Peeling back the layers

This is on the topic of life after the loss of a loved one.  Not the emotional impact nor the significant life change but more-so on the items that were labeled ‘his’ that were left behind.  What I call the layers of physical reminders in and around the house.  Loss is a tricky thing and we all cope differently.  I am speaking of how I handled his ‘comforts of joy’ that I no longer desired to have around. Where to begin?  How to deal?  Well, I did what I do best.  I organized them. I organized in groupings, like layers, from easiest to most difficult in their significance to our relationship meaning the easiest to the most difficult in coping with each of his things.

I call it the removal of layer one.  These are the large furniture-like pieces that I wanted removed from the house quite immediately after his passing.  Like neon signs of significant loss. Examples: his leather chair, his dresser. Our bed. I was on the hunt very quickly to find someone who could utilize this large furniture.  His clothing and shoes.  These items found alternate homes quickly.

Layer two.  These are things that were of significance to him, only.  His toys. Such examples: his fishing rods and equipment, baseball hat collection, pen sets.   Homes for these things were sought after the ‘big’ items.  Of course, offerings to family members were made, accepted, and appreciated as keepsakes.

Layer three and by far the most difficult to confront were items of his, however held the memories of our connection to one another, his passion and obvious talent. These items of his stemmed around all things music. His large collection of musical instruments, both woodwind and baroque, sheets of music, and extensive CD collection had to go.  About a year and a half has gone by and I knew it was finally time to face the inevitable.  What to do with them?  Knowing that instruments need to be played to keep from self-destructing as well as knowing their function is to be played, it was time.  Well, what instruments need are musicians.  Musical friends came to mind first in bidding them farewell.  Then, consignment shops.  A local shop took in his woodwinds. The baroque instruments . . . a trip to Boston.  Taking the baroque instruments back from whence they came could serve as purpose, perhaps some pleasure.

Potpourri Boston ~ We chose a quaint little apartment airbnb in Boston’s Historic North End.

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Reflections

Sometimes you cheat on your own website. My View, a column in the Buffalo News offers a place for writers to express their own personal thoughts on a topic of your choosing. There are some guidelines (of course) which can easily be found online. Today, I was published.  Some of you have been asking how I’ve been since my great loss(es) of 2017 and here I try (within the word count allowed) to express where I am today.

My View: Beginning life again after a year full of loss

By My View Published

By Holly Olmstead

As we live our lives, we can expect to lose our elderly loved ones. We are saddened, of course, and we respectfully mourn those we loved. We realize it is the natural order of things when the aged pass away. The stone that is cast by that death has rippling effects that last for years.

Adult children who may have come into town to visit that parent stop doing so, family gatherings are less frequent and sometimes difficult without an identifiable matriarch or patriarch, and the next generation of babies born to those adult children are born and create new, exciting attentions.

Now, when there are losses of loved ones that are unexpected and do not align with the natural circle of life, that brings on a grief of a whole other kind. You wonder how your life will go on. After a long and successful marriage, I lost my husband of 35 years. He was my best friend, cheerleader and protective caretaker my entire adult life.

Through the last few months of his life, we had to re-home our Labrador of five years, a sacrifice for hubby’s safety in the household. Even though it was a successful transition, one’s pet is like one’s child, a terrific loss.

In the meantime, my sister with Down syndrome passed away, a death more bittersweet than upsetting as at the age of 62 and born in the 1950s we felt she lived a full life. However, it was indeed a significant, heartfelt loss to me. Having lost my sister, pooch and hubby all in one year, I felt like I had lost my entire identity.



Holly Olmstead

This was overwhelming, to say the least, for me. Where to begin? Where to pick up the pieces? Where to turn?

At first I was numb. In shock, anger, and likely, in denial. So, I did nothing. Mourning: Who knows what that looks like? They say gather with others, join groups. Keep old traditions, consider new. Give permission to yourself for time, space and for your family.

So, I took on some new things. I now volunteer at Habitat for Humanity at the construction site and run with a group from Fleet Feet. I’ve just signed on to teach knitting at Cornerstone for the winter semester and completed a grief group session at Hospice.

I’ve learned how to time manage the job of two people regarding house maintenance, including grocery shopping and cooking. Children are out of the area and trips scheduled to see them are and will always be in the works.

It has been over one year. I am dating. While all this was well and good, the busy, full schedule was not filling the void and the loneliness I was continuing to feel. It wasn’t until I had a euphoric moment that things began to take a turn for me. My past and present do not need to look the same in relationships. While I understood and had accepted my activities looking different, why not my relationships, as well?

This simple shift in thinking, of taking off the parameters of expectation of the familiar interpersonal relationships I had known, is allowing me to be more open to friendships of all kinds.

Much like starting adulthood over, I can enjoy people I meet, find joy in others’ ways and traditions, and accept new ideas in conversation and lifestyle. The world actually feels like a bright promising place for happiness and love, once again.

Holly Olmstead, of Kenmore, is a retired teacher from the Sweet Home Central School District.

PS.  The photo, above is of my home where I’ve hung outside lights for the first time, have a new storm door, new mailbox, and hung a vintage poinsettia wreath, a wreath that hung on the front door during my childhood recently given to me by my mom.  Not forgotten, the beautiful wreath hubby gave me a few years back is hanging on the mantle, where sweet memories of Christmas past remain present.

[HERE] is how the article appeared in the Buffalo Evening News.

Highlights, Yes, there were some

The ending to this year was no different than the personal devastation I endured throughout this horrific year of 2017.  Bitter cold temperatures and wind prohibited the otherwise planned trip to be with family this holiday season.

aborted plane after waiting 2 days due to cancellation of original flight

It was to be that I was to spend this holiday alone.  As we all know, holidays are designed for family.  Period.  When you find yourself alone, you realize that more than ever (and a lesson to keep in your heart to help others who you realize are alone during a holiday season).  However, with a bit of perseverance (because I’m that way), do-over planning, and creative thinking, I have come to realize there were actually some highlights to this holiday season of which I am most appreciative.  Here are a few and may help you if ever . . .

Childhood ornaments ~ I did put up a Christmas tree.  Full size from floor to ceiling.  Preferring a real tree but knowing the handling aspects, the artificial had to suffice.  Having long passed along our family’s handmade ornaments, in conversation with my Mother, she offered the myriad of boxes of ornaments she had stashed in her attic, literally a plethora of vintage glass adornments from my childhood.  Boxes and boxes found themselves in my hand and eventually on my tree. This season, when I looked at the beautiful lit tree, Christmas memories of my childhood surfaced rather than the loneliness I was feeling.

Christmas cookie baking ~ Simply said, I made sure to participate in the annual Christmas cookie baking I had set up years, ago with family.  Even though I didn’t feel the spirit, something about the act of kneading dough is quite therapeutic.  The cookies turned out great and it was satisfying seeing the very happy faces of the others.

Volunteer Appreciation Dinner ~ Traveling with the crew of ladies I work with at Habitat for Humanity, dressing up so the men could see we do indeed clean up nicely, it was a lovely evening getting to know more personally those who are teaching me ‘construction’.

Birthday Dinner ~ Temperatures frigid, a beautiful winter scene, I was treated to a birthday dinner from Mom.  With lovely seating and a beautiful view, it was nice to return to a restaurant of ‘yesteryear’ (neither one of us had been there in years) and to a dinner that was warm to the heart and tasty to the tummy.

Dog Walking/Activities with Neighbor(s) ~ Every day walking the dog, taking in the fresh air is a pick me up no med could provide.  And, to be escorted by the neighbor who is just that kind of nice person is a special treat of comfort, kindness, and companionship.

shoveling snow into the air. Why? ’cause the dogs loved it.

Back on Treadmill/Orangetheory ~ Back on the treadmill, again of course, I will need time to rebuild the endurance and training I have lost, but how happy it feels to also be back in class at the local fitness studio (and please, no one look at my data).  I felt bonds of friendship I did not even realize were there until the warm welcome I received upon my return.

Race ~ Well, let’s just say, it was on my radar that day.  Wind chill in the negatives did indeed scare me away.

A Few Finished Garments ~ Believe it or not, even knitting requires endurance. I have turned (temporarily) to smaller projects, pictured here, again hoping to build my endurance of concentration and focus to the longer, more tedious projects I am used to.   I don’t have photos yet of the easy, fashion garments recently finished, but they are beautiful and ready for the wear whenever I am ready to wear them.

for charity

crocheted basket for projects

New Furniture ~ Yep, a fresh start needs a pick-me-up in the furniture department.  Mostly, the living room and bedrooms received the new pieces (area rug not in, yet).  Modern looks, clean lines, and neutral colors fill spaces otherwise filled with memories of recent loss of life.

Fix-its ~ Mostly, learning how.  Keeping water level where it needs to be for proper steam to warm the house, sump pump adjustments, endless plumbing understandings, door(s) removal, paint and staining here and there, becoming familiar with garage and its advantages, ~ all in a home owner’s day in a life.  But, it is feeling very different with the responsibility falling solely on me.

Making New Friends ~ Here is my new mantra.  It’s ok to make new friends.  Female and male.  Purposely going out even when it is dark and cold, signing up for activities never done before, getting together with friends of the past  and friends just met, finding and going to new places to dine trying out new foods (Octopus salad for me the other night), allowing myself to feel the companionship, warmth, and life of another is ok.

Was it a great holiday season?  No, not by a long shot.  Do I have living alone all figured out?  Hardly.  Do I feel guilty about simple pleasures, smiling, and enjoying life, again?  You betcha.  In reflection, these activities and purposeful moves helped me to cope with this holiday season.  I know I have a long road of recovery ahead of me.  I figure with healthy, intentional steps with awareness of the positives, this is an avenue that can lead me back into the game of life.