The gift of being in the right place at the right time

Mu husband and I moved across the country from Massachusetts to Seattle just 16 months before he died. We had been back living there since we were married 8 years earlier. Each of us had grown up in Massachusetts, left at some point, but decided that we wanted to move back there together after we were engaged. We did just that and we settled in there, got married there, had babies there, had family there. Steve had grown up very near Boston so he had the accent – and the attitude. We loved everything about where we lived and I never really thought we would leave.

Rather suddenly, Steve started talking about moving to Washington. He had several good reasons, but I was taken back. This hard core Red Sox, Patriots, North End, Aerosmith, Cape Cod-loving man wanted to move away? What? He did have good reason to want to go and the biggest reason was that his entire immediate family had already moved to Washington over the course of the previous few years. His parents had divorced when he was little so he was thrilled by the possibility of living near all of his family in more harmony than there had been for years. On top of that, he had a great job opportunity in Seattle. But still – we were dug in and loved the town we lived in. We had good friends and were happy. But if we were going to do it, this was the time as my oldest was set to start Kindergarten in the fall. So we did it. I always say I came kicking and screaming but once we got here, I completely loved it. It was like ripping off a band-aid. The process was awful and painful but once it was done it was good.

We made lots of friends here so easily and quickly. Steve loved his job; I got very involved at my daughter’s school and our church, and had a great part-time job. Living close to Steve’s family was really wonderful. His mom, dad, step-mom, two sisters and their kiddos all were here – kind of amazing. They loved all over our girls, we saw them all the time, and they lived in a sweet little town to the North of us that they were crazy about and we became crazy about too.

Another kind of “written in the stars” piece of our moving out here was that my brother just happened to be stationed in Washington and moved here about the same time as we did. My brother Michael is an officer in the Navy and has lived all over this country and a few others with his wife and five kids. The odds of them being here at the same time as us were damn small but it happened.

I could not have survived the trauma of Steve’s death, my pregnancy and the time that followed without the support of this loving, hands-on family. I could have – but it would have been ugly. My parents were and are wonderful, supportive and generous, but 3000 miles away and considerably older than Steve’s parents. The strength that I got from my brother and Steve’s dad especially, the first few days and weeks after he passed away was tangible – I felt then like I couldn’t possibly stand on my own, couldn’t do what needed to be done. They did it all with me and held me up – literally more than once. They were a gift – two of the most amazing, caring, generous, faithful, funny and loving me that I have ever met in my life.

I spoke for a minute at the vigil, the night before Steve’s funeral. Lots of friends and family got up to speak about him, sharing stories and memories. It was a very special candle lit service and I loved listening to every word that was spoken. I had not planned to speak as I didn’t think I could. But I got a feeling all of a sudden and I just walked up to the podium. I’ll never remember exactly what I said but the gist of it was this: this room full of friends, family, co-workers – this was Steve’s gift to us. He didn’t know it of course at the time, but there was such a rhyme and reason to all that we did in the year and a half that lead up to his death. Right down to the house that we chose. I was really pushing for another one but he wouldn’t hear of it. He was sold on one and wouldn’t budge – the not budging wasn’t that unusual, but it was really strong for a house that we said yes to sight unseen. If we had taken the house that I was rooting for, it would have put us in a different elementary school for our kids, and in hindsight, that would’ve been awful. The friends I made at the school Maggie started Kindergarten in are some of the best friends I have here to this day. The friend that I met at school a few days before classes even began became such a good, close friend of mine, that she is who I called the morning Steve died, when the police and EMT’s were asking me over and over again, “Is there someone you can call?” Her and so many others became so tied to me and to our little situation. These were the people that came over and cried with me, brought us dinners, came over to fix things, mowed the grass, took my girls to do fun things, loving on them and giving me space.

All of these fabulous people and living exactly where we were at the time Steve died – Steve set it up. Unconsciously and with God nudging him along every step of the way, he made sure that we were in a community that loved us and were with family that would help to carry us. We were exactly where we needed to be at the exact right time. I wish like hell that he never died, that he could still be here enjoying this life, these people, this gorgeous part of the country, with us. It’s tragic what he’s missing in our children. But dammit if he didn’t do all he could right up until the day he left us, to make sure we were OK. And we are. One minute at a time.

Your entire life can be triggered in a Home Goods store

“But this visit was different, and I was just transported from one piece of my life to the next, one memory to another”

I am not a huge shopper. I am not one that loves to wander the mall aimlessly for hours or make special trips to outlets or big sales. I would much prefer to have Amazon Prime bring me exactly what I asked for these days, as opposed to walking through store after store. However, shopping can be a good way to spend time with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, catching up on life’s goings on and the latest buzz in your lives. Browsing aimlessly, or with purpose and a mission. One of my favorite shopping memories ever is a night that a friend and I went out for dinner and margaritas. After eating more chips and salsa than should be legal, we ordered one last margarita and then asked the waitress for 2 plastic kiddy cups. We left and walked the mall with a margarita in hand and felt so badass, despite the dancing bear wearing a sombrero on our cups.

I have a great friend that I have known for years that is incredibly busy of late as she is working as college faculty and also going to school for her Ph.D. at the same time. I adore her, despite the fact that she makes me feel like a tremendous slacker through her overachieving. Recently, she called me and asked me if I wanted to meet her at Home Goods so we could meander and catch up. Even though I was feeling down at the time, I said yes because I knew seeing her would make me laugh and because I knew that if I didn’t go, it might be 27 months before I saw her again.

Brace yourself people. If you are feeling down, depressed, sad, forlorn, wistful, hungry, lonely or any combination thereof – you’re entire life can be triggered in a Home Goods store. This is especially true if you drink a bit of wine beforehand. Yeah, it was intense.

My friend was on a mission for some very specific items for her home but I was not there to purchase really, so I simply started wandering. That damn store is full of such bright, beautiful pieces for your home. I have certainly been there before and not gotten ridiculously emotional, walked around like a normal person, exclaiming about the perfect pillow and the fabulous tchotchkes and wall art. But this visit was different, and I was just transported from one piece of my life to the next, one memory to another, visiting with hopes and dreams – some that materialized, and some that just crashed and burned.

This particular evening was just before Christmas and the store was full of both the holly and the jolly. Ornaments that proclaimed “Our First Christmas” seemed to stand out to me, despite the hundreds of others. They transported me back to months earlier when my then beau and I had picked out a Christmas ornament when we went away together, to commemorate both the trip and “Our First Christmas” together. It was a squirrel with a pinecone essentially up it’s butt – we thought it was hysterical. Moving on…

The sparkle coming from the crystal aisle is almost blinding. I have no reason to wander down this aisle but I do anyway, and then I realize it is not simply the crystal aisle, it is also the wedding aisle. Various items bearing His & Hers, I Do, Hubby & Wifey and Bride & Groom littered the shelves. Some were beautiful and evocative, others were tacky but they all took me back to my wedding, 20 years earlier, and the memories of that event. And since my husband is now dead, and I had a buzz from a few glasses of wine, I got very sad. Sad that what I once had is gone, sad that I wasn’t married any longer. Sad that my happily ever after with the man I had most recently loved and wanted to spend the rest of my life with, had gone up in smoke. God, I was as mess. I finally got the hell out of there, but not before seeing the exact little change tray that I had given said man several months earlier that said “I love us”. Why is there no bar in this store?

Moving towards the back of the store, I wander thru furniture and mirrors, lamps and rugs. I see items that remind me of my parents who live 3000 miles away from me. Melancholy overcomes me once again, as I think of them. They are growing older, my dad is in so much pain every day, and we see each other so rarely. The last time I saw them was the previous spring with him… Dammit, why didn’t I bring a flask?

Aisles of wall art filled with inspirational words and quotes made me feel small, unmotivated and the opposite of uplifted. I wanted to “Dance like no one is watching”, but at that time, all I could do was to try and walk like I didn’t have vertigo.

Wandering through the food aisle and seeing delectable things and thinking. “Oh, he’d love tha…” Well shit. He would too, but we are no longer giving each other fun things that we know the other would like. Or “Oh my gosh, Steve really lo…” Yeah well, he’s not here either sister. Having something bring back a memory of my husband and thinking “Oh, I have got to tell Bi…” Oh, yeah, right, right – he’s dead too.

I saw things that reminded me of places I use to live, jobs I used to have and children I had that used to be the most amazing, beautiful babies – but were now headstrong and often defiant young people. There are items that remind me of my childhood with my brother – who I also rarely see. We used to be so close but these days we are both so busy with 8 children between the two of us that we can’t keep it up like we used to. That store has wonderful items for your office at work – but I had recently lost my office, my job just went “Poof”. Kitchen items that could be used to prepare this particular thing that I used to make that so and so loved.  Odd nick nack items that resembled things my husband used to collect. Friends I used to have would love that blanket, another print that almost sang out “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” which has memories for me, both tied to my husband and to a friend’s husband that recently passed away. I was getting thirsty.

Before leaving the store, I got so caught up in a moment that I emailed my ex. So silly. He didn’t know that I was wandering these aisles chock full of memories and memories yet to be made. He didn’t know that I was a teensy bit drunk and therefore not using my best judgement. I don’t remember if I explained that. I may have told him that I needed a drink.

It’s apparently not just Home Goods that can trigger your entire life. It’s you. It’s me. Yes, me drinking a bit, but holding on too tightly to the past and to things not meant for me. I am all for holding on to memories but holding on to things, people, and events that are long gone is just not the best way to live. I liken it to the direction my dad gave me when learning how to drive – 25% of your attention and time should be looking behind you and 75% of your time, attention and energy should be looking in front of you. And if you must have a day or a week – or even a month – that is more backwards than forwards, ok. But realize that and right yourself and align your vison with the future as soon as you can. And spend time with good friends that will ride those waves with you – and will also have a “Come to Jesus” talk with you when deemed necessary. My friend did that with me that night as we were having post-traumatic shopping cocktails. And I appreciated that she cared enough about me to do it. I needed a good kick in the ass at that point. My mindset has changed a great deal since then, in all of 2 months. I know that if I walked into Home Goods tonight, I would look at everything differently, with hope and with smiles. Looking at things for my new desk at my new job, looking for things to beautify my home, items to inspire and pieces that help to form my future and help to create the environment that I want for me and for my family. I still may bring wine in a Starbucks cup however…