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.

Thanks for checking in-


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 (www.faceitFoundation.org). 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 (www.sslf.org) 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. (www.horizonhch.org) 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-


Friday, June 17, 2011

Beautiful Dreamer

Hey there-

The other morning Henry came out of his bedroom and went to the cupboard in the kitchen looking for breakfast. His shoulders were bent forward and his head was hanging a bit and he didn't answer his usual "Good" when I asked him how he slept.

"What's wrong?" I asked him.

"I had a dream about Dad," he told me. Then he started sobbing, big shoulder shaking sobs.

Upon questioning he couldn't remember much of the dream.

"But I remember the emotion," he cried.

I attempted to comfort Henry by telling him my belief is that when you dream about the person who is dead it is the person visiting you, checking in, saying hi. So dreaming about Dad should be a happy thing. As I explained this theory to Henry I omitted the part that I never dream about Bob, never.

Last week Mike came downstairs one morning and told me he had a dream about Bob the night before.

Going with my theory, that is a little weird.

He said that Bob and I were together talking about the boys summer haircuts that Mike had given them and how much he liked them. Bob didn't say anything to Mike in the dream, no thanking him for helping to raise his boys or any encouraging words. Apparently Bob and I simply hung out on the back porch and watched the boys and their short hair run around for a while.

Rude. I thought to myself, but maybe I'm just bitter that Bob seems to be visiting everyone else in their dreams but me.

"He seemed very happy with the hair cuts, I think the fact that he's happy with what we're doing was implied," Mike said.

Very generous of Mike I think.

Well, if Bob visits anyone else out there in their dreams be sure and send him my way. I wouldn't mind if he came by and said HI.

Thanks for checking in-


Saturday, June 11, 2011

A House of Cards

Hey there,

Henry (10) had his first "health" class in school last week.

He came home chock full of information about adolescence.

"Mom," he asked me, slurping up his ramen noodles with a fork, "when did you start adolescence?"

"Excuse me?" I stalled, just exactly what was he looking for?

"What about Dad, when did he start adolescence."

Now there is a question I never thought to ask Bob before he died.

Henry went on to explain that when he was in adolescence he might be happy one minute and angry the next, his friends would be more important to him than his family (what!?!?), his motivation could be lacking, and he might have trouble focusing.

Hmmmmmmm........I think I am in adolescence NOW........

"When I learned about this stuff in school my teacher called it puberty, only he pronounced it pooooberty," I told him, still stalling a little, not sure why.

I have no idea what made me tell a 10 year old boy a story involving poo since five minutes later I saw him dancing in the dining room building a house of cards singing "pooooberty.....pooooooooberty".

Today the boys and Mike were leaving to go camping. I told my boys to be helpful.

"Mike has three healthy young men with him and he better not do all the work himself. Be focused," I encouraged pumping my arms in the air.

"OK, Mom," Henry said, eyes trained on his house of cards, "unless I enter pooooberty, and then I might not be very motivated or focused."

Damn school.

Thanks for checking in-


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dead End

Hey there-

What is the statute of limitations on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

I have been having some health issues lately that have required Dr's. visits and tests and scary possibilities and waiting for results.

Last week I sat in the Dr's. office and listened while the very nice doctor lady told me she was sure everything was fine.

"No worries," she told me. "I just want to be thorough, I am sure we are leading to a dead end. You look healthy and your lung capacity is better than mine, I am sure you are fine."

This very nice, very thorough, youngish, kind of spunky lady had no idea why I sat in front of her with tears streaming down my face.

"That's what the very nice doctors told my husband too, and now he's dead," I told her.

"Oh dear, how long ago did your husband die?" she asked, with the familiar head tilt.

"Seven years."


I know she was expecting me to say six months or possibly last week by the way I was reacting. I know it seems crazy to be sitting in an office seven years after your husband died, remarried, and by most accounts happy and mostly sane, and be freaking out about a non-life threatening diagnosis and some test results for a possibility that will "most likely lead to a dead end".

I know this logically.

But apparently my body has not caught up with my mind on this one. Apparently, I am unable to sit calmly in a Dr's. office and listen to a very nice lady tell me that she is sure I am fine while she busily orders complicated tests to rule out scary sounding possibilities. Apparently I did not learn the first time not to ask too may questions and to NEVER EVER Google the scary possibility that your very nice Dr. is sure you don't have but insists on testing you for anyway, just to be thorough.

Apparently, I have a little PTSD.

Yes, seven years later.

Oh my.

Thanks for checking in-


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mace Pese

Hey there-

I was seven weeks pregnant with Arthur (now 7) when Bob was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I was eight months pregnant when we were in Omaha, NE for Bob's stem cell transplant. Arthur was just shy of five months when Bob died.

Needless to say, there were many moments of wondering.

Why am I pregnant right now? Is this really a good idea? Do I really need this right now? How can I handle two kids on my own? Is it OK to have a donut and Dr. Pepper when I am pregnant, because I am really stressed out right now! What were we thinking?!?!?!?!

Arthur came home the other day from school with an art project clutched in his fist. The assignment was to write something they could do.

I will mace
pese to the warld.


Translation......I will make peace to the world. (I know, I know, we have some work to do on his spelling)

Well, I guess that answers all my questions, except for that donut and Dr. Pepper one.......

Thanks for checking in-


Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Hey there-

We got new carpet installed yesterday.

Sunday was spent moving furniture, ripping up carpeting, pulling up staples and painting. The whole project started with a bathroom remodel. You know how these things go, first the bathroom gets fixed up and then before you know it you're ripping up carpeting and taking the pictures off the wall so you can paint the living room.

Arthur (the 7 year old) has been loving all of it. From the demolition of the tile to the hanging of the new toilet paper roll, he's wanted in on all of it. You might think we were the only people ever to remodel a bathroom. Arthur would move his bed in there if he could. And just what was Henry doing while Arthur and I were on our hands and knees yanking out hundreds of staples from the floor? Henry was curled up on the love seat in the sun room amongst all the displaced furniture reading Harry Potter.

They are very different kids.

Later that night Arthur was just out of the shower, his skin all pink and glowing and his hair a big tangle. He sat down on the couch next to Henry and me so I could gently comb out his hair. As I slowly worked out the knots (both boys are growing their hair out for 'crazy hair day') I realized I had never combed Henry's hair like this, Henry has always been too busy taking care of his own personal hygiene to wait around for me.

Then, while getting into his jammies Arthur animatedly told me a story involving some bison (NOT buffalo!). Bison have been his obsession since our trip to Yellowstone last summer. The boy has at least 25 pictures of bison hanging on the walls surrounding his bed, compared to the maps and dry erase board with daily reminders such as "make pancakes in morning" next to Henry's bed.

The point of all this?

The point is that while I watched Arthur strut around the room brushing his hair back from his face with one hand and wildly waving the other around during his very involved bison story I was struck by something, something seemingly obvious, but still a bit shocking to me.

Arthur is becoming his own man.

Somewhere amongst the backdrop of his dad dying and his mom falling apart and his older brother demanding lots of attention and his mom getting married again and older step-siblings coming and going, Arthur is becoming this individual, this person, this man-child with his own voice and opinions and interests.

Despite everything he's growing up, thriving.

"Kids are resilient," a friend told me at Bob's memorial.

Considering there was a time that poor boy practically needed to be bleeding out his eyeballs to get any attention from me, resilience is a good thing.

A quick thesaurus search for the word "resilience" finds these synonyms.....flexibility, pliability, spirit.

That's Arthur.

Thank goodness for resilience.

Thanks for checking in-


Monday, May 9, 2011


Hey there,

I opened the refrigerator the other day and one of the many magnets I have with pictures or quotes or lists or instructions came crashing to the ground.

It was the 8X11 one that holds the list of Expectations for the household. You know, the list that includes making your bed every day before sitting in front of a square box, clearing your dirty dishes from the table, and no rough housing on the main floor of the house, just to name a few. (there are only 10 in case you are wondering just how nutty I am) It's a list that is sometimes adhered to and sometimes not depending on the day, the child, and how much I feel like nagging. (I mean gently reminding :-))

When the frame fell to the floor the Expectations list fell out and revealed the list that had been in the frame prior.

Capacity to Distance
Sense of Humor

From now on I want to.........

Ah, a very different list from a very different time. I used to have this list posted on every mirror of the house along with the refrigerator. It was a list I found in the book The Courage to Grieve. According to the author, Judy Tatelbaum, these are qualities a person needs to successfully grieve. The last line is a mantra for yourself, a little reminder that you are moving forward. What was is no longer, what do you want to do NOW.

My first thought when I saw the list was how glad I was to not be back there, back in that place when I needed that list every day to remind me of how hard I was working, how far I had come, and that I was, indeed, no matter how slowly and painfully at times, moving forward.

Then I began to realize how appropriate that list was for right now. I need all these skills to successfully parent, step-parent, run a household, write with honesty, present with passion, be a good friend, be a good partner, etc.......

Heck, we all need these skills to make it through the day.

Maybe it is time to think less about expectations and think more about the qualities I want to teach my children. Skills they will need to be a successful adult, able to handle life's disappointments with grace and guts.

Thanks for checking in-


Monday, May 2, 2011

The Daffodil

Hey there-

I was on a walk with my mother-in-law recently, it was a brisk, grey, early spring day. We had a dusting of snow the night before but there were still the first flowers of spring to be observed as we slowly made our way down the block. I pointed out the daffodils in the neighbor's yards as they bravely continued their final blooming despite the snows attempt to weigh them down.

Daffodils have always been a favorite of mine. The first burst of spring after the long winter. Their bold mustard yellow bloom and perky slim stem is so encouraging, almost brash, as if the daffodil is natures way of giving the old middle finger to winter.

I was reminded of a quote I found meaningful when I was in the depths of grief. You know those depths, when you are afraid you just might not make it out.

Spring does no refuse to come
because it is preceded by winter.

Judy Tatelbaum
The Courage to Grieve

Thanks for checking in-


Monday, April 25, 2011

Trapped in Humanity

Hey there-

Henry, Arthur and I decided it was a good thing we aren't lions.

We went to see the movie "African Cats" yesterday. The story follows a cheetah mother and her cubs and a lion pride during a year in their life on the African plains of Kenya.

Note to reader, there could be some spoiler information coming up.

Cheetahs are solitary animals so the mom was on her own raising her cubs while lions are more family oriented and had several women, lots of cubs, and one man protecting them. I won't get into the discussions that followed the movie about how bothersome it was that the females hunted and killed the game and then the man came along, roared at them to get out of the way, and proceeded to lay down and eat his fill. Never mind that the ladies are caring for all the little ones AND they made the meal, I guess the guy eats first no matter what in lion world. Plus, just exactly where was the cheetah dad, huh?

Mike kept telling us we had to take human emotion out of the equation.

At the end another male lion and his three sons drive the dad lion out of his pride, kick out all the cubs, and take over the women. The women hardly put up a fight before seemingly abandoning their current cubs and happily begin to raise new cubs with the new leader dude.

The boys and I agreed we are glad that we aren't lions and Mike didn't force me to abandon them before I took up with him and began raising his kids.

I know, I know, separate human emotion.

After Bob died people had lots to say to me, words of comfort they were supposed to be I am sure. Statements about how I should be happy that he was no longer in pain, or that he was in a better place. I was told that this was the plan we had agreed to so why should I be sad?

But I was sad, very. Did this fact mean I wanted him to still be in pain? It certainly meant that I thought we had agreed to a stupid plan. My sister-in-law told me some words that I actually did find comfort in, she said no matter how glad I might be that Bob was out of pain I was still going to miss him because I was trapped in my own humanity.

We can't separate from our human emotions.

Do we even want to?

Still, Henry decided that given the choice he would be a cheetah, better to be on your own than have to deal with all the drama and emotion and abandonment of the pride.


Thanks for checking in-


Monday, April 18, 2011

Tiny Spot

Hey there-

On Saturday I was sitting on the floor of the dingy hallway at the high school waiting for my boys to come out of the locker room after their swim lessons. As luck would have it a fellow widow friend was also waiting for her son and we were enjoying ourselves gossiping, eavesdropping on the pom pon girls as they flitted up and down the hallway preparing for their tryouts, and being entertained by her almost four year old.

When my boys emerged into the hallway with their wet heads and red eyes I introduced them to my friend's son, who at this point was lying on his side and spinning in a slow circle on the floor. He stopped spinning, looked at my boys and said;

"My daddy is dead."

I thought this was interesting since he had no reason to connect my boys with their dad being dead like his, and it's not as if his dad just died, it has been a few years. I told him I was sorry and that my boys' father was dead also, then we said our goodbyes and the three of us meandered down the hallway and out to our car, the promised donuts on our minds.

Later that same day, in the middle of a crowded and loud restaurant, Henry brought this interaction up and told me he didn't think "the boy really knew that his dad was dead, as in never coming back."

"Why not?" I asked him.

Henry explained to me that the boy looked about the same age he had been when his dad died and that he hadn't understood what it meant "back then" when Bob died.

"I thought he was coming back," Henry said evenly.

I have to admit this statement surprised me.

I know he was only 3 1/2 at the time but he seemed so on board with everything, as if he really got IT.

"Do you think that now?" I asked him with more than a little trepidation.

"Not really, kind of, like 92% I know that he's not coming back but 8% of me thinks that he's still alive."

Oh dear...................

"It's like when Dad first died there was this tiny spot in me that understood the truth," he says this cupping his hands in a tiny circle near his heart and hunching his shoulders and head forward, "and slowly the spot grew and grew and grew until there was only a tiny spot left that still thinks he's alive somewhere." When he described this last part his voice became quite theatrical and he lifted his head up, brought back his shoulders and threw his arms up in the universal sign for victory.

I was jealous of Henry's description of his tiny spot, which sounded more pleasant than my tiny spot. What I felt was more of an enormous dark stain that covered me in darkness with an occasional tiny spot of light fighting its way through. Then my tiny spot grew and grew too, until eventually I was mostly in the light with only occasional darkness.

What's interesting to me is that in the beginning Henry's tiny spot seemed to be the dark part and my tiny spot was the light part. But Henry's spot did not appear to get darker as it grew, not the way he described it anyway. Both of our tiny spots brought us into the light as they grew, each in our own way.

Henry's little body and emotions could only take on the enormity of what had happened to him in little bits, a tiny spot. I love the image of Henry opening up as his tiny spot of understanding grows, not shutting down with the weight of the truth but being lightened by it.

I also love that he still reserves a tiny spot where Bob still lives within him.

Thanks for checking in-


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tent Sale Anyone?

Hey there,

The other day Henry asked me why garage sales weren't always held in people's garages. (they actually call them "rummage sales" here in Milwaukee but where I grew up they were called "garage sales" and I guess I have passed the phrase on to my children)

This question brought to mind the day Bob and I went to a tent sale.

We were looking for a tent.

For real.

Bob was always one for finding a deal and we were looking for a tent so when he read about a tent sale in the paper we headed out to the address in the ad. We arrived at a big field with a very large striped awning thing with tables set up under it displaying different products. We shrugged our shoulders, steeled ourselves against the wet wind, got out of the car, and began to meander around to the different tables looking for the tents.

I kid you not.

After looking at all the products and finding no tents (or anything related to a tent for that matter) we were confused. Bob walked boldly up to a very tall man who looked like he might be in charge of something, because his striped shirt matched the stripes on the awning, and asked him where we might find a tent.

Seriously, this is not a joke.

The man looked at us quizzically, as if he weren't sure if we might harm him, and slowly raised his right hand and pointed towards the sky, or the awning, or the TENT.

Yup, we were at a "tent sale" alright, everything for sale was under a tent.

We laughed so hard on the way home from that "tent sale" I am not sure how we stayed on the road. That memory entertained us on many a long car trip. One of us would only have to look at the other and say;

"Hey, I think I just saw a sign for a tent sale, you want to go check it out? We could really use a new tent......" and the two of us would be set off into peels of laughter.

So when Henry asked about the "garage sale" that isn't really in a garage I told him the story of his dad and me and our "tent sale" extravaganza.

And the two of us laughed so hard thinking about Bob and me standing under that big tent asking that tall man where we might find a tent that other members of the family had to come out of their rooms to see what was going on.

When Bob first died I dreaded the day that I would be able to talk about him without crying, as if he were just a guy I once knew.

But man did it feel good to laugh, belly laugh, with Henry about that darn tent sale and how silly (stupid?) his dad and I were sometimes.

I thought I would never be able to say the words "tent sale" to anyone ever again and see their face break into that knowing smile of an inside joke. Maybe the next time we are on a road trip I will ask Henry if he wants to go to a tent sale with me.......

Thanks for checking in-


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Age of Reason

Hey there-

I blame it on my dad.

He was the one who would announce above the cacophony of the dinner table;

"Do you know what today is? Today is the 20th anniversary of your mother and my second date."

Of course, there is a story about why their second date was more important to remember than their first, but that is not the point of this blog.

My point is that anniversaries are important to me. Not wedding anniversaries or birthdays necessarily, but random dates when you know your life has changed forever. Dates like a first date, or the first time you met someone, or a first kiss.

Or the day your husband died. OK, not quite as romantic as a first (or second) date anniversary, but a day I will never forget all the same.

The day Bob died, March 29th. A day my life changed forever.

Initially I noticed every 29th of the month. I could tell you exactly how many months and weeks he had been gone, similar to a new parent counting the weeks and months of their infant.

It has been seven years now.

Seven years.

That is a lot of months.

Seven is the "age of reason" according to my dad. I'm not sure I am any more reasonable about Bob's death than I was in the beginning. I am grateful for the time I had with him, but I still think I was cheated. I am glad he "gave" me the boys, but I still think they should have had more time with him. Most days I couldn't tell you how many months he has been gone, but I know the years, I know the date.

The first year I plotted and planned all year for this date. This year it snuck up on me. I was feeling edgy and weepy and discontent. I was easily annoyed (OK, even MORE easily annoyed). And I wasn't sure why.

Ah yes, it's March, that's right.

Bob was diagnosed in March, he died in March. March is long and dreary here in the Midwest, still winter, still brown and cold. I guess I just don't like March.

But it has been seven years. The age of reason.

"Why does it feel like he just died last week?" I ask my friend over lunch, my voice cracks and tears spring to my eyes. "It has been seven years, seven years."

"Grief isn't linear," she tells me.

Neither is it reasonable.

OK, I'm off for my second chai now..........

Thanks for checking in-


Monday, March 21, 2011

Do Over

Hey there-

Last week I had the pleasure of attending an all district strings concert in which Henry, the 10 year old, played the cello.

It was an amazing night.

Not because of the music.

The music was fine but, to be honest, I was bored out of my mind half way through. Plus, my back hurt from sitting on the plastic bleachers too long and I thought I might pass out from the heat at one point. (1000 children and their significant others are too many people for a smallish stuffy gymnasium)

The amazing part of the night was looking out from the audience and seeing two of the girls that Henry was in play group with out there with their string instruments and their white tops and black pants and their hair done up with pretty barrettes. I watched all three of them as they intently read their music and moved their bows over the strings and waited semi-patiently, fanning themselves with their sheet music, as the other classes finished their songs. As I watched them I recalled our play groups that began before the children could sit up on their own. I remembered the wooden puzzle pieces and blocks that were strewn about the house after everyone left. I remembered the banana bread I liked to make when the group came to my house and the camaraderie I felt with all the other new parents.

At some point during the concert evening I saw the two dads of these two girls notice each other, I watched as they slapped each other on the back in a "guy hug" and chatted for a while, periodically looking out towards their girls and nodding their heads and smiling. The scene brought to mind the earnest discussions we parents had during those play groups regarding sleep habits and eating habits and disciplinary habits.

I was enjoying this concert moment and the awe and wonder I was feeling regarding our 10 year old musician children and the two dad's bonding over them. I wondered how we could have gotten to this place, this concert, so fast. Weren't we just at some one's house debating the merits of attachment parenting and wondering at what week would they begin to sleep through the night?

As much as I was enjoying the moment I have to admit my old familiar question reared its ugly head, creeping into my consciousness.

Why wasn't Bob down there with the other dads, slapping them on the back? Why don't I get to see his proud face light up a little bit when he looks out across the crowd and catches a glimpse of Henry?

A lot has happened since those early days of the play group: divorce, illness, death, financial struggles, career ups and downs, more babies, no more babies, moves, second marriages.

If we knew then what we know now......

I want a do over.

Some of those earnest discussions we had back then seem rather silly to me now.

I want to go back to those play group days and I want to worry less about things like sleep habits. I would give up a lot of sleep to be able to see Bob walking and rocking a fussy newborn Henry in the middle of the night, with the light from the moon framing the both of them, just one more time.

A line from the Peter Himmelman song "Kneel Down" runs through my mind;

"Erase all trace of apprehension,
there is time enough to have no time at all."

Thanks for checking in-


Friday, February 25, 2011


Hey there-

I have noticed something interesting lately.

I will give you an example.

Yesterday I met a woman. We began talking and the subject of my book came up. Since I am still working on my "elevator speech" I proceeded with my usual babble about being widowed and living beyond grief, yadda, yadda, yadda.....(doesn't that just make one want to run out and buy the book!??!....help!) Anyway, once the word widow came out of my mouth the familiar head tilt happened. You all know the one I'm talking about. The head tilt that comes with the furrowed brow and is usually accompanied by some sort of sympathetic utterance such as "oh my", or "oh dear".

This particular conversation continued and like so many other times before the subject of my second marriage came up. Once the remarriage statement came out of my mouth the head that had remained tilted straightened, the brow relaxed it's concerned wrinkled look, the eyes lit up, the woman smiled, and said with a sigh of relief; "Oh, that's so great. I'm so happy for you."

I am not picking on this particular lady, who was a very nice and grounded person and I would love it if our paths crossed again. I have had countless conversations that have gone this same way, and I find it interesting, the visible signs of relief I witness when the person hears I am married again. As if the two minutes it took to get from the grief of the young widow thing to the joy of the married again thing was almost unbearable for them.

Why are these people so relieved to find I am remarried? It's interesting. Is the relief for me or for themselves? I don't feel much relief being remarried so it must be for themselves. Is it simply easier to talk about marriage than grief with a stranger? Do they assume that because I am married I am happy again,no longer grieving, I am "over it", I have moved on?

Well, I am married again, and I am mostly happy, but I am not done grieving, nor have I moved on. I have moved forward, accepted the hand I was dealt, and tried to play it as best as I can. But at the end of the day, Bob is gone, which I am sad about, and Mike is here, which I am happy about. Not much relief in that, really, but it is interesting.

Thanks for checking in-


Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Hey there,

I was at the Aunts the other morning picking the boys up from their overnight stay. I watched the two of them play in the deep snow out back from the upstairs kitchen window. They looked like two colorful moles darting in and out of their holes as they worked on their tunnels with their garden spades and threw snow at each other (and a few spades as well..scary!).

For reasons too complicated and boring to explain a letter Bob wrote to his dad when we were living in Portland and he had suffered from a stroke was found and given to me. I took it home to read.

The letter made me laugh. It was so Bob. He started out telling his dad about a new mattress the two of us had just purchased. He told his dad that the futon we had been sleeping on had worn out and that we needed a new mattress. What he didn't tell his dad was that I had been wanting a mattress for a long time and Bob had resisted and resisted getting rid of that futon. It finally came to me threatening to sleep on the pull out couch before Bob finally agreed to the purchase. "Undoubtably, the most comfortable thing I have ever slept on."

Bob went on with other mundane information about rearranging the living room which "Irene pretty much directed but I helped move stuff around." Bob then mentioned a hike we were planning on doing later that day and told his dad he wanted to go a little later in the day but "ever since we got lost that night at Bagby Springs Irene has lost her enthusiasm for evening hikes."

I laughed out loud at that one, remembering our experience at Bagby and how terrified I was when we were lost. We were really lost in the forest at night people, for real, just ask my friend Margaret who is still alive to tell the tale. But that is a story for another time.

Anyway, Bob finally got around to the point of the letter which was to tell his dad how much he meant to him and how scared he was at the thought of losing him. Of course, in Bob fashion, he tried not to get "too mushy" about it.

"I just want to thank you for being the greatest person I've known in my life, at least personally. If I would have known Albert Einstein personally he probably would have been a very close second (Don't let Mom see this)."

I was laughing so hard at this point that Henry asked me what was so funny and I read parts of the letter out loud to him. Henry is currently obsessed with Einstein and he laughed out loud at that part as well, which doesn't happen often, he is his father's son after all.

What a gift that letter was, not only to Bob's dad at the time but to me and Henry now. The letter got me thinking about emails and blogs and Facebook and how few letters are written these days. You know, letters, actual pen to paper letters. There is so much communicating going on but how much of it will be able to be read to the next generation.

This letter of Bob's that is sitting next to me as I type this blog is in his penmanship and on legal paper and just the sight of it brings Bob to life. Reading his goofy stories about every day stuff going on and seeing his signature "g" floods me with memories of our life in Portland and Bob sitting with a steaming latte next to him and writing a letter to his dad.

Thanks writing letters, Bob, I will treasure them always.

Thanks for checking in-


Friday, January 28, 2011

The Dentist

Hey there,

Funny story.

I brought my mother-in-law (Bob's mom)to the dentist recently. She has some complications going on with her teeth and gums and dentures. I will spare you all the details of what is going on and suffice it to say we are trying to keep her from needing a full set of dentures and that isn't always easy when a person is 87 years old. (brush and floss people, brush and floss)

Anyway, following the appointment the dentist was very kindly and patiently giving me the information about what we should be doing to care for her gums and current partials and what we should do if there is a problem.

I must have given the dentist some kind of look like this was too much information for me because she stopped suddenly and said;

"Maybe your husband could call me with any questions or concerns."

At which point I continued my blank stare and thought to myself;

"Why in the world would Mike call you about Bob's mom's teeth?"

At which point the very nice dentist must have decided I was either daffy or just plain stupid since she felt the need to clarify; "You know, her son, have her son give me a call."

Ah, I now understood the confusion.

"Yes, I will," I said, smiling, almost laughing, because what I really wanted to say was; "Listen lady, if you hear from her son you let me know because I have some things I need to say to him!"

Sometimes my worlds have collided so seamlessly that I don't even know who people are talking about when they say the word "husband". Current, late, Bob, Mike, live, dead, first, second, it's all the same to me apparently.

Thanks for checking in-


Friday, January 14, 2011

Daddy First

Hey there-

I was making Arthur's bed yesterday when he suddenly skipped into the room.

"Mom, if I could I would want to talk to Martin Luther King Jr., Einstein, and Daddy," he said breathlessly.

"Wow, that would be cool," I said from the top of the bunk bed. I was thinking what good company Bob was keeping and how thrilled he must be to be grouped with Einstein, his hero.

"Well, I would want to see Daddy first actually, yea, Daddy first."

Then Arthur scurried back out of the room on his tip toes.

Smart boy.

Thanks for checking in-


Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Hey there,

Last night I was trimming Arthur's fingernails before he went to bed. I sat on the toilet with the garbage can between my knees and he stood to the side of me with his little hand outstretched. We were in Mike and my bathroom since we couldn't find a pair of clippers in the kid's bathroom. (shocking, I know)

Next to the toilet, hanging on the wall is some kind of contraption I bought when Bob and I lived in Portland that holds all my jewelry. The earrings nest in individual indentations and the necklaces and bracelets hang from little posts at the bottom. Arthur gazed at the necklaces while I trimmed up his nails and babbled about my memories of my dad (his grandpa) trimming my nails on Saturday nights before church the next morning and how he would sit on the toilet, just like I was right now, with the garbage can between his knees to catch the fallen nails.

Arthur asked if he could wear one of the necklaces and I said "no", explaining the necklace had been my grandmother's and it had been a gift from my grandfather to her and after she died I got it and I wore it at Mike and my wedding. He wanted to know which necklace I wore for "his daddy's wedding" so I carefully removed the fresh water pearl necklace that my dad brought all of us girls home after one of his business trips to Japan so Arthur could look at it. Then Arthur asked me about the necklace I had made from Bob and my wedding rings, so we talked about that for a moment. Then he asked about a locket I have that a friend's mom gave me when I graduated from college.

Arthur began to rank the items in order of importance.

While he did this ranking and confirming with me which ones he could wear and which ones he couldn't he suddenly said; "When I have children they won't ever meet my daddy."

"No, they won't, unfortunately," I agreed.

"So, they won't have a grandpa like I have a grandpa."

"Well, they'll have Mike, and he will be their grandpa," I explained.

"Will I tell them that he's their step-grandpa?" he wondered.

"You can explain whatever you want to them, but this is a long time away, we don't have to figure out what your children will call Mike tonight."

"But my children will call you grandma, like I call my grandma, grandma, right?"


"Will my children call my grandpa grandpa when he sees them, just like I do?"

Up to this point I was enjoying the conversation, thinking it was cute and funny and fascinating, but now I began to get a little melancholy. It's doubtful that Arthur's grandpa will ever meet Arthur's children.

Shit, more death to come, more grieving for myself and my children. Man, can't we get a pass on this one? Haven't we dealt with enough already? Can't everyone just live forever?

Well, as "they" say; grief is the price you pay for love. And right now Arthur isn't focused on his losses or his potential grief, he seems to be enjoying all the love he has surrounding him and how he might explain it all to his future children one day.

More power to you Arthur, live in the moment.

Thanks for checking in-


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Picture Thing

Hey there-

I'm a bit on the sentimental side.

I like pictures and I save letters and ticket stubs from "important" concerts and shows and I collect little items from trips that I place around the house so they can collect dust.

When Bob first died my sentimentality increased exponentially and I became obsessed with keeping two of everything "for the boys".

Two bikes, two of his favorite recipes I framed, two quilts were made from his T-shirts......you get the idea.

As time has gone on some items that were deemed important have lost their importance, or I have completely forgotten what I thought was important about the item to begin with. I.e a certain canister of oatmeal, or a couch.

But the pictures remain around the house.

It's the pictures that can really trip people up when trying to understand our "situation" and how Mike "deals with the sainted dead spouse thing".

Now, I have been around many widow/ers and the picture thing is dealt with in as many different ways as there are for a person to die. Anywhere from total removal to continued prominent placing on a main wall seems to be the norm.

For Mike and I the picture issue came up rather quickly in our relationship. I know many of you know the story of Mike's struggle with the pictures and his wondering where he fit into my life. Then there was my "supportive" response that three months into our relationship was a little soon to be expecting lots of pictures around the house, ten years into it maybe, but not three months.

"You have to earn your spot on the wall buddy," I believe was my thoughtful response.

True to my word, now five years in, there are many more pictures of Mike and his children and us as a couple and family on various trips and doing various activities.

There are also many pictures of Bob, of Bob and I, and of Bob and the boys that remain hanging on the walls and tucked on shelves. (yes, we do have lots of pictures around the house. I said I liked pictures.)

And I have to say I don't get the problem people have with pictures of your dead spouse being around the house. I don't keep them above my bed, that might be a problem. No one seems to think it is weird that I have a picture of my dead grandmother displayed on the shelf, not a single person has ever commented on that fact being strange or wondered how Mike feels about that.

I guess it is the fact of the love relationship that confuses people. Mike certainly knows that I was married before, and that I loved Bob, it is no secret where the boys come from. Why should the past, their history, be hidden from them as if it were not valued?

I understand that one day the pictures of Mike will outnumber the pictures of Bob, if we are lucky enough that is. And if we aren't, and Mike were to exit before that happened, I would keep the pictures I do have of him up and expect that my next husband would understand just as Mike has.

Understand that I was loved, it's not a bad thing.

Thanks for checking in-