A Decade of Despair


Holidays are difficult. We are a society indoctrinated to view Thanksgiving as a time to be thankful for all we have. Unfortunately, it leaves little sympathy for those who remember all they’ve lost and spend their days in despair. After spending nearly a decade withering in the shade of grief, I recently began to exit the shade and absorb the brief rays of sunshine. I’m proud of the steps I made to let go of grief. It will likely take another decade to free my soul from the clutches of grief; however, it’s the little steps that count.

I put a strand of lights on the Christmas tree. I placed two ornaments on the tree. It doesn’t sound like much, right? It is monumental for me. These acts represent the indomitable will of the soul to continue living. Losing my husband so near Christmas made me despise the holiday I once loved. It is still difficult, but hanging lights and ornaments represented how far I’ve come since that dreadful time in 2009. I remain unwilling to embrace the holidays, but instead of focusing on the last decade of empty holidays, I’m finally recalling all the joyful holidays we shared. It’s the little things that count.

For the first time in nearly a decade, I’m considering what I have to be thankful for, which is actually many things. I am thankful for my children. The love we have for our children cannot be described in mere words. It’s a connection that transcends time itself. Those of us who are parents know that each child has his or her own personality and dreams, but it is as though a little part of our souls continues to live within them. I am thankful that I got to experience carrying these two beautiful beings and watch them become adults. The love we have for our children is completely unconditional. Through them, we contribute to the miracle of life. I am grateful for my children.

During the last decade, I learned that people are cruel. More importantly, I also learned that people are kind and good. The good far outweighs the bad. There were a few “mean girls” in my life, the type of women who are threatened by strong women because of their own insecurities.  I managed to survive their bad behavior and today, I hope they find the confidence they lack and are able to contribute to the future. Sadly, they aren’t likely to outgrow their bad behavior, but I am grateful that I learned their opinions do not define me. I learned that I have wonderful friends in my life and those are the people who count. I am fortunate to have the type of friends who root for each other when times get rough. Sure, there may be constructive criticism, but never for the sake of cruelty. I am thankful that I have more good friends than mean girls in my life.

I am grateful that I’ve accepted my new life alone. I wasted a lot of time longing for companionship that is long gone. I am thankful that one person helped me embrace my new life. The horror and repulsion in his face when I admitted my attraction to him was enough to make me realize the love boat sailed away long ago. He is a good person and never intended to be cruel, and his honesty made me a stronger person. Human nature dictates that we long for companionship and affection, but with strength, we can overcome the yearning. Without one person’s honesty, I don’t think I could have faced the reality of spending my life alone. I am grateful for my life and all that it includes or excludes. I am thankful that I’ve learned I’m strong enough to face life alone and I can still smile. I’ve spent nearly a decade hoping that someone might be attracted to me and fulfill that need for companionship and affection, but now I realize that prospect is unlikely and I’ve reached a place in which I’m fine with that. I am grateful to be at peace with myself.

I am grateful that I can find fulfillment through my work. I love my job and fortunately, it requires a lot of time and effort. My job keeps me focused and busy, which is a great thing. It makes me feel as though I am contributing to the field of education, and I believe education is crucial to the future of humanity. It is through education that we learn to co-exist and be productive. When I’m not working for my job, I’m working to restore my patio at home and that task fills the still moments when my mind tries to wander. I’m thankful that I can still find personal fulfillment in my life.

On this Thanksgiving, for the first time in nearly a decade, I am truly grateful for so much. My family, my friends, and my strength. I still miss Doyle terribly and I miss the constant in my life who was there from the moment of my conception-my mom, but I am grateful I was able to share so many wonderful years with them both. I finally realize how fortunate I am to have family and friends who stood by me when I was consumed by grief and who continue to stand by me today. It is they who give me the strength to persevere despite the loneliness and hard times in life. It is they who convinced me to carry on.  I am grateful that I am carrying on. It may take another decade to become me again. Then again, it may take another year or perhaps a day. The point is that after a decade, I am carrying on. Life is riddled with complications and pain, but it is also full of love, joy, and happiness. The key is to hang on to the happy moments with all your being and to carry on through the sad moments knowing that a happy moment, no matter how seemingly small, will come again.

© Relinda November 2017

 

 

 

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Pressing Onward in 2017


After announcing my resolve to ‘do better,’ I unfortunately took a few steps backward. Thus far, it’s been a difficult year. It’s about to get better. It will get better because I recognize that despite all the self-sabotage habits I continue, I am a warrior.

I’ve spent a lot of time in reflection. The 18-year-old bridge in that photo still exists somewhere within my soul. Decades have passed and I’ve watched people I love die, but I’ve also watched people I love flourish. My children, who weren’t yet here, have grown to become adults pursuing their own paths and dreams. I had to say goodbye to my mother, my wind beneath my wings, and not a day passes that I don’t wish I could speak to her. I spent most of the last decade grieving the husband I loved dearly, too distraught to see life through the rose-tinted glasses the young girl in the photo donned. It was as though the girl in the photo shed those windows to optimism and died the same day he died.

Despite the grief, I managed to overcome many seemingly insurmountable obstacles in life. I learned that even with all grief consumes, the slightest connection to perseverance prevails. Even with this knowledge, I could see myself gradually slipping into a dark world in which optimism fades into the shadows. Negativity was slowly consuming my soul. I began to experience anger and resentment. When I saw couples holding hands, I felt pangs of envy tug at my heart. I knew the person feeling envy wasn’t me; it couldn’t be what I had become.

Recently, a dear friend said a few words to me that finally pulled me from a dark world filled with only negativity. That friend has no idea how profound seven little words spoken aloud could influence my heart. In that fleeting moment, I could see the direction in which I was moving and I realized how ugly and dark my soul could become. Since then, I’ve reflected on decisions I’ve made, things I’ve said, and even my thoughts. I didn’t like what that reflection revealed. I don’t belong in that world.

My friend will never know that one comment pulled me from darkness, but I’ll know and I’ll always be grateful. None of us knows how much time we have here; all we can do is live our lives and hope that we leave the world a little better than we found it. My friend reminded me how important it is to make helping others an ultimate goal.

My gift is that I love and care about people. I received an important message last week and it is the key to restoring my soul. It is ironic that one of the last things my husband said to me was, “The key is in helping others.” I lost my way for a little while, but I’m finding my way back. Through the chapters of my life, I’ve lost loved ones, as have we all, but I have blessings too. I’m going to remind myself that every day for the rest of my years. I am blessed.

©Relinda R. 2017

Life is What You Make It


 

I call myself a writer, but I haven’t written anything (other than syllabi, course proposals, and research material) in a long time. I am taking this brief respite from work to write something personal. Oh sure, it happens to be the first day of a new year, so you’re probably thinking, “It’s just that ‘new year, new me’ bullshit,” but it’s more than that. It’s a story of a widow stepping out of the fog and looking for the sun for the first time in seven years. Yes, the first day of a new year is a good time to start anew, but this is something I’ve needed to do for some time. I’ve been lost in a fog of grief for the last seven years and I’m ready to walk out of the fog and resume living. I’m ready to experience life. I’m ready to meet the new me.

I was 42 years old when I enrolled at college, 44 when I proudly accepted my first degree, 47 when I earned a B.S. degree, and almost 50 when I earned an M.A. I was still working on the Associate’s degree when I lost my husband to cancer. To say that it changed my life would be an understatement. His death changed everything. I promised him that I would finish my education and I wasn’t about to let him down, but that promise became my driving force to keep going. My mom was able to see me accept a B.S., but sadly, she passed away before I presented my Master’s thesis. Oddly enough, I know both my husband and my mom were with me the whole way and had the best seats in the house during commencement ceremonies. I did all that, but I still wasn’t sure who I was without my husband by my side.

During the last seven years, I earned three degrees and did it during the most difficult and loneliest period of my life. I never claimed that I did it alone; I had family and friends, but I often felt alone. In 2008, before my husband died, I remember telling people that life is what you make it. I forgot that after his death. I believed that my life was some plot from a real nightmare. While I was lost in that fog of grief, I forgot that my life was exactly what I made it.

During the last seven years, I went from earning minimum wage in a bookstore to becoming a Director at a college. I’ve had opportunities to present at conferences and lead different activities. I met many different people and made new friends. And I did all that while stumbling through in a thick fog of despair that many of us know so well. Knowing that, I wonder what I can achieve with the sun shining and the fog lifted.

After seven years, I still wake during the night reaching for him; I still pick up my phone to call him when something happens; and I still miss him. It still hurts. The loneliness and longing for human touch is still sometimes overwhelming, but the pain has lessened. Life does go on. I’ve always been independent and confident, but when I lost him, I lost myself too. I started worrying that I didn’t have anyone to help me with things. I remembered that I could do so much on my own. Sure, it is difficult, but it can be done. Life is what you make it.

Realistically, I know that when you love someone-you never completely overcome grief. However, I also know that life continues. Your world ends, but the world around you continues moving forward. Some describe the time after a loved one’s death as a “limbo.” That is a good description of widowhood. It’s as though you are suspended in time and unsure of whether you want to continue living. Fortunately, most do continue living.

I am tired of living in limbo. I am ready to step out of the fog and get to know the person I’ve become. I am an intelligent person. I know there will still be rough moments and difficult times, but I also know there are still smiles to share and memories to make. I’ve accomplished a lot during the last seven years, while consumed in a fog of despair so thick I thought I’d never escape. I can only imagine what I can accomplish without the fog and constant darkness that consumed me. It’s nice to have a partner to share life with, but it can still be meaningful, even when you’re alone. I’ll always love you, Doyle. It’s time to start a new chapter on my own. We made a great life together. Now, it’s time for me to make a life on my own. Life is what you make it.

Relinda

I live


During the last five years, my life consists of nostalgic moments in which I drown in grief but every now and then – I emerge as though some part of me struggles to catch a breath of air. An image or most likely something I read sparks something in my mind that reminds me I continue to live. Somewhere buried beneath the layers of sadness, loneliness, and depression is the person I am. One of the things he loved about me is my ability to unabashedly express my opinion on random topics. I often forget that I hold two degrees and will have a third in a matter of months. I forget that I am educated and capable of establishing well-informed opinions on so many issues. I forget that I am capable of writing so many things because I focus on struggling to breathe during the rare moments I emerge from grief.
This morning, I saw a meme that reminded me I still live.

13979_835437979849666_8032690525724461015_n      I am outraged. I forgot that I am educated because my initial response was “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” What a ridiculous, misogynistic, and ignorant declaration. Saying such a thing suggests a few things to me – the person who wrote it is a pedaphile; the person who wrote it is a blithering idiot; and the person who wrote it is indoctrinated to follow a misogynistic principle formulated centuries prior to this one. The unknown author suggests that wearing makeup and sexy clothing somehow spurs impregnation. What? The first suggestion is that allowing a girl to wear makeup at the age of 10 sets a chain of events into motion that will culminate in her becoming pregnant at 16 years of age. The ironic part is that the person who thought of such drivel most likely supports child beauty pageants. Little girls play with makeup. They just do. Now, if a 10-year-old-girl wearing makeup arouses someone who has crossed the threshold of puberty into adulthood, I propose the problem is not with the child but with the aroused. It’s that simple.

shoes
Allowing a child to date at 12¬ years old, what an odd concept. I thought that only happened when Jeff Warrens was around. Oh wait, that is not dating so much as rape and marriage. I don’t think Jeff Warrens ever considered the concept of dating. I suppose I live with blinders because I was not aware that children actually dated that early. Yes, I know they hang out in groups and have hayrides, but I think of dating as boy drives up in car, picks girl up at door, and so on. So, I suppose on this one – I’ll have to agree. I don’t recommend dating at twelve years of age.

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The anonymous author then tries to convince readers that allowing a girl to wear “sexy clothing at 14” will result in pregnancy. I assume the author has not been shopping lately. Short of buying clothes sold at the local polygamist yard sale, it is difficult to purchase clothes that some warped pedaphile might not perceive as “sexy.” I suppose a parent could use duct tape to bind any hint of breast development and dress the child in layers of feed sacks, but even then, some twisted mind might imagine the child to be a miniature adult. No, a 14-year-old girl does not need to wear clothes commonly associated with prostitution, but I think we need to be realistic and understand that the idea of “sexy” originates in the mind of the beholder. Oh, and parents should forget about high-heeled shoes. In addition, forget about the cheerleading craze because they wear short dresses and cheerleaders are commonly associated with the idea of “sexy.”
I am convinced the unknown author responsible for this meme is a twisted misogynist or bitter woman indoctrinated by twisted misogynists. Girls don’t become pregnant at 16 because of any of the reasons the misguided meme author suggests; they become pregnant because they either willingly or unwillingly had sex. A novel idea to avoid unwanted pregnancy is to learn about sex education. Teach your daughters and sons that while sex is a beautiful part of life, it also brings adult emotions that they are not yet prepared to handle. Teach your children about birth control. I recently read an interesting story written by a woman who underwent the common indoctrination of how she would burn in hell if she had premarital sex. She later experienced a multitude of emotional and marital problems because of it. Look at the facts, our country has the highest rate of teenaged pregnancies and STDs. The idiotic method of teaching young girls to be ashamed of and hide their sexuality is not working. The misogynistic method of teaching young boys that it is perfectly fine for them to react physically when a young girl catches their fancy is not working. Why don’t we consider following the educational pattern that many other countries are successfully practicing in teaching the facts, the financial and emotional aspects, and the consequences, whether good or bad, of choosing to become sexually active?
Yes, I live and continue to think. I imagine the mysterious meme author also assumes that Jon Benet Ramsey’s parents invited the assault and murder of their daughter because they allowed her to essentially play dress up. That upsets me tremendously. The type of people who think that way are of the mindset that a woman who dresses provocatively invites rapists. While I don’t agree with beauty pageants, my disapproval has nothing to do with sex—it has to do with teaching young people that superficial beauty is somehow essential to happiness. But, I also have a big problem with teaching young girls to be ashamed of their bodies. The methods we try are not working. A cliché suggests that if one continues to try doing something one way, with the same failed results, one might be insane. Let’s do the math and consider a different method by educating boys and girls alike.
©Relinda R.

Learning to be a Widow: Part IV: A Long Journey


Approaching the five-year anniversary of his death spurs so much reflection and realization. He’s really
not coming back. In my mind, I always knew that, but in my heart, a little part of me continued to hope. I’ve reached that important juncture, which most widows reach at some point. I have to accept reality and stop clinging to that little piece of hope left in my heart.1011893_650875218274935_1225401425_n
The reality is that I must complete this life alone. It’s taken me almost five years to accept that fact. I am not a young woman anymore. The most difficult part of accepting reality is adjusting what I believed most of my life. Like the indoctrination I often condemn – I, too, am indoctrinated. I’m indoctrinated to believe some part of the fairy tales I read, you know the kind. The kind of fairytales where everyone lives happily ever after and the future is bright and cheerful. That’s not reality. It may happen for some, but not for all. The reality is that happiness comes in pieces and all one can do is cling to those pieces and cherish the moments. They do not last. People leave. People change. People die. That is reality. Happiness is fleeting, and sometimes, all those pieces appear in one big chunk and that is all there is. There’s no fairytale ending; there’s no chance of a random piece drifting your way again. Acceptance, strength, and endurance replace bliss, love, and optimism.
I was one of the lucky ones. For nearly 20 years, I shared a love so special and so rare that many never find such a depth of companionship. For me, the only way to survive the emptiness that inevitably appears when it is over is to accept that it was the highlight of my life. Instead of whining about how there is nothing to look forward to, I should concentrate on looking back and recognize that something in my destiny allowed me to experience 20 years of happiness. And I should be grateful I had that. I was one of the lucky ones. But he is not coming back and it’s over. The future is merely an obstacle course that I must complete alone. No one can help me with that task.

goodbyeI’ve endured a lot of criticism for my extended grief and for loving someone so deeply that the two of us were inseparable, but I can’t change that. I can’t change the love I feel for a man who I’ll never see again, not during this lifetime. He is dead. I can’t deny that a part of me died with him. I’ll never again be the person I was before. I’ll never truly laugh again. But that’s okay because I laughed for so many years. I was happy and I was in love.
I was one of the lucky ones. Then destiny threw tragedy into the mix. I had it all, and now I don’t. The beginning reads, “Once upon a time there lived a girl who was in love with a man who loved her back for a long time.” The conclusion reads, “The man died one day and she was left alone. She knew happy times were over, but she realized that she was one of the lucky ones and learned to accept reality and focus on the memories.” ~The End~
©2014 Relinda R.

Autumn and Spring


autumntear

I was leaves floating on the wind,
Reds, greens, and yellows floating gracefully,
Joining in that annual farewell dance.
I was cool, brisk mornings, foreshadowing
Cold winter days to come
And kissing the carefree summer nights goodbye.
You were the bright colors bursting forth
After the winter killed the fathers and mothers
That left their seeds in the rich, fertile earth.
You were the warm March breeze
Foreshadowing the carefree summer nights to come.
When you and I would kiss happiness goodbye.
How could you and I ever stay together
With winter always keeping us apart?
How I long to stay afloat on the air with you
Where seasons never end
And happiness forever embraces us.
Just to kiss you again.
©2014 Relinda R.

No one ever said it would be easy


tears

 

I’ve been alone for four-and-a-half years now. Sometimes, I count each year on my fingers and when I get to the half-a-year, I try to figure out a way to represent that with a whole finger. I wonder if I should cut off the finger or just bend the thumb. The thumb seems to be the most flexible on my left hand. I don’t mind the loneliness anymore—truth is that I don’t even feel it anymore. I’ve worked hard to overcome that most primitive human need for companionship, for affection, for love and now I accept the solitude; I even crave it. It wasn’t easy. No one ever said it would be easy.

During the first year, maybe a little longer, I remained numb. Reality didn’t sink in until I stopped talking to myself. I’ve since resumed talking to myself, my dog, my walls—anything really. I know that the echoes of my horrible voice will simply rise to the ceiling and then crash to the floor. Then I think that is one of the reasons people avoid me—my voice. I was born a girl, and every time I check—I’m still a girl, but my voice sounds like a heavy cable catching on the gears of an elevator. Can you imagine that? A small-framed woman with a booming voice like a faulty elevator cable—ugh. I consider all the nouns used to describe women—princess, angel, chick, babe, diva—and they all have one thing in common—the perfect sound. Stop laughing; they do. Close your eyes, picture each noun, and imagine how they sound when they talk. Heavenly, isn’t it? My husband once told me that was just one of the things that he found attractive about me—my voice. He always thought the raspy voice sounded sexy. He was twitterpated. Without him telling me how much he loved it, it took almost five years to accept my voice with all its deep raspy tones, but I’ve finally realized that it doesn’t matter how I sound; it’s what I have to say that matters. It wasn’t easy. No one ever said it would be easy.

The second year passed; there was still numbness, but it was like when your foot goes to sleep and the feeling starts to return—you know that weird, tingly feeling, sort of like needles pricking your skin all the way to the bone—it was like that. That was the year I had a breakdown because of a milk jug. Seriously—a milk jug. I was getting a glass of milk; I still drank the two percent then, but switched to skim milk since. There I was with the milk jug in my hand and it hit me—I could drink directly from the jug if I wanted. Just like that—BAM—the realization that I was truly—alone. I dropped the milk jug, spilling milk everywhere and fell to my knees. Remember the voice—yes, well; the hysterical cry is not a pretty thing either. It’s not that I wanted to drink from the jug—I didn’t; I just wanted him there to say, “Relinda, don’t drink from the jug.” He would know if the temptation to do so showed in any way. He was good at that. We were always joking with each other. I called him “ass” and he called me “master ass.” We were good like that—always joking and laughing. I miss that. Missing someone so much that you cry for them in your sleep because you don’t want anyone to see you crying is not easy. People said it would get easier—people lie.

The last two years have been the hardest. I’ve spent most of the last year accepting that he’s not coming back—ever. I’ve also been coming to terms with spending the rest of my life alone. I’m getting better. My new motto is “Alone but Strong.” I am strong. Doyle knew how strong I was; he told me countless times. He was amazed at my physical strength, but more amazed at my emotional strength. I carried dead chickens, thirty pounds in each hand; hauled hay; unloaded a ton of 50-pound bags of cow feed every week; carried 100-pound calves around; turned cows over when they couldn’t do it themselves; and pulled calves, of course, I was strong. I don’t think I can do those things anymore. I survived my children’s terrible twos and terrible teens; fought cancer; watched my Mom fight cancer; survived my son’s crisis; dried everyone else’s tears; never shed my own; and nursed everyone else back to health, of course, I was strong. I don’t know if I can do those things anymore. It was never easy. No one said it would be easy.

On December 19, 2014, I’ll be counting to five. At least I won’t have to contemplate removing a finger. I know I’ll still be alone, but I don’t think that will bother me. I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore; I have no desire to do so. He was in the ground for only three days when Christmas came. I buried him on the 22nd, and went to work the next day. Then, I couldn’t go to work for two days because of the stupid holiday. I wanted to work. I wanted to do anything but think. But I was still numb, so mostly I just stared at the wall—holding his shirt—wishing. . It wasn’t easy. No one ever said it would be easy.

I don’t mind the loneliness anymore—truth is it’s seeped into my soul and become a part of me. I don’t need affection or love anymore either. I have goals that I’ve worked hard to reach and solitude is my friend. I don’t need anyone to make me feel pretty or special anymore. When Doyle was dying, he made me promise that I would finish college and get my degree. He called me his college girl. I can still hear him, “College girl” in his southern drawl. I don’t need anything but to keep that promise. It’s not easy. No one ever said it would be easy.

©~Relinda R.  22 June 2014broken heart