Selling His Stuff

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The trio of 8″ inch tall plastic dolls that Kellogg’s issued in the 1960s—Snap, Crackle and Pop—guard my kitchen from an overhead shelf, next to a Bluto Pez dispenser. My late husband was a collector: Hollywood kitsch, World’s Fair memorabilia, Atomic Age toys. Robert would return from Saturday morning bike rides laden with yard-sale finds; or pull into the driveway with a trunk load of purchases, the result of having scoured the aisles at a flea market or a World’s Fair show. But not everything seemed valuable, at least to my eyes. Besides vintage pens and antique tins, his haul might include an ugly gardening pot, that odd rocking chair, those tasteless orange Playboy Club ashtrays—and anything Disney. I’d greet him at our side door like a customs inspector: “No junqué beyond this point!”

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Now, eight years after Robert’s passing, I’ve begun to sell his stuff. Sorting through the items elicits reflection. They are a throwback to the good days, before Alcoholic Robert took up residence. A rebirth. Those last few years, when alcoholism hijacked our lives, often overshadow all the good years. And all the good. Sometimes it’s a story or picture that triggers memories; other times, it’s his collectibles.

Back then, Robert would joke about the value of his stuff, usually in response to my questioning the clutter. It was one of our sweet and silly routines.

“In this box,” he’d proclaim, “are my Huckleberry Hound lunchbox and thermos. They’re easily worth the price of our next Broadway tickets!”

I’d raise a quizzical eyebrow.

“This box here,” holding up a collection of MatchBox cars—including the Batmobile—in its vintage car case, “This is our next vacation!”

“Domestic or international?”

Ignoring my question, he’d continue.  “And in this box? All my original GI Joe’s, plus accessories. This is our summer home!”

“Where’s the box that will let me quit my job?”

“There is no box.”

We’d both laugh. Despite his estimates, inflated for entertainment value, I was surprised at some of the prices of those collectibles, and well aware that he’d never sell his treasures.

But now I am.

My goal:  clear space and make money. It’s a huge undertaking. While there are a few pieces I’ll keep for sentimental value (Snap, Crackle, Pop and a few World’s Fair souvenirs), the bulk of it is getting posted on ebay.  It’s time. I’m ready to de-clutter and send these pop culture artifacts back out into the world for another collector to keep.

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Once I make a sale, I mention my late husband’s passion and his eye for a gem in my shipping confirmation email. To my surprise, many buyers have responded with assurances that the treasure has found the right home, and provide additional background about their latest acquisition. Reading between the lines, I sense their excitement about their find. I feel like a matchmaker, connecting eager collectors to that missing piece in their collection. Making a sale isn’t always about getting the best price, but finding the best person whose passion for the item matches Robert’s.

After selling a rare 1939 World’s Fair wooden box with an etching of the fair’s symbol, the Trylon and Perisphere, I received this message:

“Rest assured it is going to someone who shared your husband’s collecting passion!” Lenny (trylon39)

Robert would like that.

 

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Continuing Bonds – Reinventing Relationships After Death

Beatles

We all have our circles. Your late spouse had family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances—most of whom you know. You have a circle, as well. Inevitably the two overlapped. Now that life has changed, how will you handle his relationships? In a divorce, shared relationships can be challenging. But after a death, there’s no need to fight over friends (‘Who gets the Wilson’s?). Be cognizant of those you’ve come to treasure, and keep them in your life. Stay in touch. Initially, it may be something as simple as commenting on their Facebook posts or including them in a group email announcement about a family milestone. If they don’t reciprocate, you’ve lost nothing. If they do, you’ve gained a friend.

A good friend and colleague of Robert’s has kept in touch; we both have. It’s been over seven years and despite working in different industries, living miles apart and not sharing the common grounds of parenthood—we have a great time when we get together. Although it was a relationship that began in the past, it’s not stuck in the past, we’re not simply telling ‘Robert’ stories, we’ve become friends on our own. There are many of these relationships in my life:  initially Robert’s, then ours, now mine.  And I am eternally grateful.

As you navigate the world of widowhood, it often helps to seek out others and expand your social circles. There’s no such thing as having too many friends.

Goals & Grief – Widowed and Resolved to Be a Better Me

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You’ve made it through the holidays and perhaps you’re saying good riddance to this year, your soul scarred by love lost. In the transition to the new normal, from you to new widow you – time can be cruel. You don’t have enough time now that you have the responsibilities of two people; and yet you have too much time on your hands, the long stretch of lonely hours.

But time is also on your side. It may sound trite, but there is truth to the old adage: ‘time heals.’  With that mind, the New Year holds great promise, a future filled with hope and comfort.  Try to embrace this season of new beginnings.

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This time of year also speaks to our sense of self improvement, looking back and thinking ahead. These might feel like daunting tasks in light of losing your loved one. Resolutions may seem pointless and trivial.  But the opposite is true, now more than ever you need to think of yourself. Focusing on a goal, unrelated to your loss, can be a tremendous aid in the grieving process.

During this time of bereavement, goals may be more about soul-enriching than calorie-counting. Now may be the time to pursue a passion (painting lessons), a lifetime goal (learn to speak French) or a lifestyle change (kick that nicotine habit). Whether you enroll in a yoga class or start volunteering – choose something that makes you feel good about yourself.  It’s time to be the best you you can be.

One of my new year’s resolutions that first year was to slow down, which was difficult to do, I’m hard-wired to rush, a true New Yorker.  Plus, it’s in my genes. My mother was notorious for cutting slices of dessert before we even sat down to dinner.  “Cake or pie, dear?” was the call from the kitchen, my Mom in a rush to cross it off her internal To Do list.

To all my widowed friends, I wish you health and happiness, peace and comfort, and the ability to find joy in every day.

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Mixing Grief and Gratitude? Really?

 

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After a loss, being thankful might not be at the forefront of your mind – but it should.

How do you focus on gratitude in the midst of grieving? Start by thanking your loved ones, all those who have been your support system during this difficult time – family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances. The act of sharing your gratitude will initiate positive feelings.

Be thankful for the love you had. That’s a gift for a lifetime; it’s never lost.

And be thankful because it’s healthy. An article in The New York Times on 11/21/15 notes:  “…gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our “reward circuitry” that produces the sensation of pleasure).  It’s science, but also common sense: Choosing to focus on good things makes you feel better than focusing on bad things.”

Wherever you find yourself this Thanksgiving, be grateful for your strength and resolve in moving forward. You provide comfort and guidance to those around you. Inevitably, they are just as grateful for having you in their lives.

Love After Death? Scary Stuff!

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A new romance after a long term relationship can feel a little strange, but a new romance after the death of a loved one can feel beyond bizarre and completely surreal. A good friend and fellow widow met a wonderful guy – yes, not only is it possible, it happens all the time…don’t believe the naysayers out there!  When their Saturday night date ended Sunday afternoon, their relationship segued into the next phase.

She texted me: “This was a huge step for me, first time with someone new, hard to explain the emotions…it’s just…different.”

I knew exactly what she meant. I texted back:  It’s weird and exciting, scary and happy, strange and yet strangely comfortable, thrilling with just a dash of terrifying.

“I knew you of all people would understand the feelings!” she typed back.

When you’re in your teens and twenties, starting new relationships happens more often. But for Baby Boomers fresh out of a decades-long love life, a new relationship can be scary, triggering dozens of excuses to avoid dating at all costs:  Can’t compare. It’s not the same. There’s no one out there.  It’s impossible to meet someone.  I’m too old. I’m too tired. I’m too…[fill in the blank with your favorite excuse].

It’s tempting to do nothing. Nothing can be good. Nothing’s comfy.  And comfort is something you have been striving for through the mourning, the grieving and all the upheaval since the loss.

But (and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming), nothing won’t be comfortable forever. Nothing will eventually nudge you out of your comfort zone. When you get there – and we all get there at our own pace, in our own time – don’t be scared, when it inevitably gets scary.  That’s normal. The new normal. And in the new normal you may soon feel like your old self, or some wonderful new version of your old self.

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Holiday Survival Tips for the Widowed

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Thanksgiving ushers in the holiday season on a tidal wave of nostalgia. It’s a time of year steeped in traditions. Just what you need now, a whoosh of memories. There are crowds and colors, songs and snowfalls, parties and presents, and shiny happy people singing carols in Currier and Ives settings. Feeling like a Grinch? Don’t sweat it. We’ve all been there, seemingly on the outside looking in at all those Facebook friends living perfect lives! Stop. Relax. Breathe. You’ll get through this. The holidays can be challenging under the best of circumstances — losing a loved one makes it seem impossible. While you can’t change the past, you can take charge of your future.

  • Spruce Up – That first year I couldn’t bring myself to put up a tree – it felt too forced – but I did clean up and spruce up with a few decorations. It made a big difference having a little bit of Christmas sparkle surrounding me, prompting childhood memories.  A few poinsettias near the fireplace and the scent of fresh pine from the wreath on the door made me smile when smiles were scarce.
  • Be Charitable, Turn on Your Kindness – It’s the season for giving and although you may not feel you have much to give, you do. Any act of kindness provides an emotional boost. Check in on an elderly neighbor, donate clothing, volunteer at a charitable event. When you do good, you feel good.
  • Smile – “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”~Thich Nhat Hanh. When you smile you actually trigger certain neurons to fire (that’s a good thing). In the Psychology Today article “There’s Magic In Your Smile,” Sarah Stevenson explains the biology. “Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.” Try it. Besides making you feel good, smiling is infectious; return smiles are almost guaranteed.
  • Host – Organize a holiday get-together with other widows/ers and those you’ve met in your bereavement group. They may be grateful for the opportunity and your common bond will foster a relaxed mood.
  • Be A Guest – Make your best effort to attend holiday gatherings (at least one). Shunning the holidays oftentimes makes it worse. We can’t stop Christmas from coming, but being with people is comforting and reassuring.
  • Be Appropriate – While we all need a shoulder to cry on, holiday parties aren’t the place. Try to put your best foot forward.
  • Take Care of Yourself – It’s an exhausting time of the year with shopping and preparation – be good to yourself, get enough sleep and keep up your exercise routine.
  • Indulge – ’tis the season for cooking and baking and feasting – allow yourself the indulgence of holiday treats.
  • Make plans – Be aware that you may need to reach out first. Friends and family, even other widowers, may be uncomfortable contacting you, assuming you’re not up for anything resembling fun.
  • Me Time – Being alone isn’t necessarily lonely. Don’t miss out on that movie you’ve been wanting to see or crossing a few items off your holiday shopping list just because you don’t have someone to accompany you.
  • Get Out – Take a walk, the winter air is invigorating. And if you’re not living in a cold weather area, even better! There’s no excuse for not taking advantage of the comforts and reassurance of Mother Nature.
  • Cozy Up with Comfort Foods – Make yourself a wonderful meal (or takeout – no judgment here at Widow 2.0 🙂 ) and settle in with your favorite holiday movie. Ignoring the holidays is almost impossible, find a way to be part of it.
  • Take a Trip – Some widows may feel the need to flee. Will a perfectly timed December vacation get you through the holidays? Know yourself. Will being on a beach keep the holidays at bay? For some, it is the answer.
  • Create New Traditions – Initiate a Girls Spa Day smack in the middle of the holiday season. Is it time for a scaled down tree? Go to midnight mass instead of a morning service.
  • Plan Ahead – You know the holidays are coming, make arrangements. If you’ve always hosted Christmas Eve or Hanukkah and have no desire to do so this year, reach out to family members – someone will likely step up, but may be hesitant to ask you.
  • Let the Good Memories Flow – Just as you can’t ignore the holidays, you can’t forget your loved one.  I found that referencing Robert made things easier on my family and friends, they knew it was OK to talk about him in front of me. Remember, you’re not the only one grieving; you’re loved one undoubtedly touched many lives. Sharing memories of your spouse with friends and family helps them through their grief.
  • Discriminate – Be with people that make you happy. If ever there was a time to rid your life of toxic people, now is that time.
  • Believe in Tomorrow – Allow me to offer up a crystal ball: it will get easier. Although each person’s situation is unique, from the widows I’ve communicated with these past five years as well as my own experience I’ve learned that the passage of time to be a great help. And a glimpse into your future can put this year into perspective.
  • Do It Your Way – There is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays, only YOUR way.

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Morning Songs – What Happens When the Songs Stop?

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The first morning after Robert passed away, I woke to the signature song from The Wizard of Oz, Robert’s favorite movie, playing in my head. Over. And over. I hadn’t gone to sleep with the TV on, hadn’t seen the movie recently. And yet ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ was looping in my head, waking me from a deep sleep. It felt like Robert was reaching out to me, letting me know he was OK. And that I’d be OK.

For months after, though not every day, I would wake with a song in my head, a stanza or chorus repeating. I’d jot it down so I wouldn’t lose it, the way you do with a dream, then Google the lyrics later. The words would be incredibly revealing. And the songs were often so obscure, that I couldn’t imagine this phenomenon was generated by my subconscious at work, but rather, I chose to acknowledge it as a communication. Music was so important to Robert, if there were a way to get in touch, what better means than by song?

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Eleven days after Robert’s death, I woke to the unlikely and annoying:  “My name is Michael, I got a nickel, I got a nickel, shiny and new…” The high-pitched, sing-songy style was stuck in my head all day. Later, however, when I read the lyrics to Playground In My Mind, it was stunningly appropriate:

When this old world gets me down

And there’s no love to be found

I close my eyes and soon I find

I’m in a playground in my mind

Robert was an alcoholic, escaping into a bottle – closing his eyes and going to the playground in his mind. While I hope he didn’t feel there was no love to be found, I’ve since learned that alcoholics with seemingly wonderful lives sometimes feel this way.

I’m a Dylan fan so it was no surprise that one dawn brought with it “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” When I emailed our friend Chris that morning, he typed back: “Don’t Think Twice is about a man leaving his woman…wow! Go to sleep quick and wake up and let me know what the next one is.”

The next morning’s song was Swing Low Sweet Chariot – when was the last time I heard that? – followed by All That Jazz. Robert was a big fan of Broadway musicals. Me? Not so much. Which was why I was surprised that — not knowing the lyrics — the song still somehow played in my head:

Find a glass

We’re playing fast and loose

And all that jazz

Right up here

Is where I store the juice

And all that jazz

Robert found lots of glasses. Hid lots of bottles. Drank lots ‘juice.’ Call it juice, call it hooch — the meaning was inescapable. Each song resonated with a message.

And the songs kept coming. The Bangles’ Eternal Flame, The Rolling Stones’ As Tears Go By, Words of Love by the Mamas & the Papas. I thought Don Henley’s song The Heart of the Matter was called Forgiveness, hearing it looping in my brain one morning, until I looked it up online.  When I read the lyrics, I wondered if Robert was asking for my forgiveness. The phrases “empty arms” and “I’m learning to live without you” struck a chord, as Robert had been withdrawing from our life together, retreating to his man cave in the basement, cozying up with a bottle of scotch.

Tuesday Afternoon by the Moody Blues came on a Wednesday morning, the day of the memorial service being held at the university where Robert taught. The lyrics astounded me.

 

Tuesday afternoon,

I’m just beginning to see, now I’m on my way

It doesn’t matter to me, chasing the clouds away.

Something, calls to me,

The trees are drawing me near, I’ve got to find out why

Those gentle voices I hear explain it all with a sigh.

I’m looking at myself reflections of my mind,

It’s just the kind of day to leave myself behind.

Were the morning songs a way of mourning? Or my unconscious mind trying to make sense of life with an alcoholic and the world of widowhood? Or Robert reaching out to me? I was convinced it was the latter, a theory I shared with only a few people.  Chris — my concert buddy, a fellow rock n’ roller, and a close friend of Robert’s – chose to believe my theory, as well.

Initially, the songs were startling, but it wasn’t long before I found them comforting and had grown accustomed to the routine. Discovering the meaning in a stanza spinning in my head became a game of sorts; and I enjoyed talking with the friends with whom I’d dared to share my morning songs theory.

“What happens when the songs stop?” I’d asked Chris.

Without missing a beat, he responded, “That will mean you don’t need them anymore.”

I couldn’t imagine a day that would be true. But eventually the days came when I no longer woke to a song in my head. Chris was right, I no longer needed them.

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