Processing grief

I was stopped at the grocery store, again, recently when I passed an acquaintance who wanted to tell me how sorry she was to hear about my father-in-law’s passing. I keep saying the same thing over and over: That he gave us enough time so we could all gather, we were all with him at the end, it was super peaceful and super fast, and that is a blessing. That it sucks for us, but was the best case scenario for him, and we are at peace.

And that’s the truth. We are. Even my mother-in-law.

bean for blog

This post is kind of heavy, so here’s a picture of my Bean to lighten the mood.

Processing grief is … well. I had a really hard time with this one at first. I couldn’t reconcile the sight of my father-in-law unresponsive in that hospital bed with the man I knew to be an unending ball of energy. But as the week unfolded and the inevitable occurred, that feeling of anger and denial were replaced with gratitude. For the love and support we were shown (I mean, my friend Beth and her husband Jess actually left the funeral reception to get me a Trisha-friendly lunch. They asked the girls what I could eat and presented me with a bag. I can’t even tell you what that meant). For the memories we have of my father-in-law. That the Walkers are a close-knit bunch and readily support and love each other.

This is the easiest grief process I’ve ever experienced. And at first, I was wondering if maybe that meant I was weird or that some sort of something was missing in me, if I wasn’t still a wreck two months after the accident.

But I’ve realized that grief is different in every situation. I completely lost my shit at my grandfather’s funeral. It took me two years to get over my Grandma M’s death — which surprised me a bit because she had dementia issues for several years at the end and wasn’t even really the same grandma anymore; you’d think I’d have already processed the grief of losing that relationship. (She called Abby “Trisha,” and Johanna was “Trisha’s sister.” Well, she did rather love me a lot.) My lovely Aunt Jan passed away in February, and there is sadness there, but we also knew that was coming. (Although there’s grief in knowing ahead of time and coming to terms with it.) My Uncle Bob’s passing seemed like the end of an era.

There have been more losses, of course — some more intangible, like the miscarriage I had in 2003, and I would even count my jealousy at couples with two kids in this category, that loss of something that you never had, before I got pregnant with Johanna. And each has had varying degrees of grief.

I’m an English major, not a therapist, so I don’t have any grief tips or websites you should look up to help you “get over” a loss. I hate that phrase anyway: Get over. Screw you, I’ll take as long as I need, but you never “get over” something like the loss of a person, so why is that even the goal?

What I’ve learned from this latest loss is this: That it’s okay to feel what you feel as you feel it. That there are no rules for grief. That death might be inevitable, but it is still surprising. That all I can do is embrace this messy existence.

Accepting the unknown is hard for me — I don’t like surprises — but that’s another lesson this experience has taught me: It’s all unknown. All you can do is react. And positive or negative, that choice is yours.

Mistaken identity

It’s the season of graduation parties, the local high school having held its commencement ceremony for students last Friday night. We were invited to a group party for four of the graduates on Saturday to celebrate the occasion.

Johanna made the cards. I wrote the words inside and grabbed envelopes while Eric wrote the checks. I had a brief flash that perhaps I should look at the invite to make sure we had the correct location … but eh, of course we did, it’s not like town is that big and places are easily confused.

We hop in the car and head down. The golf course parking lot was PACKED. We made our way to the patio and saw lots of people milling around.

Definitely a party. Whew!

I’m searching the crowd to find our friends and I’m coming up short. I’m not overly worried about it — so what if I’m not seeing any familiar faces? Four boys, one party. There will probably be lots of people I don’t know.

Except …

Um, this IS the right party, isn’t it? I whisper to Eric. He’s looking around and sees a friend of his. Are we in the right place? Eric asks, and the guy is like, oh, yeah, have a beer, have some food!

So Eric grabs a beer. I tell him I’m going to go stand in the sun … and then realize that the party decorations feature one boy and this is not a kid I even recognize.

Eric! I hiss. We’re totally at the wrong party! Look!

I point to the wall of photos featuring whoever the heck this kid is from kindergarten through now. Eric quickly puts back his unopened drink. We laugh. We head to the foyer to make a quick phone call.

I’m embarrassed to even ask this, Eric begins, but, um, when is Ben’s party?

Sunday. Huh, I guess I should have looked at that invite after all.

Eric went back to apologize for crashing (I mean, at least he knew the guy) and was encouraged to stay, but we felt bad and weird so we headed back home. Um, and made it to the correct party on Sunday.

You know I checked the invite beforehand.

The end, I guess.

Let’s hear it for small revolutions

I’ve mentioned more than a few times about how I do our grocery shopping once a week — on Saturday mornings, generally — and that, by Friday, the cupboards are pretty bare.

And sometimes even by Wednesday, as was the case last week.

I was finishing up a book when I caught wind of some grumblings in the kitchen. My family was bemoaning the fact that there was little in the house they could pack for lunch the next day. There were even some complaints over the sorry state of that night’s dinner (random crap in a tortilla. I mean, really, they could do a lot worse).

So I pointed out the obvious: That, aside from Johanna (who wasn’t complaining, that’s why she’s my favorite), everyone in our household not only has a vehicle, but a job. Which means that any one of us can go grocery shopping at any time. That waiting for me to get around to it on Saturday wasn’t necessary.

Abby and Eric just looked at me. I could see the wheels turning. It almost made me laugh.

First, they apologized. I was like, seriously, no sweat, I’m just reminding you that you have options. (Truth. I wasn’t worried; my dinner had been fine.) And Abby was all, you know what? You’re absolutely right, which kind of surprised me but also was a lovely thing to hear. Vindication! I went back to my book and Eric and Abby started making a plan.

Abby will be living off campus next school year with some friends and she keeps talking about learning to cook — so actually, maybe that helped my case. She’s been in the mood for taco soup and, as our weather went from the pleasant 80s to the rather chilly 50s in the span of a day and a half, she decided that was what was going on the menu Thursday night.

They found a recipe. They made a list. Eric went shopping after work (Abby was going to do it, but Eric ended up having more time than he expected, so he made the trip). While I lounged around, they made dinner. I had to save the day when it came to taco seasoning and home-canned tomatoes, but for the most part, everyone left me alone.

It was awesome.

They ended up with a big pot of soup. Johanna has textural issues (she refuses to eat cooked vegetables) and made herself eggs instead, and I can’t eat it, thanks to my jerk of a stomach (although I would if I could), so I had a rather lovely salad with leftover shredded chicken instead. But both Eric and Abby were happy with the meal.

Once upon a time, I’d have been ashamed that I had failed to keep the kitchen stocked. (Or the bathroom clean or the laundry washed.) I’d have taken the complaints as personal criticism. And I’m not sure if a switch flipped or if I’m finally learning my lesson, but I can see that this really isn’t a commentary on me at all. It’s a little bit being spoiled. It’s a little bit thoughtlessness — because they don’t have to think about how the fridge gets filled. And it’s also probably a bit of laziness.

I feel like a revolutionary. I feel like I’ve got a new notch on my feminist belt.

I’m kind of wondering if this will be a lasting lesson or if they’ll forget by Wednesday of this week.

Note to self: I don’t have to do it all. And it’s probably better if I don’t — for me, of course, because that means I can do more fulfilling work (or not: Reading, writing, taking a nap, playing with kittens, whatever). But also for them, particularly the girls, to learn a few basic life skills.

Also, this makes it sound like Eric is terrible. He’s not. He regularly cooks, does dishes, folds laundry and goes to The Store That Must Not Be Named to pick up toilet paper. (He doesn’t like to sit down, that’s why.) But groceries aren’t generally on his list. Um, they might be now. 😉

How to tell if the Walker Four are all under one roof

  • There are no glasses in the cupboard.
  • The food you thought would last the week actually lasts until Tuesday.
  • You try to go to sleep but end up having a slumber party until Mom gets cranky about being pushed off HER OWN BED.
  • Constant chatter.
  • Art supplies everywhere.
  • Requests for gas money.
  • More laundry.
  • We watch an extraordinary amount of The Office reruns.
  • More kids in and out of the house.
  • More schedules to coordinate.
  • General chaos.
  • I’m at my happiest.


Scarcity myth

Abby and I have a tradition of Friday Lunch when she’s home from college. We both work downtown, so we meet up and walk to a nearby coffee shop. It’s a chance for us to hang out and catch up. And it’s fun.

During our most recent lunch, the two of us got onto the topic of journals and planners and how we keep track of our days. She talked about using hers to journal and get into a healthier routine; I’m sort of over my planner because it’s got a self-help aspect to it and, since my father-in-law’s death, I’ve just kind of decided I’d rather enjoy the moment instead of constantly feeling like I need to be working towards some goal.


Scarcity mindset: That there is never, EVER enough. Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash.

And then Abby was all, Well, that’s the scarcity mentality, Mom. It makes you think there’s never enough time or money and that you constantly have to work to improve your situation. That you’re never good enough. And I was like, WHAT.

Because I’d never thought of it like that, in terms of why I always feel like a hamster on a wheel. But lo and behold, the answer is simply that we’re bombarded with messages that we are not enough as we are.

Case in point (and I’m still kind of pissed about this, vaguely): We went to the big city recently to buy an eighth grade promotion dress for Johanna. While in the mall (wow, nothing like going to a mall to remind you why they suck), a salesman called me over and tried to sell me all manner of beauty product to improve my skin in general and lift the area under my eyes in particular. ‘Cause I’m noticeably middle aged, I guess.

And then, as I was walking away, a saleswoman tried the same thing. I was fuming. Eric was like, They’re just doing their job, and I was all, Yeah, point taken, but why, as a woman, am I supposed to give literally any shits whether or not I meet some unattainable definition of beauty? They aren’t calling YOU over.

I am six feet tall (truly, that’s not program height 😉 ) and I weigh 138 pounds. And I still feel like my body isn’t thin enough in the right places. I don’t color my hair, but I keep it trimmed and thinned, and I use a flat iron religiously because it’s very thick and that’s the only way I can keep it from puffing out. And my skin care routine is basically a bar of soap and some sunscreen, but I wear makeup because then I feel presentable.

So basically I was fuming because it made me confront all the ways I DO give a shit. Self-realization is hard, yo.

But Abby’s words made it seem more … I don’t know. Like, I could understand the tendency on a fundamental level. It’s just that I wanted to actually know why this is even a thing.

So: I started researching “scarcity mentality” to try to figure out more thoroughly what it means and what it does to a person’s overall health.

Most of what I found had to do with financial issues. Finding information on the mental and emotional aspects was harder and I never really did come across anything that struck me as an explanation as to why we do this to ourselves. I did find a book called “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” which I have added to my reading list. But otherwise, the closest I came was this paragraph:

Having thoughts and feelings of scarcity automatically orients the mind towards unfulfilled wants and needs. Furthermore, scarcity often leads to lapses in self-control while draining the cognitive resources needed to maximize opportunity and display judgment. Willpower also is depleted, which makes one prone to feelings of giving up. People in this state attend to the urgent while neglecting important choices that will have a drastic effect on the future. (LINK)

(That was the only part of that article I found helpful, incidentally.)

What I found ironic about my (admittedly quick, we’re talking a couple of hours) research is that most articles were linked with ways to create an abundance mindset — and I have no interest in that, as it seems like one more think I need to feel bad about: My mindset isn’t abundant enough! Better add that to the list of self-improvements!

So my overarching questions did not get answered immediately is what I’m saying. What did become clear to me is that this scarcity mentality is probably why minimalism is still considered an alternative lifestyle choice (and again, easy for me since I’m not financially strapped), why I sometimes make terrible decisions on everything from adding to my closet to what I put on my plate, and why we live in such a need-based society — why we’re never satisfied with what we have and where we are (we need more money / recognition / socks / knickknacks / travel / friends / health / etc.).

My limited search did make me think of this on a grander level, as in people I know, as I’m sure we all do, who never give but always take and/or why women have such a hard time rooting for each other, as if someone else’s success somehow takes away from our own. Why sometimes I don’t want to give. Why I have to make a point to remember I want us all to win.

And that maybe, much like I shout I CHOOSE PEACE when I find myself in a negative mental loop, I need to start yelling THAT’S A SCARCITY MENTALITY when I catch myself wondering if my neck is too wrinkled or thinking that I need a certain object to make my life better or catch myself feeling angry that I have to donate $5 to that person’s office birthday fund when everyone knows she doesn’t donate herself, even though $5 means nothing to me.

Uh, I might have some unresolved issues to work through.

I find this quite fascinating and I’ll follow up after I read “Scarcity.” I would really, truly love to hear your thoughts on this topic. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this after one conversation with my brilliant kid and a quick search.

Link HERE: The NPR story on the authors of “Scarcity” and what they learned in their research. It’s a quick read.

Decluttering v758.0

Let’s see here: I started my minimalism journey in 2012 and began decluttering. I started Project 333 in 2013 and eventually made two more passes through the house, particularly my kitchen, before starting a zero waste year in 2016.

And here we are, 2019 and I’m starting to declutter again. Um, how many times am I going to have to do this?

Never mind, rhetorical question. All of that is just to say, here we go. One more time. And probably not even the last.

I’m actually a couple of months into this and, wardrobe aside, it’s going fine. What’s really helped me is following the FlyLady zones because it gives me a set area to concentrate on with the added bonus of mini-missions. I can’t say I follow what she prescribes each week because I have a different agenda. But I do give myself five chores at the beginning of each week that can be accomplished in 15 minutes.

Spoiler alert: I generally manage to get four of the five done, which I count as a success.

Anyway, it’s been quite helpful in getting down to the nitty gritty of cleaning and purging that I haven’t had time for / haven’t wanted to deal with in the past. I’ve cleaned under the bathroom sink, tackled the top shelf on my side of the closet, gone through and wiped down cabinets in the kitchen and started in on the hutch. I kind of like the hopping around from space to space because then I don’t get bored. And because I set a time limit, I don’t get frustrated or bogged down.

One thing I’ve learned in all that past decluttering is that you can burn yourself out quickly if you try to do too much to fast. Which is why I am a big fan of this slower route. 

It amazes me how much cleaner a particular area can look after each of these small sessions. How it all adds up. And how accomplished I feel. It’s not all about decluttering for me, per se — it’s about getting a handle on my home. Getting rid of stuff is just an added bonus.

I guess my point is this: No matter where we are on our minimalist journey, there is still work to be done. And half the battle is starting. AGAIN.

More changes

The day after my darling daughter, Abby, moved back home for summer vacation, my equally darling 95-year-old grandmother moved to town to be closer to my parents.

Gram came from an apartment in a senior living complex, and the room she has moved into is probably half the size. Well, maybe not quite that small, but it’s got half the closet space, easy. My father filled a U-Haul truck with her furniture and boxes … and then had another pickup load with more stuff. And that was after she’d downsized her possessions.

And here I thought Abby had a lot of stuff.

I came by in the afternoon to help with the move, and then came back while Johanna was at basketball practice to unpack. Grandma was looking at her stuff and her storage space, and was feeling a bit defeated. It became fairly obvious fairly quickly that she was going to have to discard even more in order to fit into her new space comfortably.

“We don’t have to make hard decisions tonight,” I told her, and she agreed that she could look through items as time allowed and make piles for the annual church rummage sale, happily coming up next month. Still, whenever she decided that she didn’t like or want something, I put it in a bag and brought it home — to either rummage or toss, depending on its junk quotient.

I’m very pro-rummage, but I’m also realistic.

Anyway, Grammie has been here for a couple of weeks now and she’s definitely settling in. She’s amazed that the food they serve in the dining room is hot (um, that broke my heart) and that she’s sleeping so well because it’s quiet (the last place had 22 trains going by day and night, and apparently, she heard every one of them).

And it’s nice, having not lived by any extended relatives since I was 9, to be able to swing by and see her whenever I want. “I love you, sweet girl,” she told me a couple of visits ago. That made me laugh. Only a 95-year-old would think 46 is a girl.

P.S. My grandma is such a trooper. She’s lost two of her kids and her husband within the last four years and had to move out of the home she’d been in for 60-plus years for assisted living (when my grandfather was alive) and then into an apartment (after he passed). And now she’s here. She’s got arthritis and macular degeneration AND diabetes. But she just keeps going. She’s joined an exercise group and sits with new people every day at meals and stays positive. I tell you what, that is a lot of change and I’m not sure I’d have been able to handle it as gracefully as she has. To say I admire her greatly is an understatement.