Category: Relationships

Learning to Be Myself at the Holidays

Even before I got divorced, I had trouble with holidays. Gifts – travel – lots of family visits in too little time – it could all be too much of a good thing. Or too much of a mixed bag (of mixed nuts…). And what’s more, those good things came tinged with a feeling of guilt, for feeling that way despite my blessings, or for being tired despite having plenty of time off.

Letting Go

Letting Go
photo by Claire Elizabeth Cameron
Halloween 2013, UVA Lawn

Then my world turned inside out and I was single again, the “kid” again at the holidays. Instead of a carefree kid waiting for Santa, I was the woman without a husband. Without children. Just myself. So I had to figure out how to “do” the holidays. That first year, I had to reinvent the simplest things, like how to find gifts when I was too sad to like anything in the stores. Or how to enjoy Thanksgiving when I was too distracted to really taste anything.

I finally decided to just be myself. Even though “myself” didn’t feel like much. So instead of traveling by airplane on the busiest day of the year, I drove four hours over a beautiful mountain to see family in Charleston, WV, on Thanksgiving. That weekend, I rested and walked when I needed to. For the first time at the holidays, I tried to just be present, and good to myself – whoever that was. It turned out to be OK. All the worrying I normally did, the fretting over details and whether others were enjoying themselves – turned out to be unnecessary. Being present and good to myself somehow translated into feeling more present and more good to the others around me.

This Thanksgiving, I’m going back to Charleston, WV. My circumstances have sweetened considerably and I have energy to share. But rather than worrying and fretting and planning, I’m going to try to live more in the moment. Oh, and be myself. It sure is easier than trying to be anyone else.

Thank You to Our Beta Readers ~ Braver Than You Believe is Published!

After a week of “beta-publishing,” Braver is back! Thanks again to all who have supported this project. We couldn’t have done it without you!

claire e. cameron

Two names appear on the cover of Braver Than You Believe… but so many other people contributed. Here’s the start to a long, long list of thank-yous.

First, a huge thank-you to all our “beta readers” whose feedback polished our book to a shine:

Elizabeth Brickhouse

Ame Cameron

Shelley Cowart

Kae Fassel

Jeanie Joyce

Rachel Keen

Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch

Jacqueline Rates

These dearly loved ones were there at critical moments (that is, last-minute and impromptu) with wisdom and tech support:

Mark and Mary Mitchell

Christopher Rates

I owe special gratitude to BACCA Literary for their encouragement of the project from the beginning, and for nuggets of brilliance such as suggesting we use different fonts to help readers track the ladies:

AM Carley

Bethany Joy Carlson

Carolyn O’Neal

Thank you to the inspirational members of Skyline Harmony Chorus – whose music and companionship after my own divorce helped me to become stronger…

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Thank You to Our Beta Readers ~ Braver Than You Believe is Published!

Two names appear on the cover of Braver Than You Believe… but so many other people contributed. Here’s the start to a long, long list of thank-yous.

First, a huge thank-you to all our “beta readers” whose feedback polished our book to a shine:

Elizabeth Brickhouse

Ame Cameron

Shelley Cowart

Kae Fassel

Jeanie Joyce

Rachel Keen

Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch

Jacqueline Rates

These dearly loved ones were there at critical moments (that is, last-minute and impromptu) with wisdom and tech support:

Mark and Mary Mitchell

Christopher Rates

I owe special gratitude to BACCA Literary for their encouragement of the project from the beginning, and for nuggets of brilliance such as suggesting we use different fonts to help readers track the ladies:

AM Carley

Bethany Joy Carlson

Carolyn O’Neal

Thank you to the inspirational members of Skyline Harmony Chorus – whose music and companionship after my own divorce helped me to become stronger and braver.

Thank you to Jean Cooper for her careful copy-edits.

And, most recently, thank you to my brother Brandon Clahassey for thoughts on next steps in marketing and online sales.

International Widows Day 2013 ~ The Widow “Lifestyle”

Sunday, June 23, is International Widows’ Day. This day of recognition was initiated by the Loomba Foundation in 2011 because around the world, widows are subject to discrimination, marginalization, and even violence. International Widows’ Day was established and ratified by the UN to raise awareness of this issue and to encourage societies to respect, support and care for widows.

young widow in Zorba the Greek

I will never forget the shock I felt after watching Zorba the Greek (spoiler alert). I’d always heard good things about the classic film…but never once did I hear that it portrayed a town’s dramatic execution of a widow who wasn’t “behaving herself.”

Here in the United States, we don’t stone or starve widows. But attitudes are another thing. In our upcoming book, Braver Than You Believe, one of the most powerful scenes unfolds when the main character Samantha runs into an acquaintance. After asking how Sam, a recent widow, is doing, and hearing about how Sam goes out once per week to let off steam, the woman bizarrely tells her, “Some people are jealous of your lifestyle, you know. Doing whatever you want. You don’t have to answer to anyone.”

Sam is shocked and hurt, on top of wondering what type of lifestyle it is, exactly, that widows lead. Her friends – divorcees and widows alike – tell her to brush it off. But the scene lingered for me long after reading it. I too wondered what could be attractive about the lifestyle of a widow. Lonely. Possibly a single parent. Especially for younger widows – no peer group. Filled with grief, which I would argue, on the basis of no data, is the most draining emotion. Sounds great!

When a person is sick, we can empathize to some degree, because we have all been ill. When a person stubs her toe – again, we can probably recall a bodily pain and know what that feels like. But when a person loses her love, her partner, and her helpmate – it is so difficult to really know what that’s like, unless we have experienced the same extreme loss.

Having been divorced myself before age 30, I remember an instant “wall of alienation” that went up between me and my friends. Thankfully, 99% of my friends climbed over the wall and kept right on being friends with me. But at times it was tough to find common ground with even to my closest pals. They were re-doing their houses, when I was dividing up the household. They started having babies, when I was finalizing divorce papers. And no young married person wants to be reminded either that a) marriages end or b) spouses die. DEEEE-pressing!

In the years since I got divorced, I’ve encountered many people who have gone through “stuff.” (This is an appropriate place for a swear word, but I’ll refrain). This doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve gotten divorced or had their life partner die on them, but maybe they had a major health problem. Maybe they lost a parent. Maybe they’ve volunteered for the poor or sick.

Going through “stuff” is part of life. And it does help a person develop empathy, but it’s not enough. For me, I had to process and process and PROCESS the pain. I had to work through it, not shove it under the rug, which our society seems so good at telling us to do. All problems should be solved in 30 minutes of sitcom, right? Or else there’s something wrong with us…

Maybe more than any other group, people who have lost a spouse realize that some problems will never be solved. They can only be dealt with, accommodated, and accepted. Acceptance is difficult. Pretending the problem isn’t there or that other people got a better deal out of life may seem emotionally easier. But it’s not necessarily the healthiest approach, long-term.

Acceptance of the hardest truths takes work. But as the women in Braver Than You Believe learn after a year of sharing their sorrows, the work is worth it. The work of admitting their vulnerability, mistakes, and true feelings makes them stronger than they seem…smarter than they think…braver than they believe. Said Christopher Robin to Pooh!

Sue (the character Samantha’s) take~ read more at http://griefbusters.wordpress.comWhat I think happens is that people who are in a marriage or life that is unhappy or stagnant see everything through that lens. Maybe the woman felt jealous because all she could see was that a widow does not have a man dictating her life. If a person is feeling trapped in her marriage, the freedom of no husband may seem carefree. Yet the complete opposite is true for a new widow. I felt paralyzed with fear many nights, worrying how I would be able to raise 3 kids all by myself. Only then did I realize how much my husband had been my partner and teammate. So going out once a week – the target of the woman’s comment – gave me a few hours off from 24/7 grief and anxiety that would have sent me into a deep depression.

Close to the Heart ~ Mother’s Day 2013

This afternoon my ever-laughing partner read me a list of “yo momma” jokes on Reddit. I won’t repeat any of them here. And I won’t go into how I try to keep my mind flexible by appreciating or at least accepting bad – sometimes offensive – jokes. (It may sound like a stretch of an explanation, but I try to stay in a place of no judgment or expectations. Sometimes it works…).

Instead, here’s what I decided about yo’ momma jokes. They arose because the best way to hurt a person is to attack something very close to their hearts. And mothers are at the top of the list of whats most dear and precious. Even if they live far away – like my mom, or have passed into the next place, like hers.

I decided to come up with some ” reverse yo momma” jokes. Like…

Yo’ momma’s so generous that she’d have bailed out Iceland if they let her.

Yo’ momma’s so loving that God asked her for a recommendation letter.

Yo’ momma’s so beautiful that the sunset blushes when it sees her.

I’m not a comedian, but I sure love my mother. Happy Mother’s Day to all the generous, loving, beautiful women who make the world turn.

Celebrating International Women’s Day…on My Birthday

I can’t remember when I learned that my birthday, March 8, falls on International Women’s Day. I must have been pretty small, and I recall thinking, “Huh. That’s cool. I should do something to celebrate.”

Google's image on IWD 2013

Google’s image on IWD 2013

Then two decades went by. Today, my 32nd birthday, was the first birthday I celebrated IWD in any meaningful way. It turns out that today, March 8, 2013, marks 100 years since the occasion was moved to the date of March 8 following the 1913 late February event.

IWD emerged between 1908 and 1913 following unprecedented tumult in societies around the world. Sound familiar? Today feels much the same, though for educated women like myself living in modernized societies, I don’t deal with life-or-death working conditions. I have the right to vote. Though I love and want to share my life with a particular wonderful man, I am beholden to none. And though it seems a precarious freedom at times in the South, my value to my community does not depend on my capacity to bear children.

Today, I’m mindful that many women around the world live in deplorable conditions, are subject to the whims of violent or controlling men, or lack basic human rights. I recognize that the challenges in my world are more spiritual than physical in nature. Compared to what other women of our world face, it seems a privilege that the challenges in my particular world include figuring out whom to love and how best to love them.

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Three years ago, in the spring of 2010, my three-year marriage was about to unravel. By September, I was living alone. It was the most emotionally difficult time of my life. Then in December, I met a friend of a friend who wanted to write a book. It would be based on a year of emails among six women who had lost a spouse either to sudden death or to divorce after an affair.

This meeting changed my life.

I became the editor of the book, and over the next two years, I worked in the evenings and on weekends to turn over 103,000 words of emails into a 75,000-word narrative non-fiction story of hope and healing after loss. Through the process, I gained confidence. As my heart steadied, I slowly “grew into” myself while I enjoyed a special window into the journey of these six brave people.

Sanctuary Window at Seven Oaks RetreatMadison, VA

Sanctuary Window at Seven Oaks Retreat
Madison, VA

As a newly single woman, I read about other women – single mothers – who were making it on their own.  Their struggles were not mine exactly – for example, I don’t have children. But their heartache was familiar, along with their desire to love and live fully. Like me, they were women emerging from a great loss into their stronger, deeper selves. In that way, they were the same as all of us, male or female, or “prefer not to say.” We are all hurtling through this world, hurting each other and ourselves, wondering how to do better.

We are all trying, really, really hard.

Today – March 8, International Women’s Day – our book is complete. It’s a story by women, about women, for women whose hearts may be hurting and whose feet sometimes have trouble finding the path. Today, Sue Mangum and I are ready to begin sharing her dream…our book…and six true stories with the world.

Braver Than You Believe: True Stories of Losing Love and Finding Self

Happy Birthday, International Women’s Day! This one’s for you.

Thoughts on Brooks and Rosin: Do Women Have a Role in Why Men Fail?

This isn’t a book review because I haven’t read Hanna Rosin’s book, The End of Men, yet.

But I noticed, with dismay, that the comments on David Brook’s NYTimes opinion post on the topic, Why Men Fail, were closed within 2 days, and indeed, many of the comments were rude and politicized. Not to mention sexist, in both directions.

I’d like to try a different – maybe a more humane – tack.

This is not to be down on men but to explore the sad reality of gender and economics in our society right now. Men are failing, socially, economically, and physically. But ‘we’re all in this together.” And I’m not sure we’re going to get anywhere if we isolate and blame 50% of our population.

If anything, I wonder if it is women (as much as men) who expect men to stick to old ways. We want to have our chivalry cake but eat it with empowered feminist icing. I’ve known plenty of women (perhaps used to be one, cough cough) who want a sensitive, intelligent, handsome, feminist-minded, loving man – who is also muscular, traditionally-attractive (that is, like a superhero) – but who also opens the door and pays her way, and doesn’t mind if she doesn’t look like a supermodel.

Not to mention the homophobia in this country that tells men if they behave in a loving and flexible way, they are either feminine or gay.

Men are subject to a huge number of stereotypes that are both rigid and contradictory. The stereotypes come from everywhere – media, female AND male parents, relatives, and partners. My mom likes to tell an anecdote about an acquaintance who burned her bras with the best of ’em, but then raised her sons to be “good ol’ boys.” Her boys were expected to get a high-earning career and work outside the home for their entire career.

These social expectations govern what men wear, how and what they talk about, who they’re allowed to hang out with, and what they do with their time.

I’m saddened most when I see little boys’ clothes in only the three colors they’re “allowed” to wear – blue, red, and black. As though color were not a way to express oneself,  and to appreciate beauty, but only a signal of conformity.

Maybe we women could consider changing how we think about men so they can more easily change how they think about themselves. Perhaps then they’ll feel safe enough to be less rigid, more communicative, and more flexible.

And wear pink!