Posts Tagged ‘widowhood’

Long-term Goals

The question came up in a 1:1 meeting with my manager today: What are your long-term goals? Where do you see yourself in three or five years?

I’ve been at this job for just over three years. I was hired shortly before my one-year anniversary as a widow. Taking the job was a big deal for me. It was an acknowledgement that I couldn’t linger on the island of grief forever, that it was time to get back to real life and try to be a responsible adult again. It was hard. Just making myself get out of bed every morning when the alarm rang took a Herculean effort for a while.

I took this job because I had decided I wasn’t ready to give up and die, and I needed money to live on. There really was no plan beyond that. Long-term goals? Are you kidding me? Every plan I had for my life died with my husband. Every dream was gone beyond recalling. My goals were things like getting through the day without crying at my desk and sleeping through the night without doping myself into oblivion. The furthest I would allow myself to look into the future was a few months. I could look forward to specific plans I’d made with friends, to taking some vacation days to visit my mom for the holidays, things like that. I couldn’t bear to contemplate a long-term future that didn’t include the only man I had ever loved.

If someone had asked me that question — where did I see myself in three or five years? — back then, I would have laughed. Or cried.

When my manager asked me today, I still didn’t know how to answer her. (I don’t think “I see myself winning the lottery and never having to work again” would have gone over very well.) I’ve drifted through these last three years, taking it pretty much one day at a time, with no particular direction — just letting the current carry me where it would. But in the last year I’ve started taking steps to pay down some of the debt that my dear departed husband left me with (and, by the way, if it turns out there is an afterlife, we’re going to have a chat about that someday), which is sort-of a plan, right? And I’ve realized that I do want to stay with this company and maybe, just maybe, I don’t want to be an admin assistant for the rest of my working life.  So perhaps it IS time to start thinking about long-term goals again.

And as I mull this over, I find that contemplating a long-term future on my own is not the problematic part anymore. The thing is, I have changed SO much in the four years since I lost my husband, I’m no longer the same person I was before he died. And I know I’m not done healing and growing and changing. So who the hell knows who I’m going to be five years from now or what that person will want to do for her career? Ah, if only I had a working crystal ball.





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A few days ago I was looking at TVs in Best Buy with my brother. A woman approached us and started asking questions about whether these particular models get internet and how that works. We weren’t either of us wearing khaki pants and a blue polo shirt, and we didn’t have answers for any of her questions, and anyway she seemed a little “off”… and I was just wondering how to get rid of her politely when she said the magic words.

“My husband died and I don’t know how to do any of this stuff.”

I told her that I was sorry and that I understand how that is, since I lost my husband too. “How long has it been?” I asked. “Eight weeks,” she said. The crazy eyes and the body odor suddenly made sense. I think I was showering regularly by the time I got to week eight, but I sure as hell wasn’t sane. When she told me they’d been married for 31 years, it made even more sense. I was lost without my husband after only six years together, stumbling around in a fog of grief for many, many months. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose someone you’ve spent more than half your life with.

We stood there in the home theater section of Best Buy and shared our experiences as widows. She told me that she can’t imagine ever being physical with another man, and I related that I couldn’t even stand to have my male friends or family members hug me for a few weeks after my husband died. Even the slightest physical touch from a man was a painful reminder that my beloved husband would never touch me again. “Are you dating now?” she asked me. “Is that man your boyfriend?” I laughed out loud. “No! That’s my brother. But I have started dating again, just in the last year. It takes time, but it gets easier.”

When we said goodbye, she told me how good it felt to talk to someone who gets it, someone who’s been where she is. I told her what a tremendous help my grief support group was in my first year of widowhood and referred her to the hospital that hosts them. I hope she gets some support. I hope it helps. She’s got a long hard road ahead of her, even with the best support system in the world. But I’m living proof that you can make it far enough down that road to where you can laugh again, where your eyes get back their sparkle and you’ve got a spring in your step… where making love with someone new is no longer unfathomable and falling in love again is a real possibility. And damn, that feels good.

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It’s been almost a year since I’ve written here. I’m still seeing the man I alluded to in my post of September 11, 2012 – though, honestly, I’m not sure for how much longer. It’s not that there’s anything wrong, per se. There’s even a lot that’s right. We enjoy each other’s company, communicate well, share lots of common interests and similar values. We have good talks and great sex. It’s not toe-curling-wake-the-neighbors sex every time, but it is sometimes… and after a year of sleeping together, he still takes such obvious delight in my body and is utterly absorbed in giving me pleasure, every single time we take our clothes off. He makes me feel wanton and desirable in a way that I haven’t since my husband died. He makes me laugh.

There’s just one problem. He’s not in love with me, and I’m not in love with him.

I heard a story today about an elderly woman and her husband of over 50 years. The woman has to get up several times a night to use the bathroom, as many older people do, and she has some trouble getting around even with her walker. When the power was out one night, her husband got up with her every time she had to use the bathroom. He walked beside her holding a flashlight so that she could see where she was going.

This is what I want. I want a partner to shine a light for me in the dark, to be there when I need someone to lean on. I want someone to wake up with every morning, to bring me breakfast in bed on Sundays, someone to grow old with me. And I still want what I wrote about last September, the kind of love where “every breath we drew was hallelujah”…

What if I miss my chance at all of that because I settled for Mr. Right Now?

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The last time I got a manicure, the nail lady bruised the fingers of my right hand with her enthusiastic massage. I had to take off my wedding ring, which has not left my right hand since I moved it from the left to mark the six month anniversary of my husband’s death, because it hurt. Several days later, the bruises are gone but the ring won’t go back on my finger. It doesn’t fit anymore.

I feel naked without my ring. My hand feels weird. I keep absentmindedly rubbing my finger and looking down in surprise when I don’t feel the ring there.

Last night I dug into my jewelry box and brought out the “promise” ring from my late husband, which doubled as an engagement ring because we didn’t have the money to afford a diamond. It was always too loose on my left hand and I wore it on my right after we got married. It doesn’t fit my right hand anymore. It doesn’t even fit on my left.

I’ve gained a few pounds over the last few years. I weigh maybe 10 lbs. more than I did on my wedding day, when both rings slipped easily onto my fingers. Are my hands just getting fat? Or is this some kind of sign from the Universe that it’s time to put the rings away?

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Dinner for one

I have recently resolved to eat healthier… to stop ordering pizza or throwing a frozen dinner in the microwave and start cooking. To that end, I visited a farmer’s market last weekend and picked up a bunch of tasty looking produce, most of which spoiled in the vegetable crisper before I remembered it was there. Today I looked through a stack of recipes, wrote a detailed grocery list and headed off to the store. I had a particular chicken recipe in mind for dinner, but I couldn’t find one ingredient (fresh tarragon) at the market. So I stopped at the seafood counter and bought a salmon fillet.

I have never attempted to cook salmon. I rarely cook at all. My husband was the cook of our household and salmon was his specialty. We had it several times a month, either grilled or pan fried, usually served with Japanese rice and fresh broccoli or green beans. Since he died a year and a half ago, I’ve only ordered salmon in restaurants a handful of times – and I’ve usually been disappointed. But how hard can it be, really? I’ve watched my husband make it dozens of times.

I start with the green beans, which I intended to steam until I realized that the only pan large enough is missing a lid. Oh well, boiled will be fine, right? I cheat a little on the rice, using a microwave-in-bag jasmine rice from Trader Joe’s. Nonstick skillet, a little olive oil, high heat… in goes the salmon.  I realize I have no idea how he used to season it. I settle for salt and pepper. While it’s searing, I open a bottle of pinot grigio. The rice is done. I taste the green beans and they’re a little tough, so I leave them in a little longer. The salmon smells heavenly and is beautifully crisp on both sides, but when I cut the fillet in the middle it’s still deep red, too raw for my taste. I turn down the heat and give it a little more time. I drink some of the wine.

By the time I decide the salmon is done, I’ve overcooked the green beans and they’re tasteless compared to the way hubby made them, stir fried with mysterious seasonings.  I force myself to take a large helping, because I need to eat more vegetables and not fill up on starches, and I douse them liberally with butter and salt. The rice, of course, is perfect. Not even I could screw up microwave rice in a bag. The salmon… well, it’s not my husband’s salmon, but it’s not bad.  It’s crunchy on the outside and flaky inside. If only I could figure out how he used to season it…

Maybe I really can learn to do this for myself.

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Apologies for the lengthy radio silence. The physical recovery from surgery was slower than I had anticipated, and being in pain and largely helpless sent me spiraling into depression. Not the kind of intense, soul crushing despair that I felt in the first months after my husband’s suicide, the kind of pain that demands to be expressed and released… just a flat, gray, muted feeling as if all the color had been leeched out of my life. I lost interest in everything for a while, and I lost any desire to try and express myself. I just lay around reading and watching TV and waiting to heal.

Once I was well enough to drive again and go back to therapy, I started to understand that the “time out” caused by the surgery was important for my emotional and psychological healing as well. I’d been keeping myself busy and distracted to keep loneliness at bay and avoid thinking too much. The weeks at home alone recuperating were hard, but they were a necessary step in processing and moving through my grief.

Slowly, I started to climb out of the hole. In the past week I’ve emerged once again into the sunshine. I’m back at work part-time, getting out and spending time with friends, and (at my therapist’s suggestion) making it a point to do at least one thing every day that makes me feel good. Yesterday that thing was a walk in the park at sunset, watching the clouds turn deep pink and the gift of a brilliant rainbow in the sky. Today it was wandering through the new farmer’s market in my neighborhood, sampling tasty food and carefully selecting some fresh produce.

I’m still lonely and I’m still hurting, but at least I’m feeling it. And I’m feeling other things again, like an impulse to sing along to the car radio. As I focus on appreciating the little things, I’m coming back to life.

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Or… Life Lessons From Dr. Who

I’ve been watching a lot of Dr. Who reruns on BBC America lately. Not long ago I saw, for the first time, the episode where the Doctor’s companion, Rose, gets him to take her back to the day her father died when she was a little girl. He was struck by a car and died before the paramedics arrived, and Rose has always been haunted by the thought of her father dying alone. She wants to go back in time and be with him when he dies. When it comes to the crucial moment, though, she can’t bring herself to stand by and watch. She runs into the street and pulls her father out of the path of the oncoming car, saving his life. And in doing so, she screws up the entire world. At the end of the episode, her father, realizing that everything has gone wrong because he is supposed to be dead, walks in front of the car (which has been caught in some kind of time loop, endlessly circling that block) and the world returns to normal.

It really got me thinking… I used to always say that if I could turn back time, if I could wave a magic wand and make my husband live again, I would do it in a heartbeat. But would I? Over and over again in the last year and a half, I’ve dreamed that my love survived the suicide attempt… and in every dream, I lived in terror of his trying it again. I watched him like a hawk, afraid to leave him alone. In some of the dreams, the unsuccessful attempt had left him crippled or brain damaged and I was going to have to care for him, as for a child, for the rest of his life. Each time I have one of those dreams, I wake up with a profound sense of relief that the worst has already happened and I don’t have to live in fear anymore.

If he hadn’t killed himself on that spring afternoon in 2010, what would our life be like now? Would we still be struggling to keep his business alive, pouring every cent we had into it, or would we have given that up as a lost cause by now? If the business had failed, would he be working at some other kind of job. I think I know the answer to that. I’m fairly certain that I would be supporting both of us, and his kids, and that the salary that affords me a comfortable lifestyle on my own wouldn’t even come close to meeting our basic needs. We’d still be getting deeper and deeper into debt. If he hadn’t died, would I have grown to resent him for that?

Two other Dr. Who episodes that I watched recently dealt with loss and love… with the realization that pain and loss are a necessary part of love, and that it’s worth dealing with the monsters to find your angel.

I remember how hard my love struggled with his demons, with the monsters of depression and failure. I remember all the times I held him through that darkness and told myself that it was all worth it for the good times, for the amazing love that we shared. And it was. If I could go back in time, I’d do it all over again.

But I wouldn’t change the ending. It was an ending he chose and, as much as it hurts me and everyone who loves him, it was his right to choose it. I try to tell myself that this was the way it had to be, that maybe he was only meant to be with us for 44 years. I try to believe that there is a new life waiting for me, a life that I was meant to have and that I couldn’t have had any other way. That’s easier said than done, but I’m trying.

When I watched Tom Baker as Dr. Who on PBS as a child, I don’t remember ever needing a box of kleenex. I don’t remember the show having this kind of emotional depth and resonance. Maybe I was just too young to understand. You can’t fully grasp what it’s like to outlive someone you love until it happens to  you.

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