2 month anniversary; top 10 ways my life has changed

  1. I’ve become a much more patient and kinder person

I now get how every single, simple gesture of kindness is so very important, and make sure that I try and treat people well.  I’m softer and more supportive, realizing that I’m not the only one who needs a little understanding.

  1. I’ve become a much less patient and meaner person

When a colleague at work asks what my vacation plans for next year are, I want to throttle her for not getting that I don’t have plans now, because the person I was going to travel with  has died and WHY THE HELL ARE YOU ASKING ME THIS.

  1. I’m going through what feels like a 2nd adolescence

My emotions are completely unpredictable and wildly erratic.  I wake up feeling good and positive and strong, but I’m crying in the bathroom at work 2 hours later.  I’m overly sensitive and half the songs I hear make me cry.

  1. There’s no future in sight

Rick and I had lots of plans for the future, ranging from fall getaway weekends to retirement thoughts.  Those plans are all gone, now.  I can’t yet envision a future; I’m too consumed getting through the immediate things that have to be done.

  1. Home is no longer a refuge

I used to look forward to coming home after work.  We’d figure out dinner together, maybe watch TV, talk about the day.  It was pleasant and comforting. Now it’s just cold, quiet, still.  It’s funny, because I was single when I first moved here and was perfectly content; but now it feels wrong

  1. My attitude toward cemeteries

I never liked cemeteries; now I find it comforting to go and visit.  In the beginning, going there helped me to believe – to really, truly face – that he was dead.  I’d stare at the fresh sod and realize that underneath that was my husband, the man I’d made love with and who kept me warm on winter nights and with whom my life was tied up.  Seeing that physical grave was like a hammer pounding in the fact that he was never, ever again going to be a physical presence in my life.  At 2 months, there’s still some of that cold water in the face when I visit.  But there’s also a sense of peace.

  1. Friends and family

I’ve been surprised by some of his and my good friends who have been absent since the memorial service.  Balancing that are the people who have been wonderful about calling and keeping in touch.  It’s not that I’m keeping score, but my feelings toward people are changing based on how they are treating me.

  1. Weekends

Our weekends usually started in classic Wisconsin style by going out for a fish fry.  Regardless of what we’d do, it was always comfortable to know we’d be able to spend time together without work.  We might decide to take a drive somewhere, or see a band one night, but there was that “we” factor.

Now weekends are just long periods of quiet and marking time.

  1. Cooking

I am (was?) a really good cook.  More to the point, cooking and baking was one of the greatest pleasures I had.  Talking about what we were going to do for dinner, and who would do the cooking, was so much fun.  We had a tradition of making fancy meals for Saturday night, basically eating out but staying home.  It was one of the best parts of our relationship, and dated way back to when we first met on an online web site and both talked about our love of good food.

Now I eat nothing at home but frozen or take out food.  Most meals are eaten right from the container.  I’ve run the dishwasher twice in the last 8 weeks, and then only to make sure it still works.

  1. My life

Everything is different.  Nothing is the same.


Peeling onions always makes me cry

Layers peel off an onion until there’s nothing left.  I wonder how long this process of peeling layers off our life together will last, and I worry if there will be anything left when it’s completed.

The house closed yesterday.  It’s gone, and my feelings are so mixed.  This was your house; never mine, never ours.   We dated 2 months before you brought me over there.  I remember how nervous you were about it, explaining that you were, as you put it, a “bachelor housekeeper”.  Despite the nervousness in showing it to me, there was also pride in your place.  Clearly, you loved that house.  We spent a long time deciding which of our places would be the right one to share as an “us”.   You made the decision, not me, to live at my place.  It was smaller, easier to maintain.  We only needed one car.  “I’ve really grown to like it here” you told me.  “There are too many ghosts at my place” you said.

I’ve found so many pictures of parties at your house, events that took place years before we met.  Pictures of you looking younger, stronger, more vibrant.  People I met through you, and some I never met.   Different women draped on your arm, by your side.

I wish I had met you years earlier.  It would be me at your side in those pictures.  I think it would have been better, for both of us.  With me there by you, I think your life would been more stable, better managed.   I would have been happier, too.  Those years when you were having parties and looking fit, firm, healthy; those were my hard, lonely years.  Wondering if I’d ever find anyone.  Sitting home, alone, a lot.

So much of what I’ve done over the last 7 weeks has been focused on getting your house ready.  Slogging through box after box at your house, sorting into piles; garbage to be tossed, items for your family, for archiving, for selling, and finally those I want to keep for me, as memories of you. I’m befuddled by choices.  Here’s a picture of you and a group of friends.   I know most of the people in the picture, but I know them as being 10 years older.  Do I keep this picture of a party I wasn’t invited to?  I feel guilty throwing things out; no new pictures of you will ever be taken, nothing more will ever be saved.  Everything I choose to throw away is one less item proving you were here, in this world.  I don’t like this power.

The you I’ve been dealing with is not the you I knew. I feel like a voyeur.  Here’s your divorce decree from your first marriage, there are all the invoices from a business you ran over 20 years ago.  A manila envelope contains a bunch of souvenirs from a trip you took in the late 1980s.  Tablet after tablet contains notes in your handwriting; old shopping lists, ideas jotted down as they came to mind, phone numbers.  I keep the legal stuff, dump the rest, and have residual pangs of remorse after I do so.  Your handwriting looks the same; I miss seeing it and feel bad tossing any scrap of paper decorated with that familiar scrawl.

I don’t like doing this job.  It’s not good for me.  I should be able to focus on the life you and I had, not on a part of your life that never contained me, that was never part of the “us” that I miss so badly.  I’m starting to doubt our life together ever happened as I spend day after day going through these layers of your life that have no connection to me, to us.   I should put these boxes away, move them all to our storage locker, close them up and not look at them for a year; but I don’t.

It feels safer to peel back the layers of this part of your life than to start working on what was our life.  As hard as this is, I know the worst will be doing the same to what we had together.  That last load of laundry I did the day before you went to the hospital is still sitting on your dresser.  I touch your shirt every time I walk past.  Your shoes sit in the closet, and the book you were reading sits on shelf by your side of the bed, right where you left it.  I can’t yet face the job of going through your personal things, your clothes, the work documents in your office; I can’t even delete your email drafts.

I’m afraid of peeling back too many layers, of erasing you from this world.

I’m ready for my corn dog and caramel corn

I love roller coasters.  The slow crawl up and up and up, while anticipation grows.  The way the cars almost come to a stop at the very top of the curve.  The swift drop down where it’s hard to breathe and there a sense of losing all control.   Losing a spouse has put me on a roller coaster that DisneyWorld would find impressive.

A good friend who became a widower before me put it well.  Be ready, he said.  Be ready for wildly fluctuating moods that go from extreme highs to extreme lows, sometimes in a single day.  Just ride with it, he told me.  Gradually over time, the swings will become less extreme; but for now, just hang on.

Boy is he right.  I’ve gone from feeling basically Okay, and that things will be good to moods of blackest despair – often within a few hours.  This is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever been through.

Some days I think that all the good and positive in our relationship will be with me, always, like a cardigan sweater – something that can be buttoned up tight when needed or opened when I feel better.  On the up side of the roller coaster, I let myself dwell, just a little, on those aspects of our relationship that weren’t good and that probably wouldn’t have changed much.  I realize I don’t miss the bad things, and that maybe, just maybe, I’m a little glad to have left them behind.  On the good days I realize that my life is not over, it’s just taken a turn down a road I never expected.  It occurs to me that the new road could be Okay.  Not better, but maybe just as good in a different way.

On the up days I realize that everything we had together will never leave me, and that memories of our time together (even of the areas that weren’t so great) will be a part of who I am for the rest of my life.  Not limiting what my life can and will be, but adding to it.  On the good days, I remember what an optimist Rick was, and how much he enjoyed living life and meeting people and doing things, and I realize that the greatest honor to his memory would be for me to do exactly that – to fully engage in life.

Those are the good days.  I live for them.   Just like a roller coaster, there’s a slow ride up where I feel better and better, and then a hovering, almost a stop, at the top.  Followed by… a sharp, precipitous, lightning-fast drop…

to the bad days.  Where a song on the car radio, or a picture popping up on the screen saver, makes me sob uncontrollably.   It’s a down day when I can’t stop myself from reliving over and over again the last day in hospital, holding him while he died.  Down days are filled with “what ifs” and regrets as I consider all the many ways that his death could have been prevented, or how I should have been a better spouse.  On bad days I wonder if I’m cursed; my first marriage ended in divorce after 5 years, I was single for almost 20 years, and then my second marriage ends after only 7 years.  The bad days have really dark periods where I just sit and stare at the wall, often in the dark because it’s just too much to get up and turn on a light.

Often the switch from down to up, from bad to good, is within a single day.  I’ll wake up feeling fine, feeling pretty damn good in fact, and be despondent by lunch.  I know this is normal, that it is common, and that there’s not much I can do about it other than making sure I’m strapped into the seat for as long as the ride lasts.   And when this ride is done, I’m getting a corn dog and caramel corn.

You can’t have a colorful spring without a gray fall

I knew I’d be okay when I saw the sliver of blue while driving home.   It’s been raining for the last two days; unusual after months of drought.  The sky has been low and slate gray, and even when it wasn’t raining the gray mask of clouds made everything look wet.

The day matches my current mood.  The sharp, immediate tang of grief that was there the first few weeks is gone.  I’m more in control now, less likely to suddenly break down with no warning.  I’m gray; deep, dark gray with no break in the horizon.  A friend asked how I was doing, and I said there are days that are Okay and there are bad days.  There are no good days, not yet.

That first month was like a summer sky just before a rainstorm, that sudden darkness and crackly feeling as the lightening strikes start.  Anything can happen when the weather’s like that; if the storm hits the sky goes black and then gets lit by those sharp, white bolts of lightening.  Thunderstorms can change to tornados; growing up in the Midwest, you learn that when the sky turn an eerie yellowish green it’s time to head for the basement.

That’s how I felt, those first few weeks; on the verge of some major catastrophic event that would come with little warning and then leave. It’s different now.  I’m calmer, smoother.  I still cry, but I can control it better.  What I can’t do, not yet, is feel any semblance of normalcy in my life.  I still can’t cook a meal; all I’ve eaten for 6 weeks is frozen or take out.  The house is a mess; my desk at work is a mess.  I can’t seem to pull any order out of my life.

It’s dark, deep, gray where I am now.  Not the sudden uncontrollable darkness of a summer storm, but the low hanging cloudy dark of a 3-day fall rainstorm.  The kind of gray that just doesn’t let up, where the day starts out dark and never seems to get any light.  I know the rain is needed, and that while it makes for a dark and gloomy day the result will be all the bright colors of spring and the lush greens of summer.  But there’s no color or light today.

Until… just now, driving home.  The clouds were hanging dark, deep low.  Except there was a small break way off in the distance.  A bright blue sky showed in that break, and a ray of sun shone through.  It only lasted a few minutes, not even the entire 15 minute drive; by the time I got home the break was gone and the sky was back to all gray.

I know I’ll be Okay.  Right now it’s dark and gray and rainy, but that’s needed.  This is giving me time.  Time to mourn, time to say goodbye to the life we had, time to slowly pull myself into a new life.  I’ll feel gray for a long, long time.  But there will be small breaks in the gray, and each one will be a little larger and a little longer.  One day, a long time from now, I expect the clouds will be gone.

Cameras do steal the soul; so does time

It’s been 40 days since Rick died.  Long enough to give me some sense of time passing.   When he died it was summer.  I wore sandals to the hospital, and even when I came home after dinner it was still light out.   Now it’s autumn.   The world is moving on, and Rick’s no longer a part of it.  The fresh sod laid on his grave has taken root and is covered with yellow and brown leaves.  I’m terribly saddened by realizing that he isn’t here with me to watch the World Series or to vote in the next election.  I feel guilty for moving forward.  How can I be bothered with such mundane chores as swapping out clothes for fall when Rick is dead?  What’s wrong with me that I can calmly add coats and socks and shoes to my wardrobe when he’s in the last outfit he’ll ever wear?  Just the fact that the season could turn seems to be a repudiation of his life.  This summer was so hot, one 90-degree day after the next; the weeks of his illness seemed one long day.  That the season can change, and time can move forward, is wrong.  It moves me further away from him and from his having been in my life.  I don’t want this to retreat into the back of my mind.

The immediacy of work needed is gone.  The house is ready for closing, and what’s left is mostly lawyer work; probate forms and such.  There’s not much for me to other than sign papers and wait.  I’m starting to look around our house (my house now) and think about cleaning up.  The living room has a pile of boxes from his house that need sorting, as does our bedroom.  There’s still a storage locker of items that need review and decisions made.  Those items will take time but there won’t be the level of emotional attachment as there will be for the items that were here, at our shared house.

The 2nd bedroom became a studio when he moved in, and there’s a lot of equipment that I will never use.   There’s a bookcase full of books on subjects of his interests; I’ll keep a few, but not most.  I want this house to have a sense that Rick lived here, but not to be a shrine.   This will take time; I’ll be looking at items he used, liked, lived with and trying to figure out what can be sold, what should be kept, what is for family.   I want to do him justice.  The hardest of all, and what I’ll leave for a long, long time, are the really personal effects.  The last of his clothes washed are still hanging upstairs by the washing machine as I can’t bring myself to put them away.  As long as those socks and underwear and shirts are still there, he maintains a presence in the house.

Years ago when I was much younger and dating, I though the worst and hardest part of breakups was knowing that time would heal the hurt, that the sharp immediacy of a new experience would eventually dull and smooth out until it became a memory.  Knowing that the fresh wounds would become scars was never a comfort to me; it seemed cruel that what mattered so much at one point in my life would end up as trivia.

Major events, whether good or bad, are fully experienced as they occur, and there’s a totality of sensory input.   Those big experiences inflame our consciousness and drive everything else out when they happen.  It seems impossible to make sense of what’s happening because there’s no time to analyze or interpret; there’s only time to experience and be and exist.

It’s later that the work of interpreting and crafting meaning and creating the story of what happened and what it means occurs.  I’m not capable of remembering every detail, every last smell and sound and sight, every conversation and what was sensed but never said.   I end up with a partial memory that is still better than anything I’ll have years, months, even days later.   Eventually what is left is really a memory of pictures that were taken, or how the story was told.

I’ve always understood the truth behind the idea that cameras steal the soul, because they do.  So does retelling an event, because every time you do so the actual event becomes a little less real.   Over time what you have is a memory of the story you told, or of the picture, not of the event itself.

I don’t want that to happen to the life we had.

Stories, Star Trek and Sadness

Tuesday at work we had a non-scheduled fire drill.  The building smelled strongly of natural gas, and shortly after I arrived we were told to evacuate.  Fire trucks pulled up while the 1000+ people streamed out.  I went to Starbucks and got coffee.  In my “old” life, I would have called Rick to tell him about our impromptu fire drill.  I’d of told him of just getting in to work and then having to leave.   He’d have laughed with me about our good fortune on having this occur on such a nice day, and we’d have chatted for a minute before saying goodbye.

At least once every day there’s something I want to tell him because I know he’d be interested, or just because it would be nice to share.  And, I realize once more, that he’s not around to listen to my story.

One of the big questions on defining what it means to be human is to determine how we differ from other animals.   At one time there was the idea that humans were tool makers, and that was what made us unique.  Then Jane Goodall saw a chimp carefully preparing a branch to use in catching bugs, and in the process clearly creating a tool.  There was language, but research on whales has left a question mark.   Self-awareness; elephants have it.  Ditto for mourning the dead.

I vote for telling stories as a defining human trait.  People in every time and culture have had a need to craft a formal memory of things that actually happened, and to create equally well-defined narratives of events that were totally made up.

Stories unite the present with the past by explaining how we got to where we are now.  The Jewish Passover seder is a story told in present tense, with the explicit goal of making each generation relive an experience.  Every group of friends has a shared treasure trove of “remember when” tales that are brought out periodically.  It’s those memories that keep old friends together.

The stories we tell are more than just a plain recitation of the facts; the way a story is told, the meaning that comes from it (the “moral”), help define what’s important to the group and lets newcomers know what they need to learn to join the group. The plot of my favorite Star Trek episode, Darmok, is about an alien race whose language is based entirely on metaphors from their shared stories.  Before Picard and the Tamarian captain can start communicating, they have to go through a shared experience that will then become the basis for the metaphors on which the Tamarian language is based.  In other words, they need to create a shared story.

Sharing events we’ve seen, describing funny or interesting things seen during the day; these are a small but important part of what it means to have a spouse, a lover, a partner, a friend.  Every time I see something I want to share with Rick, I’m reminded – again – that he’s not here, and that I’m alone.  I miss the mid-morning “just saying hi” phone call I got every day at work, and I miss having someone to share my day with; someone to share stories with.