Top 10 Things I’ve learned in my First Month as a Widow – 9/26/12

  1. Some people you thought were friends aren’t.

My husband wasn’t 2 weeks gone before I saw Facebook posts from supposed friends dissing him. His ex-wife started it (no surprise there) but  the participation of people who had been long-time friends of his, and who had shown up at his memorial to tell me how sorry they were, was.

  1. Contacting people after a death really does matter.

I’m keeping every sympathy card received, and am aware of who hasn’t sent a card or called or even emailed.

  1. The simplest, most routine things are the hardest.

Waking up alone; going grocery shopping; coming home from work.  It’s the small, everyday things that really bring home the fact he’s gone.

  1. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is true.

I wish now I hadn’t let myself get so upset over small things.  I’d give anything to find leftovers on plates sitting in the fridge, or a toilet seat left up.   I cringe when I hear people complaining about their spouses.

  1. The simple grace and kindness that so many people possess.

I’ve been touched by the small but meaningful gestures so many people have made.   A neighbor left a bag of snack foods with a note saying she knew I wouldn’t want to eat, and maybe these would be tempting.  A friend who has taken to calling and asking me out for lunch on a weekend day.  The work buddy who’s always ready to get coffee when I am.

  1. Clean out clutter now – before it’s too late.

I’m faced with a tremendous mess to clean up from my “not quite a hoarder but you can see it from here” husband.  I know he didn’t want to do this to me, but he did and it’s not right.

  1. Emotional pain is physical.

I ache all over and some mornings when I wake up it’s just hard to get out of bed.

  1. It’s possible to live on nothing but coffee and pizza – but I don’t recommend it.

Cooking was a big part of our lives together.  I just can’t do it now.  He didn’t eat cheese, so pizza is one of the few things that doesn’t remind me of him.  It’s all I can eat at home.

9.  You can cry and drive at the same time.

Really big sunglasses help.

  1. Grief makes you stupid.

I’m confused all the time.  I keep forgetting things, and my ability to manage multiple assignments at work is suffering.  I zone out during meeting and don’t have a clue what’s being discussed.  I’m hoping no one figures out that I’m just faking it at work, completely unaware and uninterested in what’s going on.

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Mourning What Never Was – 9/20/12

It’s been almost 3 weeks.  I’m back to work, his house is almost cleaned up, and I’m rarely getting surprised anymore that he isn’t here.  I’m starting – slowly – to think about the fact that my life will be going on.

I’m starting to remember what wasn’t so good, and what I didn’t like.  We didn’t have an A+ marriage.  A big part of our problems, I now realize, were due to the undiagnosed disease that ultimately killed him.  The lack of energy, inability to get things done, periods of depression, the times when he’d completely zone out; these were all symptoms.  I feel bad thinking about how hard it must have been for him to have be feeling poorly and not knowing what was going on.    I hope he knew that, even when I was irritated at his behavior, I still loved him with all my heart and soul.  I sincerely hope that his last times with me were happy ones for him.

However, not everything was because of his disease.  There were some substantive issues that were there for years.  They got worse as he become sick, but even without the illness they would have been there.  We didn’t communicate well.  His gut instinct was to run from conflict and pretend it wasn’t happening; mine was to run towards it.   He didn’t like facing unpleasant things, and that meant he hid a number of things from me that shouldn’t have been hidden.

During our marriage it was impossible to fix any of our problems because he refused to discuss or even to acknowledge them as issues.  Generally I’d get a well-written email that laid things out in his terms and them presented me with a solution that always laid the blame at my feet and proposed what I needed to change.  It was infuriating.  Instead of working through problems, they ended up being becoming worse.  I held on to them as grudges, and took it out on him by being irritable.  He backed further and further away from me.

A big part of my mourning is for the marriage we started with but lost along the way.  I am mourning the wonderful man I have lost, but I am also mourning the promise we started with and never achieved, and the fact that we’ll never get a chance to make things better.  Perhaps, more than anything, I’m mourning the loss of the marriage we never had.

Nobody’s Perfect – 9/13/12

“Never speak ill of the dead” goes the old saying, and how true it is. During the weeks he spent in the hospital my focus was on his getting well. Early on that meant thinking ahead to rehabilitation; later it became trying to get on a transplant list. Through it all, I was the dutiful, loyal wife sitting by his side. It wasn’t an act. I wanted to be there every minute I could. I waited for those few times when he was awake and cognizant, figuring that he would want to see me there, and always with the unspoken thought that if he was not going to live through this I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. Spending those hours by his side, all I could think of were the best parts of our relationship and how much I wanted more of those memories.

That first week, from writing the obituary the evening he died through the memorial service 8 days later, was filled with nothing but fond thoughts of what a great person he was. Cards poured in from friends and family, the funeral home website racked up an impressive number of comments and the phone never stopped ringing.

Nothing said was a lie, and he was a great guy; but he wasn’t a god and our marriage wasn’t perfect. This week I’m remembering the not so good things. It’s somewhat a factor of time; everyone who was here for the funeral has gone home, the calls and cards have pretty much stopped coming, and I’m on my last few days off work. The immediacy of his dying has diminished a little, and I’m starting to stand back and review the time we had together.

The main reason I’m being reminded of his less-than-perfect being is that I’ve started to go through his papers. We were married 7 years, but I’m in the process of going through 30 years of papers. That’s right, 30 years worth, along with many older documents.

You see, my husband was a bit of a hoarder. Now, I need to clarify here. I’m not talking about cat mummies or mounds of adult diapers; nothing that scary. Think Fibber McGee’s closet and you’ll have the idea. What my husband had was an inability to manage paper. I’m going through boxes and boxes of old mail, note books with scribbled to do lists, letters, news clippings: you get the idea. I knew he a problem with this but was not aware of its extent. The reason for my cleaning binge is that after several years on the market his house has finally sold.

I was okay with his almost-hoarding issues; I know that it was something he struggled with and hated in himself. But it was still hard, and difficult, to go through old pictures and letters of events where I was never a participant. It was painful to see a view of him so healthy and doing well, and realize that he was gone.

It was cathartic to sit in an empty house crying and angry. I was mourning the decline in health he went through during our life together, and its profound affect on our marriage and relationship. I felt cheated seeing happy vacation pictures taken years before we met because I’m had to watch him die and now have to do all the hard work of disposing of his things. I am angry, furious in fact, that I got stuck with the short end of the stick and have to endure not just his loss but all the work that goes with cleaning it up.

I finished up the day by stopping at the cemetery to tell him that while I love him and miss him, he never should have left me such a mess to clean up.

I think it’s healthy to remember that while we mourn our friends and family who have died, and while we wish they were still here, they were not perfect. I do miss him terribly, each and every day, but there were aspects of his character and our life together that I will not miss.

The Funeral – 9/8/12

The funeral was held exactly one week after he died. It was private, just family. I’m glad it was done separately from the memorial. Having that casket in the room was too much to handle.

Despite my dislike of open caskets, I wanted a chance to see him for one last time. I think I needed that proof he was gone. With a long hospital stay I got used to coming home alone; all week, despite planning the funeral and phone calls and emails from people, there was a part of me that kept expecting him to show up. It all seemed unreal until I walked into the room and saw him. I actually never made it all the way in; I just saw his head up on the pillow and ran out. It was clear from across the room that this was not he, but a corpse.

I’m not religious or even that spiritual, but there is clearly some spark or element or soul or whatever you want to call it that makes a body into a human being. When he died last week, I knew the exact minute when that happened, and he did not look the same after. The Klingons have it right; it’s just a body after the spirit leaves.

That was the first really hard moment of the funeral. There were others. The funeral lived up to the classic cliché; despite a drought and record heat all summer, it was pouring rain and cold as we went to the cemetery.

The hardest part, for me, was later. Everyone went out to dinner. As we sat at the table, talking, laughing, going back and forth between the 14 people representing his family and mine, I thought about how much he loves these kinds of family events. When we had my parents over to dinner, he’d always refer to it as a “party” and I’d tease him about being an old fart to think dinner with octogenarians was a party. I realized how much he would have enjoyed this large, noisy event and what a great time he would have had working the table, going up and down to talk with everyone. That was the moment when it really, truly hit me that his death was the reason for the party, and that he wouldn’t be there. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

Day One – September 1, 2012

The very word “widow” sounds sere, old and sour like a glass of bad lemonade. It’s not a term I would ever have thought of using to describe myself. Divorcee has some glamour, married has the feel of comfort and contentment, single is ripe with possibilities. Widow and widower sound like the final, sad end of a life.

I suppose I should download the Kubler Ross book for Kindle so I can make sure to go through the expected stages of grief in the correct order and in an appropriate manner. Right now I’m clearly in denial, as I can’t quite grasp that he’s never, ever coming home and I’ll never, ever see or touch him again. My worst moments are those where I’m forced to confront the finality of what has happened. Earlier today, planning the funeral and hearing that his body had been delivered; bad; handing over the clothes he’ll be buried in; worse.

My coping mechanism is to be busy, find a task, act useful; be the good girl who gets things done. At the hospital, meeting with doctors and fighting to get him on the transplant list, I so wanted to be the best possible advocate for him, to be so good and so rational and so helpful that the doctors would just choose to give him the transplant no matter what. In the back of my mind I thought that maybe, just maybe if I was very good and very smart I could make the right things happen just by dint of my hard work. I wanted everyone on my side. Despite all my hard work, he still died.

I don’t think there’s any “good” death. The long, slow drawn out deaths from cancer give everyone a chance to say goodbye and to get ready, but they can also devastate a family’s finances. People lose jobs from taking too much time off, and they go bankrupt trying to find a cure. The long disease period can cause so much stress that by the time the death finally happens the other partner is almost relieved, which can leave a lot of guilt. The fast, unexpected death is horrible because it is so unexpected, and most of us aren’t all that tidy in how we manage our lives. So you leave for work snapping at your spouse about something small and petty, and that’s the last the last interaction you ever have with them, which can leave feelings that you wasted what time you had.

In my case, my husband went several years undiagnosed with a disease. During those years he changed physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. Our marriage underwent a lot of strain. When he was finally diagnosed it was too late to do anything. Within 10 days of being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease he was in the hospital, and he never came home. I was able to spend time with him, to somewhat get used to an empty and lonely house, and to be with him when he died. I wasn’t able to talk with him, or to have him participate in the any of the decisions that were made. It was better than it could have been, but so much worse than it should have been. I feel like those teary faced kids who say “but – it’s not fair!”. It wasn’t fair. And there’s nothing I can do.