Thursday, February 25, 2016

I'm Forty-five For A Moment

I turned forty-five last week. Forty-five, caught in between forty and fifty. I'm still not sure how that happened. One day I was twenty-five with a newborn son, and now I'm forty-five and he is twenty. In the blink of an eye.

At least I have my midlife crisis all over and done with. Not that I was planning on heading into a midlife crisis at forty-three, mind you. I'm not sure that anyone actually plans on having a midlife crisis, I'm just glad mine's behind me. And for the record, I didn't buy a Porsche, though I did buy a new Highlander last fall (which doesn't count because it took me freaking forever to make up my mind to buy it).

Forty-three was a hard year, in fact it was pretty awful for a few months. But ironically, I came out of it much healthier and stronger than I was when I went into it. Dan's death was a huge wake-up call. In the midst of all the chaos, I started taking care of myself. I ate a lot better, I exercised regularly, I lost a ton of weight. I actually enjoy working out now, and I cope so much better with stress because of it. Skinny jeans don't scare me any more! At forty-five, I'm fitter than I've ever been, physically and mentally. Quite honestly, I never thought I'd be saying that (especially the skinny jeans part).

I have to admit though, I have gotten a few more wrinkles and grey hair since I was forty-three. Well, the greys are hidden, the wrinkles not so much. To be honest, I hadn't really noticed them, mostly because I can't actually see without my glasses on (it makes it much easier to live in denial). But then one day I looked in the mirror when I had my contacts in. Dear Lord! Where the hell did they come from?

And this is how I found myself in the drugstore looking at anti-aging creams. Who knew face cream was so freaking complicated?? I asked the skin care consultant, who was all of twenty-three (if that) which one was the best. I explained to her that I had just turned forty-five and had discovered some wrinkles. Her response was to ask me how bad my face sagging was (seriously are you freaking kidding me? I said forty-five not eighty-five, thank you very much). Fortunately for her, she agreed sagging wasn't a problem yet (thanks for that) and led me to the appropriate line of products. She showed me the best ones, explaining to me the different options (and this was when Katty bailed on me because she was trying quite unsuccessfully not to laugh). "Think of it as taking a road trip, they'll both get you there, one's just going to take you longer. You can take the scenic route, or you can take the highway." I don't need the goddamn highway, I need the freaking autobahn! And obviously the freeway to anti-sagging while I'm at it.

I make jokes about being old all the time, but I really don't think I'm old. Mostly I just use it as an excuse for a bad memory, when really my memory isn't that bad, I'm just disorganized. I chalk that up to being creative. I'm sure there's a study somewhere that proves creative people are more disorganized, if I were more organized I would have saved a link for it. I've decided one of my goals for this year is to TRY to get more organized. Emphasis on try, Rome wasn't built in a year after all.

Last year when we moved into the house, I found a card at the bottom of a box of Tupperware I was unpacking. I'm not sure how it ended up at the bottom of a box of Tupperware (I told you I was disorganized) but there it was. I didn't recognize it at first but when I looked at it, I realized it was the card Dan had given me for my forty-third birthday, just a few months before he died. It was a classic Dan card. He found it highly amusing, me not so much (he would actually still find it highly amusing). I really can't make this stuff up.

Sometimes you find things when you need them the most.

I'd been so sad that week. Moving into the house alone was so much harder than I'd expected. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself because my life was literally and figuratively a mess, and then I found this card. Talk about perspective. He was right (of course he was). I'm still here. I got to be forty-three (as shitty as parts of that year were), and forty-four and forty-five and hopefully many, many more. Life really is a series of moments, some happy, some sad. If we're lucky we get a lot of them. I don't ever want to waste any of my moments. I want to make the most of every year I get.

We all complain about getting older but we shouldn't. Old age is a privilege denied to so many. Being forty-five really is so much better than the alternative.

So hello forty-five, I'm alright with you. Wrinkles and all. But if you could hold off on the sagging for another few years, that'd be great.

"Half time goes by, suddenly you're wise. Another blink of an eye, sixty seven is gone. The sun is getting high, we're moving on.."~John Ondrasik

One Hundred Years


Monday, February 22, 2016

You Only Regret The Chances You Didn't Take

I was out for my walk this morning when one of the old gaffers from the neighbourhood stopped so his dog could meet Ginny. Of course we ended up chatting for a while, well actually more than a while, because you know me, no conversation is ever brief.

It turns out he'd been meaning to say hello to me for weeks, in fact he'd even tried to catch up to me a couple of times when we were out walking, but apparently "for a shorty" I walk fast (that's what happens when you are being dragged by an 80 pound black lab). Some of the neighbours had told him who I was (it's like living in PMQs, only with retirees, everybody knows everything). He told me he often sees me out with the dog, and I always seem so happy. Apparently he didn't see me the day Ginny dragged me into the muddy ditch, I wasn't so happy that day.

As we were talking he told me a little bit about himself, and I discovered we have something in common. He's a widower. His wife of 53 years passed away three years ago, so he "can kind of understand what you've been going through. But it warms my heart to see you out there, living life. Life's too short to waste being miserable". Amen to that my new friend.

He moved to the neighbourhood last year too, "all the way from BC." Turns out he moved for "a girl" (he blushed when he told me). She lost her husband around the same time he lost his wife, and they'd all been friends, and "well you know, we decided why the hell not, we like each other, so I packed up and I followed her here, it was the best decision I ever made. You only regret the chances you don't take, you know. But I don't think I need to tell you that, you don't seem like the kind of person who will live life with many regrets. Something tells me you are going to have a wonderfully, happy life."

And there I am, on a Monday morning on Main Street in Wolfville, getting a hug from an old gaffer I've just met, crying because he's just so sweet and I'm once again reminded of how fortunate I really am. I wish all Mondays could start like that.

I've thought about our encounter a lot today. He's right, I really do try to live life without regrets. I make the most of every opportunity I'm given because I know I might never get that chance again. When I look back on my life, I don't want to say, I wish I had, I want to say, I'm glad I did, even if things didn't always work out. And sometimes they won't, and that's okay. At least I'll know I took the chance. Because like my old gaffer said, in the end, you only regret the chances you didn't take.

“IN THE END… We only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”~Lewis Carroll


Monday, February 15, 2016

The Maple Leaf Forever

Today for Flag Day the kids and I decided to visit the cemetery and place flags on all of the veteran's graves. The cemetery was closed but we trudged through the snow anyway. It was a beautiful, albeit cold (well Nova Scotia cold) afternoon, but it was worth it.

As a general rule, we don't like being at the cemetery. Seeing Dan's name in granite is a harsh reminder of all that we have lost. But today was different. It wasn't about us, it was about them.

We placed flags on each of their graves and as we did, we paused and read their names.
Arthur. George. Cecil. John. James. Neil. Ralph. Stanley. Gordon. Vernon. Dan.
Husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, friends.

These men (there are no female veterans buried here) devoted their lives to serving our country and to the flag we honour today. So how could we not honour them in return?

It's our responsibility to make sure none of these brave men are ever forgotten. And, maybe, just maybe, others that visit the cemetery will see the red maple leaves and they too will stop and remember, and say their names out loud.

Today my frozen tears were not of sadness but of gratitude. How lucky are we to live in a country with Arthurs and Roberts and Johns and Dans?

We can never thank them enough for all they have done for us and our country. The least we can do is spend an hour with them on a cold winter's day. We owe them that much.
"Our brave fathers, side by side,
For freedom, homes and loved ones dear,
Firmly stood and nobly died;
And those dear rights which they maintained,
We swear to yield them never!
Our watchward evermore shall be
The Maple Leaf forever!"~Alexander Muir


Saturday, February 13, 2016

I Could Never Be As Strong As You

"I could never be as strong as you. I could never do what you've done."

So many people have said that to me over the last almost two years. Often I hear it from people I think can handle anything. They seem so strong; they're so self-assured and confident, and yet they doubt they could make it through what I have.

Every single minute of every day someone is experiencing a tragedy; illness, abuse, rape, death. And every single day people rise in the face of these tragedies and not only survive but flourish. And we look at them in awe and say "Not me, I could never survive that. I could never be that strong." Perhaps it's human nature to underestimate what we are capable of.

I used to do the same thing.

Before I was widowed, I only knew one widow my own age. I met her several years ago when she just happened to move in beside us in military housing. In those days, a long time before the war in Afghanistan, there were mercifully few Canadian military casualties. My friend's husband was one of the exceptions. When I met her a few years after her husband's death, she was married to another soldier and moving forward with her life. We didn't talk about the loss of her first husband or her life as a widow. I didn't ask her any questions about it, partially because I didn't want to be intrusive, but also I suppose because I didn't really want to know, ignorance is bliss as they say and by discussing her husband's death, I'd have to acknowledge the possibility that it could happen to mine.

And I was young and naive. Of course, it wasn't going to happen to my husband, the mission he was on in Bosnia was SAFE. I marveled at her strength. She'd not only survived her husband's death but had married another soldier. There was no way I could do that.

I'd never be able to survive if anything happened to Dan, and I certainly would never be able to marry again, let alone to another soldier. I could never, ever be as strong as her.

And then one day my doorbell rang, and I was forced to learn just how strong I can be.

You never know how strong you can be until you have to be that strong.

As I stood at my front window that fateful afternoon, mentally preparing for what I was going to tell our children, I knew that this was NOT the end of my life. Our kids needed their mom, I couldn't let Dan's death take me away from them as well. And as I watched them walking into our driveway, knowing that I was about to break their hearts, I also knew it was up to me to help them put those hearts back together.

My path forward began that afternoon with the acknowledgement that my life was still worth living, even without Dan, as painful as that would be. I was so much more than just his wife and I AM so much more than just his widow. I wanted our children to know that life still had meaning, even without their father.

I knew that my actions would very much influence them. If I was negative, angry and bitter, they would be the same. And that's the last thing that I wanted for them.

I have tried to be a positive example to them since that day. Though there were plenty of times in the first weeks that I had to be stoic, I never wanted them to think being strong meant they always had to be tough and have a stiff upper lip. And for as many times as they saw me being stoic, there were many more times they saw me let the tears flow freely. I have never hidden my tears from them (Seriously what is it about commercials? They get me every time).

But strength isn't just about letting yourself express emotions. Strength is so much more than that.

Being strong means knowing when to ask for help, when to lean on others and also when to stand on your own.

It's not about having all of the answers (God knows I don't have them all, I'm good but I'm not that good).

It's about doing the best you possibly can, and knowing that sometimes you will make mistakes along the way.

Strength is knowing there will be times you fall and that's okay because it isn't really about the fall anyway, it's how you rise afterwards that's important.

And strength is knowing that happiness (or unhappiness) is a choice, no one can make us happy but ourselves.

Strength is owning your happiness.

I recently received a message from a young, newly married military wife. She wanted to let me know how much she admired my strength and courage. And in an echo of a young wife I knew so many years ago, she told me she didn't think that she could be as strong as me. She could never survive if she ever lost her husband, and she definitely didn't think she could get married again, especially not to another soldier.

When I read her message, I realized I had come full circle. And so I told her what I'm sure my friend would have told me all those years ago if I'd had the courage to voice my own fears to her, I told her the truth.

 I survived my husband's death because I made the choice to survive.

I made the choice to accept the unacceptable. I made the choice to move forward with my life. I made the choice to be happy.

And though I may have somehow made it appear easy (I've heard that one a couple of times lately) it's not easy. Life rarely is. Sometimes it's difficult, and stressful, and complicated. But it's also wonderful, amazing and incredibly rewarding.

I hope my young friend never has to learn just how strong she can be, but if she does, I hope she too can make the choice to survive, to accept the unacceptable and to move forward with her life.

I hope that she remembers, even as happiness may seem to forget her for a bit, that happiness is a choice.

Life should be lived, not endured.

Ultimately we are the ones who are responsible for how we respond in the face of tragedy. We can rise up and do our very best, or we can admit defeat.

If we admit defeat, tragedy wins. I refused to let tragedy win.

Something awful happened to my life but my life is far from awful.

Strength is letting go of the life you had planned and embracing the life you do have. And I have done just that.

I may not know how the rest of my life will go, but I do know this. I'm strong enough to live it.

"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will."~Mahatma Gandhi
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