Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I am the Keeper of the Family Keepsakes




I sit on a folding chair in my garage surrounded by the leftovers of several people’s lives. This weekend I am holding a garage sale, where I hope to finally get rid of these things and make a little cash. The wares include 200 vinyl records, four cases of CDs, several piles of books, an electric typewriter, two FAX machines, darkroom equipment, Christmas decorations, wine glasses, mugs, and more. I have a basket of refrigerator magnets and knickknacks to give away. Where did it all come from? Some of it was mine, some my late husband’s, but a lot comes from his mother, father and brother, all deceased. All of the things that weren’t taken in the initial rush after they died have ended up with me.

There’s lots more in the house. I’m not ready to sell it, at least not yet, not my mother’s sheet music, my mother-in-law’s china, my grandmother’s tea cups and her rocking chair, boxes and boxes of photographs, slides and movies, more crocheted afghans than I have beds, and some of my husband’s clothing that I can’t let go. I seem to be the inheritor of everything. I give away or sell as much as I can. I distribute things to other family members, but I am still the keeper, the curator, the guardian of what's left that is too precious to sell or give away.

I’m sentimental. I admit it. I can attach significance to the most seemingly insignificant things. The adorable little copper cup in which I keep my paper clips was part of my husband’s shot glass collection. I look at it and remember our antique store expeditions, so many happy days. Reminders of Fred are everywhere in this house, blended with my own cluttered collection of keepsakes.

I know people who would toss it all in a dumpster and forget it about it. Every sign of the lost loved one would disappear. I fear that’s what will happen to my own stuff when I die.

I have written a will and allotted the house, car, money and other big things to my stepchildren, my niece and nephew, and a couple favorite charities, but what will happen to the little things like pictures and jewelry? I suppose it will be thrown away or put out in a yard sale like I’m doing this weekend. I’m the end of my branch of the family tree. As a childless woman, why do I bother keeping photos and souvenirs? Who am I saving it for?

I’m saving it for me. Seeing these things, having these things makes me happy. It would be wonderful to have grown children to step in and take care of things when I’m incapacitated or dead, but I don’t. Still, I don’t see it being much different from what happened to my grandfather’s house and everything in it: dumpster, yard sale, relatives taking home what they wanted. He had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Parent or not, the process ends up being the same. The only difference is who’s doing it and whether it’s a chore or a labor of love.

People who have children always tell me you can’t count on your kids to step in, so make yourself a will, choose an executor (my brother is mine), and make your wishes known as much as you can. Meanwhile, go ahead and save what makes you happy, just for you. Why not?

Have you inherited your loved one’s things? What did you do with them? Do you worry about what will happen to your things if you don’t have children? Let’s talk in the comments.Meanwhile, if you're near South Beach, Oregon on Friday or Saturday, come see me.






Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Childless need not be friendless

It's surprising how many of my friends these days do not have children. The reasons vary:

Mary never wanted children. She was delighted to marry a man who already had three kids from his first marriage and didn't want any more. She has a close relationship with her stepchildren and step-grandchildren while remaining free to live her busy life as a music teacher and choir director.

Cathy, who is gay, has a wonderful marriage with her wife Rhonda. She never saw herself as a mother, but anyone who knows her can testify that she serves as a mother to everyone, always taking care of people, whether they need food, medical care, rides, or a shoulder to cry on.

Lori had a hysterectomy when she was young. She and her husband Steve have led an adventurous life pursuing his marine biology career across the U.S. Now they're living in New Zealand, where she's turning into a real "kiwi."

Charlotte is not married, has no kids but leads a busy life managing a quaint local hotel and keeping our writing group going. 

Sue, my favorite yoga teacher, never had her own children. Her husband has grown offspring from his previous marriage, and she enjoys their company. The rest of the time, she's happy as a dogmom and yogini.

My buddy Bill has neither married nor had children. Now 65, he recently survived a health scare that has left him grateful just to be able to breathe, eat, walk and talk. He started out wanting to be a priest. Although he didn't follow through on that career, he still lives the celibate single life and devotes himself to his four nieces and nephews.

Many of my other friends do have kids, but the children and grandchildren live elsewhere. My friends disappear now and then to visit them, but those children do not divide us because we have so many other things in common, things like music, writing, yoga, or church.

When you're in your 20s, 30s and early 40s, it can seem as if everyone you know is having babies, that you are the only odd duck not reproducing. But you're not. If, like so many people who comment at this blog, you are struggling to decide what to do, know that you may be left out of the Mom Club, but there are plenty of other clubs to join. One in five American women (with similar numbers in other countries) are reaching menopause without having babies. The number is edging toward one in four. You are not the only one. You are not weird. As you engage in the things that interest you, you will find other people like you. There is life to be lived and enjoyed even if you don't ever become a mother or father, and as you get older, it will get easier. 



Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Try these rituals to vanquish childless grief

Dear friends, over the last two weeks, we have been talking about ways to deal with childless grief. Losing our chance to have children is a real loss, in many ways like a death. We lose the life we had expected to live, the identity of being a mother or father, and the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren we will never have. It hurts down to our bones.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the stages of grief. Last week's post focused on developing a Plan B for our lives. Today I want to talk about rituals, things we can do to help get past the grief.

* After my mother died, my husband and I took two bottles of Mr. Bubble soap bubbles to a cliff overlooking Nye Beach. Fred thought I was crazy, but we started blowing bubbles. "Goodbye, Mom," I said. "Go, be free." Some bubbles landed in the bushes and some melted into the sand, but others kept soaring over the beach until they disappeared into the clouds. You know what? We felt better. Afterward, we adjourned to a nearby bar, toasting Mom's memory. Ten years later, on the first anniversary of Fred's death, I blew bubbles again from the deck in our back yard. I also sang some of his favorite songs, remembering the times he had been there, listening and singing along. It helped.

* Writing can be a great way to let go of feelings. Even if you're not usually a writer, try writing a letter to your unborn children, telling them everything you would like to tell them if they were here. You can keep the letters in a special place or burn them as a symbolic way of letting the children go.

* Talk to your children. Go somewhere private and say what's in your heart. For several years, I "met" with my mom, bringing her up to date on everything that was happening in our lives. It felt like she was still here.

* Try hypnosis. I used it several times when the grief I was feeling became overwhelming, and it truly helped. It's not weird, it's not voodoo. I knew what was happening at all times, but I was able to relax and let go. My therapist led me through conversations with my loved ones, living and dead, pouring out all all the feelings and words I could never release on my own.

* Create a symbol for your pain and send it into the world. Put a note in a bottle and toss it into the ocean. Write the names of your would-have-been children on rocks and arrange them in your garden. Hang a streamer off a tree or a pole. Make an ornament to hang on your Christmas tree. 

* Create art expressing your feelings and honoring your unborn children. Whether it's painting, sculpture, needlework, or another form of art, working with your hands to put it into a physical form can help deal with the grief.

* Hold a ceremony, complete with prayers, readings, food and music. Invite friends and family to acknowledge your loss and honor your unborn children. Having your loved ones' support can be a huge help in moving forward.

These websites offer more suggestions for letting go of childless grief:

"Rituals for Letting Go"

"Leaving and Grieving Ceremony/Ritual"

"Grieving Ceremony"

There are lots of ways to symbolically let go of grief. Nothing takes it away completely, but these rituals can help you move on. Can you suggest some more? Have you tried any of these? I welcome your comments.



Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick

Friday, October 3, 2014

No Children? What is your Plan B?



Jody Day, a British woman who founded Gateway-Women.com an online community for childless women, recently published a book called Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfiling Life Without Children. In it, she tells about how she struggled with infertility and other issues that prevented her from having children. They also prevented her from enjoying the life she had because she was so busy thinking about the life she did not have. In her book, Day talks about the “shadow life.” She was simultaneously living the life she had living a shadow life in which she was a mother.

“At no point in that time (a 15-year stretch no less) did I fully and completely embrace the life I was actually living, that of a childless woman. I was always in transition to the next stage when my real life would begin.”

My friends, we only get one life. As my father likes to say, “It is what it is.” And it could be much worse. Ask anyone who is paralyzed or suffering from a fatal illness or who has lost a limb. Ask anyone whose spouse or child has died. Every day that we can get out of bed on our own and choose what we want to do is a good day and should not be wasted.

We risk poisoning our relationships not only with our mates but with everyone else around us if we see only that they have kids and we don’t. Try to see beyond that. Why do we love these people? How would we feel if we lost them?

Examine your lives. Acknowledge what you are probably not going to do. One of the childless women I interviewed for my book said she looked at having children like a lot of other things she had never done and probably never would. She would not be a published author, would not live in Paris, would not be a concert pianist, would not be rich, tall or thin. But she loved the life she had.

If there’s something you really feel you must do, then do it. If it means finding another mate or adopting a child instead of giving birth, just do it. But if you are not willing or able to take these steps, look at what else you can do. You probably have more choices than most because you are not tied down with children. The "childfree" crowd sees that as a good thing.

Make a list of everything that you CAN do, that you get to do, that God gave you the opportunity to do. Now use that list to design your own Plan B.

In future posts, we’ll talk about rituals to let go of childless grief and places to find support from people who understand. Meanwhile if you haven’t read Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfiling Life Without Children, do yourself a favor and read it. Jody will take you through the steps toward starting to not only survive but enjoy the life you have.



Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick