Pondering sons, aunts, and untold stories

How are you? I’m struggling a bit. So I offer a few random thoughts today.

1) Last week we were talking about workplace conflicts between moms and employees without children. (Why is it never about dads?) You might be interested in this article, “Four Things Your Childless Co-Workers Think About You as a Working Mom.”  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

2) Two of the three readings for this Sunday’s Mass in the Catholic Church are about widows whose apparently dead sons have been brought back to life, one by Elijah and one by Jesus. Religious considerations aside, in those days, when the husband died, the sons were expected to step in and take care of the widowed mothers for the rest of their lives. In fact, before Jesus died, he asked one of his friends to take care of Mary. I don’t have a son. My stepsons have stepped far, far away. While I’m a full-fledged adult and far from helpless, there are sure times when the idea that I could have had a son who cared about me and was available to help me just makes me want to sob because I’ll never have that. Know what I mean?

3) I’m an aunt, but I live far from my niece and nephew and don’t feel included in their lives. I don’t even know my late husband’s nieces and nephews. He didn’t know them either. We read a lot about how being an aunt can be almost as good as being a parent. Maybe in some families, but not in mine. Sure, we saw them at family gatherings and got presents from them. We were friendly enough, but extended hanging out or confiding in them? It didn’t happen. Are you close to your aunts? Or uncles? To your nieces and nephews?

4) I have just published new editions of one of my older books, Stories Grandma Never Told. The print version has a new cover, and the book is now available as a Kindle e-book for the first time. Read more about it at my Unleashed in Oregon blog. Working on this book again made me think about those stories Grandma never told. The book is oral history, with lots of Portuguese American women talking about immigration, education, work, family, ethnic traditions, and more. I never heard these stories from my own grandmother. She died before it occurred to me to ask. I frequently preach that we should not let our family stories die, that we should ask our elders to tell us what it was like when they were young because when they’re gone, who will be left to ask? I’m always coming up with questions I wish I could ask my mother, but she passed away 14 years ago. I grill my dad regularly.

But here’s the thing. For those of us who never have children, who will never be grandmas, who will we tell our stories to? Being a writer, I can share everything in my books, essays and poems, but what about people who are not writers? Where will their memories go? Suggestions? Maybe we could make a list of possible ways to leave something behind.

5) Enough depressing thoughts. Have any of you had trouble commenting here? What happens when you click “comment?” Are there too many steps to take to get in? Please me know. Sometimes I get emails (sufalick@gmail.com) from people who have trouble with the comment function, and I don’t know whether the problem is them or the settings. I don’t want anything to get in the way of our conversations. If you can’t get in, email me.

Keep reading and commenting. I’m so glad you’re here.

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Should I feel bad that I don’t feel bad about not having kids?


Okay, let me state that I did want children and if I could go back and change things, I would have  a house full of kids and grandkids yelling “Mom!” and “Grandma!” “I’d take over my mother-in-law’s title as “Grandma Lick.” Maybe even “GG” as she asked her great-grandchildren to call her. I could spend my days making things for them all, saving keepsakes and pictures and family stories—aw rats, I do feel bad.
But not always. That’s the thing I want to communicate. Most of the time, I enjoy my uncomplicated life. I don’t go to a store, restaurant, church or anywhere else, see people with their kids and feel pain or sadness. I used to, but I don’t anymore. I’m content most of the time. I know many of you hurt when people in your lives have babies. I do, too. I even cry when characters on TV shows have babies. But when a friend welcomed a new granddaughter recently, I felt only happiness for her.
My life now is about other things, my writing, my music, my dog, my friends, my family. It’s about food, books, travel, art, and faith in a God who had a reason for making me childless.
I did do some weeping during the holiday season, but it wasn’t over my lack of children. I miss my husband, who died 3 ½ years ago. I feel his loss in everything. I ache when I see other women with their husbands. I hurt bad when I see couples kissing or holding hands. I go to a concert alone and realize most of the audience is grouped in twos. I look under the Christmas tree and there isn’t much there because most of the gifts used to be the ones Fred and I gave to each other.
It hurt more this last Christmas because the friends I usually spend the holidays with were all busy with their kids and grandkids. I didn’t want to be them; I just missed being able to spend time with them.
Do I wish I had kids? Yes, but I don’t feel bad most of the time. I have moved on.
So many of you are stuck in the don’t-know-what-to-do place. Stay with the mate who doesn’t want children or look for someone else before it’s too late? It’s a decision no one should ever have to make. But consider this. When you’re in your 60s during the holidays, which would you miss more, the children you might have had or the partner/spouse who is with you right now? 
Congratulations on surviving the holiday season with all its many challenges. Now we move on. I promise it will get easier.

Looking back at 2012 and ahead to 2013


Dear friends,
This is my last post of the year, so I feel compelled to offer some kind of wise analysis of the past year and guidance for the coming year. I wish I knew what to say.
For me, 2012 was a year when it became much easier to live with the loss of my dear husband, Fred. He died in April 2011. Soon I won’t be able to say he died “last year.” Attention from other people has dropped off. Several people who surprised me with Christmas gifts last year did not offer anything this year. I guess after a year, you’re supposed to be “over it.” But as with the grief of not having the children we wanted, the grief of losing a spouse never completely goes away. It just gets easier to live with. I find myself able to focus more on the happy times and less on the sad ones, to look at his picture and smile, and to enjoy the freedom of not having to coordinate my life with another human being’s. (The dog is another story.)
In 2012, I finally published Childless by Marriage, my book about not having children because one’s spouse couldn’t or didn’t want to have children. It started out as a journalistic/sociological study and turned into my own story, with lots of research included. The e-book came out on Mother’s Day, and the print version on July 7. In between the two versions, my stepchildren went ballistic over what I said about them. After many painful phone calls and emails, a revision followed. We don’t talk much anymore, and I feel bad about that. But Fred was the link between us, and he’s gone.
I’m writing a novel and a lot of poetry now, which shouldn’t make anybody mad at me. I’m still blogging here, as well as at Unleashed in Oregon . I’m also doing a lot of music, as much as I possibly can. I turned 60 this year, and I feel a strong need to do what I was sent here to do and not waste time on things that don’t feel right.
My dog Annie is almost five. Her favorite thing is to snuggle with me. I swear she likes it better than eating or going for a walk. I do feel like her mother and often call myself Mom. I don’t care if it sounds silly. I’m constantly watching out for her needs. This year, I’ve treated her four times for ear infections, and everyone at the vet’s office knows me well. My first thought when I have to go away is always: “Who will take care of Annie?” I raised her from a seven-week-old puppy, and she will always be my baby.
My friends are showing grandchild photos all over the place lately. Am I jealous? Yes. But more and more often these days, I’m finding myself feeling happy, thinking my life is good. I have my house, I have Annie, I have good friends, I have family even though they’re far away, I’m healthy, I live by the beach, and I get to do the work I love every day. I know it all could change at any minute, but for now, as Fred used to say all the time, life is good.
So what do I resolve for next year? To use every day as well as I can and thank God for my blessings. On the practical side, I hope to finally attend to several little problems that I’ve been putting off. But I’m not starting any new diets or anything like that.
Enough about me. What about you? What did you accomplish in 2012, and what do you hope to do in 2013? Will this be the year you finally make a decision about children or find peace with the decisions you have already made? Life is short. Look at the people who died last year from tragedy or illness who had no idea they wouldn’t be around for 2013.
My wish for you for the new year is to treasure each day and use it well. Love the people around you, including other people’s children. If something needs changing, stop putting it off.
I’d love to hear your comments.
God bless you all. Thank you for being here.

Childless widow is not helpless

I just finished reading a book called Widow to Widow by the late Genevieve Davis Ginsburg, M.S., who traded her therapy practice to lead Widowed to Widowed, a Tucson support group for widows. Overall, it’s an easy read, often comforting and informative, but this book was published in 1995,and times have changed.

Ginsburg portrays most of us new widows as helpless housewives. So not true. She also assumes that we have children. She goes on and on about dealing with the kids’ attempts to help “Mom,” effectively communicating your needs, and easing each other through your shared grief.

She does note in one brief passage that not everyone has children. She writes, “Too often women are made to feel that widowhood would be less painful had they had children. One of the first questions widows ask each other on first meeting is, ‘Do you have children?’ Then ‘How many?’ and ‘Where do they live?’—as though their blessings can be counted by those answers.” In the next paragraph she tells how parents often go on to complain about the things their children do or don’t do. And finally, she says, children can be an important link in a widow’s transition to singleness but not the only one. Ultimately she has to find her own way.

If we have stepchildren, as I do, there’s no guarantee they’ll be around. So far, now that the services are over, they’re not. Would adult biological children of my own be calling every day to check on me, or would they be buried in their own grief and the demands of their own lives? I’ll never know.

If Fred and I had kids together, they might still be teenagers living at home. That would change the picture completely because I’d have to behave like a mom at a time when I might not feel like it. So many unknowns. Does it matter? What is, is. I share my house with my dog Annie, and neither one of us is helpless. We’re sad sometimes but perfectly capable of figuring out the rest of our lives without a husband and without children–if we have to.

Side note to young women considering marrying men who don’t want children: Consider what it might be like years from now if he dies and you find yourself back where you started, only older. Is he worth it? Can you live with it? Something to think about.

What am I to my stepchildren now that my husband has died?

You marry the man who doesn’t want to have children with you; he already has children from a previous marriage. Sometimes his children live with you; sometimes you have partial custody or visitation, but they are definitely part of your life now.

Maybe it’s a close and wonderful relationship in which the word “step” disappears. Or maybe it’s a mess, and you can barely be in the same room with each other. For most of us, it’s somewhere in-between. You inevitably connect because you have their father in common. They grow up, they marry, they have children, and you become a step-parent-in-law and step-grandmother. Again, you may be close or distant, but there is a connection.

Then the worst happens, and your husband, their father, dies. Regular readers know that I’m living this reality right now, but let’s stay hypothetical for a minute. Your husband, the link to those children, is gone. You all grieve the loss, but now the question arises and sits out there like a hippopotamus in the front yard. What is your relationship now?

A web search turns up lots of legalities, mostly concerns about custody and inheritance. In both cases, let’s hope you’ve got something in writing. If you and your husband had custody of his children, and somebody wants to take the kids away from you, that’s a big issue that I’m not going to address here. Better find a good attorney.

When it comes to his estate, what happens if his wishes are not stated in his will depends on where you live. In some states, his kids are entitled to half of what he owned, and you get the other half. I don’t know about you, but giving up 50 percent would leave me homeless and bankrupt. In some places, as his spouse, you get it all, but it varies and you should know what the law says. You should also both have wills, even if you’re young and healthy.

You should also know that in most states, stepchildren are not your legal heirs. When you die, they will not automatically receive anything from your estate unless you specifically leave it to them in your will.

So, if they’re not your legal heirs, we come back to what is your relationship now? I’m reminded of an aunt by marriage who has been widowed for several years. No one ever considered that she was no longer a member of the family when my uncle died. Of course, her kids are blood relatives . . .

It’s different with stepparents. We don’t share one drop of blood. Our only familial link is our spouse, and when he’s gone, then what? I guess it depends on what kind of relationship you’ve established over the years. If you have developed a close-knit family, you will remain in each other’s lives. If not, you may drift apart. In my case, we’ll see, but I fear it’s going to be the latter.

I’d like to offer some resources, but I find everything for stepparents is either legalities or young stepmothers complaining about their young stepchildren and their evil biological mothers. I’m not finding anything for older spouses with grown stepchildren. I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions on the subject. And of course, if you’re a childless stepfather, just reverse the genders and the same questions apply to you, too.