Barely two months after my husband died last year, I insisted on picking out and dragging home a real Christmas tree myself. What was I thinking? Clearly I wasn’t. Surrounded by spirited couples and families choosing their own holiday tree, I stubbornly struggled to yank out one of those heavy green suckers. But smack in the middle of all those scented firs, tears also threatened to spill over. Although I was more than grateful for the kindly sales guy who tied one lucky green adoptee to my car’s roof, the experience keenly reminded of my suddenly solo status.
Thanks to my grandson and loving son-in-law, the tree was retrieved from the roof and set in its rightful place. As I recounted this adventure to a widow friend of mine who had lost her husband the year before, she sympathetically also warned me that her second Christmas was actually worse than the first. Swell, I thought. That’s just perfect. Here I was thinking that no matter how hellish the first Christmas holiday would be without my merry Elf, I should look forward to the next being even worse.
With that second Christmas now a little more than two weeks away, I arrive a battered and hopefully bettered survivor of my year of firsts. Strapped in the roller coaster I hadn’t bought a ticket for, I was too consumed by that ride to worry about what would happen the SECOND year. Yet, here I am.
My husband died barely two months before the season of jingle bells and holly last year. I don’t know if I was even breathing as I robotically threw myself into Christmas decorating, cooking, and wrapping. I was determined to be sleepwalk-busy straight through the season. I even held a few brunches for some of the treasured pals who loved and lifted me through the long, ghastly weeks since the funeral. But I was on auto-pilot through it all and, when Christmas day finally arrived, it was clear the whole family was. Younger grandkids were their irrepressible selves, though a tiny bit more sober. The older ones watched me for signs of meltdown, which I’m sure would have signaled their exit stage left. The adults were in their own unique spaces of grief yet all ate holiday ham, unwrapped gifts and were enveloped in the spirit of family despite being barely able to look at ‘the chair’ which somehow loomed even larger in its emptiness. Continue reading
Dr. Seuss always nails it.
You are YOU — just a wee bit different than you were ‘before’. The first time you check the “widow” status on a form, have to change your emergency contact or start to say ‘honey, I’m home’ and realized no one is there, you are a different you. And it sucks. But it’s life now. Whether it happened with no warning or after months of dread, the title ‘widow’ is as foreign as if you shucked your identity for the Witness Protection Program. You feel like you woke up on another planet — without rocket re-entry to your old life. This is it.
My husband is gone almost 10 months. I should be used to the title but ‘widow’ still doesn’t compute. To totally absorb it, means I need to accept the basic fact that my husband died and is never coming back. Before you think I’ve lost it entirely, of course I know he’s gone. I know he’s not just on a business trip; he’s not on a road trip. I get it. I’m the one who found him that fateful night.
Cancer perched on the sidelines of every facet of our lives for years. Often sneaky, even silent, sometimes we ‘almost’ forgot it was even there. There were more emergent battles to fight. Debilitating treatment side-effects that dogged him constantly that we both knew would never leave. But sometimes even the most upsetting can be business as usual when you’re immersed in the day to day and you almost forget the gorilla waiting to pounce. Continue reading
I probably have a million predictable jokes I could crack here. In fact, in my head I can almost hear my comedian husband spouting a bunch of them. But, at the end of day, I can’t help thinking about something writer, Jill Smolowe, said in her book, Four Funerals and A Wedding. “No one to share the results with. It just feels so alone. Like who gives a shit?”
I feel ya, Jill!
The fact is, now there is no ‘other’to tell anything to. From having to check a new status box from Married to Widow to jotting down a new emergency contact, it’s all a kick in the gut.
Over the years, I’ve sat in more waiting rooms for more hours than I can count. And though I’ve been the healthy ‘other half’, my husband did his stint in a waiting room a few times, too. We might say we never take our built-in security blanket for granted, but I think most of us do sometimes, don’t you? Knowing someone always, always has your back comes with the marriage territory. We do for each other gladly and that’s just the way it is – until it isn’t.
In any case, today the role of my husband was played by two people – my oldest daughter who brought me and my bestie who picked me up. I had it covered. My rides, my support system, my (new) emergency contacts were in place. And while I’m extremely grateful for my loving back-up system, it comes with renewed sadness that there had to be one.
It’s no newsflash that you’re in a brand new world when your spouse dies. It’s par for the course to change your status on medical records and replace your life partner with a new emergency contact. And it’s just a lousy fact of life that the person who you were connected to in all ways no longer patiently sits in the waiting room. But as I’ve been known to say so often, it is what it is. And honestly — it’s really crappy.
We were word people. We both loved words so much that my husband was forever making up his own puns – and himself up cracking in the process. We watched Jeopardy and did the crosswords – competitively of course. I kidded him about being the grammar police. It’s hardly surprising then that words can also make me scratch my head, thinking ‘what’? Really?
As I stood in line at a wake this weekend for the wonderful young son-in-law of a dear friend who lost her own husband as well, I couldn’t help thinking of what I would say to this heartbroken young wife. I knew her since she was a teen and it seemed more than important that I say something, anything that spoke what was in my heart. I knew most on that line behind and in front of me might be thinking the very same thing. Don’t we all want to speak words that make sense of the unthinkable? Being so recently in her place myself, I know how impossible that is. I know it is as hard to receive most words of awkward consolation as it is to say them. Sometimes, seeing their struggle, we often want to comfort — those who comfort. We all want so much to say what is comforting, gift verbal pieces of our heart and sometimes just mumble odd sentiments instead. We say tired clichés. We offer what we’ve been conditioned to say, hoping somewhere in there, the person who’s hearing the words knows that our clumsy attempts at consolation are heartfelt. They do. Because let’s face it, we all are awkward – even those who’ve been on the receiving end of well meant words.
Maybe the next time we yearn to say what’s in our hearts, we’ll measure the words differently. Maybe we can hear them as the bereaved might. Maybe we’ll even say no words at all because sometimes silence is better than words and phrases like: Continue reading
Sometimes your heart needs more time to accept what your mind already knows
One night, this past October, my life got real in an instant. A terrible, unimaginable real that at first doesn’t even compute. It actually took a moment to understand what I’ll never unsee – and never change. That was the moment I found my handsome, loving husband crumpled on the stair landing. It was the moment I went from wife — to widow.
Gone for only a hour, one nondescript hour, I could never have known my breezy ‘see you in a bit’ would be the last words I said to my man. There would be no warning that his red shirt was the first thing I saw as I reached the landing at the top of my split stairs. Even when I saw his awkward position and didn’t hear a single word in answer to my wailing pleas, it was still hard to comprehend. It would be the infinitesimal moment before confusion became pure panic. It wasn’t until later, much later, that it would strike me how I never noticed how partial he was to red. Crazy, right? But then, crazy would be kind of apt for this kind of night.
What do we all wish for when we realize something is not a nightmare but more ‘real’ than we ever bargained for? A miracle? A time machine? No matter what you pray, hope, wish for, nothing is crazier than what just happened. Continue reading