If Facebook is any indicator, November is the month for public gratitudes. My feed is filled with posts expressing thanks for wonderful spouses, loving children, inspiring parents, great jobs, etc. Often the person posting expresses the thought that these blessings help them know that God loves them.
One of my favorite books, The Hiding Place, includes a story about Corrie and her sister in Ravensbrück concentration camp. Corrie’s sister reminds her that they need to thank God in all things, to which Corrie replies that she can’t be grateful for the fleas. But her sister prevails and they thank God for the fleas. Later they find that the fleas are what keeps the guards out of their barracks allowing them to share the comfort of the gospel with the other women.
I don’t think anyone would feel grateful for any part of a concentration camp and feel that this was evidence that God loved them. But Corrie and her sister did because they were obedient to that commandment to be grateful in all things. So in that spirit, I share a few of the “fleas” in my life.
I’m grateful for children who have been challenging to parent … Despite the many tears I’ve shed and the worry I’ve felt, the experience has taught me so much about loving like Christ does, about being patient in afflictions, about forgiveness, about compassion for those who are struggling.
I’m grateful for the death of my spouse … Amid the grief and loneliness, I’ve felt the sustaining support of God in the hands of so many of His children who have loved me and mourned with me and supported me. I’ve discovered just how much I love Tom and how much of who I am is because of our relationship. I’ve gained a hard won understanding of how death changes life and how I can better succor those who are also grieving a loved one.
I’m grateful for being single again … It has forced me to reach out to others more, to leave my comfort zone and make new friends and try new things. It has made me appreciate the challenges of living without a partner in ways I didn’t understand before.
Theses are big things, but I feel challenged to find gratitude in the little things as well. Can I be grateful for a traffic jam? For an obnoxious customer that I have to listen to at work? For a car repair? In this month of Thanksgiving when there are so many good things to be grateful for, I want to try a little harder to be grateful for everything (good and bad). I want to thank God, trusting that He has a plan for my life and happiness even when I can’t see it. Happy Thanksgiving!
Since my parents have been serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Florida, my dad has been publishing a weekly blog post to keep us all updated on what they do each week. I feel like I’m beginning to know all the regular players in their weekly routines and appreciate Dad’s efforts to make us feel included in their adventure. It also makes me feel a little guilty that my posting schedule has become so erratic. I have good intentions, but then I feel like I don’t have anything new to say, so I don’t write … and then I really don’t have anything to say because the less I write the less I want to write. It’s a vicious circle.
I’ve been avoiding writing anything this weekend because it is the anniversary of Tom’s death. I have mostly kept the anniversary of his death low key – honestly it’s not a memory I look back on with fondness (that’s the understatement of the year!). But events have conspired against me this year. A few weeks ago Haley attended Camp Erin which is a free camp for children who have lost someone close to them to death. It is a place for peer support – making connections with other kids who share similar experiences. I think overall it was a positive experience. Haley has good things to say about the weekend. But she came home with all those grief emotions stirred up. It is normal for kids to go through regular cycles of emotions as they grow up and reprocess their experiences in a new stage of development. I’ve seen that already with my kids in relationship to their experiences being adopted. But knowing and actually experiencing this reprocessing was challenging this year. Haley was so sad and upset about losing Tom – and feeling guilty for somehow not saving him. These are conversations we have had before but I was reminded again of how necessary it is to keep having them because our brains are funny creatures and can get all confused when we do a lot of thinking and not enough sharing. Anyway, Haley made some good choices in dealing with all these churned up emotions among which was going back to see her therapist. I’m so happy for her that as she is growing up she is learning how to take care of herself in healthy ways. Despite her difficult feelings she is still doing her school work and showing up to work and reaching out to others. This is what I love abut seeing about my kids growing up – they can be responsible for themselves and can work through the hard stuff without running away.
Another thing that has come home to me this year is that four years is actually a long time. There are so many big things that have happened since Tom died. Spencer got married and finished college and got a job in his career field and has moved as a grownup. All of those things are huge – and they all happened without Tom’s physical presence in our lives. Andrew spent two years at boarding school and has reestablished contact with his birth parents and has turned 18 and is living out in the world. It’s hard to believe how quickly he went from being a kid to becoming a newly fledged adult. Haley has changed so much – when Tom died she didn’t even wear makeup and was still in Jr. High. Now she’s a senior in high school with a job and a love for changing her hair (I think she is channeling her Aunt Erin!) and a new sense of assertiveness and a soft heart that she guards carefully. I’m on my fourth year of teaching early morning seminary (something I started almost a year after Tom’s death) and I’m one of the old-timers in my pottery class. I’ve been to Mexico twice on vacation. I’ve tiled a fireplace surround and a bathroom shower on my own as well as replacing baseboards in my home – two things that definitely would have been joint projects if Tom were still alive.
It’s weird to think that some of these things feel like they happened awhile ago – because that means Tom’s death happened a really long time ago. Despite that, he still feels like a current part of our family. I was talking to my mom the other day and she shared something my aunt commented on. She was part of a conversation where they were discussing siblings who had died at a young age and how the speaker didn’t feel a connection to that sibling. My aunt had a different experience. My grandparents had two boys who both died within a few days of birth. For my aunt and my mother, their brothers were part of the family. My grandparents talked about them and anticipated with joy the day when they would be reunited with them. Even I have fond feelings towards my two “baby uncles” and am illogically pleased that Tom was buried next to them in Monroe. My point is, death hasn’t erased the place Tom has in our family and in my memories and the person I have become. So it always feels odd to realize that so much of the life I have right now is full of things and experiences I haven’t shared with him.
The last thing I have been thinking about in connection with this anniversary is the idea of being lonely. I can only speak to losing a spouse – I don’t know the emotions that come with losing a child or a parent. Losing a spouse feels like a unique loss. Of all the people I have relationships with, the relationship I have with Tom is unique. He was the only one to know many of the parts of myself that I keep private from the rest of the world. I told him things that no one else knows. I know things about him that no one else knows. Ours is a relationship that was chosen (unlike most family relationships that we are born into). Tom was the person I went to when the very worst things happened – except when the very worst thing happened, I couldn’t go to him. Having had this relationship, the absence is very lonely. And it isn’t a kind of loneliness that can be fixed with other relationships. I have great friends, wonderful children, supportive parents and siblings. Really, I have been extraordinarily lucky that in the aftermath of Tom’s death, I was surrounded with love and company and inclusion. I have not lacked for people to spend time with. And none of it replaces the marriage relationship.
Now, before we all start planning the pity party, let me hasten to add that there has been one compensatory relationship that has grown and improved over the last four years. I may have been dragged, metaphorically kicking and screaming, to this conclusion. I didn’t like to think that it would take such a drastic change to accomplish such a task. And maybe I would have come here eventually anyway. But losing Tom made me turn to God in a way I hadn’t before. As honest and open as I was with Tom, Heavenly Father knows me even more intimately. I can tell him things I couldn’t even tell Tom. And He has been there during those moments when no one could help me, when I couldn’t turn to anyone else. Even when He couldn’t tell me all the answers to all the questions I have had about my circumstances, He could tell me it would be OK and I could trust Him. He has carried my burdens in ways I couldn’t even imagine when I tried to figure out how I would get through something. I’m grateful that in all the overwhelming waves of grief I held on to the lifeline of faith and trusted in Him. My loneliness is tempered with a more meaningful relationship with God and Jesus Christ. That is a pretty wonderful thing to have as I navigate my life on my own.
I have no idea where the next four years will take me. I’m definitely on the brink of more big changes – the empty nest approaches! But I’m hopeful … the last four have been good ones on the whole. I’m excited for the future.
I was folding sheets this morning. When I was young, my mom taught me to fold fitted sheets – nesting the corners together, smoothing the fabric flat into a rectangle with one rounded corner, before folding it small enough to fit in the linen closet. As I have gotten older, the sheet folding process has gotten more exact – I fold the top sheet so that I can wrap it around the fitted sheet & pillowcases making a handy little bundle that fits exactly on my shelf. It’s a little ridiculous, frankly. No one sees my linen closet. I could wrap the whole thing in a rumpled bundle and no one would know or care. It got me thinking about why I do it – and any number of other things that I do in such exacting ways.
The honest truth is that I like order. It doesn’t have to be exact, but I like things to have their place and look purposeful. The first time I can remember really caring about this was in college. I would come home from classes, ready to study, and find myself distracted by the unmade bed and the clutter on the floor. I couldn’t get down to business until my side of the room was picked up. Funnily, it didn’t matter how the other side of the room looked – I just needed my realm of influence ordered.
Are you surprised to discover that I always make my bed, every morning? Didn’t think so! Even on vacation, even camping – straightening the bed happens every morning. In fact, my bedroom is my number one priority when it comes to picking up and putting things away. And my kitchen is my last priority. I think this is because my bedroom is a little retreat and I want it to always feel comfortable to me. Plus, my bedroom stays picked up whereas the kitchen almost always falls immediately back into disorder as soon as I step away. All effort there feels wasted. Note the important word: FEELS
I care for the things around me because of how it makes me feel. I like looking at the neat bundle of sheets on my shelf. I like the way the fabric is all smooth when I unfold them to make my bed. I like opening my spice drawer and seeing all the matching labels or knowing which drawer holds tupperware and only tupperware. In a world where I sometimes imagine that anything could happen, creating order gives me the illusion of control. On the upside, order means I have more brain available for the unordered parts of my life.
I just spent two plus hours pulling weeds in my yard – mostly out of the lawn itself. I meant to get up early (like 6am early) when it would be cool. But a late night conversation meant I groggily woke up about 9am when the air coming through my window was hot. Still, it had to be done. Gathering my trusty dandelion weeder,
gloves, and trash bag I headed out. We have these terrible thistle weeds that are super invasive and hurt like the dickens when you pull them out. We’ve always had a problem with them, but I kind of neglected the yard in the first couple of years after Tom died, and they got a real foothold in the grass. Last year I covered all the empty flower beds with black plastic and that really helped reduce their numbers in those beds – but the lawn seems to be the perfect environment for them to flourish. Walk barefoot on my lawn at your own peril!
Anyway, I started listening to an audio book, but it wasn’t long before the neighbor girls (twins – about seven years old) came over to “help”. They are a lot of fun but not much help. They always want to use the clippers, but only on things like grass and the weeds I have pulled – never on the stray tree shoots that I use them on. Today they explored under my deck finding “pretty”rocks. My deck is about two feet off the ground at the highest point – certainly not much of a place to play! The neighbors on the other side also have two girls (a toddler and maybe nine years old?). The girls shout across my yard on a regular basis and remind me of when my kids were little.
As I worked my way around the yard, I was happy to see that the lilac bushes are growing and healthy and that my oldest lavender plant is loaded with blossoms and has taken over the corner of the bed it lives in. I found a few spots where the sprinklers are just not doing the job – the question is whether I can fix it or if I’ll have to bring in expert help. I’m going to try and do some adjustments and see if it makes a difference. I’m more willing to try now that I changed my sprinkler controller. I think I posted a quick comment on Facebook, but I installed a Rain Machine this year and I really love that I can turn zones on and off with my phone. This morning the drip zone started while I was working in the yard and a couple of the emitters had come off and there was water shooting into the air. I quickly turned the zone off, replaced the emitters, and had the zone back on in no time. It is so convenient!
When I was younger and we were living in Kansas in a house with a yard, I was pretty obsessed with yard work. I planned beds and added plants and did maintenance weeding and deadheading several times a week. We had huge trees and quite a bit of local animal life and if the grass was kind of yucky, the rest of the outdoors made up for it. I loved working in that yard.
When we moved to Colorado we had huge flower beds in the back that were always filled with weeds. I could not keep up with that yard. There were things I loved about that yard though. We didn’t have much front yard because the house was located in the corner of a small cul-de-sac. We dug up the tiny bit of lawn on one side of the drive and made the loveliest little flower bed. We put pots all along the front of the house (along with drip lines) so that the front had all this cheerful color during the spring and summer. In the back we had a lattice wall along one side of the deck and we hung pots on this wall as well. But I vowed that our next house would not have a ton of flowerbeds.
My current yard has a front bed with perennials and two smallish beds in the back, also stocked with perennials. I filled part of one bed with sod this year because the soil is filled with small stones spilling in under the fence from the neighbors yard and it mostly only grew weeds. Oh, and there is a strip around the deck that I have been trying to fill up with bushes and things that don’t require a lot of upkeep. For many years being the mom was so all consuming that I didn’t put much energy into the yard. Despite all our good intentions, we never got a drip line working while Tom was alive. He had installed a valve and the hose around the yard, but there was an electrical issue that I only got resolved after he died. I finished the drip system with a little help from my mom and started making some attempts to grow flower pots. This year they are all just beautiful! As my life has become less stressful, I find I have a little more desire to get out and make things look good. Planting lilac bushes this year felt a little like channeling my younger self! 🙂 There is something satisfying about seeing pretty things grow and pulling weeds. But not in 90 degree weather!! At least now I can sit back and enjoy the air conditioning and some entertainment and still feel satisfied that I accomplished something today!
Twenty-seven years ago I was getting ready to head back to Provo, Utah for my first summer term experience. It was a great summer. I don’t know what Provo is like in the summer now, but back then the town emptied out when most students headed home. Campus was quieter and more casual, tree shaded streets cool and empty. One of my good friends came to school as well and we found a cheap apartment and furnished it with brick & wood shelf bookcases for all our many books (both of us studying that oh-so-useful subject “literature”). We took long walks in the early evenings where we cemented our friendship with our wide ranging conversations. For the first time I had a car, which was revolutionary … we took a couple of road trips to such far away places as Monroe, Manti, and Salt Lake City. It seems pretty tame, but my BYU experience to this point had been conducted strictly within walking distance of the campus with a bus trip to the mall an adventurous rarity.
My experience that summer encapsulates all that I love about Summer – warm weather, long days, a slower pace, a relaxed schedule – freedom to follow whims and daydream a little. This was also my last summer as a single person. The summer of 1991 was the summer I met Tom. It was the crowning miracle of that lovely little season.
The months that followed were the opposite of everything I love about summer. I was finishing my degree – that last sprint to reach the finish line, filled with papers, papers, and more papers, along with heavy reading and preparation for those dreaded final exit oral exams. I was planning a wedding (!) although I tried to push much of that work onto my mother (which I’m sure she was just thrilled to do, having her own life to manage!) I was working and trying to spend as much time as I could with this fascinating person I was marrying. Oh, and it was cold, which I tolerate, but never love.
It’s weird to be back in the single world. I quite liked being married, despite all the ups and downs. I traded a lot of freedom for marriage and children, but there were great rewards too. There’s freedom in having someone know about all that stuff you mostly keep private – especially when they love you anyway and they “get” that stuff and suddenly you aren’t alone with it all the time. There’s freedom in knowing that you “have someone” – a partner at every event, someone to talk to when everyone else is busy, someone to share in the successes yes – but more importantly in the failures in life.
Now I have back the freedom of only consulting myself for much of my free time. I can clean or not clean, go to bed when I want, eat what I want. It’s like the emotional equivalent of summer – but I find myself missing the busyness of fall, the hope of spring, even the cold of winter. I’m trying to appreciate the positives, though I think maybe singleness is only encouraging me in my tendencies to be selfish! Still there is a part of me that whispers, “remember that magical summer? there’s still a bit of it hanging around if you look hard enough!”
It’s a familiar experience in my world – everything seems to be going well and I’m feeling really content and happy with my life. Then I discover that all the time I had been so content and thinking everything was going great, there was this thing going on. If I had been aware of this thing, I would have been anxious and worried or sad and discouraged. All that contentment was false – it was just there because I was unaware of the reality of my situation.
It got me thinking about perspective and emotion and how I make sense of my life. A lot of what I do is predicated on my emotion. If I’m feeling positive and upbeat, I’m more likely to tackle housekeeping and projects around the house. When I’m feeling down or stressed out, you can find me stretched out on my bed with a good book. But what if those emotional cues to my behavior are false? What if I’m all happy when events in my life should be making me miserable? or visa versa? It’s not such a big deal when we’re talking about whether the vacuuming gets done. But it did make me wonder about bigger choices. It’s the Sense and Sensibility dilemma – do I act on my emotions, ignoring convention or let my behavior be dictated by a moral frame irregardless of how I’m feeling? In the end, both Marianne and her more sensible sister Eleanor are hurt by their choices, but only Marianne comes so close to dying – Jane Austen seems to come down in favor of being suspicious of emotion as the guiding force in action.
I’m all for feeling good – but sometimes I neglect things like heartfelt prayer because I feel like everything is going great and I don’t really need help right now. There are a number of things wrong with that statement, starting with the idea that prayer is only good for getting things. But also, often times, when I’m blindsided by the truth of my situation, I see that actually I did need help – I was just unaware of what was really going on. And feeling good generally means I’m feeling content with myself – there’s nothing I need to work on or change about myself. That’s a really bad place to be … because there are so many metaphorical weeds in my garden that need my consistent attention. Emotions can persuade me that those weeds are not there when really, if I neglect them, I’ll be overrun in short order.
I guess my point here is I’m inclined to trust my emotions but maybe I should be a little more skeptical? Just some random musings …
This past weekend Haley and I had the chance to go to Utah to celebrate Kayla’s graduation. I took exactly one picture:
So now Spencer and Kayla have officially left the world of student life behind and are looking forward to a whole new adventure. They are still making plans for where life is going to take them next.
Despite the VERY long commencement and convocation ceremonies, there were some great remarks that reminded me of the value of education – especially for what it does to make me more capable of helping those around me. But can I just mention how very LONG those meetings were?? With over 6,000 students graduating, there was just no getting around the crowds and lines and the waiting. I’m grateful that part is done.
Kayla’s parents, grandparents, and sister came out for the weekend, so we got a chance to spend time together visiting and making sure Kayla felt extra special. It was a lot of fun and I hope we get to do it again soon.
While we were in Utah, we took the opportunity to go visit Andrew. He was recently accepted to the Job Corps program at Weber Basin in Ogden, Utah. He’s busy finishing up his last few high school credits and working on an electrical trade course as well as finally getting his drivers license. We’ve talked a few times over the course of the month, but this was the first time we had seen him since we took him to the airport at the first of April. Andrew was happy to see us and was full of interesting things to tell us about his experiences. He is enjoying classes and new friends and the general environment. It was a relief to see that he is happy and has settled into this new phase of his life. Spencer, Haley, Andrew, and I enjoyed dinner and then, in a nod to the many outings my grandpa Cottle arranged, we took in a round of mini-golf. Spencer was pleased to make sure we all knew that he won! 🙂 We finished up the evening with shakes at Sonic and then dropped him back off. Raising Andrew has been challenging, but this visit gave me a glimpse of a more hopeful future for him and for our family relationships.
Finally, one last milestone. My uncle Sherwood Bridges passed away on April 20 and his funeral was held on Saturday. The last few years have been particularly challenging for him due to a chronic illness that left him unable to do much of anything. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to hear my cousins share their memories of their dad. I got to see a completely different side of him, and it was comforting to see how much he is loved and how much he loves his family. While I’m sure Uncle Sherwood is grateful to be free of the worn out body he left behind, I know he is missing all his loved ones just as they are missing him. Once again I am grateful for the knowledge that this life is not the end and that one day we will all be reunited – what a joyous day that will be! Meanwhile, I’m just a little jealous that Uncle Sherwood can hang out with Tom, while I’m still stuck here!
I just finished Goodbye Stranger and this quote sums up the idea of milestones perfectly:
“it was like saying “and and and and” … it didn’t feel anything like the end.”
Twenty years ago or so when I was past the first flush of being “newly married” and living away from family or the friends of my youth, I discovered that I actually needed more than just my marriage in the way of a social life. In short, I needed a close friend or two. I remember praying more than once that I could make a good, close friend – someone I could really be myself with. I missed the association with other women that I had had in high school and college. Tom was great for a lot of things – but he was sorely lacking in the “girl talk” department!
It took a few years and a couple of moves, but finally that prayer was answered when an invitation to become walking partners turned into something more (Shannon, I’m talking about you!). I don’t know about anyone else, but I have found that making friends as an adult hasn’t been easy. Friendship takes time and lots of talking and a certain amount of “kindred spirit” connection (as Anne of Green Gables would say). For many years one good friend worked pretty well for me – and then this wonderful friend moved and at the same time I was forced to accept that I was pretty severely depressed. Among the many good bits of counsel my therapist gave me was the suggestion that I needed to broaden my social circle.
I’ve been grateful many times for that bit of inspired advice, but never more so than now. I turned 50 today. It’s kind of a big milestone birthday but I figured I’d just let this one slide by. Haley and I would go somewhere nice for dinner and that would be good enough. However, I didn’t count on the many good friends that I have been blessed with over the years. I thought I was meeting a friend for lunch – but instead there was a sizable group who all came to lunch just to show me they cared about me. I have received texts and cards and treats all day long from women who have been by my side since before Tom died, but most especially in the years since. I am overwhelmed with the riches of friendship that my Heavenly Father has so mercifully blessed me with over the years. There’s no denying that being a widow comes with its fair share of loneliness, but these wonderful friends have quietly lifted me when I was feeling down, have rejoiced with me when I needed someone to share my triumphs with, and have shown me over and over that I have not been forgotten or left out just because my life circumstances have changed.
So here’s to the true power for good of friendship! And to the tender mercies of a loving God.
This is a post I wrote back in the summer of 2017. I do really feel so lucky in my family … and we are prepping for another family gathering when Drew gets married next month.
I’ve spent the last few weeks with extended family and I’m reminded yet again how fortunate I have been when it comes to family. My parents have been empty nesters for at least a couple of decades, yet their home is almost always hosting one of their kids coming home to visit. This past week all of us came home for a family reunion. It is almost funny to call it that because we see each other so frequently. A few weeks earlier the majority of the extended family gathered to welcome home my nephew, Drew, who just completed a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paraguay. A few weeks before that, my sister came to Denver for a visit and we again gathered together to have a BBQ. My point being that we really don’t need an official event to spend time together. Anyway, we all arrived and the festivities began. There are enough bedrooms for all my parents’ children and spouses to have one. The grandkids were housed in tents on the back lawn. The one married grandkid got the pullout couch… what will we do when the next one marries?? Mostly our reunion included lots of sitting around with ice cream and visiting. One day we had a giant blowup water slide delivered and the kids had a great time. Even the adults took their turns. One day was the state celebration of Pioneer Day, so we watched the parade and some of the runners in the family ran the “milk run” (and dominated the medal winning!). The older teenagers organized relay races for the younger cousins (though the adults got in on the action as well). A couple of evenings we shared stories from family history about great great great grandparents. What is so amazing to me is that all five of us kids and our families really like being with each other. While we are all different and have varied experiences, we get along well and look forward to spending time together. It feel great to be part of such a safe and welcoming group.
This past weekend my kids and I went camping with Tom’s extended family. Tom is the youngest of six kids and his extended family is more extensive and multigenerational. But each of his siblings had some representation at the camp and it was so enjoyable to watch cousins catch up with each other. There were many fierce volleyball matches and a straggling hike up a nearby peak – it was great to see the long line of kids and teenagers and new parents and even us older campers struggling up the path. Andrew got to join us for the weekend and it was gratifying to see the positive changes that he has made. Mostly I was so grateful that even though Tom is gone, his brothers and sisters still include me as one of the family and want us to be part of the family gatherings. I know Tom is so pleased that they have taken such good care of us in his place.
I know there are many who don’t enjoy positive family relationships and I feel blessed with an abundance.
I didn’t mean to stop blogging … I just stopped having things I wanted to write about. In truth, I stopped wanting to write, full stop. Which was a bit of an identity crisis. I have wanted to write almost as long as I can remember. It has been part of my identity – I read and I write (though most of my writing is personal – journaling and personal study). But the last year or so I haven’t been that person. I’ve found it difficult to find and settle into books. I haven’t written much at all, apart from my “letters” to Tom. I threw myself into DIY projects around my home but even that has lost its attraction (maybe it was trying to tile a shower in the middle of Christmas festivities??). It’s such a weird place to be in. Does everyone go through an identity crisis? I’m not sure I’d call it a crisis, per se. But when Tom died suddenly the future was unmapped and it has stayed that way. Before, the future was this combined vision made up of things we both wanted and things that were just a natural result of the life we had built together. But now it’s just made up of my preferences and dreams – but I’m not used to thinking of those terms, so even figuring out what those are has been tricky.
What have I been doing? Making pottery, going to lunch with friends, being the mom, helping my kids make contact with their biological family, trying to re-establish a house cleaning routine (really, without another adult in the house to notice the inch of dust it is very easy to ignore!) … nothing too exciting. I guess I’m still kind of floundering around trying to figure out where I should go next. But I think blogging should be a part of that.