I write a lot about how strange and even unrecognizable my life is now. I can’t explain exactly how I got here, but I can tell you a little about what it’s like, just over three years after my husband died.
I wake up every morning thinking of Mike. Reminders of him are everywhere in my house, on this island, and in my heart and mind. So in case anyone was wondering, maybe someone who has not been widowed and doesn’t realize how this works, we never, ever, ever forget. Not even for a little while. So I go to sleep thinking of him too. Every, single, night.
We don’t “get over” our grief. We just work through it, and around it. Our grief becomes part of us…how could it not? Our spouses were part of us, and now that they are gone, their memories are carried with us forever, along with our sadness at their missing presence. But, as time goes by, we learn ways to build a work-around. Or at least, that is the idea. That is the never-ending process of grief. And it is different for everyone. We learn to survive one moment at a time, then one day at a time…we learn how to pull ourselves out of bed when we really don’t want to face the world without them…we learn to go to the grocery store without sobbing in every aisle, remembering what we used to buy for our spouses…we make and receive phone calls, texts, and emails when we don’t really want to talk to anyone…we suffer widow’s brain, which is really a thing, forgetting appointments or what we went to the store for…we go to work, some of us, because we have to, or maybe because we want to try and lose ourselves in it…we figure out the mundane but horrible details no one thinks about until it happens to you, like how to cook for ourselves and maybe go out to eat by ourselves.
We take care of all the nasty business of death. The bank accounts, the cars, the pensions, the insurance, the paperwork, the taxes…the funerals and memorials…the stuff they left behind: the nastiness. We get it done and it is horrible. And sometimes even years later more stuff comes up we still need to deal with. The nasty part never seems to really end either, I’ve discovered, but we do it.
And in the beginning it is stilted, and terrible, and horrifying, to be doing these things alone. When we realize we do not have - we can not have - the same routines without our husbands or wives it is so devastating there are actually no words to adequately describe it. It takes a long time to figure out a new way around the old way without collapsing in misery all the time. And, I will add, that the level of daily misery, as well as the time it takes to learn new routines without dying ourselves, is different for everyone, and even different on any given day. No one should ever demand an acceptable level of misery, or a time frame on it. Not for ourselves, as widowed people, nor for a grieving person, if you are not widowed and don’t get it.
Some things are quite sudden in terms of change, whether it is by planning and deliberate decision, or by circumstance. I know some widows who sell everything and move or take off traveling. Others quit their jobs, or get new ones. But some things we cannot plan. For one thing, we meet people. Just as in the lives of the non-widowed, the world continues to swirl around us even when we might rather it didn’t, and the people around us can influence quite a lot of it (as well as those who are not around). So can any of us really explain how we got where we are? Much of it is just sometimes unpredictable, spontaneous, and coincidental. Or maybe, synchronous, depending on your philosophy.
Many of us widowed people will explain how drastically our social lives changed when our spouses died. It seems common for people who were friends with us as a couple to drift away now that we are single…(and sad, and depressing maybe, too, people imagine). So we often don’t get invited to the same places anymore. But then, other new people often appear in our path. For me, meeting the musician, which is how I describe my boyfriend, changed a lot for me. I was not looking to meet anyone; in fact I thought very deliberately how I never wanted to meet anyone else ever again. But it happened anyway. And then, a myriad of friendships developed as a result of his connections. Including quite a few widowed people. Which makes me think more about synchronicity than coincidence. But that’s just how I roll.
Some family relationships become more fragile…some become more important, and some become tighter and closer. And some, I know, disappear altogether, sadly, perhaps as a result of the stress of the grief, or maybe because of the nastiness surrounding the stuff left behind. Family relationships shift and change as people adjust to that cavernous empty space vacated by our loved one. And that can take time. Sometimes, years. One Christmas isn’t enough to figure out how to do it without them. Even two or three isn’t enough either. Really, holidays and family gatherings are simply permanently scarred and changed.
My strange new existence this week included a luncheon with a group of fellow widows. It might sound depressing but it was lovely. The day was stunning here in Kona…crisp, blue sky, a rarity here where the continuously erupting volcano often leaves a dirty smudge on the horizon. Laughter and general gossip and stories along with the more solemn exchanges of the various details of death. I am happy to report I have made some wonderful new friendships and they are not all widows, but there’s just something about spending an occasional hour or two alone with our terrible club who all share that unspoken understanding. (And the Bloody Marys didn’t hurt either.)
I also got to see my grandkids on the video chat along with my stepdaughter on the mainland, and spend a night keeping my two precious grand dogs for my other stepdaughter who lives near me here, and see and chat with her and her boyfriend too. I gave thanks for the bond we share as a result of my marriage to their Dad, because it hasn’t always been easy, and I know not everyone has what I have. I talked to my parents, and hung out with friends on the Friday night dancing to the musician’s band. I took care of some business and worked on the book I am writing about my life with Mike and my personal grief. I spent some time wondering whether the courts will approve my application for mediation to try and keep my house. Not worrying…just wondering.
I drove in my new car, the one Mike will never ride in, thinking how much he would have enjoyed it (he used to love just driving around aimlessly here, taking in the scenery), and how much he would have been in awe of the incredible weather this week, including the thunderous showers we had that preceded it. I had conversations with the musician over oysters and bread and cheese on Easter after enjoying his solo brunch gig, about as far from any “normal” Easter as I have ever spent. I came home and cuddled with my dogs, thinking how old the older one looks, and how sad Mike would have been to see this, when memories of her as a puppy are still so clear. My eyes filled with tears when I thought how one day in the not-too-distant future, wherever he is, he will be reunited with her. But then I laughed to see the love shared between the dogs and the musician as he romped and played and spoiled them. I put away the dishes, reminded of how Mike favored certain bowls and spoons, and how silly he was about things like that. I found myself lost in a flood of memories, sitting and staring at the bookshelf that still contains some of Mike’s favorite tomes. And I went out to buy herbal cold remedies for the musician, and made him soup, when he got sick.
I no longer believe there is any such thing as normal. And I don’t know exactly how I got here, but this is what life was like for me this week. This is my life with grief.