Playing the Song Backwards: A 7-Year Itch, of Sorts

Parents_wedding_kiss

If marriages experience a seven-year itch, can grief and loss have a seven-year itch too? This week is the 7th anniversary of my mom’s passing, and it’s sort of doing a number on me emotionally. Anniversaries like this don’t make me nearly as sad as they used to, but this week I’m feeling a bit more melancholy than the past few August 25ths.

Seven years ago, my life was like living a country-western song, so many crazy things happened that year. It was seven years ago today that I became parentless. I was a “born-again orphan, and that was only the beginning… In August of 2004, we said goodbye to Mom, and laid her to rest, and she was finally reunited with my dad, 22 years after his passing. But that was not the only verse.

At the beginning of 2004, my “year of the country song”, Mom started to get really sick. As her health rapidly declined, her (second) husband of 20+ years, my step-dad, who was already ill, then got sicker. He died in the late spring of 2004. Then Mom died about 8 weeks later. It’s too bad there are no Groupons or BOGOs for funerals.

Within the following months, I got laid off from my job. Then my dog died, at the vet, from what was supposed to be a routine teeth cleaning. Our house was on the market, and sold within a month, so we were now homeless, as our new house wouldn’t be complete for about six months. We moved into my sister’s basement. We had to hire lawyers to battle my uncle (Mom’s brother) over her estate. We no longer speak to him or his children. We sold off Mom’s house and many of her possessions.

It was an interesting year, to say the least. After losing my dog, my mom, my step-dad, my job, my uncle and cousins, and temporarily my home, I decided that 2004 was the year of the country song. I know many people who feel this way, at some point in their lives, for various reasons, not always due to the loss of a parent. Once one really bad thing happens, several more seem to follow, like waves of dominoes toppling each other over and over. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job, any significant loss or trauma often sends shock waves through your entire life, and everyone in it.

If you’re a fan of country music, or even if you hate country music but like to make fun of it, you may have heard what happens if you play a country song backwards:

You get your dog back, your spouse back, your job back, your house back, and you get out of jail!  Maybe there was hope for me too! (For the record, I wasn’t ever in jail, but I definitely needed rescuing from this trying period in my life!) 

While it wasn’t as easy as playing a song backwards, I pressed on to try to reverse my Year of the Country Song.

I got a new, better job. As a bonus, the company that had laid me off and made me jobless then completely closed down and ceased to exist… poetic justice!

We even got another dog. While I wouldn’t ever dare say that our new dog is “better than” the dearly departed dog Bailey, I can say that our replacement dog, a pomeranian named Rocky Road, definitely gets along better with our other dog Ella J. the schnauzer, than our first pomeranian did, so that’s a good thing I guess.

We moved into our new house, so we were no longer homeless. 

But, one thing I couldn’t ever fix, replace, or approximate, was mom. Seven years later, I’m still parentless.

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” -Unknown

That’s great, and true, to an extent. While time is healing all wounds, however, it fades memories too. Maybe that is, in fact, how time works so well to heal grief, by wiping away the memories that make you hurt so much. Seven years is a long time. Memories dissolve. Life moves forward, even after you’re left behind. 28 seasons have turned. I haven’t seen my mom, heard her laugh, or seen that mischievous twinkle in her eye for seven years. I’ve forgotten things about her, things she said, things we did together, time we spent together, that I never thought I’d ever forget.

Fortunately, as some of the memories fade, regret and resentment fade too.

Resentment, because my mother didn’t even try or want to take better care of herself, to stick around for her four children who had already been without a father for so long, and for her seven grandchildren who never knew him, and now would barely know her. Regret, because I wasn’t there with her when she died. You can’t ever get back that moment in time when someone leaves the earth forever and life slips away.

Mom could have lived much longer, had she chosen life. One of my nieces is getting married this week. Mom, of all people, should be here to be a part of it. She loved weddings. But, I guess she was just tired. She’d buried two husbands, the second of whom was very ill for years before he passed. She even had sold her bridal boutique over to my sister. She’d married off four children who’d produced 7 grandchildren. She wanted to go on her own terms, at the “right age” for her, and I guess she did, in a way.

 

“Although it’s difficult today to see beyond the sorrow, may looking back in memory help comfort you tomorrow.” –Unknown

On this week of the 7th anniversary of Mom’s death, I feel as though her spirit may be stirring things up around here just to make sure we don’t forget about her.

It’s appropriate that there’s a big wedding in the family this week. Mom would be so excited about it and proud, even if she may have not expressed it easily. I know she will be at the wedding in some way.

And, the house Mom and Dad had built and lived in for more than 40 years is on the market, for the first time since my siblings and I sold the house off in the process of settling her estate. When we sold the house, we held out and spared it from being torn down by a developer who wanted to replace it with a McMansion like 80% of the other lots on the street. We didn’t want our house to be completely destroyed forever.

Today, the house, now updated, gutted, and completely renovated, is for sale again. It doesn’t look anything like it did when we sold it seven years ago, but it’s somehow comforting that it’s still standing. It’s one memory that can’t completely fade. I can drive by, and see the house there, where over 40 years of family memories were made. The couple who bought the house from us in 2004 are moving following a recent divorce. Perhaps it was their 7-year itch too.

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In conclusion, although my mom’s beverage of choice was a Manhattan on the rocks, not a martini as stated below, this quote pretty much sums up her attitude on life, which ended seven years ago. I don’t know who wrote it, I’ve seen it attributed to multiple sources, including a greeting card, but it’s still the perfect quote for her!

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, martini in one hand, chocolate in the other – body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO HOO, What a Ride!”

                   

 

 

 

 

 

Heavy Stuff Gets Lighter

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Grief can get heavy. At least it did for me. But the good news is, it doesn’t have to weigh you down forever.

I wasn’t “lucky” enough to be one of those people who stops eating when I get stressed or depressed. No. Quite the opposite, I turned to food as comfort. And let’s just say that after a while it got very uncomfortable, carrying all that around…After my mom died and I became parentless in my early 30s, I wore my grief like a badge of honor – a very large, heavy, 60+ pound badge of honor.

Some people memorialize lost loved ones with a new tattoo, or by planting a tree….but not me. I guess I chose obesity!

Throughout my teens and twenties, I was one of those people who had always been relatively slim to average in weight, all the while feeling very fat. Almost always. 

It didn’t help my self-image when my mom seemed to enjoy reminding me of how much skinnier I used to be. After college, when I grew into a size 10, she’d smack me on the rear and laugh at the extra wiggle in my walk… (keep in mind, as she said this, she was probably wearing a size 18-20 at the time, or more, but that was beside the point). As a size 10, I might as well have been obese. I certainly didn’t feel good about how I looked. I felt fat more than I felt thin, for whatever reason.

After I got married in 2000, I gained a few extra “fat & happy” marital pounds, so by the time my mom got sick in 2004, I was already around a size 12 (the horror!).

Then after mom died that year, I guess I figured I’d show her “fat”!  So began the not-so-good grief grocery grab! 

I thought, with Mom gone, I can eat whatever I want to eat. She isn’t here to tell me how fat I look, or am, at size 8 or 10 or 12… she wasn’t there to tell me how fat I am at size 14 or 16… she was no longer there to watch me balloon to 18+. No one can stop me now!

The odd thing is, even after gaining more than 60 pounds in a few years, (a lot for a 5-foot 2-inch frame!) I didn’t feel that much worse about myself or my image. I think it’s because I never felt that great about myself and my appearance before I gained the weight, so being larger really didn’t make me feel any worse. It couldn’t. In my head, I was huge already, before I gained the additional 65 pounds… 

Finally, something just clicked, as if an alarm clock went off in my brain. A wake-up call. I couldn’t carry the extra weight around anymore. It was too much. I had spent most of my 30s in an unhealthy, unflattering, un-fun state. As I approach 40 (which, incidentally, is just 12 years younger than my dad was when he died), it hit me that life is really short, and by allowing myself to be this overweight for so long, I could be cutting my life even shorter. 

“If you don’t like something, change it; If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it”  -Mary Engelbreit

In May of 2010, (not long after I bought the pants in the above photo) and a bit more than 5 years after I became parentless, I was ready to be the old me again, or maybe even better than the “old” me.

I decided to go on a diet and exercise regimen. Nothing fancy, no pills, no surgery, no fad foods. Just a low fat, low carb, high protein, high fiber diet, plus 30-60 minutes of exercise 6 days a week.

Being average never felt so great!  Me

Today, about one year and 65 lbs later, I’m excited to be back at my wedding weight from almost 11 years ago. Yes, I’m back to that same weight at which I used to feel really fat!  In fact, when I got married, I was mortified that we had to order a size 10 wedding dress for me to wear (equivalent to about an 8 in regular clothes.) I might as well have been ordering a white tent. Right before I started my diet in Spring of last year, the size-18 me looked at those wedding photos of the size 8 me and wondered what was wrong with my vision, or with my head!

The greatest thing about the weight loss, for me, is not how I look, but how I feel about myself now.

I’m not sure why, but it’s almost as if I had to be really overweight for a while, to appreciate being more healthy. I’m not proud of the weight gain at all. It was unhealthy and bad for me all the way around. I was ashamed, and I’m still embarrassed that I let myself get so out of control for so long. However, now that I’ve lost it, I am grateful that the experience helped me to learn to appreciate myself more. Now, I try not to be so hard on myself and my appearance all the time, like so many women are, thanks to unrealistic standards in society and in the media, an over-abundance of plastic surgeons, trick photography, and airbrushed everythings.

I guess, it’s all about perspective. Everything is relative. Having been a size 5 growing up, size 10 felt hideous and horrible, especially when your own mother is pointing it out and laughing at it. But after being a size 18, I feel like a supermodel as a size 6. 

Similarly, grieving a major loss, such as the death of a parent or anyone special, helps you see life more clearly. After you experience a significant loss, your entire perspective on everything in life changes. Once you experience that type of pain, you tend to not sweat the small stuff as much – you’re just happy to be pain-free.  

The good times, even just plain okay or average times, (e.g. when no one is dying) are that much sweeter and more enjoyable after you pull out of the darkness and back into the light.

“The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse”Helen Keller

 

 

Opposite of Sandwich

Society loves labels. People, trends, brands, conditions…. everything has a label, and with each label comes a set of expectations and generalizations.

Since I was born between the years of 1965 and 1979, I am part of the group of people labeled “Generation X”. Therefore, by definition, I’m an individualist, a slacker, a la “Reality Bites”, or so it has been declared.

Many of my coworkers, as well as most, if not all, of my nieces and nephews, are “Generation Y”, also referred to as “Millenials”, so they are tech savvy, impatient, not as career focused as many feel they should be, but are also well-traveled and very worldly.

My three older siblings are all “Baby Boomers”. Baby Boomers are often also referred to as the “Sandwich Generation,” because they are mid-life adults who are sandwiched between aging parents and growing children, all of whom depend on the adults who are sandwiched in between the older and younger generations.

So, with all that being said, what is the opposite of a sandwich? 

A la carte?

Entree’?

Chopped liver? 

Whatever you’d call it, that’s what I am, I suppose. I’m the un-sandwich. As someone who has no parents, and no kids, I’m just out there, exposed, no other generations wrapped around me, or sandwiching me.

What does that make me? What do you call the people like me who are parentless and childless? (If there even are any others like me out there…). I wonder how many people have the same status as I do? Sometimes I think there must not be very many people with these same circumstances. I don’t think I know anyone personally who is “unsandwiched” like me. I do know a fair amount of people, and many friends my age don’t have kids. I know a few people who have no living parents, but most of those people are much older than I am. But I don’t know anyone who has neither parents or kids… am I alone? Or am I just a rarity? 

Maybe that’s why there’s not a name for un-sandwiched people like myself.  There are so few of us, perhaps we aren’t even worth labeling.

Then I think there must be others out there. Much like one who ponders the existence of life on other planets… I wonder if there are other “unsandwiched” (a la carte?) people out there like me…

Being an “island” generation seems a bit lonely when you think about it initially. If you had told me 15 years ago that I’d be in this scenario, parentless, and childless, I probably wouldn’t have believed it, and I probably wouldn’t have been too happy about my future. I’d always imagined that by this point in my life, late 30s, I’d have (several) kids or at least still have a parent.

If someone had told my former self that I’d be parentless and childless throughout my 30s, (which, by the way, is not by choice, for the most part, but that’s for another post!) I’d have probably thought I’d be lonely too. But I’d have thought wrong. 

I’m surrounded by an abundance of other wonderful people, from my husband to my sister (and best friend), to my eight nieces and nephews, and my great nephew…. from my in-laws in Baltimore to my favorite Aunt in DC. Extended family, friends, and neighbors. Even coworkers and facebook friends can brighten my days and bring many smiles and laughs. 

At times, after making time for work, spouse, house, friends, family, hobbies, and general upkeep in life…. it’s almost hard to imagine having any time for anything more, or anyone else in life. It’s taken me a long time to feel settled, and comfortable. It wasn’t easy, and I’m still figuring a lot of things out. But I have a better idea of who I am, or at least who I want to be. There are still loose ends, and unresolved issues, some of which are significant, like having kids. Yes, believe it or not, we are still open to the idea of having kids, much to the confusion of many, who seem to think that, just because I’m in my late 30s, and I’m not beating down the door of the nearest fertility clinic, I must “not want kids, period”. But we haven’t ultimately determined that. We haven’t tried not to be parents. It just hasn’t happened for us. And, for all we know, maybe it’s not supposed to happen, for whatever reason.

Are there lonely days? Absolutely. But doesn’t everyone have lonely days, no matter who you have or don’t have in your life? You can feel lonely in a room full of people, even in a house full of people. I know many women who are married, and/or have children, and/or have one or both parents, yet they feel alone much of the time. Being ‘alone’ is often a state of mind, as much as it is a state of being. No matter who you might feel you’re missing in life, a spouse, a significant other, kids, parents, siblings, or friends…. it’s up to you to create the life you want, to have your best life, with or without those people. Even if you are fortunate to have many of those special people in your life now, they may not be there forever, so enjoy every moment you have with them while you can.

Some of the worst days for me are certain holidays, especially ones like Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day. On those tough days, it seems like every single person on the planet is spending the day doting on their parents, and being doted on by their children, and it can be very lonely. I used to allow both of these days, and lots of similar “greeting card days” make me feel really lonely, but now with the passage of time, and with a concerted effort to adjust my attitude about them, I now try to treat them much like any other day. And, I approach those would-be sad days like I now approach anniversaries of my parents’ passing, as a day to remember the good times and honor them with happy memories instead of being depressed about my situation.

So how should we label those of us who are “unsandwiched” by parents or kids? Not that labels are necessary, or even good, but if society is going to give us a label eventually, (once our group grows large enough to command a label, as more people in my generation continue to forego having kids), then we might as well have some input into the label and what characteristics get slapped on us. 

I prefer “filet mignon” to “chopped liver” any day, so when determining a label for folks like me (if there are any others like me out there), maybe we could go with something a bit more enticing than “chopped liver” and skip anything related to sandwiches, which are rather bland.

Instead of just a plain piece of meat, or a breadless sandwich, I think we should be labeled after some sort of Mexican food (a personal fave, so I’m biased) – spicy and a little unpredictable, like the lives we lead, with no kids and no parents.

With no parents and no kids, we’re more free to go where we want to go and do what we want to do, or at least more so than those who are responsible for young kids or aging parents. There is a degree of freedom that accompanies un-sandwiched adults like me.

We don’t have to be a certain person for our parents.

We don’t have to be a certain way for our kids. We can just…..be!  Whomever we want to be.

Even without kids or parents around, life can be very full. You can have the whole enchilada, with sour cream and guacamole on top! In fact, maybe instead of a bland sandwich generation, we can be the enchilada generation, with a fun mix of flavorful ingredients, wrapped in a light flour tortilla, (of friends & family) without the weight of processed grains and a heavy crust….

Or maybe we should just forget about having a label, and just go on living a zesty, fun-filled life!

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