The first year after Bob died was tough.
I guess that goes without saying, huh?!
Frequently, I felt overwhelmed with the needs of Arthur and Henry (1and 4). In the evenings after the boys were asleep I would vent to my sister, Kathy. During these phone conversations I was usually elbow deep in soap suds with the phone clutched between my cheek and shoulder, often I was whining about all the things I had to do before I could go to bed. The "to-do" list stretched in front of me like a vast dreary landscape.
"Just go to bed," she would tell me. "Get some sleep."
"I can't," I responded, incredulous at the mere idea. "It's not as if anyone is going to do this stuff for us while we sleep."
The thought of getting up in the morning to a kitchen full of dirty dishes, no clean sippy cups, lunches that still needed to be packed, and a full laundry basket was enough to keep me on task.
Waking up behind the eight ball, the "to-do" list from yesterday still before me, and the current day quickly racking up more tasks to add to that list, was enough to put me over the very precarious edge I hovered on. My sanity felt very thin, a full sink of dishes in the morning might be all it took for those last threads to unravel.
A little OCD is common when grieving. It is an attempt to find order and control when one has just been taught the biggest lesson of all; control is an illusion.
I perseverated on wanting my kids to be 4 and 7. For whatever reason 4 and 7 sounded really good to me, there would be more order somehow. They would both be dressing themselves and going to the bathroom on their own. There would be school and a chore list, Henry could surely take out the garbage for me when he was seven. What age can they mow the lawn and shovel, anyway?!
"Hang in there, Irene." Kathy repeated encouragingly, a hint of pity in her voice."You have some good years ahead with the kids, the grade school years, some really golden years. The boys will be more independent and not surly yet."
That first summer the three of us went to Door County for a few days to stay with a high school girlfriend at her family's lake "cottage". Door County is a beautiful peninsula about 3 hours north of Milwaukee that juts out into Lake Michigan.
We gals were busy with the organized chaos of nursing and making bottles, putting kids in high chairs to spoon feed mashed peas in their mouth, putting kids down for naps, trying to make sure they kept rocks out of their mouths and didn't disappear to the other side of the dunes. At night, exhausted, swinging on the porch swing and listening to the calming waves of lake Michigan I wished those golden years would hurry up.
Well, 4 and 7 are gone and the golden years are definitely in full swing!! The boys and I just spent an idyllic 3 days with my girlfriend and her family back at the "cottage". This time we gals read books in our beach chairs and swung in the hammock while the 2 youngest (5) played school and the older boys (7, 9 & 10) took sleds and shovels to the beach and were down there for hours, unattended and no intervention needed. Kayaking and sailing were on the agenda instead of petting zoos and disgustingly early McDonald's runs to keep your early bird from waking the rest of the house.
At night the happy, tired, sun kissed and sand laden children ate plates of noodles and tacos with their own hands while the adults ate on the porch with a lit candle as the sun set giving the clouds over the lake an orange hue.
Fully sugared up with s'mores the kids immediately fell asleep in sandy beds and slept late, waking up smelling of fire and coconut sunscreen and ready to do it all again. Not a surly one in the bunch!
Ah, the golden years," I thought to myself as I sat on the porch swing and watched the boys launch themselves over the dunes on a plastic sled they dragged from the garage. It is still organized chaos, but I seem to be able to find more calm within the storm these days.
I still can't go to bed without the kitchen cleaned and the house in some kind of order, an affect of intense grief, the lingering knowledge that we really control nothing but our reactions to a situation. But I will occasionally leave the laundry to fold for the next day, secure in the knowledge that it will get done eventually. (and sometimes by someone other then me)
A sign of improvement surely!
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