Sunday, January 1, 2012

Tree Trimming

Hey there-

Ah, trimming the tree.

A lovely ritual. Rich with tradition and chock full of memories.

These sweet memories can quickly turn to land mines for a widowed person.

I will never forget the first Christmas after Bob died. Rosie cheeked from our trek through the woods to cut down the tree, plus the effort it took to haul it in the house and get it in the stand, Henry, Arthur and I (plus Bob's sisters....bless their souls) plunged into the carefully packed ornament bins.

As a side note I should mention that the bins had been packed by Bob the year before. I know this because nothing I packed was ever careful. I am more of a 'just get the stuff in there' kind of a packer. The first time Bob and I had to pack and move anywhere I thought we might not make it as a couple as he looked on in disgust, packing paper in hand, while I threw kitchen appliances willy nilly into a box with abandon.

I will freely admit that on that first Christmas without Bob I was already emotionally fragile embarking on the tree trimming without my light hanging guy. But, for the children, I bravely opened the first bin with feigned glee. There, neatly folded on the top of the pile, was a cheery red, white and green knit stocking with 'Bob' across the top.

ugh! Really? Really Bob? You had to put your stocking on the top?

Well, for me, it was down hill from that point. Each ornament I dutifully unwrapped and handed to Henry's eager tiny hand seemed to hold a memory of a trip Bob and I had gone on together. I felt compelled to share each story with the group, as if I might forget where each ornament was obtained now that Bob was not with me to reminisce.

"This cardinal was from our honeymoon in Bayfield, this tree we got when we went to San Francisco one Christmas, this cow your Uncle Eugene sent us the first Christmas we lived in Oregon, this one your dad and I bought when we went to Mt. St. Helens, it's made out of the ash from the eruption........"

That first tree trimming was difficult to say the least. Each ornament on the tree was another stab at my  wounded heart. I wondered if I would ever be able to gaze at the Christmas tree with a whole, light heart again.

A couple years later there came the first tree trimming that Mike and I and our newly blended family did together.

More land mines.

Could I tell the story of the cardinal ornament purchased on Bob and my honeymoon to the group? While I contemplated this question Henry went ahead and joyfully told the story of the cardinal ornament he had been listening to the past several years.


Fast forward several more years to this year, 2011, another tree trimming. Henry (11) dives for the ornament box labeled 'Irene  and Bob' and carefully begins to unwrap the neatly packed items within. (yes, I neatly packed them :-)) Sam (13) finds the box marked 'Mike and Irene' and begins to unpack the ornaments that Mike has given me as gifts the last few years. Someone else finds the 'McHoganStein' ornament my sister gave us our first Christmas as a merged family and up on the tree it goes.

"Where is the Mt St. Helen's ornament?" Sam asks, looking around the tissue strewn living room, "oh, here it is." He hands the smooth, round, grayish blue ornament to me and I find the perfect place on the tree for it, in between the infamous cardinal and the mustard yellow glass heart Mike gave me last year.

Later that night, after the boxes were put away and the kids were in bed I sat on the couch sipping some red wine and gazed at the tree for a bit. The 'Bob and Irene' ornaments hung next to the "Mike and Irene' ornaments as if they were always meant to hang on that tree together.

Life does move forward, against all odds and sometimes against our will, it moves boldly forward.

My heart feels whole.

Thanks for checking in-


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Four Letter Word

Hey there-


The four letter word of relationships after widowhood.

I talk about using an "inside voice" when those nasty thoughts occur. Unless, of course, the comparison is in the live guys favor, and then use the outside voice.

Well, my inside voice was rather loud last night and I'm just gonna let it out, so be prepared.

There are times that I miss Bob more than others. The boys birthdays, Christmas concerts, school conferences, our anniversary, the usual stuff.

And then there is football season.


I really didn't appreciate Bob's lack of interest in major league sports enough.

Before all of you Mike fans get your undies in a bunch I will say this:

Last night as the Packers played the Vikings (I hear it was a big game) Mike folded some laundry and sorted through the unmatched socks pile. With five children the sock task could actually take an entire football game and I hate it!

Gotta give the guy credit for speaking my love language, something Bob rarely thought about.

So, I did it, I compared out loud. That wasn't so bad was it?

I feel better anyway.

Thanks for checking in-


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What would Carol Brady do?

Hey there-

Dear Mike, Welcome to our classroom!  Please don't spend to much time talking to pepel. Love, Arthur

This was a recent note Arthur wrote to Mike for a back to school event. Our family thought the note was hysterical when I showed it to everyone at dinner the next time we were all together. We understand the note was in reference to the fact that Mike knows EVERYONE and talks to everyone  ALL THE TIME. The kids regularly freak out when Mike will "run into" a store to pick something up because he takes forever since he will invariably see someone he knows and start chatting. Don't even get me started on trying to get him out of coffee hour at church.

The teacher, on the other hand, did not understand the note. When Mike tried to explain that Arthur was mocking him she thought it was because he called him "Mike" in the note and not "Dad". Upon further explanation she still didn't really get it, she was stuck on the fact that Arthur did not call Mike "Dad".

"But he's the only dad he's ever known, right?" she said to me nonchalantly.


This issue confounds people. I am counted in those people who are confounded.

Mike's kids call me Irene and no one says a word about it. But, then, they have a mom. My kids have a dad, he just happens to be dead. As the quote goes; death ends a life not a relationship.

It's complicated. I will look at the THREE boys and say; "Go ask Mike...your dad."

What is that?

It has been suggested to me that I simply start calling Mike "Dad" when referring to him with my boys. But I just can't seem to do it, it feels weird at this point somehow, kind of like suddenly changing the name you call your child when they turn five.

My two boys and I were recently watching re-runs of The Brady Bunch. Ah, the Brady's, things were so simple for them. They were both widowed yet you never heard any mention of their late spouses names, no one ever had a melt down while decorating the Christmas tree, none of the children ever seemed to be grieving or conflicted  regarding the loss of a parent, they had no "picture issues", and the kids called the new parent mom and/or dad without any hesitation.


Of course, the room the three boys shared on the show looks NOTHING like the room our three boys share here in real life, plus we have no live-in housekeeper, so what is the use of comparing, really? I guess any issue that takes longer than 22 minutes to solve was not written into the script, and we are at five years plus for this one. That would be one long sitcom episode.

Maybe we should pick some kind of word for Mike that isn't "dad" but shows endearment and male leadership. Something like "pop" or "pa" or "father" (I know that one is not terribly endearing).

But then I feel terms of endearment should come naturally and not be assigned. Besides, that wouldn't solve the problem of addressing all the children at once anyway. I would still be using two different words when referring to Mike/ dad/ pop.


Anyway, last night Arthur, Mike and I were on the couch watching The Sing Off. Arthur was sprawled between us with his feet draped over Mike's legs and his head in my lap. Mike pulled Arthur's toes while Arthur giggled. When I look around our house I see a framed picture Arthur drew of our family for Mike for his birthday one year with "Mike" front and center in the picture, lots of scribbled curly hair on top of his head. In the kitchen hangs a house Arthur made last year with three big hearts and the word "mom" following each heart. After I hung it on the wall he added three little hearts followed by "dad" to "complete the picture".

I think about all this and I wonder if it really matters what Arthur calls Mike.

It is the way he feels about him that matters.

Thanks for checking in-


Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Hey there-

I was driving Arthur to his guitar lesson recently.

We got into one of those random conversations that happen in a car with a seven year old. Somehow it came up that I had only wanted to have one child and that after a while his dad and I had changed our minds and how lucky we were to have changed our minds because,"what would we do without you, Arthur?"

"Yea," he said enthusiastically from the backseat, "and I wouldn't have been able to go to San Antonio, or Yellowstone, or New York, or Florida......."

(I found it interesting that the trips we have taken were first on his mind of what he would have missed.)

In my usual fashion of giving too much information I tried explaining my belief that if he had not been born to Bob and I then his spirit would have gone to another family and maybe they would have gone on even better trips.

At this point we had arrived at our destination and were walking across the street towards the guitar shop. He looked up at me wide eyed after I said this and adjusted the guitar on his shoulder.

"Well, I would have had to run away from that family and find YOU mom," he said shaking his head and looking back down at the street.

A few days later I was washing dishes when Arthur started asking me some specifics about the time frame of Bob's death. He wanted to know how old he was when Bob died and the like. I didn't think much about it initially because this is not an unusual line of questioning around our house. But then he surprised me-

"Well, it's a good thing I wasn't born to that other family because you really needed me."

That statement made me pause.

I thought back to being early in my pregnancy with Arthur and the knife in the belly fear I felt when Bob was first diagnosed. I remembered Arthur being a newborn and Bob dying and the hazy exhaustion that consumed me. I remembered the many times I thought that I didn't need Arthur. As a matter of fact, I often thought about how much easier life would be without an infant to care for.

And then I thought about my friend's belief that children choose their parents. And my sister's belief that children come into the world knowing what their parents need from them.

I don't know why Bob and I changed our minds about a second child when we did.

I don't know why Arthur would have chosen to come into the situation he did.

But I'm glad we did and I'm glad he did.

Because one thing I do know is that Arthur was right, I did need him.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beautiful Dreamer

Hey there-

I was busted last night.

Both boys (7 & 11) had teeth pulled yesterday. Or should I say they had teeth wiggled out yesterday. Apparently that is what the dentist likes to say so she doesn't have kids bolting from the room after they hear words like extracted or yanked. Both of my boys are very stoic in these situations and they came out of the room with slight smirks on their faces and bloody gauze hanging out of their mouths.

The dentist had told them they deserved something special from the tooth fairy after being so brave so they both left notes for the tooth fairy so she knew these teeth were pulled and didn't just fall out. I dutifully snuck into their room later to exchange the teeth for the loot. (I give $1 per tooth.....OK I splurged and gave them each $2 after the nice dentist practically forced me to....) I had trouble finding Arthur's and had to dig around a bit before locating the baggie with his note neatly taped to it; "This was pulled" was all it said. After securing the money and the note I (the tooth fairy, sorry) wrote for him; "Good work" under his pillow I moved on to Henry's tooth.

I crept to his bed and stretched my arm up to reach my hand gently under his pillow and..........his little head popped up with a huge smile on his face.

"The dentist told me I was too old to believe in the tooth fairy," he said.

This coming from a guy who, when he was 5, told me he didn't believe in the Easter bunny.

"Why would a bunny leave eggs for people? That just doesn't make any sense."

You're right, Henry, it doesn't make any sense.

I went upstairs to share the story with Mike who was absorbed in the extra inning of the Brewer's game (Go Brewer's!) and could not have cared less at that moment about me being busted as the tooth fairy.

So I went into the bedroom and started crying. Why, you may ask. I think it has a little something to do with today being Bob and my 15th wedding anniversary and a little something to do with the sainted dead spouse syndrome. Of course, if Bob were here he would have stopped whatever he was doing and given me his undivided attention and laughed appropriately and sentimentally at my tooth fairy story. Better yet, if Bob were here, he would have crept around the room with me and seen Henry's head bob up for himself and we could have laughed together later.

I am sure that is what would have happened. If Bob were here he would celebrate every silly milestone involving our boys with me in exactly the way I would want him to.

It all would be perfect, if Bob were here.

HA, beautiful dreamer.

Well, if Bob were here, we would have celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary today. Instead, I am packing for a trip to San Diego where Mike and I will speak about the challenges and joys of marriage after widowhood. We talk about the sainted dead spouse syndrome and the anniversary dates that can be tough for both of us. I bet the tooth fairy story will be brought up this year. I bet we laugh about it.

Nothing is perfect, except maybe the weather today which is the exact same weather we had 15 years ago.

Happy Anniversary, Bob. I miss you! Love, Renie

Thanks for checking in-


Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Hey there-

Can grief be sexy?

Let me explain. The other day I attended a fundraiser for the FaceIt Foundation ( My friend, Mark, founded this organization to help raise awareness and provide support for male depression. He has been riding his bike from California to New York this summer to raise funds and awareness for this worthy cause.

The event was lovely, but could have had a better turn out.

I feel the same way about Camp Widow ( where Mike and I will speak next week on the joys and challenges of remarriage after widowhood. I also feel the same way about the Life Lights Celebration, an annual event that benefits the Horizon Grief Resource Center. ( Mike and I serve on the planning committee for this last event.

Mark (FaceIt Foundation) and I have discussed the difficulties of garnering support for our passions: depression and grief.

"They aren't very sexy topics," Mark said, with a laugh and a shrug.

I think grief is sexy. What is not sexy about crying and screaming and possible throwing of items? You can't tell me heartbreak is not sexy. Funerals?, now there is some sexy stuff; people dressed in dark outfits, milling about and talking in hushed tones, that is sexy. And what about grief support groups?, the Kleenex, more crying, the great chairs you get to sit in, sexy. The thank you notes, the flowers, the head tilt of empathy, the paperwork, the holidays, the anniversaries, the hard (like climbing a mountain of sand) work involved with moving forward, all of it very, very sexy.

For real, though, I think grief can be sexy.

The way child birth is sexy. It's messy and there can be screaming and crying and maybe drugs and you have no idea when it will end. There can be a point (or two or three or 18) when you might think you don't want to go on, or you can't go on, but you have no choice at that moment.

You have no choice.

You know that feeling that you get at the top of the mountain or after you run a marathon (I hear) or after a fantastic bike ride or after you clean your entire house and it smells like lemon or when all the laundry is done and everything is folded in neat piles or after a successful presentation you were really nervous about or when you finally birth that baby. You know that tired, satisfied, glowing feeling you get after a hard job well done, when it feels so good to be in your skin and you are so proud of your accomplishment. It may be a feat you didn't expect to complete, or didn't necessarily even want to, but you did and you have to smile despite yourself because you feel just a little invincible.

Surviving grief can make you feel like that.


Don't give up on your grieving before you get to the glowing, satisfied, sexy, feeling good in your skin, invincible part.

Getting your glow back.........that is sexy!!!

Thanks for checking in-


Friday, July 29, 2011


Hey there-

To me Henry (11) is all Wellenstein and Arthur (7) is the McGoldrick. People say they look exactly alike but I know differently.

Henry looks just like his dad, has a lot of the same interests, and has the reserved observant nature of his father.

Arthur looks like my brother and is more lighthearted and social. The way he greets people and handles himself in a crowd reminds me of my dad.

I have often thought the two would make a good political team. Henry would be the speech writer and Arthur would be the one shaking people's hands. (not that I would wish a political career on either of them mind you)

Henry obviously had more time with his dad, and Bob took advantage of the time to introduce Henry to many of his passions, some of which included cooking, camping, science and bike riding. After Bob died I desperately wanted to keep these interests close to Henry's heart. But as any parent, widowed or not, has to realize, the child will have their own interests and you can't force yours onto them.

But, I will admit, that I continue to look for these "Bob Wellenstein" traits in Henry. It still makes me smile when Henry wants to make Bob's famous pancakes or when he excels in science at school. So it took me by surprise when Arthur began expressing interest in the kitchen.

"Mom, what can I do to help with dinner?"

Wait a minute.......I've been spending so much time looking for the Wellenstein in Henry that I may be missing it in Arthur. He's not ALL McGoldrick, clearly. Neither is Henry ALL Wellenstein.

As a matter of fact, a friend recently made a comment about Arthur's social nature; "I wonder where he gets that from?" She then motioned her head towards Mike. Does this mean they are part Hogan as well?

Newsflash......both of them are their own person.

I know we all want to see bits of ourselves in our children. With Bob being dead I have searched for these bits even closer. Am I hoping to keep him alive through the boys? Am I wanting to prove that Bob was, indeed, alive, and not just a figment of my imagination?

I don't know.

What I do know is that we are all bits and pieces of everyone who has influenced us in our lives, alive and dead.

Thanks for checking in-


Monday, July 11, 2011

More Acceptance

Hey there,

Arthur (7) and I were walking to our friend's house down the block when he asked me about the presenting I do about Grief and Loss. He was curious what kind of questions people ask me after I am done with the talk. I told him most people are curious about my marriage to Mike and how I decided I was ready to date again and how my children (he and Henry) accepted Mike in their lives.

"How DID we accept Mike?" he asked, squinting up at me in the sunlight.

"Well, you two were so young when you met Mike (2 & 5) that I don't think you thought one way or the other about it, it just was," I told him.

"And then when we got older we thought......Mike, OK, we accept you!"

He looked up the hill for any cars, smiled at me, grabbed my hand and started to cross the street.

Yup Arthur, that is how it happened.

Thanks for checking in-


Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Hey there-

The other day I spoke at a Death & Dying class at the local university. I have been doing this every semester for a few years now. I come in after the class, full of social work, counseling and nursing students, discusses the topic of grieving. I tell them my personal grief story. My story usually ends up being a bit of a free association, rambling kind of routine, and there is a lot of laughter.

I am not sure if the laughter shocks any of the students. I certainly hope it does not offend any of them. I don't want to seem too irreverent. (not too anyway)

I know grief isn't funny, grief is hard work.

I tell them that too.

For the presentation, in an attempt to keep myself somewhat focused, I try to tell stories that are examples of my favorite list of characteristics required for successful grieving.

Courage, Resilience, Perseverance, Patience, and a Sense of Humor. (found in the book, The Courage to Grieve).

My stories relating to these characteristics are meant to be examples of a person doing her best to move forward and figure out how to best put the pieces of her life back in some kind of order after it was shattered. They involve some yelling at innocent parties and some wise realizations from wide eyed children and some feelings of failure and some feelings of accomplishment and some tears and lots of laughter.

When your 4 year old approaches you at an airport inquiring about the "green square thing at the bottom of the urinal", or you finally realize, after months of doing it, that the family cannot live on instant oatmeal alone, or you cry in joy over a little thing like a state park sticker, or you find yourself in a conversation with a hawk and it seems like a perfectly rational thing to do, one must laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Grief is hard work and it is sad and it is ridiculous at times and you find yourself in outrageous situations and it helps to see the humor in it all.

As a good friend of mine says; Sometimes you gotta laugh.

Thanks for checking in-


Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Tree

Hey there-

Father's Day, 2011.

Mike wanted to go on a bike ride before we grilled some fish on his new grill for dinner. I should say before HE grilled fish on his new grill for dinner. I thought a bike ride, in between the rain drops, sounded like a fabulous idea.

I watched him take off down our street, concentrating on clipping in his biking shoe to the pedal of the slick Trek mountain bike he rides.

It was Bob's bike.

They are Mike's shoes, apparently Mike has smaller feet than Bob.

I started laughing, belly laughing.

One of my favorite funny memories of Bob is the first time we went out on our bikes after he got those clip on bike shoes and so lovingly replaced the pedals. We were riding through SE Portland on our way to Ben and Jerry's for a little sweet treat. If you have never been to SE Portland you won't know how congested the narrow neighborhood streets can get with parked cars and how many bicyclist can be cruising these narrow and uncontrolled intersections. Portland is a bicycling city.

Well, a bicyclist came from the perpendicular street and we had to stop short. Bob, unfamiliar with his clip on shoes was unable to remove his foot from the pedal and tipped right over. It was in slow motion. He just fell slowly over, his feet trapped on the bike, helpless to stop himself.

I laughed so hard seeing this normally coordinated, sporty guy topple over, still trying to extricate his foot from his pedal.

Nice, huh? I'm so loving. It was just so hilarious. And he wasn't hurt or anything.

It's interesting how life stacks together all of it's parts on top of each other into one big whole. Like the circles of a tree that show it's age. The years stack on top of each other, wrap around and on top of the years before, some are wider than others and some have little bumps, each have their own story, each is an important part of the whole tree.

My live husband can unwittingly and unknowingly bring up a memory of my dead husband and I can laugh over a memory of Bob while making a memory of Mike.

This is my tree.

I love my tree.

Thanks for checking in-