On Being a Single Grandparent

My husband’s job took him away from home, so I spent a lot of time as a single-parent. Particularly when our kids were really young, he was often gone for weeks, months, and one time for over a year, with only two short visits home.

I loved my husband.  I love my kids and grandkids.  As immigrants, with extended family living thousands of miles away, I cherished our tiny family unit. When our kids got married and the first grandchild came along, it was wonderful seeing that family expand.

I loved it when my husband and I spent time with our little granddaughter, babysitting her for a few hours, or having her for a sleepover.  We took her to our local park, out for dinner or breakfast, and once – unsuccessfully – to the movies. Spending time with her, it was like we were getting a chance to make up for all the time we’d spent apart and unable to enjoy our own kids together when they were little.

So when my husband walked out on me, he didn’t just destroy our marriage.  Our family – us, our kids and grandkids – was shattered.

Three years later, I’m starting to find a new normal. But what our first granddaughter got to experience with her grandparents as a unit, no longer exists. And after years of being, at times, a single parent, I now find myself a single grandparent.

That was brought home to me the other day. My daughter and I were walking her son home from day home.  He was a bit fractious, so we played the One, two, three… wheeeeh, game with him.  I’m sure you know it.  The one where you each take one of the child’s hands, count to three, then swing him up for a big jump.  His mood quickly changed and within seconds he was giggling instead of grumpy.  I remember my ex and I doing that with our eldest granddaughter and her loving it, but we’ve never had that chance with our second granddaughter, grandson, or the grandchild on its way. And they’ve never had that chance with us.

And that makes me sad.

For us.

But mostly for them.

Our eldest granddaughter still remembers those days, and our separation both confuses and saddens her.

Needless to say, they do much better for presents nowadays than when my husband and I were together.

But does ‘stuff’ really make up for what they’ve lost?

What we’ve lost?

Handling Money When Navigating the Divorce Process

MoneyWhen I was going through the whole devastating separation/divorce process, I felt like I was drowning in emotional pain and fear about my future – specifically my money future.

I was the typical stay-at-home wife and mother, so when divorce hit at the ripe old age of 64, I hadn’t worked “outside” in any serious capacity for almost 35 years. That meant no recent job experience, no “proof” that I could take on work, and I was well beyond the best by date for anything that paid better than minimum wage. (And I’d be lucky to even get that!) Or did I have to get a job – could I get by without it? How much money did I even need?

Money was and still is a problem for me, but I think I could have handled some things  better and perhaps spared myself a few sleepless nights. So here are a few things I learned that can maybe help you.

Get Financial Help
In the early stages, before anything is settled, find a financial professional who can help discover and organize marital assets, make negotiating plans and strategies, and then later help you plan within your changed financial situation.

This, I think, is vital and something that I didn’t do. Yes, your lawyer (if you’re using one) can offer some advice but that’s not her expertise. I tried to figure things out myself, learning about retirement plans, pension plans, insurances, taxes in the middle of an emotional storm. As a result, I didn’t always make good decisions.

Make and Understand Your Budget
Another thing I didn’t do – at least not at first. I really had no clear idea about how much money went where. How much did I spend a month on groceries? On gifts? On clothing? You need to do this, no matter how scary it might be. Because once you know what you’ve been spending, you have a starting place for what you want from the settlement.

There are several free online budget programs that aren’t difficult to use, such as mint.com – one that I’m working with.
Banks, lawyers usually offer budget worksheets for their customers, or make up your own in a notebook.

Money is scary. Not understanding money is terrifying. If you can, get someone close to help you. Face the fear.

Get Your Bank
If you haven’t done so already, you need to open your own bank account, preferably a different bank from the one used in marriage. Make an appointment with the bank’s financial advisor and introduce yourself, explain what you’re going through. If you don’t feel comfortable with this person, be brave and try someone else. It’s important that you have someone you can talk to and feel confident about. Even if you know you aren’t going to have much money, it’s still YOUR money. That was one of the most difficult things for me to truly grasp: I was responsible (and in charge).

Know Your Benefits
As I mentioned, I didn’t work outside the home for many years, so had no pension of my own and no money of my own, but I did qualify for many seniors’ benefits even before I was eligible for Social Security/Old Age Pension. Banks, restaurants, pharmacies, grocery stores, hotels – many offer discounts and specials. Once I started looking, it was quite surprising what is out there. I had to cut back on many expenses, yes, but I found I could also save quite a bit of money if I became aware.

Furthermore, if money is really tight, there are many government and social agencies that are there to help those with low incomes. Take advantage of everything you can, especially as you are finding your way through. Grab hold of every life raft that comes by and keep yourself afloat until you reach shore. There is no shame in surviving.

Re-evaluate
Don’t make hasty decisions. Try to understand your finances, prospects–what will your new “single” life look like? Maybe staying in your marital home is no longer an option or if it is, is it the right option?

If at all possible, try to look at your situation as you might look at a business, keeping emotional issues out of the picture as much as possible. Easier said than done, believe me, I know this. Just remember: you are not powerless. One step at a time, forward into your new life.

 

Feeling Vulnerable

My back hadn’t felt good since a recent trip.  I’d lugged heavy luggage up and down way too many flights of stairs, and although the shoes I’d worn – with my orthotics! – were good solid shoes, they perhaps hadn’t been right for so much walking.  But I figured that things would sort themselves out after a few weeks back home in my normal routine again.

Wrong.

I was in my apartment one Saturday morning, bending down to pick something up, when my back ‘went’.  I sank to the floor, the pain so intense that I struggled to catch my breath.  My legs tingled and I felt panic rising.  Was this a stroke?  Was I going to be paralyzed?

I was at the farthest point in the house from a phone and I couldn’t move for the pain.  I waited about 10 minutes, trying to calm myself with deep breaths, then managed to shuffle on my butt down the hallway towards the kitchen and found my cell phone.  With that in my hand, I hauled myself on to a chair and sat trying to work out what to do. I didn’t need an ambulance, but I wanted someone to know what was going on, so I called my daughter.

“Do you want me to come over, Mum?”

“No.”  She had a one-year-old to look after.  “I just need you to know I’m not feeling too great.”

And then I started crying.

“Seriously, Mum, are you okay?  Do you want me to come over?”

I couldn’t answer.

And then she asked…”Are you feeling very vulnerable?”

Bingo. She’d hit the nail on the head.

Sprawled out there on the floor, in pain, unable to reach my phone, alone and frightened, that’s exactly what I’d felt.  And angry too.  After years and years of nursing my ex-husband through all his emergencies, the one time I could have done with someone there to help me, I was on my own.

To cut a long story short, although I got treatment for my back, I have been left with some issues, and those issues have forced me to face my vulnerabilities head on and deal with them.

My personal vulnerability, for now, is a health issue. Yours may be financial, for another person it could be safety or security, someone else’s may be loss of family, loneliness, depression.  You name them, our vulnerabilities are out there.

So, from someone who has no expertise, except having experienced one particular vulnerability myself, here are my thoughts to best protect yourself.

1) If it’s an emergency, don’t mess around. Call 911/999 if it’s a life-threatening health or safety issue.  If it’s still a crisis – not a life-threatening one, but you still need help – reach out to family, friends or other professional organisations that can help in that crisis moment.

2) Once the immediate crisis is over and has been dealt with, face your vulnerability straight on.  Can you give it a name? What steps can you take to stop/prevent/reduce the risk of it happening again?

Given that mine was a health crisis, but not life-threatening, I rested over the weekend, then made appointments to see my doctor and physio as soon as I could.  (I’m very lucky, living in a country with free health care, as I know this isn’t an option for everyone.) I got appropriate treatment, continue to do daily exercises to strengthen my back muscles, ensure I have over-the-counter pain medications in the house should I need them, always wear decent supportive shoes when I go out, have cut my luggage down to the bare minimum when I travel, check in with a friend via e-mail, and text my daughter, every morning, just to make sure we’re all okay, etc.  If yours is a financial, physical, or emotional vulnerability, list the steps you can take to better protect yourself in the future. Ask a professional for advice. Talk it over with someone who has been in a similar situation.

3) We’re all getting older and the reality is that this vulnerability – or another one – could strike at any time.  There are no guarantees in life, but remember this – you got through this crisis, you can do it again.  You’re stronger than you think. Trust in yourself, try to find people who can support you, be prepared, keep your attitude as positive as you can… and it should all work out.

It Was A Wild and Windy Night

Sometimes, when it’s hard to look at your life straight on, it helps to consider moments in it as a story – or metaphor.

The week before my husband left me, we’d booked tickets for a ten-day music festival in Scotland. Six months later I went to that festival with a friend.

It was a wonderful, yet difficult, experience.  My ex and I had seen Dougie MacLean – the main performer – just a year earlier, and although I loved the company of my friend, I couldn’t help thinking about my ex, and how he should be here with me.  The fact that the festival happened during our first wedding anniversary apart made it all just a little more painful. But it was a great ten days – the music toe-tapping or soulful, but always inspiring.

The final concert was to be held in a large tent in the grounds of an upmarket hotel. As it was only a mile away, we decided to walk.

On the way it started to rain.  And rain.  And rain.  And rain.  Too late to turn back, we just kept plodding on, getting wetter and wetter. Loads of cars passed us, but none offered us a lift, and by the time we got to the hotel, we had to try and dry ourselves out under the hand dryers in the Ladies.

Not  a good start.

But the concert, with all the musicians who had participated in the festival that week, was amazing.  And in keeping with true Scots hospitality, tea and biscuits (or a ‘wee sensation’) was served at the interval.

The last night of the Perthshire Amber Festival 2015

When the concert ended, Dougie MacLean asked us not to head home, but to gather outside on the lawn. He wanted to record his song ‘Wild and Windy Night’ with the audience singing the chorus.

Fortunately the wind and rain had stopped by then.  The sky was littered with stars, the trees around the hotel lit up with fairy lights.

And then we sang.

Will you hear me if I’m calling on this wild and windy night? Will you catch me if I’m falling on this wild and windy night?

With all those voices around us – some on-key, some off – it was pure magic.  (And my friend and I can now say – legitimately – that we have sung with Dougie Maclean!)

But there was more magic to come.  We met up with some friends and decided to walk home together in the dark.  Plenty of people now stopped to offer us a lift, but now that the storm was over, the sky was so clear, the stars so bright, the constellations shimmering… none of us had ever seen anything like it, and we didn’t want to miss a moment by getting inside a car.

What about the story/metaphor?  Only six months since my husband had left me, I truly was in the middle of my own personal Wild and Windy night.  But, just for a moment, the skies cleared, the stars came out, my friends gathered around me to hear and catch me when I was calling and falling.  It was a night of peace and hope in the middle of what was, for me, a very dark emotional landscape.

As my friend said of that evening… we were truly blessed.

I am truly blessed.

Listen to Wild and Windy night on Dougie MacLean’s latest album (aptly named) New Tomorrow.

Letting Go and Moving Forward

How many times have I heard those words from friends, even strangers or read them in so many different books and articles? I know everyone means well, but really, how does one “let go” of 37 years of marriage as if they were no more than an old pair of jeans that no longer fit?

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. How on earth does one let that go? It happened. You can’t erase the past.

And “move forward?” Against the binding ties of so many years of life together? Impossible.

For a long time, it truly did seem impossible as I struggled through each day of fear and hurt and bewilderment, only to relive it all night after sleepless night.

It wasn’t until it was over, the divorce final, that I realized I truly was on my own. To be honest, I was terrified. For more than half my life, I had defined myself in terms of being part of a unit, one half of a marriage. And that was gone. Whatever had or hadn’t happened in the past–it was gone. There was no going back. No do-overs.

I wrote on a long sheet of white paper: Today is the first day of the rest of MY life. I read it every day. I tried to believe it.

But who was this person left in the wreckage? Where would she go? What would she do?

For me, that journey forward started with spotting a pretty pink armchair at the local recycling shop. It had curvy, soft lines and it made me feel good to look at it. Not trying to sound too pathetic, but back then, feeling good was sadly a rare occurrence. The chair was inexpensive, fit into the back of my old SUV and once I got it home, it became my place to sit with a cup of coffee in the morning. Just for me.

My husband would have hated that chair, but that didn’t matter anymore, did it? I could do whatever I wanted, couldn’t I? For the first time, that thought felt good instead of frightening.

Next I found some lovely lacy curtains (again at a thrift store – hey, I didn’t end up with much money but there is also power in being frugal). I checked out a DIY site on Google, then sanded and refinished the kitchen table. I dug out some fabric I had stashed for decades in the basement and recovered the chairs that went with the table. It was pretty. It made me happy.

I was making MY home.

Over the years, without consciously realizing it, I had shrunk my world to fit the confines of an unhappy marriage, trying to be someone else, someone that he would love. All I had accomplished was to lose little bits of myself along the way.

The joy I felt every time I saw sunlight filtering through those lacy curtains was opening a path in my heart. A path forward to myself that is reflected in how I go out into the world, what clothes I wear, the food I eat.

No way it’s an easy path. The thorny brambles of the past will always show up along the way. I stumble a lot, but I am moving forward into MY life.

Believe me, I’m not some paragon of strength and determination. It’s taken me five years to get to this point. But even a quivering sparrow of a woman can rise up from the cold ashes of divorce and grab hold of the joys that are out there in every day/

Well, I am here, alive and even thriving, and I am telling you: it’s all out there, waiting for each of us. One step at a time, right?
Yes.