"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Monday, April 28, 2014

Family Ties

A few weeks ago I received the unwelcome news that my brother and his wife were ending their marriage. I was shocked, saddened and disappointed. I had always admired them as a couple that had a good marriage and figured they were solid. It just goes to show you never really know what goes on inside a marriage and how deceiving outside appearances can be. 

I was the first of my siblings to divorce. It was traumatic and painful for all involved and caused a deep rift in some family relationships. Sides were taken. Angry accusations were made. Names were called. Judgements were made. Insults were hurled. And all of those things were directed at me. I felt like a pariah in my own family. It's taken me years to get over the pain it caused and to forgive the vitriol that was directed at me. 

Never one to learn a lesson easily, I've married and divorced twice since then. I spent decades feeling lesser than my siblings as I had one failed marriage after another. My siblings on the other hand, stayed married. That's all changed now. Over the last four years all three of my surviving siblings have ended their marriages. As families go, ours has an absolutely dismal track record in the marriage department. I don't think it's a coincidence that these break-ups have happened in the four years since Julie died. I never imagined that the last time we would all be together as the family I'd known for the previous 15+ years would be the week after she died. Her death shattered our family in so many ways, three marriages among them it seems. Not only have I spent the last four years grieving my sister's death, I've also spent part of those years grieving the end of marriages and some family relationships.

Probably because of my vast experience in the marriage and divorce department I choose to have a very broad definition of family. Once someone becomes a member of my family I consider that relationship permanent. For me a family isn't formed only by marriages and births. It's also created by years of shared experiences and the memories made. Families share so much-- births and deaths, laughter, joy and celebration, disagreements and forgiveness, sadness and loss. I find it impossible to act as if all that no longer matters and that the bonds that were formed over many years somehow mean less because a marriage ends. 

I've suffered enough loss in my life. I don't want anymore. Losing family is too hard. Instead, I decided long ago to keep my heart open and do my best to accept the change that happens when marriages end and to try my best to maintain positive relationships with everyone. My former stepchildren aren't that in my heart. I care about them just the same as I always did. The label of former just makes it easier for society to understand our family dynamic. I've known my sibling's spouses since they were 16 and 17 years old. We grew up together. Our relationships span decades. We've shared too much to discard our relationships, at least as far as I'm concerned. My sisters and brother-in-laws will always be that to me, regardless of who they happen to be married to, or not. They will always be Gillian's aunts and uncles and the parents of my nieces and nephews. Their new partners, if and when they come, will be welcomed into my life and family. 

As the saying goes, the only constant in life is change. Relationships end. People get divorced. The definition of divorce is: the ending of a marriage by a legal process; a complete separation between two things. That's a pretty simple definition. Nowhere does it mention taking sides, placing blame or severing family ties. Divorce is the ending of a marriage. It's between two people. That's it. People divorce each other. Sides don't have to be taken. But most of all, family relationships don't have to be severed. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Happy 38th Birthday Julie


You were my first conscious thought today, on my mind before I even opened my eyes. Today you would have been 38. It’s the fourth year your birthday will be celebrated without you. I’m still not sure how to do that. It used to be easy, just a matter of picking up the phone and calling to let you know how much I love you and how happy I was to celebrate the day you were born. Now I write you letters that are impossible to send, messages that will never be answered.

Birthdays are so hard, not just yours but mine too. Four years ago I didn’t imagine that every year my birthday would be another reminder of my loss. That’s what birthdays are though, markers of the passage of time. They measure the years of our lives. Your birthday is a reminder of how abruptly your life ended-over much too soon-leaving so many of us behind facing decades of celebrating your birthday without the guest of honor.

I wonder what you would be like at 38? How would you have aged? Would you look any different? You’re frozen in time at 34, forever young. I watch your friends grow older, always thinking of you as they carry on with their lives. When I look at the pictures of their life’s moments both big and small I can’t help but wonder if you would be doing the same things they are now. Would you be married? Would you have kids? Would you have the same job? Where would you be living? More than anything I wonder if you would be happy.

Later this year many of your friends will gather at your 20-year high school reunion. I know seeing those pictures of all of them together will be painful for me. You should be there, celebrating and reminiscing beside them and cutting it up on the dance floor like you did at your 10-year reunion. Instead, you’ll be one of the “classmates who are no longer with us” that will be recognized and remembered.

Everyone tells me I shouldn’t be sad today. Instead, I should remember all the good times and celebrate the years I had with you. I do that on lots of other days. I look at your pictures and laugh and remember. On other days I’m okay, I don’t ask why, I don’t hurt, or mourn, and I’m not angry. I’m a poster child for how to accept the unacceptable, but not today. Today I’ll look at your pictures and cry. I’ll gaze at your beautiful blue eyes, your curly hair, your smile, and I’ll miss all those things about you and so much more. Today I’ll just be missing you, my little sister.

Happy Birthday Jules. I love you forever.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spring Has Sprung

The last two weeks have been full of home improvement projects around here. Maybe it's because I'm in a spring cleaning mood, wanting my house looking fresh and light after a dark winter. It's also because I realized the many projects I intended to get done over the winter still weren't finished and soon I'd be wanting to focus my time outside rather than inside. 

Mike had promised to help me with many of my "honey-do's" and told me to make him a list and put it on the fridge. The list went up, and nothing got checked off. He was much too busy running the bar and finishing a construction project. My patience wore thin and my nagging increased. Finally, he outsourced some of the items on the list, hiring someone to come in and finish painting my basement. I'm just as responsible for that job remaining unfinished for so long. I'm embarrassed to admit it's needed painting for  7 - 8 years now! I walk through that room every single day of my life, but because I don't use it for much of anything I didn't feel a great sense of urgency to finish it. It's an awkward space with doors on every wall but one, with a support beam in front of the only wall without a door. This makes furniture placement difficult. Mainly we use it for the three dog kennels and the  treadmill collecting dust in the corner. 

I decided to make better use of the space by turning it into a workout room, which prompted me to want it finished. I also moved my desk into the room, putting it in the open instead of in my mostly unused basement office room. Now that I use a laptop my old PC sat on the desk, taking up space and rarely used. The PC is gone now, and the desk is out where it can be used again to hold office supplies and the printer. Now the room is a combo office/workout space/pet room with three dogs AND a tortoise residing there. I'm not sure if the pets appreciate the freshly painted walls and trim, but I sure do! 

Next on the list was my main bathroom. It all started with changing out the light fixture, which was an awful bar light with exposed, round decorative bulbs. I've loathed it since I moved in 11 years ago. However, replacing it wasn't simple, as it required moving the electrical junction box so a new light could be centered above the mirror. That in turn would require patching up the hole it would leave in the wall. I finally got Mike to take on the project which turned into patching the hole along with several chipped areas on my 70+ year old lathe and plaster walls. This of course would require re-painting the room. I was ready for a new paint color anyway, as I was tired of the very dark green walls and wanted something lighter and less dated looking. 

Once the bathroom was painted I decided I wanted a shade on the window to filter the harsh winter light that comes in during the late afternoon. I searched online for the kind of shade I wanted in the fabric I wanted. In order to get one in the correct size I would have to custom order a shade, which would cost much more than I cared to spend. So, I turned to Pinterest, the do-it-yourselfer's best friend. I'd seen a roman shade made out of plain old plastic horizontal blinds. After a little trial and error, here's the finished product. I'm very happy with how it turned out and I'm only into it $30! 

Of course, the new paint and blinds made me want to do something about the tile around my bathtub. The decorative tiles just aren't my style. The tile is in very good condition though, and I don't want to spend the money to replace it right now. One day it occurred to me that I could probably paint the tile. Pinterest to the rescue again! I researched and found that using the right technique they could be painted. I decided I'd paint all the trim around the edge black and also paint the accent tiles black. This should still fit my vintage 1940's house and it will also add to my new neutral color scheme with black and white accents. I'll let you know how that project turns out as I haven't tackled it yet. I do have all the supplies and might start on it today. In case you're wondering why I have a mouse trap on my soap, I use it to stop my Labrador Sophie from eating the soap. It only took being snapped by it once to condition her to stay away. It's not set, but she doesn't know that.
Time is running out to finish my indoor projects. My yard is beckoning and my head is full of projects I want to accomplish in it this spring and summer, including relocating my square foot garden box, repainting my shed, painting my arbor gate, and building a compost bin. I also have quite a bit of spring clean up to do. For now, I'm enjoying my spring flowers that are in bloom, bringing  with them dreams of the warmer, sunnier days to come.