Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year Is Yours

It's hard to believe another year is almost over. It seems like only yesterday it was New Year's Day and here we are on New Year's Eve. In a blink of an eye, one year done, another set to begin. I tend to be sappy and sentimental anyway but I find I'm even more so at this time of the year. 2015 is a year that I will definitely look back on more fondly than it's predecessor, there were far more good days then bad though it did have it's moment's.

 When I moved into the house in March I was completely overcome by the finality and sadness of it all. I remember standing here, staring at the big empty living room and thinking, "I'm going to spend the next 40 years alone in this giant ass house." And then, as the tears were flowing (I think they were probably gushing like an overflowing creek at this point) my cell phone rang. A friend, who knew before I did how hard that day would be for me, called to remind me that I was never alone and that it was okay to move forward with my life and to be happy. And he was right of course (he often is, but please don't tell him that, I don't want his head to swell too much).

 For months, before I made a decision about anything I would purposely stop and think about what Dan would want me to do. Then one day in April, I found myself standing atop a rocky hill in Scotland. As I stood there I realized that Dan would never want me to spend the rest of my life worrying about pleasing him, he would want me to be happy and live my life. Ultimately, he would want me to follow my heart, trust my instincts and believe in myself the way he always did. And as it turns out, he would approve of all of the decisions I've made since he's been gone anyway (go figure). And so without guilt and without regret, I have moved forward with my life. Some days I take two steps forward and five steps back. Some days I am completely overwhelmed with the responsibility of full time single parenting. On others I think my life will always be a goat rodeo. And sometimes I actually feel like I'm living one of those cheesy made for television movies (with better quality acting, of course). But every day I laugh, even if it's through tears and every day I am incredibly grateful to have the amazing circle of friends I have.

I know I've said this before, but I'm reasonably certain I have more friends than any one person should be allowed to have. And you know what? I'm okay with that. I don't plan on giving any of them up anytime soon. My friends disprove the adage "out of sight out of mind" (as if I'd ever let that happen anyway) and even when they are far away, they are always there for me. I have become quite greedy of my time with them. I am acutely aware that we may never get the chance to meet again and so I grab any chance I can to be with them. A hastily shared coffee in passing, an evening or a day, every moment together a gift that I will never take for granted. This year I was able to spend a lot of time with many of my closest friends, I even got to take some of them to Canning, how lucky were they. As another year comes to a close, I thank it for all it has taught me, the time it has given me with those I love and for all of the memories we have made together. When I look back on this year, I will remember both my saddest day and my happiest day with equal fondness because one would not have existed without the other.

 Tomorrow we will welcome a new year, and all of the promise it brings. My New Year's wish for you dear friends is time well spent, that you don't get so busy that you forget to make time for those you love and for yourself, that you take time to just stop and be. Don't wait until tomorrow, tomorrow is never guaranteed. Time is a precious commodity you will never get back, please don't ever take it for granted. The year is yours my friends, I hope you use it well.

"Why do we treat the fleeting day with so much needless fear and sorrow. It's in it's nature not to stay: Today is always gone tomorrow."~ Wislawa Szymborska


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Happy Life

As most of you know, I'm a pretty positive person. I always have been. Usually my gin bottles are half full. But sometimes even I have my moments, shocking I know but very true. I have really high expectations of myself, and am my own worst critic.

Fortunately for me I have some very close friends who kick me in the ass when I need it the most, they are my go to gals when I've lost my perspective and need a healthy does of objectivity. I can always count on them to tell me straight up when I'm being too hard on myself or being a jackass. All it takes is one "Seriously Monica" or "Fuck off Bobbitt" and  I know it's time for me to put my big girl panties on and deal with whatever issue is stressing me. And by the way, I'm not kidding, she literally does say that (I love that woman). How lucky am I to have friends who tell me what I need to hear instead of what I want to hear. In fact, I can actually hear them both right now saying, "luck has nothing to do with it" (I may have had this conversation with them both before). We all need to have someone who we can count on to be totally honest with us, no matter how brutally painful that truth might be.

And then there are the others: people who hardly know me or don't know me at all that feel because I am a widow I need them to tell me what I should or shouldn't do or how I should be feeling. It is one of my biggest pet peeves. I have had people say some ridiculous things to me in the last fourteen months (I can't make this shit up). One of my personal favourites was when one of the kids' former teachers told me that she was glad I had sold my house and was moving to Nova Scotia, "You won't marry another military man there because obviously you know the odds with military men aren't good." Obviously. I guess that means I shouldn't marry a man who owns a car either because I think the odds are probably higher he'd die in a car crash then a LAV rollover, just sayin. Oh and by the way, we do have navy and air force bases in Nova Scotia but maybe they don't count?

 I have to say the latest one left me speechless, hard to believe I know but it does happen occasionally. A few weeks ago I was sick with a nasty throat virus and stopped at the drug store to restock on pain meds when I ran into an old acquaintance from university. She asked me how my summer was going and I told her the girls and I were having a great summer and we'd just had an awesome visit with our Norwegian friends. Her response to this was what left me speechless. "You must feel so guilty for being so happy with Dan being dead and all." (I'm so glad she clarified that last bit for me, you know just in case I'd forgotten).

 I'm standing in the middle of Shoppers Drug Mart (ironically on a day when I'm actually not even feeling particularly happy): my throat feels like I've swallowed a thousand shards of glass, I've haven't had solid food in almost a week and even worse have only managed to swallow two and a half cups of coffee in the same time frame, and this chick, whom I barely know is telling me I MUST feel guilty for having a good life. Seriously, are you freaking kidding me?

 Speechless and trying desperately not to cry, I did manage to answer. "Actually no, I don't feel guilty at all. In fact, I haven't felt guilty once all year." Usually I just let this shit roll off, like water off a duck's back, but not this time. I'm totally blaming it on caffeine withdrawal and hunger. I'm annoyed with myself (of course) for letting it bother me but you know what, it did bother me.

 I've thought about it a lot. In hindsight I really wish I'd told her not to be a jackass (because everyone needs someone to tell them when they are being a jackass) and to not assume she knows how someone feels unless she's walked in their shoes. What got me was the assumption that I had to feel guilty for being happy. Because I'm a widow and widowhood is obviously a life sentence to guilt and unhappiness. Evidently I missed the memo on that one.

 I've decided it's a good thing I wasn't widowed 100 years ago. If people think I'm outrageous now just imagine what they would have thought of me back then. They'd have had me locked up in an institution somewhere... Mrs. Hennessy's Home for Happy Widows. She's happy, how scandalous. Lock her up here, quickly. Dear Lord.

 Just because I'm happy doesn't mean I'm not sad. Happiness and sadness are in fact not mutually exclusive, you can be both at the same time. I know because I feel them both all of the time. I will always be sad Dan is gone but it doesn't mean I can't have a good, and yes, very happy life. Seriously he really would be the first one to kick my ass up one side of the street and down the other if I were any other way. If you knew him, you know this to be true. So thanks gals (and the jackass at Shoppers Drug Mart) for reminding me of that.

 Every day might not be good (especially when you can't swallow your coffee) but there is always something good in every day. My gin cupboard is, in fact, never empty. Amen to that.

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ~Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Life Goes On

On May 9, 2014, I kissed my husband goodbye, not knowing it would be the last time I would see him alive. Twelve days later he was gone, his life tragically interrupted in its prime as so many sadly are.

When he was deployed I was always waiting for the doorbell to ring but I never expected it when he was out in the field on exercise. When he left for Wainwright it never occurred to me that anything would happen to him, he was only going on an exercise after all. In fact those were the first words I said when they told me. "What are you talking about? He's only on an exercise."

I never thought it would happen to us, but really why not us? We were no more immune to tragedy then anyone else. That's the thing about tragedy it doesn't give a rat's ass about any of us. Tragedy didn't care how wonderful a man Dan was. It didn't care that he was a loving husband, father, son, brother, friend. Or that he was an outstanding soldier and leader. Tragedy doesn't discriminate, it's random and unfair. The doorbell rings and nothing is ever the same again.

Telling our three children that their father was gone will always be the worst moment of my life and it is indelibly etched on my heart. In that moment and every other since, my main priority has been them and making sure the loss of their father did not destroy their lives.

Before Dan left for Afghanistan I promised him if anything happened to him the kids and I would have good, happy lives. Real happy not pretend on the surface happy. I've never broken a promise to him (except for the time I promised him I'd keep the garage clean but come on that was such an unreasonable thing to expect) and there was no way in hell I was going to break this one. There are no rule books on how to move forward with your life after loss (although lots of people have an opinion on what you should do), and the military doesn't issue joining instructions on how to become a military widow.

And so I did the only thing I could. I accepted Dan was gone, and that nothing would ever bring him back.

I stood up and I did what I had to do. I didn't run from the grief or hide from it, I met it head on each and every day. I haven't always gotten everything right (but who ever does?) but I know at the end of each day I did the very best I could that day. It hasn't been easy, and there have been times that I have stumbled along the way. I have leaned on my friends when I couldn't carry the burden alone. I have learned not to listen to the (very few) people who say "if I were you" because (fortunately for them) they aren't me and it's not their journey, it's mine.

Shortly after Dan died a dear friend told me life would be good again, maybe not perfect but good. And he was right, life is good but it was never perfect to begin with. Nothing ever is. It's just imperfectly ours.

Happiness doesn't just knock on our door and ask to come in. It's a choice we make, and we have to work at it, every single day. We can choose to be miserable or we can choose to be happy. And being miserable is not who I am. Dan loved life and he lived it to the fullest. He always said life was for the living, and while it "was only natural I would pine for him (what woman wouldn't) don't waste so much time pining for me you forget to live." And I haven't forgotten.

I lost Dan but I have never lost myself. Sorrow has touched my life, but it doesn't own it. Dan took a part of my heart with him when he left, and I will always be sad that he is gone. But shattered hearts do eventually heal and life, well it goes on. Something awful happened to me but my life isn't awful.

I have so very much to be thankful for. I have three amazing, strong, resilient, healthy and happy children. Our home is still full of love and laughter (and bickering. Dear Lord). I have wonderfully supportive parents who thankfully didn't ever hear the expression you can never go home again because they let me move home twice this year. I have in laws who love me as if I'm their own. I have amazing friends who are always there for me no matter where they are or where I am. I have a beautiful (almost finished) house in a great neighbourhood with awesome neighbours (no flooded yards here). I have a very successful business that I (sometimes) love.

If anything, this last year has taught me to never take anything for granted. I know all too well how fickle life is, and that it can be gone in one heart shattering instant. I have no idea what the future has in store for me, none of us do. But I do know this: at the end of my life, I won't wish I'd spent more time grieving, I'll wish I'd spent more time living and loving. And that's what I intend to do. I will never get this moment or this day back again. I'm not going to waste one precious second of it.

Last month in Scotland I stood beside one of my dearest friends atop a rocky peak. Climbing a steep hill wasn't on the top of my list of things to do on a beautiful sunny morning in Edinburgh but she really wanted to go and I wasn't going to let her down. I hate heights, in fact the only thing I dislike more are snakes, and I can tell you emphatically that you will never ever see me cuddled up to a snake (even I have limits as to what I will do for my friends and I absolutely draw the line at snakes).

As I stood there looking down at the spectacular view of Edinburgh, I was happy and most importantly, I knew it was okay for me to be happy. Dan would have loved being on top of that rock pile, and he would especially love that we took the most difficult route up (a classic Dan move). I thought about how frigging proud he would be of me, not just for climbing that damn hill but for everything I'd accomplished this year. And I know how relieved he would be to see how well our kids are doing. He was so proud of the three of them, and he'd be even more so now. I know he would approve of every single decision I have made since he's been gone (well, he might raise his eyebrows at my choice of builders but besides that). I kept my promise, but he knew I would and I can almost hear him say, "See Mon, I told you, you've got this." And I do. I've got this.

Dan crammed more living into his 43 years than most people do in 100. He made the most of every single ordinary day. His was a life well lived. And that motivates me to live mine every single day. And I hope it will you too. The best way for us to honour his memory is to live life to it's absolute fullest. Now. Not tomorrow. Today.

Don't wait for the perfect time because there is no perfect time. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. 

This is not a dress rehearsal, it's the only life we get. Don't waste it on bitterness, anger and regret. Tell your people you love them, over and over again. They need to know. And if you're lucky enough to get a second chance at love, be brave enough to take it, it's so worth the price we some times have to pay for it. Take the time to enjoy all of those seemingly inconsequential little things. I know it's not always easy to find the time, but do it. Climb that damn hill (but for the love of God be careful, you know I worry about these things). Go for a run in the rain. Go for a walk off of the beaten path. Wear a ridiculously ugly shirt in public (seriously if I can wear cheetah print leggings in public you can so wear an ugly shirt out to dinner). Make up a crazy ditty and sing (badly) it out loud. Twirl (hurl) someone around the dance floor. Play a board game (fight in a box) with your kids. Enjoy drinks with friends.

In the end, it's love and all of the simple, ordinary moments woven together that make life extraordinary. And Dan's life was extraordinary of that there is no doubt. So tonight raise your glass to him. An incredible husband, father, son, brother, friend, soldier. Gone but never ever forgotten. Skål!

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life. It goes on."~Robert Frost

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Beautiful Day

It was one of those mornings, a Tuesday that was more like a Monday but worse. I was going in 13 different directions at once but getting no where and in the middle of it all, Ginny was barking incessantly (as only Ginny can) for her walk until I couldn't stand it any more and gave in and took her. It had snowed again last night, which was definitely not helping my mood, and it was still snowing while we were out for our walk. For the first 30 minutes of our walk, I was mentally stressing about all the crap I needed to get done today. And then I met up with one of the old gaffers from my neighbourhood.

I love old people, which is a good thing as I'm surrounded by them here and at the Legion. I see this same old guy literally every time I go for a walk (yes I'm well aware this means I have the same daily routine as an 85 year old man). Sun, clouds, cold, wind, rain, snow. He's there with a smile on his face. Every time I see him we exchange hellos and discuss the weather (as all good Martimers do), and everyday regardless of said weather he tells me it's a beautiful day. I'd been busy over the weekend so hadn't seen him for a few days. "Well there you are" was the first thing he said to me this morning. "I was wondering where you had gotten too. Beautiful day isn't it?" Neither one of us can see out of our glasses because they are wet with snow and he's standing there with a grin on his face telling me it's a beautiful day. I have to admit I wasn't seeing it. In fact I wasn't seeing much of anything at that point in time. And I told him as much, "Sun, clouds, cold, wind, rain, snow, you always say it's a beautiful day." "And it is" was his response, "It's always a beautiful day when I see you." And I am mush.

What a charmer, as most old gaffers are (except the creepy one at the Legion who has a thing for curls and was trying to touch my hair). I'm adopting this one though, he's a keeper. I'm reasonably sure he's a widower, he wears a wedding ring but he's always alone,even when I see him driving in the neighbourhood. And that just makes him even more endearing to me.

 I have a huge soft spot for old people who are widowed and alone. Because that is going to be me someday. In the blink of an eye that will be me.

 I hope somebody will stop and say hello to me when I'm 85 and shuffling down the street. I thought about him all the way home. I'm sure to him it seems like only yesterday he was 44. Time's funny like that, it flies by. We're already a quarter of the way through the year. Yesterday it was New Year's Eve (so much gin) and today the first week of April is over.

When I got home from my walk I went out back and sat and watched the snow falling in the woods down below. My old gaffer was right, it was a beautiful day. The snow was falling softly on the trees and the birds were singing in the branches. I thought about New Year's Eve and the list of things I promised myself I would do this year. I've already accomplished a lot of them. I've laughed, a lot. I've hugged old friends and new ones. I've had coffee with friends. I've visited somewhere I've never been before. I've felt the sun warm my face (in Ireland of all places, go figure). And today I caught snowflakes on my tongue (and glasses) and made a snow angel. Yes, I made a snow angel (my neighbours enjoyed that immensely, by the way). Snow angels in April. Which makes me wonder what I'll be doing in June. I can't wait to find out.

Kindness is like snow, it beautifies everything it covers.~Kahil Gibran

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Ties That Bind Us

I get so many lovely messages daily from my friends asking me how I'm doing, really? And my answer the majority of the time is almost always the same, I'm fine. Really. But I have to admit if you asked me last Saturday, my answer would not have been fine, it would have been cranky. Actually pouty would have been a more accurate answer. I was pouty because I was here instead of being in Petawawa with my friends. When I said I was massively disappointed I had to postpone my trip I wasn't kidding. I was so looking forward to spending the weekend with my friends... countless cups of coffee, a G&T (or two, okay maybe three but no more, I swear I'm still nursing a hangover from New Year's Eve), lots of laughs and many hugs. On Saturday when I should have been flying to Ottawa, I was once again driving to Wolfville to try to sort out the never ending house building saga. And I wasn't happy.

If you have been following the progress (or lack there of) of my house you know it has been riddled with complications and delays almost from the get go. And for the most part I have taken it all in stride and dealt with it with a patience I never knew I had. But I can tell you by the end of last week I'd just about had it up to the roots of my slightly greying (I must make a hair appointment) curls with the whole damn thing. I was so not in the mood to deal with any more issues. 

And then I met the insulator John, and his Missus. I could feel my mood lighten as soon as I started talking to him. He was easy to talk to and I liked him right away. We commiserated about my builders (not surprisingly), we talked about the house, we talked about the weather.  And then he asked me how I was doing, really? He was genuinely concerned. And I was genuinely surprised because I hadn't told him why I had moved home. It turns out my brother had stopped by earlier and filled him in. As I was getting ready to leave John decided (after clearing it with the Missus of course) he was going to work for most of the day Sunday. I immediately offered to bring them coffee (it was the least I could do) in the morning, which surprised both of them. Nobody ever brings them coffee. 

I was there bright and early Sunday morning and by early I mean 9:30 am, coffee in hand. They had clearly been there working for hours. In fact they'd been there since 6 am. They'd left home at 4:30 am and driven an hour and half on a Sunday morning to work on my house. My house. I asked him why on earth he would do that. "Simple. You're living in limbo, you can't move forward with your life like that. You need your house finished so you and your kids can have your home back, I'm not going to be the hold up." Wow. What do you say to that?

As I was leaving he asked me if I missed my military family.  And then I knew what should have been so obvious all along. Why I'd found him so easy to talk to. Why he got up at o'dark thirty to come work on my house. John was retired from the forces, he had served for 20 years. "We're a family, doesn't matter when we served. We're family and family takes care of there own."  So very true.

I brought coffee to John and the Missus (and no I never did get her name though I asked) every morning this week, and I  talked to them while they worked. It turns out I'm the first owner they have ever met in 30 years. How crazy is that? He filled me in on all things insulation (for the love of God people, stop ruining your own houses by putting nails in the walls, it drives insulators crazy). We talked a lot about life in the military. The more it changes, the more it stays the same.  And because I really can't make this stuff up, we discovered he'd served in the Black Watch with my Uncle.

I invited them to come back for coffee the next time they are working in the area. John was quite choked up by that. They've never seen one of the houses they've insulated finished. I hope they come. But shit, I'm really going to have to figure out how to hang everything up without nails or I'll be in big trouble. They finished up this morning. I promised him I'd take care of myself, though he told me he knew I'd be fine "because I was a tough cookie." What a charmer. And then he hugged me goodbye. And while it wasn't the hug I was hoping for this week, it turns out it was just the hug I needed. 

My new friend John is right. We are all part of the same military family, no matter when we served, no matter where we served. The ties that bind us really are stronger than we realize sometimes. And it doesn't matter whether we are in Wolfville (ugh Canning), Petawawa, Fort Sill, Oklahoma or half way around the world, those ties are never broken. And this week I was lucky enough to have a 70 year old chatterbox on stilts to remind me of that.

“The ties that bind us to life are tougher than you imagine, or than any one can who has not felt how roughly they may be pulled without breaking.” ~Anne Brontë

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Rocking Chair

You know what they say... Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.  (Actually Glenn Turner said it, I looked it up).  Fortunately I don't own a rocking chair, but I may occasionally worry. 

A friend recently suggested that I really should try to worry a bit less. I've been thinking about that a lot, and he's right, but only partially (so there). In this case I was worrying about him and Connor and Sarah all having t0 travel in bad weather on the same day, seriously my nerves. I wasn't neurotic, pacing the floor worrying, it was more the kind where you are relieved when they are all safe and sound where they are supposed to be. I actually think this kind of worrying is pretty natural, and it's something I've always done, even before the accident.  I like all of my people to be safe.  

But he got me thinking about worrying, and I have to admit I was surprised when I took stock of all of the things I have worried about (and not worried about) in the last few months. It turns out that I really haven't spent a lot of time worrying about the big things.  I don't worry about my seemingly never ending house building saga (that annoys me but it doesn't worry me and merits a blog post all of it's very own), I don't worry about bills (trust me I know I'm very fortunate in this one, I've been on the other side of that coin), and I actually don't worry about the future. The future will be what it will be, so I don't waste time worrying in advance.

 Some of the things I worry about are things everybody worries about. I worry about my kids, but that's my job. I worry that I'm not the best parent I should be or can be. And some things I say I worry about but don't really. I worry that I talk to much (Ha, that would never happen). I worry I drive my friends crazy (but they are used to me and really they don't HAVE to talk to me. Gluttons for punishment I say). 

What did surprise me was how much I've worried about what other people think of me. And that surprised me because it's not something I've really worried about before. When I stopped to think about it, I realized it's understandable I've felt that way.  We actually live in a very judgemental society. But I never knew how judgemental people (and by this I don't literally mean all people) are of widows until I became one. Think about it and you'll know it's true. We've all heard it. The whispers about the Merry Widow who laughed too much at her husband's funeral.  Or the woman who God forbid went on a date after only six months. Six months, just imagine! Harlot! The woman who spent too much of her "husband's" money on clothes or jewellery. She went on a vacation where? And with who? OMG! The one who got remarried "only" a year and a half after her husband died. What was she thinking? 
No freaking wonder I've wanted to take up smoking. And no wonder I worried so much about taking off my wedding rings. 

The wedding ring dilemma is one I know my widowed (and divorced) friends totally understand.  Taking off your wedding rings is a big step. Some take them off soon after they are widowed, some leave them on for years. I took mine off in the fall, and put them back on again because I was worried what people would think. I wore them because I felt like I should.  And then I realized how utterly ridiculous that was. Because Dan never ever wore his (which for the record drove me crazy). In fact, I guarantee you he didn't even know where it was. 

It actually took me a couple of days to find it, which involved a complicated process of thinking like he did,  and when I eventually found it, it made perfect sense. In Dan thinking, not in regular thinking. It was in the letterbox on the desk in our front hall, in case you were wondering. Because that is where one naturally would keep their wedding ring, with the envelopes and stamps. Naturally, if they were Dan. 

I'm pretty sure if the roles were reversed nobody would expect him to suddenly start wearing his wedding ring or judge him for it. So I took mine off for the last time, and left them off.  In the end it was pretty simple. I can't move forward with my life if I'm still wearing my wedding rings.  They represent a chapter of my life that is now over. It was a great chapter, but it's time for a new chapter.

 I'm moving forward with my life the only way I know how, the way that works for me. I don't always get it right, but you know what that's okay. Nobody ever gets it right all the time. I don't think I'm doing anything extraordinary nor am I really that amazing (thanks for saying it though, you guys are really sweet).  I'm just being myself. There are always going to be a few people waiting for me to fall on my face (you wouldn't believe some of the things people have said to me). Some people really are just assholes (yes I said that out loud, it seems to be a thing I do lately), and they always will be. And I really shouldn't worry about what they think.

 So one of my new goals for the year is to worry less about what people who don't matter think of me. In fact, I'm going to try to spend less time worrying in general. Except for worrying about my people. Because that's a promise I know I'll never keep. I will always be concerned about the people I care about. So you might as well get used to it. 

And in case you were wondering. ..I  did buy a new wardrobe, but no jewellery. I have bought some new furniture for the new never going to be finished house (but don't worry, I haven't bought a rocking chair).  No dates yet.  Oh, and I actually did plan a crazy trip. I was supposed to go to Petawawa (yes Petawawa in January, I told you it was crazy) this weekend but had to postpone. I'm actually massively disappointed. There's irony for you. Which is probably a subject for another post.

"Worry bankrupts the spirit".~Terri Guillemets

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