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One of my most satisfying pursuits now is creating art, specifically hand-painting or illustrating wooden boxes, marble tiles and glass vases.  My art is drawn from places I know or existing art I’ve come to love : streets in New York City, the rural scenery in upstate New York or the restrained and haunting landscapes in Japanese silk paintings. You can see these at http://www.pintreedesigns.com.

I’m about to start painting on throw pillows.

I’m very grateful to have my art as an outlet, but my point here is to look inward to whatever it is that’s appealing and let it lead you to try new endeavors.  The new pursuits will likely be educational in nature and, hopefully, challenge you to learn new skills and, perhaps, even make new friends.

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Grandchildren

I never expected being a grandmother could be so nice. I don’t think there’s anything better than hearing “Gwammy” or “Gammy” (my nom de guerre is actually “Grammy” before it’s changed by 2 year old speech patterns).  Sometimes it’s shrieked from across the room as I walk in the door.  Sometimes it’s coupled with a “hi” as in “hi Gammy” and for no particular reason whenever I’m around.

I have 3 grandchildren: 2 toddlers, who are each 2 years old, and who are first cousins, and one who is 5 months old.

I don’t think there is anything nicer than snuggling with the 2 year olds as we read books or holding the 5 month old as she stares at me trying to figure out who I am in her universe of holders.

In the transition from grief to happiness, they are key players.

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The leader of a bereavement group I joined 6 years ago had been widowed 17 years.  At that time, I had been widowed about 3 months. As 15 of us sat in a circle one evening toward the end of our 6 week, once-a-week meeting session at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, she announced that she was no longer sad.  She said the void left by her husband’s death had been filled by many friends and family members.

I listened very skeptically and wondered how that could ever be true for me.  It is slowly coming true.

I have made many new friends in the past 6 years whom I’ve met traveling, in classes and programs I’ve taken, as part of organizations I’ve joined and who are neighbors.  I have also renewed friendships from high school and college which have since deepened as we confront our years as senior citizens.

In an earlier post I mentioned The Transition Network (thetransitionnetwork.org) as being particularly helpful in my effort to fill that large void left by my husband’s death.  The organization functions to help women over 50 deal with life’s transitions, whether they have become widows, or are experiencing a divorce, a job change or a physical move.  There is a chapter in New York City with about 500 women which offers different peer groups and special interest groups.  There are also chapters in other parts of the United States as well.

I am in 4 different peer groups or special interest groups and have become acquainted with about 60-70 women. Among the nicest aspects of these groups is the opportunity to find friends with whom to have lunch or dinner, see a movie, go to the opera or see a play.  I have a theater subscription this fall to see 3 plays that 5 other women are going to as well.  I also have an opera subscription to see 3 operas with another group of women.  And opportunities to go to see a movie or have dinner are plentiful.  One person in a group may send out an email asking if anyone is interested in seeing a particular movie on a particular day.  That almost always results in company.

Tonight, 3 of us from one of my groups are going to see “Grandma” and have dinner afterwards.  It should be a lovely evening and I’m very much looking forward to it.

 

 

 

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Having lived the prior 30 or so years in a 4-story brownstone in Brooklyn, I confronted the adjustment to living in an apartment in Manhattan.  One of the first things I did after I moved in was to reactivate my subscription to The New York Times, which I’d suspended during the 6 months I spent in a sublet during the renovation.

I’ll never forget the sheer delight I felt at opening the apartment door one of the first mornings when I had the apartment to myself, after the contractor and his crew were gone, to find the newspaper facing me on the doormat.  Gone were the days I’d need to retrieve it from the outside ground floor entry.  When it snowed, I’d freeze.  When it rained, I’d get a wet head.  Now, I was in my apartment, fuzzy slippers and all, and opening the door into a climate-controlled hall.  Bliss.

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Six long months after it started, I paid the contractor his last check when he finished the renovation and I gave him a bottle of wine.  During those 6 interminable months, I sublet a furnished studio apartment in the East 30’s in Manhattan.  I had 2 suitcases of clothes to get me through the change of seasons in NY from January to June, and a pillow.  All my earthly possessions were being stored in a warehouse in the South Bronx.

And then, finally, after the clean-up of plaster dust and the move in, which reunited me with my previous life stored away in the South Bronx, I was able to make my first meal in the new kitchen.  Almost immediately, I planted some ivy in a window box to remind me of the backyard I left behind in my old house.

I’m in an apartment on the Upper West Side in Manhattan now, 2 blocks away from the apartment where my husband proposed when we were both seniors in college.  It’s very much a bittersweet end to this particular part of my widowingon journey.  He’s not here with me.

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After the enormity of facing on my own the closing on my coop apartment, I then faced the equally enormous challenge of doing some apartment renovations.  One of the biggest jobs was rewiring the 1929 electrical in the 2 bedroom apartment.  There was also a pretty ambitious kitchen renovation that would mean I’d have some new appliances and also some new electrical wiring.  Ceiling lights with pull-down chains may be quaint but they’re difficult to find at night.

I remember coming around one afternoon during early March, about 2 weeks after the contractor started work.  He had started the demolition in the kitchen.   I saw the piles of construction debris and broken walls and knew that I’d be staying put in the studio sublet I’d rented when I moved out of my house.

It will be months before I’d be moving in and cooking a meal where that shovel stood.

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In the bereavement group I attended after my husband’s death, one of the dozen or so women in the group had never carried her own suitcase or pumped gas into her car.  While the group was meeting she confessed to being extremely nervous about taking a trip that required both handling her own suitcase and pumping gas.

I was certainly more self-sufficient than she was but when it came time for me to buy my coop apartment, I realized that this would be a massive new effort on my own.

I was flanked at the closing by my real estate attorney and my sales broker and confronting countless documents that would legally bind my fate to a New York City apartment.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that my husband was an attorney, so I could always count on him to thoroughly read all legal documents.  He told me on several occasions that “reading something very carefully, no matter how turgid the writing, was extremely important”.  Trust me when I say that I read the proprietary lease, contract of sale, rider to the contract and countless other documents as carefully as I could until my head swam.

I can only say that it was a daunting experience, but like so much else, I was able to get through it and, after it was over and I was handed the apartment keys, felt pretty good.   As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

 

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I would rank the downsizing of my house, which began about 18 months after my husband’s death, as one of the hardest emotional experiences of my life.  I needed to confront his closet and bedroom dresser, with all his clothing: the tuxedo he wore to my senior prom in college, the two sports jackets I always loved, the crew neck sweaters with the holes in the sleeves, the suits, the ties….

My son and son-in-law claimed some things, which made me feel better.  What didn’t get recycled for the next generation went into big, black trash bags for a donation.   It was a heartbreaking process and one which didn’t end until the not-for-profit who got the donation picked up the 7 bags of clothes that sat for a week by the door.  I could barely look at them.

And then there was his briefcase, which sat in the study during most of the time books were being taken off shelves and put into boxes.  It sat pretty much in the same spot where my husband had put it 18 months before, on the last day he worked before he needed heart surgery.  It was just where the briefcase always stayed and nobody felt the need or will to move it.

It was an old-fashioned brown leather briefcase with a flap, that closed with a brass clasp.  It was battered from decades of holding legal documents, newspapers and miscellaneous papers but that only enhanced its character.  My husband always held onto things and certainly wasn’t interested in the latest fashion statement.  Somehow, it was an extension of him in many ways.

Luckily, my son came to the rescue and issued a pardon.  He would take the briefcase for safekeeping.  Maybe, someday, a grandchild will use it.

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One of the most dramatic life changes of widowhood, after a marriage of more than 4 decades that began with a blind date at the end of Junior year in college, was needing to learn how to make big decisions all by myself.

If you’ve had a close marriage, you know how dependent you become on your spouse, who becomes your sounding board, chief ally, primary confidant, and someone who is always there to help you decide about, and negotiate, all the big life decisions.

My decision to sell my house in Brooklyn and move to an apartment in Manhattan involved many solitary moments when I struggled with what made the most sense.

One of those time frames concerned my search, and ultimate choice, of an apartment.

Finally, after many months looking, I saw one apartment that had wonderful light and views west, with potential sunsets, across the Hudson River.  It needed a big renovation.  I had endless evenings of debate, with myself, about whether to make an offer on it, because it was a coop.

Since every real estate decision I was ever part of since my early 20’s involved my husband, this was the first time I was totally on my own. The real estate broker who showed me many 2-bedroom Manhattan apartments, although pleasant, certainly wasn’t a good proxy for objective advice. The decision was all mine. And since I would be buying the apartment, it was terrifying.  

Finally, I decided I would make an offer, and the owners accepted.  My first big decision and, for better or worse,  I did it alone.

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When you downsize out of the house you’ve lived in for over 4 decades,  you need to excavate top shelves of closets, among other less frequently visited crannies.  It was on such a shelf that I noticed a brown corrugated box, behind other boxes, that at one time I had labeled with black magic marker “Wedding Memorabilia”.  I opened it with some trepidation.

Inside were RSVP’s to our wedding invitation to a luncheon for 50 at a midtown hotel in mid-September 1968, a blue garter and lace handkerchief someone had given me to meet the requisite “something blue” and “something old” must-have list.  And there, underneath these, was the cake’s wedding topper, with its styrofoam wedding bell, framed by an arch of artificial flowers.  Although my husband and I were married under a chuppah, the bell and arch were standard fare for cake toppers in the late 60’s.

It was the plastic groom, with a smear of what looked like old cake frosting stuck to his left eyebrow, that held my attention.  I marveled at how well both he and the bride had held up during the last 4 decades, but, of course, they lived in a box, were made of plastic and didn’t need heart surgery.

I then had to decide what to do with this box and its contents,  after reckoning with the fact that my son and my daughter would likely only want their own wedding memorabilia, living as they did in NYC apartments with limited storage space.

I had a large, black trash bag sitting next to me on the floor and the sentence I would hand down for the box’s contents seemed fairly obvious.  But the only way I could carry it out was by closing my eyes before I stuck everything in.