Kentucky Mom to Twins and More

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Why I had a photographer at my husband's funeral

Not long ago I found a picture in my parents' photo archives of my great-Aunt Rose, dead in her casket. I was in elementary school when she died and don't remember very much about her but I know she was a great lady who had mad cooking skills. The Italian restaurant, Sunny Italy Café, that she and her husband founded in the late 1920s still stands today as one of the most popular restaurants in my hometown.

Seeing the yellowed, frayed polaroid made me wonder about whoever took that picturehow much they must have loved Aunt Rose and knew how much they'd miss her. Despite the taboo that for some reason is placed on taking photographs of the dead, or of a casket, or at a funeral itself this person just needed one last memory of her.

It wasn't until my husband died that I was able to understand why that person had to take that picture.

Pictures are normally meant to capture the beauty in this life the smiles, the arms up on roller coasters, the sandcastles at the beach, the cake smashing at weddings, the birth of a child, the first day of school. They are physical evidence that we were HERE. We witnessed these precious moments in time. We don't want to forget the memory of the laughter. We can't lose the image of that little hand in ours as we walked her through the threshold into kindergarten. We need to forever remember the faces on Christmas morning or our baby's first birthday. We can't let those moments just go out and away into the world without documenting it without saving it forever.

But what about different types of life moments? The not-so-happy ones. The ones that are heartbreaking, emotional, painful yet still beautiful moments that we want to hold onto. Why shouldn't we capture those too?

In the week leading up to my husband's funeral one year ago on that cold, November Saturday, I kept panicking about the finality of this all. I would hit the floor in despair thinking about how this was really the end. This was the end for my four children and the man they called father. Being with someone you love every day for 20 years and then suddenly NOT being with that person anymore is probably the most cruel, gut-wrenching reality a human can face. I couldn't breathe all that week.

I looked at a photo hanging on the wall of our family, one of the last photoshoots we would have together, taken a few years prior. The kids were dressed in cute fall outfits, autumn leaves behind us. A beautiful backdrop at the family farm. Our smiles. I didn't know the photographer all that well, but I knew I loved the pictures she got that day. Her camera was the last to capture this once healthy, happy family of six. I contacted her immediately asking forwhat is deemed by manya strange and grim request, to photograph my husband's funeral.


She ended up capturing achingly beautiful memories of a day that I wished I could forget but didn't want to forget. His best friendsmany of whom he'd known from grade schoolflanked his casket as it was brought into the church. Hundreds of family, friends, coworkers, people from the community, some who didn't even know him, all packed his childhood church to pay respects. Standing room only was in high demand. She knew to capture the kids and I up near the front of the altar next to his body, as it lay in a modest, wooden box covered by a white sheet as the prayers reigned down on him, on us his family left behind.

Seeing this picture reminds me of the last time he and I were on an altar together. It was 16 years ago vowing 'death do us part.' Now here I was pondering this unfair reality where my 41-year-old husband was forced too early to stay true to that promise.

My children were youngall under age 10. My youngest was only 5. I'm not sure how much of this period in time they will remember when they are grown. What will they remember of the years that cancer robbed him of everything he was, or of the horrific morning I found him when I couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't speak but only scream? What about the hours and days and weeks after that left us all in a fog of tears and regret. Will they remember all the friends that came by, that called, that brought us food and desserts? What will they remember of a man who only got to live a short time with them? Will they remember his voice, his laughter, the way he worked hard and dedicated himself to making our lives perfect? Will they remember the joking way he danced behind me in the bathroom mirror at night or wrestled with them on the floor or tossed a ball with them in the yard? What will they remember of this day we put him in the ground?

In these last photographs, I know they will see and remember amazing things.

The crowd that came that day. How people lined the streets to get in. How they paused the motorcade on the way to the cemetery at the corner where his family business sits, honoring the well-known hometown boy, the last of four generations who would ever run it. My son said the funeral home director told him that in all his years, he had never seen an outpouring as magnificent as this. This was the most amazing crowd he had ever seen. "It's true," I told my son, "it's because your daddy was the best at everything." He was amazing in every sense of the wordeven to the end. I know he will remember that.

They will also see the despair in every face, see the heartache in our eyes. They will feel the grief we felt that afternoon seeping through these prints. There are no words to describe the picture of our third child the blonde little goofy twin who favored her daddydraped over his casket saying goodbye. But I'll tell them that in that true heartache, there was true love. We loved him well and that's why we hurt so profoundly. They will know how loved their daddy was. How he is loved and missed still and always will be.

That is why these pictures are so important to us. We will forever treasure this one, last tangible memory we have of a great man that we got to call husband and father.









(photos by Lori Hill Photography)

This post was originally published Nov. 13, 2018 here at Today Parents.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Massage table musings... no filter

A friend of mine told me recently that I looked anxious, that I looked really tense. It’s true. I'm uptight. I'm uneasy. I'm 100 percent tense. What solo mother of four kids under age 11 isn't?

It doesn't help that I pulled a muscle in my neck a while back after I picked up and carried the dog across the grass. Don't ask. There was a very logical reason for my picking up an 80-pound German shepherd, but that's not the point.

I scheduled a massage in hopes that the pain in my neck and shoulder would magically disappear, that I might be able to turn my head from side to side at some point again. Although I am getting pretty good at popping Ibuprofens and having zero peripheral vision.

I've had a handful of massages over the yearsI do not take this luxury for granted y'all. But I do think getting a massage is a funny, awkward thing, isn't it? You are basically undressing for a stranger to rub all over you for an hour in the dark to the tune of soft woodwinds straight out of Mr. Miyagi's karate dojo. And since I'm a single mother now and my body has not felt human touch or any interaction in quite some time, I'm coming in here pretty uptight.  

While many people probably relax as soon as they slip under the warm sheets of this massage table, (I've heard some people actually fall asleep in a massage) I just can't. My mind hits me with everything I could possibly think of as soon as I hoist my half-naked body on the bed. I'm also the type of person who says stupid, inappropriate shit to anyone, so being in here at all is a real risk for a person like me.

Ok, relax, I tell myself. Your head is probably too far down on the table. Scoot up.
My head feels weird, cocked like this up here in this headrest thing.
Scoot the hell down.
Massage guy is here, just act normal.
My hair is wildly unkempt today and all over the place, I know. I'm growing it out and I forgot to wear a hairband.
Ok, his hands are strong and warm and I might cry because it feels so good to be touched—a real touch and not just a 6-year-old's touch pulling your arm from its socket urging you to come look at the toad she just caught.

Don't let him hear you breathe, it's obnoxious.
"Yes the pressure is fine," I say, when he asks, even though I really want to tell him, 'Please... harder. Much harder. Crack my back and make it hurt.'
But I think that that might be offensive to say and will make me sound kind of desperate and creepy maybe?
Isn't this a shit ton of oil to be using? I know it's getting in my hair too, and I'm going to look like a greaseball when I hit up the grocery after this. I feel really slimy and it sounds slurpy and wrong. But my neck and back are telling me this is so right.

Just please don't fart on him.

He feels that spot in my neck, the kinked part in the middle, on the right side. This is the part where every massage therapist seems to tell me how knotted and jacked up this area of my neck feels. Yes, I know. It's from Over-Excessive-Holding-Things Syndrome. Many moms get it—in addition to purses, grocery bags, pool totes, (and those diaper bags of yesteryear) we carry everyone else's shit on this side, too. 'Mommy, can you hold this?' is never answered with a 'no.'
Ok sir, you are pinching and rubbing my neck while pulling my hair back to the side—because I didn't wear a hairband, I know—and I could probably live here in this bed forever right here like this.
He's doing all this touching and he doesn't even want me to make him a PB&J or anything.
Half way through all this hand-to-body contact and I'm thinking we are pretty much dating at this point...

Uhhh. That feels good.
Wait, did I think that or say that out loud? Don't you dare say anything the hell out loud.
Ok he's rubbing really low now. I'm sure he can see the top of these Target panties under this drape thing and they probably aren't the fanciest I could have pulled from the drawer this morning.

Please don't fart.

Wonder if he can tell I am rocking a pretty badass muffin top. I'll go workout tomorrow, I silently promise him... and myself.
Lord, I hope he doesn't massage my buttmy gluteswhatever. It's just another muscle right?
Shit, did I shave my legs? I swear I shaved in the last 12 hours I promise, but the rubbing is making every god-forsaken hair on my entire body stand up.
You can probably tell by my goosebumps you are killing it with me right now, dude.
Wait, what if this guy gets a … Oh my god, you are such an idiot. Don't flatter yourself.
This is a professional massage therapist who has rubbed all over plenty of bodies, I'm sure that you and your ugly panties are the farthest thing from... this guy's thing... err mind.

Relax.
But just don't relax too much or you'll fart.

Halfway through, he lifts a corner of the sheet and tells me to turn over and I suddenly feel like Shamu the orca beached up on shore.

Oh god, did he see my boob?
Dude, I'm sorry. But let me tell you, these boobs were the shit back in the day.
These puppies have breastfed four babies and weathered two different breast pumps, so while they might be barely-B-cups they are my battle scars of 11 years worth of motherhood and I'm pretty proud I've still got anything in here.

But seriously, this blanket covering my boobs is hideously thin. Can't he turn up the bed warmer?
Don't open your eyes, you'll look so weird if you make eye contact.
Think of something happy so you have a pleasant smile on your face. Oh god, you look maniacal! Stop smiling. What are you, the Joker?
He is cradling my head now and all I can think is how heavy and big my stupid head probably feels.
Why couldn't I have a smaller head?
Natalie Portman has a good size head, I think. Not this f-ing pumpkin on a popsicle stick head like mine.

Uhh. That. Feels. So. Good.
He could seriously snap my neck right now if he wanted to, though.
I hope he isn't having a bad day. Maybe he's grown tired of rubbing all over touch-starved, 40-something-year-old women with way too much hair.
Please don't snap my neck, dude.

I wonder if there's a hidden camera in hereto catch the hilarity of grown women farting, probably? Maybe there is, right? Like when those shady tanning salons in the 90s got busted for peeping at women through cameras in the ceiling tiles. I open my eyes to look at the ceiling.
Close your eyes, dummy, he'll think something is wrong and he'll stop rubbing.
Please don't ever stop rubbing me, sweet massage therapist guy.
Soon he stops rubbing.
"Our time is done," he says. "How did that feel?"

That couldn't have possibly been an hour. I swear he changed the clock while my eyes were closed.
I'm totally checking the clock when he leaves. I don't want to get up. Please don't make me leave.

"Thanks so much," I whisper, while still laying flat (because I literally can't move my whale body back up or over at this point). "I'm so glad I didn't fart."

This post was originally published Nov. 8, 2018 here at BluntMoms.com.

                   




Sunday, November 11, 2018

What all single moms have in common


I never used to read articles or blog posts that had "single mother" in the headline or opening paragraph. I didn't have to. I was a mother of four, married to a great guy who provided us with a big house in the suburbs, food on the table and clothes on our backs. The term 'single mother' was the farthest notion from my high-on-cloud-nine mind.

Then about a year ago Cancer came and shit all over my cloud.

I'm now a single mother with four kids. I read all the posts about this topic now and the only articles and blog posts I avoid are those with 'husband' in the title. "Ways to surprise your husband in bed" or "Thanks, husband for being so awesome," even this intriguing one I saw recently, "My husband is well endowed" – nope I can't read any of them. All of these I would have clicked on once upon a time, but now only reduce me to a pile of tears. I don't need any reminders that I don't have a husband anymore and that I'm by myself now.

A couple months after my husband died, I wrote something that garnered a lot of attention from strangers. One woman angrily commented (yes, that's possible–it's pretty much the use of all CAPS, a lot of misspellings and mean face emojis) that I was a "rich, grocery bitch with insurance" trying to complain about being a single mother when I didn't know anything about what REAL single mothers go through. I dismissed her as a troll and deleted her comment. I was appalled that someone would belittle me just because of the means in which I became a single mother.

But I've thought about that lady's comments quite a bit this past year.

I've thought about how right she was. My husband was a grocer who owned a family business and left us savings. He had an insurance policy. I can pay our bills and buy the kids clothes and shoes and food. I have a house that we sleep cozy in at night and I have a car to drive them to and from school and practices. Many of these things are luxuries that countless single mothers don't have, I know. I am thankful that I don't have the hardship of wondering how I'll pay the mortgage or put dinner on the table. While I work only part time a couple days a week and occasionally volunteer at the kids' school, I don't have to stress about working full-time and dealing with child care. I am eternally grateful I don't have to wait for the bus late at night with my kids or worry about paying medical bills when they are sick.

But this doesn't mean I don't have worries that cause me a great deal of anxiety on top of the grief of losing my best friend of 20 years and the father of my children.

Being a single mother with four kids under age 11 who play several different sports means something's gotta give. I told the twins we couldn't do horseback lessons anymore. They loved horseback. I told my son I couldn't get him to piano practices anymore. Sure, he hated practicing piano, but he was damn good at it. I told my daughter the swim team she wants to join will have to wait. I didn't enroll the girls in fall soccer because I couldn't handle the logistics of practices and games by myself and I was tired of asking for favors from neighbors. Was it the right decision to cut extracurriculars from my childrens' lives because I was too exasperated to get them there? I don't know, but I stress about it.

My son sometimes pulls his hair out at his sixth grade homework, stressing to get straight As in school. I can hardly understand the assignment questions, let alone patiently help him find the correct answers, so we both are left frustrated each night. It hurts to know he wishes his dad were the one here to help him with it because he was the math genius. He was the scholar. He was more patient than me. My son is not the only one who wonders if the wrong parent got sick and died.

That flier from school about the annual father-daughter dance coming up in January is under papers on my desk. It's like a knife that sits there waiting to pierce my heart again. My youngest already told me it makes her sad to see other kids with their daddies. Her heartbreak will follow our melancholy holiday season where we watch 'normal' families celebrate happily together. Here's a big, fat truth for all internet critics – no amount of money or insurance policy can bring back an amazing ass father from the dead to kiss his kids on Christmas morning. But I know it's the only thing they all truly want that I can't give them.

I pulled something in my back a few weeks ago. I wrote on my social media page about how this exercise-induced injury brought me down. Literally – I was laying flat on the ground motionless because I couldn't move, it hurt so bad. All that evening, I winced through homework, fixed dinner hunched over the stove, threw them in a bath and sent them off to bed with little fanfare because I had nothing left to give them by 9 p.m. I lay on the living room floor with only the dog there to check if I was still alive. I was upset about having to do this all myself, fed up there is nobody here to talk with at the end of the day, depressed I don't have someone to bring me an ice pack, to rub my back or just to commiserate with. I told my Facebook friends, "I don’t have anyone to tag out with. It’s me 24-7... I get no sick days here. I’m it. I can't tap out."

Because that's the one thing all of us single mothers have in common – no matter our situations, our life stories, our means, discrepancies or bank account statuses – we have to do it alone every day. We carry the weight. We hoist the burdens on our backs, we weather the anxieties of day-to-day life as well as those of our children. We manage all the responsibilities while still balancing grief on top of it – grief for what once was or what should have been or maybe grief for what never was ours and might not ever be.

But we will get it all done today. And tomorrow, too. We will pull up our big-girl, single mommy panties (some of us put on our rich-grocery-bitch faces too) and we will get the shit done. There is no choice. There are no sick days. We can't tap out. We're it. We are the REAL single mothers.

This post was originally published Oct. 31, 2018 here at That's Inappropriate.



Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The monster that is DATING after becoming a widow


They say, "When one door closes, another one opens up."

I suppose that can be true... unless the old door can't close all the way because your foot is stuck in it.  Your foot—a piece of you—is still holding onto something in there.

This is how I liken the monster that is "dating after becoming a widow."

I've been alone now for about a year and I'm getting used to this being 'normal' now. There have been a lot of low days in there. Days I've felt so alone, that despite having people around, kids around, friends around, I have felt utter and complete loneliness. Scary lonely. It's the hardest at night. When the kids are in bed and it's painfully quiet. I don't sleep that well, and that's where my thoughts catch up to me. It's when I think about how this used to be my favorite part of the day, when the kids fell asleep and he and I would hop into bed and watch TV together. I'd grab the remote from him because he would watch Cops all night if I let him. I just wanted HGTV on. Other times we'd laugh at reruns of Modern Family or old episodes of The Office. He'd hold my hand. He'd reach for me the way most women long to be reached for. Even though I was always tired, I was never too tired for him. 

I don't watch those shows much anymore because of the reminders of that happiness. Maybe I should get used to being alone, I tell myself. Maybe that was as good as it'll ever be. Nobody has all that much interest in a 40-something widow with four kids and a lower abdominal scar. I don't want to think like that, but I do. I don't want to envision myself alone and celibate until I die, but I do. I hate that I can't watch romantic comedies or love scenes from movies because of the bitterness and tears they cause, but I can't watch them anymore. I can't close the door some days it seems.

But I'm tired of feeling like I don't deserve happiness again. That I won't see happiness again.

A while back, when my husband was getting sicker and things started to get grim, he sat me down on the couch. It was before his second surgery to rid the cancer from his tongue and before the loss of much of his speech. He told me someday I was probably going to find love again. He said I would probably marry again. He wrote much of the same thing in an email to me several months before he died, a time when he was readying his will and the estate for what he knew was inevitable. I remember how mad I got. I told him to quit saying this shit to me. Quit giving up, quit telling me things I didn't want to believe. Things I didn't want to think could ever be a reality. Because I didn't want to be with anyone else. I didn't want to look at another man with love. I didn't want to have to start all over again with some stranger. We promised each other we'd never have to be "out there" again, remember? You can't leave me here to do this alone.

The wife who sat on the couch with him back then couldn't have fathomed the loneliness. She couldn't have dreamt of the sad nights by herself in bed, the empty bitterness at seeing other couples holding hands. She couldn't know how soul crushing it would be to think of going another 30-40 years with this hole in her heart.

I was talking to a friend of mine who told me she thinks people have many 'loves' in this life. Our hearts our beings are designed to love and BE loved, she said. We aren't really meant to be alone. And it's only recently that I am thinking she's right. Without a love or the purpose to love, I believe our soul feels sadness, worthlessness, fear and a void that can devour a person into a dark, black hole of existence. How is that a way to be living the only ONE life we get? Maybe it could be possible to find happiness in more than one heart in a lifetime?

Extroverted people like me aren't that great with being alone. I am a social being. I love being in a crowd, with people, joking with friends, telling stories and hearing them, too. I crave laughter. I feed off of it. Being alone this past year has validated these truths more than ever. I hate solitude. I fear silence. I can't be alone. I don't want to be alone.


I told my friend I'm not out to find another husband. I have one in heaven. I don't need to find another father for my kids. They have one in heaven. But the idea of hanging out with someone, going out for a drink and having a laugh together —is something I painfully long for again. I want that normalcy. I want to feel like I matter to someone —to be someone other than "mom" all day, every day.   

But for any widow, putting herself out there again is pretty terrifying—especially when you have conditioned your brain, your heart, your everything to be forever devoted to one person. How could I care for anyone else who isn't him? And if I try, how will I handle the judgments from others who will think I don't love him anymore? How will I deal with knowing someday a good, decent, caring man may feel threatened by the residual love I harbor for a dead man?

To them, I say that nothing could ever change how much I loved my husband. Or the fact I will always love him to the depths of my being. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him or what he left behind. I hope that I will get to a point where I can look at pictures of us and not tear up. I dream my broken heart will mend. But I'm learning the heart is bigger and has more capacity than we know. It's capable of opening up again if given a chance. Why shouldn't I allow someone to show me that happiness here still exists? Why shouldn't my children get to see their mother laugh and smile again?

I know I need to take my foot out of the door. To open another door. Even if it shuts or slams in my face a million times, I need to keep opening doors—I know behind one of them might be laughter again, happiness again, maybe even love and life again.


This blog post was originally published Nov. 6, 2018 here at Living the Second Act.







Friday, October 26, 2018

A pack rat's happy anniversary

My late husband Matthew used to tease me about how I save everything. Not like Hoarders-type saving, but sentimental stuff saving. I'm a pack-rat of life's mementos. I've got things in boxes, in plastic tubs, tucked neatly in drawers, on shelves, in cabinets. I keep too much shit, I know, I often told him.

I've got every note anyone ever gave me in grade school, yearbooks from high school, shells I collected on the beach on my honeymoon, positive pregnancy tests from each of my babies, hair from every child's first haircut and every single card from when Matthew and I started dating all the way up to each birthday and anniversary card he ever gave me.

Last October 26 was my 15th wedding anniversary. We didn't know it then, but Matthew would have just three more weeks to live. 

The last card he ever gave me on that day, our last anniversary together, was a sappy one, about love and how I was always the one. I know I saved it because I displayed at his funeral it on a collage of cards he had given me. Well, I must have put it in a really secret, super special spot because I can't find that damn card anywhere and I'm losing my mind looking for it, especially since I won't get a card this year. In my search however, I managed to find the card I gave him on our one-year anniversary. A silly, stupid 27-year-old me wrote inside:

"It's hard to believe it's already been one year since we've been married! Through our ups and downs - no matter what we go through - you and I are going to make it! I find comfort in knowing I have you to laugh and cry with and to be my best friend for the rest of our lives. I will love you always, Andrea"


Her naivety is almost sickening, isn't it? What the hell ups and downs did you have, girl!? You had a healthy, successful husband, a career as a writer and lived on 50 acres with only a dog to care for. You had it made!

Next to that card was a folded letter I had typed to him on our 10th wedding anniversary (I think I was too cheap or lazy to buy a card that year). It reads:

"...10 years after we took our vows, I feel the same love and devotion to you as that newly-married bride did all those years ago. How do you tell someone that you love them so much you can't imagine a life without them? I don't know. Trying to envision a world without you brings the feeling of a tremendous void in my heart that I never want to know."

Why did I have to jinx us? Why did I have to tempt the fates?
Our youngest hadn't quite turned one yet then. I remember we got to sneak away by ourselves on a trip to Florida that fall. We ate filet mignon and drank wine at a nice restaurant on our anniversary. We actually were enjoying life and each other for the first time in a while (I credit this to my reading the 50 Shades trilogy around then... but I'll keep this PG rated tonight).

We just got too comfortable. We were happy for just a little too long. That's when life seems to pull the rug out from under you. You are happy one minute and the next you are in a basement storage area on a concrete floor on your wedding anniversary digging through boxes for the last words your dead husband wrote to you.  

And w
hile I haven't yet found last year's anniversary card, there at the bottom of the box, I did find the card he gave me the year before he died. I could practically hear his voice as I read his scratchy, left-handed writing:


"Andrea, I can't believe 14 years passed by... I love you more today than when I met that spunky, loud girl in college. I still love your energy, your sense of humor and our life together, no matter how hard it sometimes seems. Happy Anniversary, Love you, Matthew."



So yeah, I save a lot of shit. But I'm glad I do. I got myself a pretty awesome anniversary card because of it.