Coincidences or signs?

It’s been a weird 12 hours.

First, there was the amazing sunset after the balloon launch at Ethan’s grief group. What I didn’t say in my post last night was that on my balloon’s message to my dad, I asked for a sign that I was doing things okay, and that we’d be all right. Enter the most magnificent sky ever. I’m taking that as a sign from my dad.

Then I realized that I “knew” the new guy in grief group. First, his son looked familiar, like I had seen him before. Then the daughter’s name tripped alarm bells (it is not a common name). And the timeline of his ex-wife’s life from cancer diagnosis to their divorce to her untimely death was strangely familiar. I checked an obit this morning, and sure enough, the kids’ names and his name match. He’s the ex-husband of a former co-worker who died earlier this year. (I wrote about her in a previous entry, but I made the post private because “people” were searching for terms associated with her and stumbling across my site.)

This would be odd enough, but in one of the last emails that Donna sent to me, just weeks before she died, she talked about her kids and my kids and wanting to get them all together for a play date. I guess now they’ll get to know each other, having the chance to hang out every two weeks at grief group…

Message received

grief group

Tonight at the grief group Ethan and I attend, we released balloons with messages to our deceased loved ones. Almost as soon as the balloons were released, the sky changed and the most amazing sunset appeared. I told E that it was a sign that Mike received his balloon message.

RANDOM: Sparks/Fireworks and Handy Manly

I’ve written and rewritten this entry a million times, and it’s still not “right.” But I need to get these thoughts out of my head now, so I’m hitting “Publish”…

I had a great time with B on Saturday night. It was nice and comfortable and fun. I smile when I think about him or when he texts or I see his name in my email. (He’s started signing his emails with “Yours” and his name. It’s quite sweet.) Even friends to whom I’ve talked since the date have commented that they can “hear” my smile through the phone. And the ladies in the grief group commented on my smile and laughter last night as I recounted my weekend adventures – one of the ladies who also lost her husband and dad commented, “I like your life.”

(FYI: I’m smiling as I type this…)

Side note: Even if there’s no romantic relationship with B, I think we’d be good friends (but not Insurance Guy kind of friends!), and I’m so thankful that my first date was a positive experience. The experience proved that I CAN date, that I WANT to date, that the time is RIGHT.

But…

Two things keep swirling in my head:

  • Spark versus fireworks: I need to come to terms with the “getting to know” someone stage of dating. Having last dated in college (1995!), that step was nonexistent. I went to a small college – 1,000 students – so dating another student meant we knew everything about each other: hometowns, siblings, what (who) they did last weekend, past relationships, how smart they were. The basics. So when a boy in college took you to the Reflecting Pond and told you that he liked you, there were fireworks because damn, you liked him too – you KNEW him; you KNEW EVERYTHING about him. But things are different as an adult, especially someone pursuing a relationship through online dating. I don’t know anything about these guys, other than what they put in their profiles. (And I’m not sure much of that is accurate…) There’s a period of asking questions and telling stories and listening (and googling to make sure answers match up). Getting to know someone results in sparks and the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling. Sparks are nice, but I want fireworks. I think fireworks might come after the “get to know” stage. God, I hope there will be fireworks someday with someone…
  • Handy Manly: B is very nice. Kind. Gentle. You can see it in his eyes and facial expressions, hear it in his voice. This guy is a NICE person. And that’s good – don’t get me wrong. But…I keep reflecting on something my mom asked on Sunday: “Is he a manly man?” Well, no, not really, I don’t think so. “Well,” said my mom, “You need to find someone handy – to fix stuff. Mike sucked at fixing stuff. You need someone who’s not soft.” Now, Mike wasn’t a manly man. In fact, he was far from it. He couldn’t build or fix things. He didn’t hunt or fish. I teased that he was “handy for a lawyer” but truth was Mike couldn’t saw, hammer, or wrench his way out of a paper bag. Sure, it would be nice to have someone “fix stuff” but that’s hardly my sole criteria for finding a partner. Hell, in the last year, I’ve learned to use a snow blower, hang shelves straight the first time, and fix a leaky toilet – I’m doing okay with handy stuff on my own. But her words keep ringing in my ears… I’ve been talking to B for almost a month now; we’ve been on exactly one date – “how handy are you?” hasn’t exactly come up in conversation but I don’t get the feeling that he’s super-duper handy. I think my mom’s whole criticism stems from my dad, who was extremely handy and very tough – he was manly, for sure. She compares all men against him, but quite frankly, men today are much different from those of her generation. If he’s nice and kind, why should it matter?

Add to the list criteria other people think I should/do have: does not run marathons and handy around the house. Oh boy!

Finding help – I hope

I met with the new therapist last night. (Man, it was a cold night with -25 degree wind chills… If this wasn’t for Ethan’s benefit, I would have stayed home in my sweat pants under a down blanket!)

New therapist (D) is awesome.

Her office was filled with kid stuff, toys and books and games. It was very different from Ethan’s previous therapist’s office, which was cold and not kid-friendly with its diplomas on the wall and mismatched dorm-like furniture. I was also relieved to see two other kids coming out of another office – the boy was about Ethan’s age and the girl was maybe a year younger. Proof that this place GETS kids and knows how to work with them. (Never really saw kids at the old therapy place – no one under teen years.)

We sat down and she asked me to go over the timeline of events starting with Mike’s death last year.

“Actually, I think it started before that,” I said.

I recounted for her what’s happened in two years – Lauren’s birth (Ethan was no longer the only child), finding out Mike was drinking and lying and hiding it (lots of tension and arguing in the house), my dad’s death (Ethan let out a piercing, heart breaking howl when the Marine presented my mom with the American flag), neglect when Ethan was left alone with Mike (Mike drank until he passed out and forgot to feed or care for Ethan), my mom moving in with us, more tension at home as Mike was dropped from the outpatient rehab center, the loss of my job and the drinking ultimatum I gave to Mike, going to court, Mike being taken to the hospital and moving in with his parents a few states away, relocating the family to another state, Ethan starting a new school, Mike dying.

I explained to the therapist that Ethan’s behavior is very different at home and school. There’s no anger at home. There isn’t impulsive behavior or inappropriate outbursts when he’s with me or my mom. I talked to her about my belief that Ethan is processing his grief and losses, and he’s worried when he’s not around me or his grandma. I told her others want to diagnose him as ADD/ADHD, but that I wanted to hold off until I thought Ethan could process and deal with the grief issues. She nodded, she understood my theories.

D listened to everything, taking notes, asking occasional questions. She asked about his previous therapy experience and what was discussed. I told her that the former therapist never broached the subject of death or grief. Instead he concentrated on helping Ethan get along with his peers – necessary yes, but not helping the underlying problem. D was mortified.

“This kid’s been through a lot,” she said. “Grief and loss are major parts of his life. We’ll work on it.”

Ethan has his first appointment with her in one week. Fingers crossed.

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On a related note, it’s been a tough week for Ethan. He’s been in trouble at school for outbursts and anger and arguing with teachers.

Last night, I was on my way to pick him up from the after school program when the director called. Ethan was having a panic attack, she told me. He was yelled at for pushing a kid while playing tag and he lost it. They couldn’t calm him down.

Luckily, I was minutes away from the school. When I got there, Ethan was in a quiet, dark room across the hall from the rest of the kids. He had his head down and was sobbing. One of the program leaders was talking to him, rubbing his hair.

I asked him what was going on, what happened. He lifted his head and said that it’s almost the time when his daddy died last year.

We sat in the dark room and cried together for a few minutes. I gathered his things in the other room, and we left.

Right or wrong, I’m not going to lecture or yell at him for misbehaving this week. He has enough on his seven-year old mind this week.

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Late last night, I got an email from one of my mom friends. This mom knows the anniversary is coming up. Her daughter is in Ethan’s class:

During prayers tonight, I asked the girls if there was anything special they wanted to pray for and KL said, “I would like to pray for Ethan.” I said that was a great idea but asked if she had any reason and she said, “He just looks like he needs a friend, mom.” So I told her maybe she should try to be a better friend if it looks like he needs a friend.

I fear that Ethan’s anger and outbursts will alienate kids (and their parents), leaving him without friends or a support system. I only hope the other moms and kids in the class show this kind of compassion as we continue to move through these tough times.

It’s a good reminder not to judge others: you just don’t know what they’re going through.

Parenting is hard.

Helping others

One of the first work meetings I attended after my dad died (he died while I was on maternity leave with Lauren) involved a major interoffice brainstorm for a national greeting card company.

We were brainstorming ways grandparents could show their love for their grandkids (via cards and gifts, naturally).

Needless to say, it was a VERY painful day. I spent most of the time hiding out in the bathroom, crying, desperately missing my dad. Because his death happened while I was out of the office, not many people knew about it – and certainly not my colleagues from another office.

I felt bad about not participating, so after it was over, I approached one of the brainstorm leaders. She worked out of another office, and I didn’t know her really well.

I explained, through my tears, why I was absent for the majority of the session (and why I was still crying).

She started tearing up also. She lost her dad about 10 years before, while she was in college. I will never forget what she said to me next.

“This might sound weird, but I honestly believe,” she said, “that I lost my dad while I was so young so that I could help my friends who would lose their parents in the future. It was completely devastating when it happened, but I’ve been able to help others who’ve lost their mom or dad because I’ve been there. It sucks, but I’ve been there.”

Her words really resonated with me.

I remember after Mike’s funeral, on the long drive back home, telling my mom that of all my friends at the funeral, I was probably the only one who could deal with the death of a spouse at this point in our lives. That maybe losing Mike was a way to prepare me for something more, something greater.

I believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t know why so much has been thrust on me and my family over the last few years, but I know that it’s made me a stronger person in some regards. I pray that I don’t have to help anyone through the loss of her/his significant other any time soon, but I’ve learned a lot in the last 10 months. And someday, I’m hope I can use my experience to help others.

I’m thankful for that colleague and her wise words. I think about her words often and I recently shared with her how much her comments meant to me.