we were married.

My life with Hal wasn’t over on that day.  I held onto it for over two years, staying in the house where he died, seeing the same people, doing the same things, going to the same places.  There were many days when I didn’t think I could stand the pain of being without Hal, when I thought it might be so much easier if I just “followed him into the dark.”  (If you don’t know this reference, look up the song by Deathcab for Cutie.)

In May I moved out of the house Hal and I shared and into an apartment nearby, thinking that I was moving on, but it soon became apparent that it was a mistake.  This summer was the most difficult few months of my life–more difficult even than the first months after Hal died.

In September, I realized what I had to do.  Last Friday the movers emptied my apartment, and this morning I turned in my keys.  I got into my truck and put an end to the person I was when I knew Hal.

Tomorrow I will be someone else.  It will be Day One.

This blog will end now.  It was a great help to me to keep it.  I hope that those who have read it have found something useful here.

Find me at my new blog:  todoratoo.wordpress.com

Thanksgiving–4 Days Left

Posted in depression, relocating on November 26, 2009 by todora

I was invited to spend Thanksgiving with a friend, but I declined because I have too much work to do getting ready for the movers to arrive tomorrow and don’t have time for visiting.  I had planned to go out to a restaurant, eat and come home, but I didn’t even have time for that–and I still have a lasagna to eat.

I’ve been backing up my computer for about 24 hours, first with Mozy and now with Norton Ghost.  I don’t want a repeat of the disaster I experienced this summer.  My current plan is to mail my external hard drive to my sister before I roll out of town on Monday.

I still need to get my cleaning supplies together so I’ll be able to clean the apartment this weekend, pack my suitcase and go through my storage space (still!).  Tomorrow I’ll know how much of my food is being packed by the movers, how much I’ll have to take in the truck and how much I’ll need to discard.

I also feel a need to clean my truck.  I should have done that today, but my backups took too long.  At some point, I’ll have to pack my truck and then unpack it at the car wash.  I don’t know why I feel I need to clean the truck since it certainly will not be clean when I get to Colorado.  Just one of those things with me, I think.

For the same reason, I always thoroughly clean my house or apartment before I go out of town because nothing ruins a good vacation like coming home to a mess.

Here’s today’s food for thought:  I was feeling bad every day since moving to this apartment, and now I feel good every day.  I think it’s because on some level I knew that moving here was a mistake, that I should have just gone to Colorado right away.  I don’t think you have to be a widow to understand that when you’re ignoring the little voice in your head that knows what you should be doing, you’re going to be unhappy.  If you’re unhappy, ask yourself if there’s a little voice trying to tell you that you should be doing something else.

7 Days

Posted in relocating on November 23, 2009 by todora

I have so few days left now that I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to be doing each day.

Monday: Buy groceries, I hope for the last time before moving.  I was going to run a lot of errands today, but it’s rainy and cold, so I’m going to spend the rest of the day going through my storage space, throwing out everything I can part with (and finding the AC power cord for my boom box.)

Tuesday: Take a last tour of the area, photographing everything I don’t want to forget, particularly places that appear in my novel and screenplays.  I’d be upset to have to rework these for a new setting, so I need to visit the Virginia Living Museum, Fort Monroe and Phoebus.  I hope the weather is good for photos–overcast but not rainy.

Wednesday: This is my very last chance to get my filing done, to scan documents that I don’t want to file, shred others and in general get my paperwork under control.  If I don’t, then I’ll have to move a box of unorganized stuff from the top of my desk and start my first week in Colorado trying to remember what it all is.

Thursday: I will spend most of the day NOT watching the parade or football, but watching the TV shows  I have saved on my DVR while I get together the things I’m going to be taking with me in my truck so the movers won’t pack them.  My plan is to get as much packed in the truck as possible and then go to Thanksgiving Dinner in town, followed by a movie.

Friday: The packers and movers come.  I have a collection of canned soft drinks I’m hoping they will drink.  I’m keeping out my folding chair and will (if weather permits) sit on my balcony to watch the movers without being in their way.  Afterward I check into the Embassy Suites across the street.

Saturday: I will thoroughly clean my empty apartment so my landlord has no reason to hold back any of my deposit.

Sunday: I have firm plans to do nothing.  Read, rest and nap.  Maybe swim.

Monday: The carpet cleaners come at 9 a.m.  I turn in my keys about 10 a.m.  I will be on the road by noon and will be having dinner in West Virginia.

I have no food for thought to offer today because I’m going to be too busy going through my kitchen cabinets, trying to figure out what I need to cook to use up the half box of rotini, the 3 carrots left in the bin. . . .

Two weeks from now I’ll be watching movers again.

10 Days

Posted in Death, Friendship, grief, Suicide on November 21, 2009 by todora

In 10 days I will hand my keys to Raffaele, the handsome leasing agent at the Chapman, and leave Virginia, the state where I met, married and buried my husband.  In 10 days the person that I am now will cease to exist.

Today I attended my last Toastmasters event, a two-hour presentation by Craig Valentine, who won the World Championship of Public Speaking 10 years ago and since then has had a very successful public speaking career.  It was worth the hour’s drive to Richmond.

Three fellow club members were there, which was a little awkward because I’ve already said goodbye to them and then saw them last Saturday at a Toastmasters event.  After the presentation I spent a few minutes wondering whether I should find each of the three for another goodbye; I decided to leave, then stood at my truck, considering going back inside the hotel.  I thought I might cry all the way home thinking about how I’ll never see them again, but I didn’t.

About halfway home I noticed that the “check engine” light was on.  I don’t know how long it’s been on, because I can’t see it in my normal driving position.  I’m worried now that my truck will die before I get to Denver and I won’t be able to buy a new vehicle.

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I’ve been thinking that I need to cry over losing Hal, my mother and Cyd, that I can’t move on with my life until I do that.  I thought I had to get this done before I left Virginia, so I was surprised when the need seemed to evaporate.  Now I think that it wasn’t the deaths of the people I loved I needed to cry about–I’ve already done that.  What I needed was to say goodbye to my life.

I’ve spent my entire adult life, almost 30 years, getting to where I wanted to be.  I was happy with who I was, where I was and what I was doing.  Then Hal died.  I not only lost my husband but myself.  I was Hal’s wife; if Hal was dead, then who was I?

It’s taken me two years to finally decide that in a way that seems very real to me, I died with Hal.  Although I didn’t actually bury Hal in Virginia (his ashes will be next to me in the truck when I drive to Colorado), this state has become a cemetery to me.  What I know now is that I’m also resting in that cemetery.

So here’s today’s food for thought:  A person who loses someone she loves has to mourn two people:  her loved one and herself–the person she was when her spouse, her parent, her child or her friend was alive.  Maybe that’s why people who are grieving sometimes think of suicide.  They know, deep down, that they’ve died and are just a little confused about the difference between a metaphorical death and a real one.

In any case, if you are trying to help someone who is grieving, help her understand that she needs to mourn herself as well, and that after doing so, she has to make a decision about who she will be in the future.  This is the good news among all the bad for a grieving person:  she has the opportunity to decide who she wants to be.  She may never have a better opportunity to remake herself.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about who I want to be and how I’m going to go about becoming that person.  I imagine that this is one of the things I’ll be talking about on my new blog.

13 Days

Posted in Family, Friendship, grief, Internet on November 17, 2009 by todora

In two weeks I will wake up in West Virginia, and it will be the first day of the rest of my life.

In preparation for the move, I’ve been going through a large box of Hal’s things, plaques that had escaped my attention when I was cataloging all his awards and trophies before discarding them.  Hal could have filled a room with trophies, plaques and framed certificates, everything from his 276 game in his bowling league to his employee of the quarter award.   As much as anything else, they represented his life, and disposing of them made me feel as if I were somehow saying that nothing he accomplished mattered to me.

At the same time, I was getting in trouble on my Mensa atheist SIG (special interest group), an email discussion list I recently joined.   It began when someone suggested that Mensans who don’t have children aren’t fulfilling their responsibility to the world by passing on their superior genes, a comment I took offense to because I had chosen not to have children and because my parents would probably have been considered inferior by this poster, not worthy of breeding.  There was a heated discussion in which I let my anger get the best of me.

Another poster who had been corresponding with me privately emailed me the next day to complain that I was talking too much about sex on the list–he spelled it s*x because he’s uncomfortable with the subject, apparently.  He was worried, he said, that I would be perceived as obsessed with sex and was sure that others would complain (they didn’t).  I sent back an angry email saying that I would damned well talk about sex if I wanted to, that I was an adult, and there was nothing wrong with being interested in it, talking about it or wanting it.  Since then I’ve been ignoring him.

A third poster who had been corresponding privately replied to a query from me about how he was doing by telling me he was having difficulty remaining friendly after learning I was in favor of healthcare reform.  I sent him a curt reply telling him not to send me any more email.

Finally, a poster sent a short story to the list and invited comments.  I gave mine, and he took umbrage because he is a professional writer and apparently wasn’t expecting criticism.  This erupted into a big argument among several members of the list, which ultimately led to this poster leaving in a huff.

Only when all this was over did I put it together.  I’d been upset about going through Hal’s things and acting out like a child.  If I’d had someone to talk to, maybe I wouldn’t have lashed out on my email list, but I’ve been saying goodbye to my friends in Virginia and feeling more disconnected than usual–the list is my only social group right now.

So here’s today’s food for thought:  It will probably help if you can give your friends and family some warning when you have to do something difficult such as going through your loved one’s possessions.  It may be that you don’t think it will be difficult, only realizing how it’s affected you after you do it.  It’s best to be safe and anticipate feeling bad rather than act like a crazy person (like I did), leaving everyone wondering what the hell is going on.

14 Days

Posted in Friendship, grief, Internet, relocating on November 16, 2009 by todora

It’s early Monday morning, two weeks before I leave Virginia.  I’ve spent the whole day going through file boxes, deciding what to keep, what to shred and what to simply toss in the garbage.  Every pound I can eliminate is a pound I don’t have to pay to move.  I also need to find my latest contract with my dojo, because I was charged tuition this month despite having informed my sensei that I’m leaving the area and exercising the clause in my contract that releases me if I move more than 60 miles away.  It would seem that I’ll have to take my contract to my attorney so he can write a threatening letter.

I saw a shooting star just before sitting down at my desk–one of the Leonids.  A few years ago I drove to a remote area of Southeast Virginia, where I met the members of the local astronomy club to observe what promised to be a particularly spectacular meteor shower.  A similar shower that occurred in the 19th century brought so many meteors that some in the U.S. thought the world might be ending.  It was bitterly cold that night, and Hal refused to leave the warmth of the truck.  I got a great photo of stars and meteors before my camera stopped functioning due to the temperature.

I have 11 days to finish preparing for the packers and movers to arrive on the 27th.  I have several last meetings next week:  my last writers group, my last screenwriters forum, my last Toastmasters event, my last meeting with my therapist, my last lunch with the friend who’s telling me as much about sailing as we can fit into her lunch hours, since I’ll find it harder to find sailors in Colorado.

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I’ve been thinking of my last post, and the list of friends.  I left one type of friend off the list, the friend who does practical things.  This, I think, is the type of friend I am.  When my friend Cyd was in the hospital, I was the one people asked to search the Internet for friends and relatives who weren’t in her address book, finding their phone numbers so Walt could call them.  I was the one who built the web page to keep out-of-town relatives updated on her status.  I did the research on funeral homes and cemeteries, making recommendations to Walt and telling him what to expect.  I made the CD of the music for the service, and wrote the first draft of her obituary.

At the time, I was less than happy to fill this role, since I wanted to be the friend who talks about it or even the friend who fills in for the parent.  Now I think that this was only because I needed those friends myself.  Looking back, though, it seems that for me, Cyd was the friend who does practical things, since she was the one who helped me invest Hal’s life insurance, advised me about dealing with my bank and about selling my house.  Cyd was the one who was giving me a little work as a writer so I could flesh out my resume and perhaps even start a new career.  So now, if my friendship is ever needed to help someone who’s grieving or otherwise going through a major life-altering event, I’ll be happy to fill this role again.  I’ll think of Cyd when I do, and hope that I do as good a job of it as she did.

So here is today’s food for thought:  Be the friend you were meant to be, the friend that’s needed, rather than the friend you’d like to be.  We don’t always get to choose how we can help, but that doesn’t mean that we can step back or refuse to give the help we can.

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I’ve got to get to bed.  I need a few hours of sleep before I finish this sorting project tomorrow.  I need to have it done and my apartment back together before my big TV night.  On Mondays there are so many of my favorites airing that I have to watch one of them on Hulu.com later.

18 Days

Posted in Friendship, grief on November 12, 2009 by todora

Yesterday I found myself in an uncomfortable situation.  I was to go to a going-away party organized for me by the members of my Toastmasters club.  In all the years I’ve been a club member, I have always tried to contribute to every meeting and every event.  I hated sitting at home doing nothing, knowing that other people were doing all the work.  So I went out and bought some cookie dough, and I made cookies for my own party.

I had a great time.  Some of the best friends I’ve made in Virginia are those I’ve met in Toastmasters.  Cyd was a Toastmaster, as is Janet, my friend who doesn’t talk about it, and my married male friend.  The man who held my hand at Cyd’s funeral, lending me some of his strength so I didn’t completely break down, is a Toastmaster.   I can only hope to meet such fine people at the local Toastmasters clubs in Denver.

As an agnostic, I’ve often heard and have sometimes written about how much we give up when we give up church, because a church is a ready-made community of friends.  For me, Toastmasters has been a pretty good substitute.

In keeping with my resolution to stop griping and try to be of use to other people, I want to encourage others to join a club.  It doesn’t have to be Toastmasters; there are no doubt many organizations that can give their members what Toastmasters has given me.  Everyone is interested in something, and someone has organized a club so those who share that interest can get together.  Join a club.  Contribute to the health of the club and the happiness of the other members.  It’s one of many ways that we can feed other people (see my previous post).

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I should probably save this for another post in case I run out of topics, but I want to get this written down for anyone who might be reading this blog:  Here are three friends that every widow and widower need.

1.  The friend who lets you talk about it. You need someone who will sit, maybe for hours, while you talk about your grief, your anger and your fear without giving you advice, trying to straighten out your life for you or asking whether you should be feeling as you do–because there will be times when what you’re saying and feeling seems wildly inappropriate.  This friend needs to be available in person or on the phone when you haven’t slept in days or weeks and are thinking about giving up on your life.

2.  The friend who doesn’t talk about it. This is the friend that acts as if nothing has ever gone wrong in your life.  When she invites you to lunch, you can be sure that she’s got a lot she wants to talk about, and none of it is going to be your grief.  This friend will remind you what normal life is like, that there’s still a lot of interesting and wonderful things going on around you.  She’s the one that will let you relax and let out that breath you’ve been holding.  You won’t be afraid to laugh when you’re with her or to talk about the attractive man that just walked by.

3.  The friend who stands in for your parent. I think that we all have a need to run into the arms of a parent when bad things happen.   I know that in the last two years, I’ve desperately needed someone to stand in for my father and do what my father couldn’t because he was grieving the recent death of my mother.  I need someone who will take me in his arms and let my bury my face in his chest, cry and be comforted.  I don’t think I’m alone in needing this, so my advice is to find someone who knows how to hold you and whisper those assurances we all need to hear:  “It will be okay.”

You may be lucky enough to find a single friend who can do all these things or you may have more than one friend for each of these three roles.  And, of course, you need plenty of other friends to fill lesser roles–the friend who pretends that your company is what her family needs to enjoy a weekend at the beach, the friend who firmly believes that everyone should see a movie every Friday, the friend who is always eager to have you try the food at a new restaurant with her.  Maybe in a later post I’ll list some of these.

But that’s not the reason I’m writing about this.  Please take a look at the short list above.  Someone you know needs one of these kinds of friends.  Someone you know will need one of these friends.  Consider which of the three you can be, and set out to be that friend to someone who needs you.

Just some food for thought.

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