Sunday, August 30, 2009

The question I know you all want to ask….

What are Angie and boys going to do now?

I know you want to know. Wanna know HOW I know you want to know? Cuz many people, even barely acquaintances actually have enough gumption to ask me. Others just casually feel me out with indirect questions. Others that know me well expect I just may growl at you if you ask me that.

And I know included in the "What are Angie and the boys gonna do now” question are things like – Employment for Angie – when and how much? Location? House? Can they afford their lifestyle? Benefits? Etc.

And here’s the answer. I DO NOT KNOW.

And it sucks getting asked because I feel like I should know. It isn’t as if Brian’s death was a huge surprise. It isn’t as if I am not logical and intelligent and can’t figure things out.

In fact, I think sometimes my predisposition to over-analyze and logically think through EVERY SINGLE DECISION IN MY LIFE, including what color to paint a bathroom that can easily be repainted, is what is preventing me from knowing exactly what to do from here.

First thing first, though, is that I am exactly identifying my financial status. Since Brian’s death, we have received AMAZING generosity from friends and family. In March, we took a voluntary separation package from Caterpillar that has allowed me to have this time to think things through and figure things out. That being said, Brian and I have always lived within our means, practically and frugally on a budget that had us giving our tithe to church/charity, saving for our future and college and splurging on a few unnecessaries. So, we have no debt except our mortgage putting the boys and me in a better position. I have no doubt that it is our obedience to God’s biblical financial rules yielding this reward today.

However, we cannot go on forever like this. It is just a matter of figuring out exactly how much investment income we can generate in addition to our social security survivor benefits. There will be a shortfall with those two combined, and that will determine when and how much I will have to work. When the boys turn 18, the social security survivor benefit will expire completely and I, then, will have to solely support myself on my income.

There are several factors with determining employment for myself. First of all, I do not feel that I would be a good employee at this exact moment in time during this season in my life. I am easily distracted, have a lack of attention span and cry at the oddest times. So, I want to take a bit more time and give myself time to grieve and come to terms with whatever the heck our new normal is. Once I determine how much of my life is spent doing things for the kids that cannot easily be delegated or requested of friends like homework and quality time and the support they need from immediate family, I can better determine how much I am WILLING to work. However, if finances dictate that the amount I NEED to work exceeds the amount I am WILLING to work, the NEED will outweigh the latter and we will figure out the rest. I do not think we will be forced into that situation, though, barring another market crash.

Additionally, in order to give my boys stability and support, my goal is to work enough for this first couple of years to basically just get by without saving much for MY future. I will always save for college. It was one of my and Brian’s biggest goals to give to our children what our parents gave to us, and that is a college graduation that is debt free. I feel I would be dishonoring Brian to not strive for that. However, once again, if our finances did not allow for it without a huge compromise to our lifestyle and our emotional well-being, I know it would be MORE dishonoring to Brian to compromise OURSELVES for a debt-free college graduation.

There are many factors to consider when contemplating my future employment, not the least of which is the obvious – WHAT would it be. Should I do something related to my experience in accounting, business management and finance? Should I take a less demanding job because we don’t need the money at the risk of getting farther away from my experience and a well-paying job when I DO need to go back to work with a higher paying job when the boys finish high school? Do I just start all over now that I am older and wiser? I just don’t know. I trust that God will provide answers through the right opportunities.

When considering employment, I realize that full-time work would take me away from my boys a considerable amount in a time when they need a lot of direct involvement. They aren’t really capable of doing self-directed, independent homework and won’t be for a few more years. Their homework is family homework and they both need me now to help with this. They want to be involved in a few extra-curricular activities and to add single-parenthood, full-time employment on top of basic school would almost wipe this away. I just don't know how I would swing it all for them and for myself BY MYSELF. I also realize part-time work that meets our financial needs may not be possible. I am not naïve.

Other factors to consider are when and WHERE?

Obviously, the most glaring question many people have is WHERE IS ANGIE GOING TO LIVE WITH THE BOYS? The answer once again, is I DON’T KNOW. For now, we are staying put. I have no intention of going anywhere this school year unless we felt remarkably led by God to do so. I want to give the boys and myself time to figure out life here without Brian. Figure out things like where do I want my boys to call home? Right now they know little other than Central Illinois as home. Figure out things like where can we afford? Figure out things like where do we have the best support system? And that changes daily. It changes as our support system of family and friends have their own changing commitments and lifestyles. Sometimes Grandma and Grandpa are around for a ton of help and sometimes they want to travel. And we want them to. They need to. We don’t want anyone to feel like they are tied here solely because of us. And sometimes friends can help with rides and time with the kids, but then it changes when their own sports, work and extra activities take their time. And that is to be expected because once again, we don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t do their own thing because of us. HOWEVER, if full-time employment is what was necessary for us, I would have to go where I had the best support system and I felt the most comfortable knowing that my kids would be in the care of family and friends A LOT. I, honestly, do not know where that is right now. I am taking this year to figure this all out.

It is no secret that I have no family in Illinois at all. My closest family members are 3 hours away and those are extended family members. CLOSE-KNIT extended family members, but my immediate family is 4 hours away. However, Brian’s family is within a few miles of us, and he has many extended family members also within a few miles of us. But, will this relationship change as things unfold in our lives? I like to think it wouldn’t, but I have witnessed too many examples being on the biological side of a relative's death to know this may be naïve thinking. I know it will take a lot of effort on both our sides to ensure a healthy relationship that allows both sides the graces they need to grieve, live and cope.

Additionally, moving right now to a comfortable support zone of MY family would force me to solely rely on family and very old friends in a place where I have never lived on my own. It would be in a town like St. Louis where I have not lived since I graduated from college, let alone as a parent. Or, if I opted to be closer to my sister and mom, it would put me in a small town environment that I have never been a part of, losing all of the individuality of the friends and connections I have made in Illinois. I would partially be starting all over, all the while determining WHERE to live, WHAT works best for us, not knowing how much support I truly need and IF we can do it here. And you know what? I have great friends here. The best and closest friends I have ever had in my life. I feel connected to them and I feel connected at my church. Starting all that over right now is not overly appealing.

And, to top all this off, I know that the support I need today will differ from the support I need in a few years. The boys’ activities will get more demanding later, but rides MAY be easier to arrange as they age and don’t need parental supervision at Scouts or practices, or it may get more difficult depending on their interests. I don’t know. Also, their homework will become more independent. I will be able to grocery shop or run a few errands without having them in tow in just 3-4 years when they can start staying alone for an hour or two at a time. And that will only increase from then on. Gavin will be in middle school in less than 4 years’ time. AAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

So, as you can see, YES, I am constantly thinking this through. I have a lot of decisions to make and for right now, just the day-to-day decisions of what to have for dinner are difficult enough to make while we heavily grieve for Brian. Then I have larger, but immediate decisions to make like benefits coverage as our COBRA amount quadruples next month. And how long do the boys stay in counseling now that we have to start paying privately? And I still don’t know for sure what color to paint my bathroom.

And then there is the guilt for knowing that I DO have a college education and am perfectly suited to work a well-paying, full-time job but just not wanting to do it right now because I know it would not be what is best for my kids and me emotionally, but would really make some decisions easier and make saving for college and benefits a no-brainer. (All that experience and education, yet still ridiculous run-on sentences) So, don’t even get me started on feeling under the microscope knowing that my closest friends and family (especially my parents who gifted me with that education) have to be thinking – “Why the heck is she doing this when she is educated and employable?” And I realize that most of the guilt is probably self-inflicted. This is what I do to myself.

But my motto for the last few months and for the next couple will continue to be - "NO BIG CHANGES FOR A YEAR". Different seasons and events unfold different challenges and perspectives.

For future reference, to anyone who is dying to know what someone who is handling a large life-change like a divorce, a death or job loss is going to do from here, DON’T ASK. I know it is well-intended, but I can tell you if they want to talk about it, they will. THEIR THOUGHTS ARE CONSUMED WITH IT ANYWAY. And they don’t want to be in their position of HAVING to think about it at all. (And also to let you know that 12 months ago, I also would have asked anyone that was going through this the SAME questions.) Rather, just say to that person “I know you have a lot of decisions and very difficult choices ahead of you. I will pray for you as you think things through. But, please take the time you need to make informed decisions and if you want to talk things through, I’m here to listen. (Although they will always be willing to talk if you want to tell them about that great part-time, work-from-home, $50,000/year job you have been dying give to them.)” And then – PRAY FOR THAT PERSON AND THEIR DECISIONS.

You can start with me.


*edited to add* I didn't write this post to make anyone feel bad for asking me what we are going to do next or for wondering what we are going to do next. I wrote the post so you can have a glimpse into the hundreds of "If- Then's" that enter my mind daily, and to let you know where I am with the decision making. Because honestly? If you haven't walked a few steps in these shoes of mine (and my size 5 wides would not fit many of you, and I pray they never do - literally and metaphorically speaking), you simply wouldn't know how many factors and variables there are to complicate even the slightest decision. Like the fact that I suck at painting, so choosing the wrong color means more work for the friends and family that help me. And that every BIG decision I make right now will greatly impact THREE of us. My children are my first priority in all decisions right now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Brian's journal

Dear Brian,

Today, as the boys are in school, I have opted NOT to run needless errands, go to the gym, or spend time away from home. I am taking some time to gradually work my way through more of your things, deciding what to keep for the boys, what to give to your family and friends and what to simply discard. [And I have decided that the morphine (that I had forgotten was there) is going back to hospice to destroy legally.] Upon going through your nightstand drawer, I found your old journal. Journaling was something that you wanted to make a priority when you were first diagnosed and got over the initial shock (although did we ever truly get over that shock?).

It is in finding particular reminders that I am both overjoyed and deeply saddened. These reminders are the ones that bring you into action. The pair of paint stained shorts you wore when you did projects strike an emotion and memory in me greater than a still photograph. Your hockey jersey with the red paint stain that looks like blood and the boys will forever think insist is blood, is more jolting than the State 1st Place trophy-plaque. Coming across your cigar case with a lone forgotten cigar in your golf bag sparks more in me than the photo of you smoking a cigar with ashes longer than the cigar. Seeing your words written in a journal reminds me that you were here on this earth physically writing and thinking and feeling.

Your last journal entry was in 2000. I wish so much you would have continued to write in it. I love reading your thoughts and ramblings. You wrote exactly as you spoke. And you spoke as you lived. Not many people in this world do that. You always did.

Here is your last entry that brought me pride and tears and longing:

April 6, 2000

The secret to long life is to keep your soul happy. If your soul is happy, he'll want to stay in this world. One of the best ways to make your soul happy is to make someone else happy.

Brian, I think this is so profound and beautiful and simple. It is one of the most accurate statements I can think of to describe you. And the best part is that is came directly from you and was the last journal entry you ever wrote. And it was 9 years before you died. So, I know you won't mind that I am sharing it on this blog for the world to see. It is something you would have wanted to tell everyone and anyone who was struggling with contentment or health or other issues. I do believe you left this world with a happy soul. Why your soul didn't want to stay, as you wrote, I cannot answer. Perhaps because it was so happy and your body was failing enough that it was ready to flee back to it's creator? I don't know, but I know you were always a happy, empathetic, and compassionate soul. So many people told me while coming to visit us those last few months before you passed that despite our situation and its apparent grim outlook, our house was not a sad place. It was still a place of peace and joy. Brian, even in your last few dying months, you made others happy just as your journal entry stated - the most remarkable testimony to who you have always been!

I love you, Brian. I miss you.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

FALLing again...

Dear Brian,

I wish I could express to you how life is going without you in a way that wouldn't make you feel bad for leaving us. I can't. I can't tell you that we are doing just fine and getting by alright. We appear to be, but we are all very sad and confused. The boys and I seem to fight a lot amongst ourselves. We all seem to be finding our pecking order and testing each other to see how firm we have to stand before the other will bend.

Our surrounding world is transforming again. From summer to fall. From a time of fun and games to practice and routine. From a time of on-the-constant-go to home and school. It is in this transformation that I miss you most. Realizing once the boys arrive home at 3, that is it for the day. There is no anticipation of Daddy's arrival in a few hours. I sit alone at church. I will go to Back to School Parent's Night alone while the rest of our world handles this familiar routine as a family team. It becomes an effort not to resent them for the unknown ease they have in their lives.

I have always equated Fall and back to school with a a time of immediate family togetherness. The weekends become more important as both mothers and fathers are seeing their children for the only full days of a week. Saturday, after I had breakfast cleaned up and had finished my workout, I slipped outside to bask in the beauty of a glorious Saturday morning. I sobbed, missing you, knowing you would have shared time with me that morning enjoying a cup of coffee planning our day. I cried later that day as I took the boys to the outdoor mall with me. They behaved rather well considering they thought they were supposed to be at a birthday party and not running an errand with me, only to realize I had the wrong day for the party. I rewarded them with some time at the mall playground and Auntie Anne's pretzels. This location was lovingly nicknamed the PRETZEL PARK by you and the boys years ago. It has always been one of your favorite places to take the kids even when you were unable to walk well. I missed having you at the Pretzel Park with us. If found myself crying at your Mom and Dad's house while we celebrated Cheryl's birthday. The pain of seeing couples together sometimes is unbearable. Yet it is comforting. I can't explain it logically.

Yet, today has been a good day. Yes, I miss you today. Yes, I wanted you next to me at church. Yes, at church I find myself especially vulnerable and emotional. Yes, the boys and I are having our issues. But today, I woke and made a conscious decision to make today good. I hate that it has be such an effort to have a good day. I think of you and how you made a conscious effort every single day to get out of bed and make it downstairs. How you had to will your right side to move in rhythm with your left. How you had to stop and think about the words you were about to use every time you formed a sentence. How you did it, though, and never complained. How you rarely lamented about your burdens at all. You would assure me that to do so, was a choice. You made the choice appear effortless.

Brian, you continue to inspire me to make a choice today to have a good day. I pray tomorrow I make the same choice with as much grace as you always did.

I love and miss you, Brian.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The truth about why I'm not blogging

The simple, hard truth about why I don't blog these days is this:

When I'm not artificially busy with traveling with the kids and doing kid activities, when the home improvement projects come to an end, when I find the time to have downtime, the fog creeps in.

The fog of loneliness and sadness. The fog of knowing I have to figure out what to do next. The fog of anxiety over what lies ahead - shorter days, more darkness, colder weather. The fog of routine and a new normal that I don't want, that none of us deserve. The fog of the reality from which we have been successfully running all summer.

And starting with school this week, so ends my ability to keep running. The race may continue, but the slowly pacing grief is gaining on me. I know it is a very small matter of time before grief has completely caught up and we run this race side by side.

It scares me.


Monday, August 10, 2009

food for thought

I have a B.S. in Engineering. I have passed levels of math from Calc I-Differential Equations. While it did take me three times to successfully obtain a passing grade, I have passed Dynamics determining the force and momentum and speed of objects in motion. I can wire electrical fixtures and outlets. I can even wire a 3-way light fixture and switch. I have worked in different areas of Accounting and Finance and Business Management for Fortune 500 companies. I was selected into a developmental rotational program at a major defense contractor performing various financial and accounting functions. I have presented information to VP's and company executives. I have performed cost analysis to determine the economic viability of capital projects. I was more informed and well-versed on some of the medical terms, side effects and diagnosis codes better than some of the medical staff that treated Brian's very complicated medical case.



Wednesday, August 5, 2009

hello? is this thing on?

Once again, a half-arsed post. Sorry.

Just letting you know we are here. We just returned from 9 days visiting family, attending a wedding shower, celebrating both my siblings' birthdays, and a few other fun activities.
Still waiting to see if the data from the video camera can be salvaged. If it can, they said it can cost upwards of $2000. Yes, you read that correctly. As in, TWO GRAND. Ouch. I never thought I would have to put a price on a memory. After talking to Grant today about Canada and what he remembers from two years ago, though, I think I will probably figure out a way to do it. He has almost no recollection of Daddy from two years ago ALREADY. So, I want to find a way to keep those memories of most recent events fresher in his head - a way to trigger them. Do you think all those people who contributed to the KEEP BELIEVING FUND would fall over if they knew part of their contribution and generosity went towards salvaging my stupid carelessness?

And since nothing seems to happen smoothly and easily in our lives, my credit card was cancelled while I was on vacation. When I tried to use my back up card, it was also declined. Turns out the first one was cancelled due to a security compromise and fraudulent charge possibilities. The first charge we verified was fraudulent. Turns out my back up card was cancelled several months ago due to inactivity for 2 years. Shows you how much I use it. A new one was Fed-Exed to me the day after my brother's birthday which is the day after my sister's birthday. So, instead of treating each of them and their spouses to a birthday dinner, which was my plan, they treated me. Bad timing. Or good timing, depending on how you look at it.

Here are a few pics from our back-up-point-and-click-battery-guzzler camera from the last two weeks.

the carnival:
Papa's tractor:

Kevin's birthday (our Flintstone sized steaks with Gaivn's Flintstone sized meatball and Chocolate dessert)