Life After Loss – the “waiting room”

I have been taking steps to try to really move forward with life after the loss of Ed. And while I am doing “okay” I think I can do better. Really live again, not just go through the motions. So I am participating in a program called “Coffee with Christina” which was started by Christina Rasmussen author of “Second Firsts”.  She has created this community of people who are all trying to find the same things as me; life after loss. We have “homework” which helps get introspection on things, and as part of this, sharing this information with someone is key. It gets you to be vulnerable and in my opinion, really “own” it. I thought of several people who I could share this with, and while I shared privately with the “coffee” community, I also thought to myself – GO BIG OR GO HOME. So here it is. Very raw and vulnerable, and not something I would generally share so openly.

Coffee with Christina – week 1 – the waiting room

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the waiting room and acknowledgment of past losses to understand why I am here. It’s taken me all week to come up with this:

For my past losses – I have a lot – my parents divorced when I was young, I was some-what bullied as a kid, rejected by men so I was happy to have attention from anyone which led to some bad choices until I met my husband, and job lay-offs, which is a different kind of rejection. I have to agree that these were probably never acknowledged as “loss” until my husband passed away in 2013. During a session in a bereavement group I participated in, we went back and did an exercise similar to this charting out different losses at different times in our lives. This did in fact made me open my eyes up to the fact that these were easily “pushed aside” in a “get over it and on with it” way, particularly with young love and jobs – there are plenty of others out there. Of course until the loss of my husband who is and always will be the love of my life. But my past experiences, including the loss of my husband, are what make me who I am today. So I don’t begrudge them. With one of my first heartbreaks with a “man” I knowingly had to break it off with him because at some point I realized, I didn’t need someone else to make me as unhappy as I was. I could this by myself, and I’d probably be happier. And I also realized that I will never feel the same way about this “man” with anyone else; I will feel different and it will be better. And I was right. I’m glad I was able to figure this out as it severed me well.

I have been thinking about what my waiting room looks like and why. It’s fairly simple and what Christina describes; big comfy couch, big screen TV, warm blankets in the winter and open windows in the summer. I am here because this is a place where I can go numb, isolate and just not think – I think and work all day long. My mind never shuts off, and sitting in front of the TV allows me to turn off my mind. I need that. I remember the first time I had felt the need to retreat there and the first time I understood why; it was my comfort after my husband passed away. I remember the first time I left it thanks to a post on Christina’s Second Firsts page, and I now know I can leave and come back anytime I want to do so.

But here’s the “aha” I had this morning while walking my dogs – a time where the clarity of my thinking is best because I am out in nature with no distractions – I do not retreat to the waiting room because of the loss of my husband any longer. One of the reasons I joined this group is because I knew that I could no longer “blame” every ounce of unhappiness I have on his death. There was more going on here keeping me in the waiting room. Going back through the past losses, I think I realize what it is. When my father left, my mother was left no choice to be a single mother of two children. We went without a lot and the common phrase I had to accept was “we can’t afford it” – a phrase that still makes me cringe. My mother had the help and support of her parents, my grandparents, who I was very close with, particularly my grandmother. My grandmother always used to instill in me that when I grew up, I must be able to take care of myself independently and financially. And so I did. I went to college, got my degree and have always been exceptional at my job. I have always done well financially, and thinking back to my childhood thoughts, I never wanted to be “rich”. I wanted to be “comfortable” (feeling of my waiting room) financially. This edict from my grandmother did me very well. I have always been able to be the breadwinner of the family and I emphasize “needed” because there was a time when my husband was the sole breadwinner running his own business. I am thankful for my ability to do so, because where I worked when he got sick with Synovial Sarcoma, I had the best insurance and more importantly the ability to take whatever time off I needed. After he passed away I took a year of leave and then ultimately resigned (I did have another job however – how could I possibly just NOT have a job, right?). I’m thankful for my education, my work ethic, and my ability to earn a living and keep in the lifestyle I have created for myself and my family. I am so fortunate that I have not had to make financial decisions based upon my husband’s passing away. I know there are so many widows out there who don’t have this same choice. I can’t even imagine it.

So here’s my “aha” – I am in my waiting room because I am in a routine of going to work, earning a good living, and being comfortable. I believe Christina refers to this as the “roommate”. My roommate requires that I have financial stability regardless of my happiness. I need to go to work and be financially independent. And one of my biggest fears is not being able to do this, particularly now that I am alone. I fear losing my house, not having health insurance, getting sick and not having anyone to take care of me. The year I spent not working, I didn’t worry about finances as I knew I had enough in the bank to be fine. More than fine, but that’s something I’ll never admit. It was the very first time I was thinking about taking care of myself. Healing from my grief and from being a caregiver to my husband. Putting myself first is not something with which I am familiar, and now it’s all I have to concern myself with. The “stuck” of my waiting room is from my bad relationship with money and fear of financial stability if I followed my passions and not my routine.

My husband and I used to have a very funny joke between us. We agreed that I had the ability to be two very different people; “work Tracey” – hard core, Type A, get it done and “vacation Tracey” – relaxed, go with the flow and downright fun. We both agreed that we like “vacation Tracey” better. I do acknowledge that “work Tracey” came in very handy when managing doctors, hospitals, clinical trials, research etc. Weeks before he passed away, we were talking about the future – my future without him. We had always talked about my potentially going to law school. I had been home taking care of him for a few months at this point, which was my sole job. I said to him, “maybe I’ll go to law school”. His response was, “no. not now. You just mellowed out”. In my care taking of him, I had gotten much closer to “vacation Tracey” who is in my opinion a much better version of myself. Before he passed away I told him that I wanted to be the person that he saw me as, because he always saw me as a better person that I saw myself. I want to get out of the waiting room and be THAT person. That will require hard work and change of my routine – and getting a little uncomfortable and vulnerable.

Thank you for listening.

5 thoughts on “Life After Loss – the “waiting room””

  1. Thank you for making yourself vulnerable. I think that many of us struggle with who we are and who we should be. Continue to grow as you move forward in your journey called life. You have given me some interesting thoughts to ponder and I thank you for that.

  2. Tracey,
    I know that whatever you put your mind too you will accomplish!! I love you for you!! I see a big difference in the past few years!! Funny reading your blog I understand “hardcore Tracey” and vacation Tracey!! I think you have come a lot for ther than you give yourself credit for!!! I know Ed is watching over you and the kids!!! I feel and see changes in you every time me talk or you post!! I know you will get out of that waiting room!! I will be here waiting for you!! Love you and hoping to visit with you very soon!!! Sandy

  3. I have traveled this widow-journey with Tracey for the past two years. We met in a grief support group, and Tracey has always been there for me and helped me through this pain. I was just telling her that I am now and have been for some time “vacation Denise” in my life, both before and after my husband’s death (I retired early). Although “vacation Denise” may sound grand, something (besides the glaring reality of my husband no longer being here) is just plain missing in my life. The trouble is, I can’t even pinpoint what type of “something” that is. Is it some sort of purpose or goal or desire. I don’t have the slightest idea, but I’m standing in the same waiting room as Tracey at this point. I have attempted to venture out (and shared my hilarious stories with T) with little success. It is beyond frustrating for a type A to rattle around trying to determine “what’s next” when we’ve always just known what was next. T, may both of our journeys continue, and may we both find peace.

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