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Reflecting as the journey changes.

I am four and a half years out from Ray's death.  I am still on the journey to find out who I am now and who I want to be.  I have just been on a train journey and that gave me a slow way of reflecting on my life. Am I who I think I am?  How do others see me?  I know wherever I go people like to talk to me and tell me their life stories so I  know I am a good listener.  On the trains coming and going to visit my friend people talked to me, they were comfortable telling me about their lives, where they felt they were right now, and giving me an idea of the direction they wanted their future to take.  It was an interesting experience for me.

As a new widow I was introverted for a while, maybe two years before I looked around at the suffering of others. You have to be strong yourself to cope with the grief of others. Before I could do that I had to be a certain way through my own grief.  When grief is new it is raw and uncomfortable for others to witness.  Which is why when we experience the death of a partner or parent others we once considered friends drift away from us, unable to cope with the rawness of our grief and the changes that occur in us because of that.  I didn't know why it happened at the time but now I do. And because my husband Ray and my mother died two months apart I was grieving for two people and losing friends I had made because of my caregiving role for both at the same time.

I have spent a lot of my life in pastoral care in some role or other, paid and unpaid, so looking outwards is my main focus in life. If you look around you you will see a myriad of people all suffering in some way, all trying to get from where they are to the happiness they feel they need.  it is a strange experience in a way because as you talk to others or read on the forums or blogs on here you get a glimpse of other people's suffering and sorrows away from that brave face we all put on to strangers. Here we can express ourselves and know that other people understand what we are on about, what we are going through. Somehow as we go through the journey we have to translate that experience into something positive to take onto the next stage of our lives.

I am still tying to find a companion.  I have met a lot of men who are incapable of moving on, mostly divorcees though a good friend who died recently was a widower who never got over the death of his wife.  When I've looked at these people and tried to get to know them I realised it is harder to start a friendship with someone who is still trailing a lot of anger and anxiety with them from the last relationship. It is true we have to be over it before we can move on.  I still tend to tell stories of Ray and my time together, after all that is 44 years of my life.  Somehow I have to get past that and tell stories of how my life is now.  Or simply live in the moment.  It is harder than I ever thought it would be.  I was taught not to talk about myself and to value my husband and the family we raised together so that was always where I started a conversation. I was "Ray's wife", "Shirley's mother" now I am just "Sue alone".

As a retiree I haven't a job to talk about, that was the second point of conversation.  It was a case of who are you and what do you do?  I don't know if that applies in all countries but I know it does in Australia. On the train I was asked "where are you going?" and that is a good place to start for me now.  I don't know where exactly I am going but it is a good place to start the exploration from.  I have been determined this year to reach out to old friends.  Old friends are the people who know you best, some have known you before the marriage so know you in a different way to those who only knew you as part of a couple.  It is easier in a way to reconnect to them.  The couple I stayed a few days with I have known her since I was seven and him since they married 45 years ago so that is a long time and so it is much easier to have a conversation with all that information stored in our memories. It was a good weekend.

I had dinner with my next door neighbour and his girlfriend last might, another good experience as he has lived next door to me for twenty years and so has talked to me about many things over the years.  He had another partner and young daughter when he moved in and I have talked to him through several make ups and break ups since then so he talks a lot about his leisure life rather than his work or home life.  I think that is a good clue for me too.  I need to have enough hobbies or other outside interests to talk about.  I need to be interested in the way other people fill the spare time in their lives.  I am not much interested in sport myself but need to keep current with what is breaking news as men often talk about those things rather than their home life.  I need to broaden my conversation topics in order to reach out to more people in my pastoral work too.

Life changes and we change, it is not rocket science but it is an ongoing development in our character, I think reflecting on the journey recently has taught me that. Spring is the time for change and Spring is a long way ahead of me as we are just going into winter here in Australia.  But winter provides a lot of thinking time so I can use that time to start making changes in my life.  I can use it for decluttering and rearranging.  I need to do that now.  I need to make this "Sue's place" rather than "Ray'nSue's place" as it still is in some ways.  I need to make the house reflect the good parts of me.  It is more than getting rid of the old furniture, like the recliner Ray used and putting up new curtains or making new cushion covers.  It is more about working out what I need as a person in her 70s as I will be 70 in June and less about providing for the grandchildren who so rarely come and visit now.

I am going to try and make the next few months about making some changes, hopefully changes for the better. I need to do this now. It will not be easy and I know that but it should be a way of re-expressing who I am right now.  Maybe I need to put that up in big letters NOW. I could move to make the change but really I can change the way I live here in this house.  It is just a case of changing the way I look at things.  Well I hope it is... only time will tell. 

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Comment by Tug2010 on April 19, 2017 at 2:57pm

I found so much of what you said really touched me.  It is so direct and open.  I really appreciate that.  I am newly widowed and haven't gotten as far as you but you give me hope for the future.  Thanks for that.

Comment by Callie2 on April 17, 2017 at 4:17pm
All positive thoughts, Sue, and so true. We need to do whatever it takes to start anew and have a fresh outlook on life. Downsizing and getting rid of a lot of clutter can give us a sense of accomplishment. I continue to work on that myself--if it's something I won't be using or really love, it's got to go. For me, it has been a slow and steady process. I inherited things from when my MIL and Mom passed and it is hard to let go of some things but I must.

I know what you mean about planning and simplifying things to make it easier for when we're older. I had plans years back to replace living room furniture. I have a reclining sofa that is so heavy I am unable to move it to clean real good in back and underneath. It's these type of things we need to consider now. I'm sure you'll come up with ideas that will continue to lift your spirits!
Comment by barbee on April 14, 2017 at 7:19pm

Sue and Dianne --  boy, do I hear you! I was 72 when my husband died. I'd retired six years before that to take care of him. By the time he died I had no idea who I was, what I wanted, what to do with the rest of my life. It was scary! I finally did see a counselor for a few months and she helped me realize it was important for me to design a new life.

One exercise she had me do was take a pack of 3x5 cards to each group I attended for one month. Neighborhood coffee, knitting, retiree monthly lunch, several groups at the senior center. I had to give each person I saw a card and ask them to write one word on it to describe me. It didn't matter if they had known me for 20 years or two minutes. Then, I had to get a big board and glue those cards on it. For the first time maybe in my life I was looking at me -- not someone's daughter or wife or mother or grandmother. It was a huge eye-opener about how others see me and this project has become a very positive step in helping me create a new life.

Another thing I did was re-purpose a bedroom and turn it into my studio. It has all my many crafts, the computer, a cozy corner near the fireplace where I can read. I bought everything pink I could find! I painted the walls a soft shell pink. Storage boxes, shelving, pictures for the walls, three stuffed monkeys to hang on the pole lamp, the pencil holder on my desk are all hot pink. I've always loved pink and my mother and husband both hated the color and did not want it in their house. So it became my rebellion and anthem! It is comforting and cheerful and really uplifting on gray, dreary, Pacific NW wintery days.

What's the lesson in this? I've decided it is that we need to learn to get in touch with ourselves and become our own best friend and take good care of ourselves. If that sounds selfish, I think it is a wholesome and healthy way to self care. You two ladies seem to have figured that out too. Hurray for us!!!

Comment by Dianne in Nevada on April 14, 2017 at 5:26pm

I love how you've thought this all out, Sue, and it sounds like you have a good plan for the next few months. I wish you peace and success as you make these changes.

I'm six and a half years out from my Vern's death and will hit 66 next month. I retired in 2015 and have kept busy with the volunteering I do for Soaring Spirits here in Widowed Village, at our Camp Widow events, and with our regional groups. I started a local Soaring Spirits regional group and love the new friendships I've made within that group. I was a little concerned I was focusing too heavily on 'all things widow' so I became certified to teach the Brave Girls Club Soul Restoration curriculum. I never ever saw myself teaching and holding women's retreats at this stage of my life, but it feels like I'm fulfilling my life's purpose. All of this seems to make some sense out of the things I learned during those hard cancer years and I can almost hear my guy cheering me on. I do need to devote some time to clearing out my home and making it my own. I've accumulated a lot of 'stuff' since Vern's death - I chose "retail therapy" over seeing a grief therapist - and really need to spend some time going through all of that. I'm targeting these next few months, too. Let's check in with one another to see how we're doing. Anyone else want to join us?

This isn't easy. It's way out of my comfort zone. But the alternative ... staying inside my cluttered house all day, every day ... just is not an option.

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