There’s a kind of cognitive dissonance occurring in my head over accepting and coming to terms with being a widow. Most of the time, I occupy a world where my husband died almost 7 months ago. There are memories seared into my brain of that event and all that led up to it; in fact, I can’t stop those memories from playing over and over and over again in an unending loop that still makes it hard to fall asleep at night. The final frames of that personal horror reel are the funeral, and that final goodbye at the cemetery.
Despite this, there seems to be an equally strong part of me that can’t quite fathom what happened. I’ll see a picture of us on vacation, standing side by side, smiles on our face and some noted landmark in the background, and I can’t really believe that I’m still here and he’s not. It gives me a start every time.
Unlike our ancestors of long ago who left few records of their presence, those of us in the first world leave mementoes of our life like crumbs dropping from a toddler’s mouth; they’re everywhere. I can go to YouTube and see Rick in a TV performance and several other clips uploaded by people. There’s a CNN I-Reporter piece he did, and just a simple Google brings up articles and references and even pictures. Because of his work in broadcasting, I’ve got dozens of audio files and CDs of recorded materials. The computer has hundreds of pictures on it, and that’s separate from all the pictures that are printed. Even notebooks lying around the house have his handwriting.
I can surround myself with this and go through the day pretending that he’s still here, that maybe he’s just sleeping like that Norwegian Blue parrot in the Monty Python sketch. I can push away the knowledge that there will never be another new picture taken, he’ll never say anything new, that he won’t ever be writing a phone message. It’s over. The set of objects that were directly touched by him have now become a closed, finite set. I may not have seen all of them, but they have all been created and there will be no more.
It’s hard to get my head around that fact. Periodically I Google him, hoping to see something new, to find proof of his existence: some comment someone made, a picture recently uploaded, just something to keep me from having to realize that Rick, and my life with him, are slowly receding in the rearview mirror.
I bought a new refrigerator this weekend. It’s being delivered later this week, and that means I have to remove all the stuff that is on the door of the old one. The refrigerator door contains our history. It starts with a picture of the two us taken at a concert. This was when we were first dating, newly met. It’s our first picture taken as a couple. Rick looks healthy and his face is almost a little plump. He’s got his arm around me and we both look radiant. I remember posting that on the door, excited for him to notice it the next time he came over. A little to the left and up is a picture from our first trip together. There’s one of him broadcasting on location, looking jaunty with the mic around his head. Down lower, by the handle, is one of us with my parents. There’s a refrigerator magnet picture of us at Rockefeller Center, taken with a fake background that makes it appear we’re part of the crew building the place. Vacations, parties, special events have filled the door with pictures. I can watch us get a little older, see Rick slowly start to lose weight, look less healthy, as the pictures move forward in time.
Each item on the refrigerator door was placed there to commemorate an event in our shared life. That door is a timeline of our life together, starting with that first picture taken back in the summer of 2004. Taking down those pictures will be hard. When the new refrigerator is moved in and setup, I’ll put them back up. But it won’t be the same. They’ll go from being a warm, happy reminder of shared moments to a shrine. The pictures were originally put up one by one, as each was taken, over the 8 years together we had. There was no sense of finality or somber remembrance; each new addition was, well, just another picture. Now they’re imbued with meaning. Now I’ll review each one, carefully determining the right position for it: which side, high or low, angled or straight. The feeling I have now when I look at the fridge, that quick moment of believing that my life hasn’t changed, will be forever gone.
It’s probably a good thing. In the long term.