You Just Get Better

I love marquee signs. You know the one outside of a church that says “Live so fully that Westboro Baptist Church will picket your funeral.” Or outside a DQ that says “Scream until your dad stops the car.” Signs add laughter to my day or sometimes, a little inspriration like yesterday outside of of a school.  

“It doesn’t get easier you just get better.”

Well isn’t that the truth!  When it comes to life’s blistering, brutal changes and curveballs it doesn’t really ever get easier. 

I’ve been doing this full time, single mother shuffle for nearly 15 months now.  Nothing about my life is any easier than it was a year ago.  This life, like that of many parents, can be hard, exhausting and overwhelming at times.  It’s still painful to read articles about the importance of fathers in their children’s lives and know that your kids don’t have that anymore.  It sucks to be so proud of your kids you could burst but instead you get teary because their Daddy can’t see what amazing little people they are.   

It isn’t any easier to work full time, parent full time, take care of a household full time and still have something left at the end of the day.  To not be so tired and worn that you are useless to everyone. 

It’s still a beast to figure out schedules, homework, errands and how to cook a meal when you’re only home for 27 minutes on Tuesday night in between carpools.   It isn’t any easier to keep the grass mowed, the laundry “done”, the field mice at bay and the oil changed in the car when said car always needs to be in motion.  None of this is easier.  Not one single thing.  But that sign was 100% spot on- I’ve gotten better.  

I’ve gotten better at absolving myself of guilt.  I didn’t chose this, Patrick didn’t chose this.  My kids are thriving, happy and strong.  I’ve gotten better at praying to my Heavenly Father and asking him to be a continued, glorious presence in their lives and to help me be a little better every day.  

I’ve gotten better at the day to day of our crazy, hectic life.  The management of work and home, of parenting and a personal life, of fear and faith.  I’m better at finding moments for quiet, moments to run, moments to be a little nutty and moments just for me.  

There are still stumbles, rough patches, hard days and nights when my chest gets so tight I don’t think I can breathe.  There are moments I still blink in disbelief that this is where my life is at age 40.  There are times when I am so physically exhausted that I hurt.  There are times I just go in the laundry room, close the door and cry.  (OF COURSE  I start a load of clothes when I’m in there-we widows have to multitask.) 

I know that I will continue to get better at managing it all- my job, our house, the schedules and the pain. I only have to look at how far I’ve come from this time last year to know that I WILL continue to get better.  That better will include a lifetime of prayer, work, an open heart and acceptance.  To quote Tim McGraw “I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get but I’m better than I used to be.”  

So CHEERS to all you barely broken, slightly struggling YET still smiling works in progress out there…may we all strive for better!  

The Darn Yard

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  I’ll go ahead and admit I had to look that one up.  You see I’ve never been good at one bite at a time.  I want to take the entire elephant, shove it down my throat first and then figure out the bites.  I’m a doer and usually on a big scale.  That strategy was not an option after loss.  

Our yard is 1.2 acres but might as well have been 1000.2 acres late last summer.  I have to immediately stop now and commend my neighbors.  They mowed my yard EVERY WEEK last year from August through early November.  It was like a sound from heaven!  About the time I would look out the window and sigh that the yard was getting tall, I would hear the sound of a motor and boom- there was a saint on a John Deere cutting my grass.  It was truly one of the most wonderful things that could be done for a broken woman who could barely pour her children a bowl of cereal.  

The beginning of cold weather marked the end of mowing and the beginning of rebuilding.  Slowly, over those late fall and winter months, I begin to figure some crap out.  I learned to build a fire in my wood burning fireplace (shout out again to my neighbor who taught me how to open the damper.  I know…it’s embarrassing.)  I learned to orchestrate our lives so that everyone had clean clothes, relatively healthy meals, transportation and (most of the time) a happy, somewhat sane mother.  I figured out all the parts of the household as a single parent.  


Spring had arrived.  The birds were singing, the bunnies were hopping, work and activities were humming…oh and my grass was growing.  Again.  Grass does that in the spring but for the life of me I couldn’t manage to get the yard mowed and the trimming done.  Insert my saintly father who hauled his mower over every week this past spring and mowed my yard.  He also taught his 40 year old daughter how to use a trimmer so the fence line and the swingset didn’t look like Heather’s World of Random Weeds. 

Then, one day, it finally happened- I mowed AND trimmed the darn yard.  I’m not certain I’ve been more proud of myself as a single mom. It was that final item, the albatross around my neck that had separated me from achieving total independence.  I was now able to do ALL of the “stuff” that I needed to accomplish as a single mother.  I could really run my household, all by myself and it worked!  

There are still plenty of things I have to ask for help with like changing the light bulbs in my double tray ceiling or all things related to plumbing (a few of you are laughing right now) but the day to day, week to week things- I can do those.  Many times I may do them with one eye open, two children simultaneously yelling “MOMMY” and something boiling over on the stove- but I do them! 

I guess my lesson through all of this is to give yourself time and heaping piles of grace.  Time to be sad, overwhelmed and angry about what could have been. Time to learn, to make missteps and to trust that things will get better.  Time to let people help you, to carry your “I can’t do this (and that and some more of this).”  Then, time for accomplishment and triumph when you finally embrace your imperfections and figure some stuff out.  

I am writing this on a Saturday morning. We are back in “school mode” at our house. My family’s laundry is towering in the laundry room, the Clicklist is awaiting pick up, there are bills to be paid and guess what?  My grass is tall again.  One bite at a time Heather, one bite at a time. 

A Year LaterĀ 

To quote one of Patrick’s best friends “I’ve lapped this thing.”  I’ve been completely through the first year.  All the firsts- holidays, birthdays, anniversary and college football season.  I’ve been through the first school orientation, dance recital, awards ceremonies, the filling out of forms and writing “deceased” where it says father (that NEVER gets easier by the way.)  I’ve done all the firsts. 

The first year was a buffet of emotion, of fog, of light and of overwhelming thanks to my healing God.  I can remember one night just a week in when it took me almost 3 hours to change the sheets on our (my) bed for the first time.  I remember driving my kids to school when I was on leave and then coming home to just sit and stare.  I remember going back to work and thinking I could never possibly EVER be good at my job again.  I remember cleaning out Patrick’s closet and feeling as though someone had cleaned out my insides at the same time.

However I also remember the first time I let go and belly laughed with my kids.  I remember my first night out enjoying a glass of wine with my friends.  I remember kindness from family and I remember the first time I enjoyed being alone.  I remember walking on the beach during Spring Break and crying at the overwhelming beauty of a sunset.  I remember standing on the deck of the Disney Dream this summer humming “It is Well with my Soul” and realizing that a whole bunch of my broken pieces were finally stuck back together.  

I have struggled for a couple weeks with the right analogy for the first year- roller coaster?  Sinking ship with one lifeboat?  4 alarm fire?  Tsunami?  It all seems fitting in some way but I don’t know that there is really one way to describe this first year of young widowhood.  It is a journey full of mountains and valleys.  Of bone crushing sadness and the decimation of so many dreams.  It is also a time of acceptance, awakening and rebirth.

I know that some might find it strange that my oversharing self chose not to publicly acknowledge the anniversary of Patrick’s death.  That was a conscious decision on my part.  A decision based on what was best for myself, my children and his legacy.    Other crappy club members may choose differently and that is more than ok.  We all go down this road at different speeds and make different pit stops along the way.  What has resonated most for me is to remain authentic and true to me- to my feelings and to what I need.  At the end it is between myself and my Heavenly Father on how I handled things, how I honored Patrick, how I raised my children and how I forged ahead. 

My friend Amanda brought me a bag of groceries on the day Patrick died.  I don’t remember much of what she brought (although I’m CERTAIN it included Reese’s cups).  The one item she brought that I remember so very clearly was toilet paper.  Printed across the front, in huge block letters was the word STRONG.  She told me she thought I “needed strong” right now and boy I sure did!  I didn’t  know on that day, the most horrible day of my life,  how MUCH I would need that strength in the months ahead. 

I’m thankful for all of this first year- even the brutal, ugly parts. It has shaped me into someone different than the woman I once was.  I hope I’m a better child of God, mother, daughter, sister, friend, partner and teacher.  As I stand at the beginning year 2- I open my eyes, my arms and my heart to what God has in store for me.  Oh and by the way…I sometimes still buy the strong toilet paper.  

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Phil 4:13