Traditionally, widows mourned for a year. Seems like a long time, but I understand now. It takes that long. It’s been a year since Jay died. A long year.
I had expected that he would die before me. After all, he was eleven years older. Still we were both shocked when he got sick. Our first trip to the emergency room came in late July of last year. “I can’t be sick,” he told hospital staff. “I just set a personal best for rowing a hundred meters.” (He was an old guy but an active guy. Cancer didn’t care.) His funeral was in mid-October that same year.
I sat beside him those weeks while he said goodbye to those he loved—and said goodbye to me.
I watched myself as I mourned. “So that’s what it’s like,” I thought. “So that’s what happens. So that’s who I am. A woman who doesn’t cry much. A woman who copes sometimes, fails to cope others.”
The first month or so was full of paperwork. “Good for fending off grief,” I thought. “Keeps a person too busy to feel anything.”
For the first few days it was all about family and funeral. And after everyone had gone home, I sat at the desk that used to be my husband’s and googled what–a-recent-widow-needs-to-do. I printed pages of suggestions and started a notebook to keep track of everything: account numbers, phone numbers, passwords. dates. Call the lawyer. Get extra copies of the death certificate. Make an appointment with Social Security. Contact the VA. Change joint account at bank. Contact out-of-town friends. Credit cards. Subscriptions. Bills. Thank you cards. Car insurance. House insurance. His voter registration. His drivers license. His library card. His phone.
I spent evenings sorting through papers in an old file cabinet and shredding them till the shredder died. Bits of shredded paper were stuck in the carpet, and the vacuum cleaner didn’t work. I went online and found out how to fix it. I bought a new belt for the vacuum and fixed it. I thought to myself, “I can do this. I can cope.” But then it broke again. And where is Jay?
I collected his clothes and gave them to charity. I organized his family photos, the ones that predated my marriage to him, and gave them to his children.
All that busy work kept me from thinking or feeling too much. And it needed to be done. I can write a book, I thought, when I’ve figured this all out.
I moved to the other side of the bed, the side closest to the bathroom. I started cooking a big batch of soup each week and eating leftovers for days. Jay hated leftovers.
Hospice offered grief counseling and I went a few times. But I mostly talked about his family, my first husband, and everyone else but Jay. Talking about Jay seemed too personal, too unseemly, too dangerous.
I went to a meeting for widows and widowers. But they all seemed stuck in grief. I wanted to go through this place of muffled feelings to some place on the other side. A place where I would live for the rest of my life, not forgetting Jay but being comfortable with myself alone.
I read books about grief. I decided that others’ grief is probably more violent than mine. And I wondered if I am a woman who feels less deeply than others. I have always been this way. I have always thought this way. When memories of Jay flood in, I put them away.
More months passed.
Things broke in the house. A smoke alarm battery kept beeping. The toilet kept running. The cord broke on the shades on my bedroom window. The tire pressure light came on in the car. I had to get things fixed myself. Those used to be his jobs. Now every problem is mine. I hate that.
I bought a cordless lawn mower to save money on lawn care. The neighbors saw me struggling to figure it out. I appreciated their help but hated needing it. I wanted to move some furniture, but it was too heavy for me. I used to be strong enough.
I haven’t been writing much at all. Instead I do easy jobs, like organize my spices. Again. Or I watch the news too much. And I sleep.
Or I break things. I backed into the snowbank beside my driveway. Clipped the car mirror coming into the garage. I absentmindedly stuck the fancy coffee mug that kept my coffee at a perfect 145 degrees into the microwave. It was ruined in seconds. I am colossally forgetful, even more than usual. I joke that when I can’t find something I look first in the refrigerator and if it’s not there, I am relieved that it’s probably not dementia. I worry about dementia.
I told a friend, who works as a counselor. She said matter-of-factly,” Grief brain. That’s what you got.”
I hope she means it goes away.
I feel older and weaker. Is my age catching up with me? Or is this grief too? Others in my life have also died in the past year, my ex-husband and my sister’s husband. It occurs to me that I am probably next. I am the oldest.
I miss little things. I want to tell Jay that a workshop that I led went well. I want to ask him to listen to a new story. I want us to plan our winter vacation. I want to go to some little museum in some faraway place with him. I want to watch the news with him and have him swear at the politicians. (He did it so well.) When something seems interesting to me, I want to tell him about it.
It’s been a year. He’s never going to sit in the sunroom again, listening to his books on tape. He’s not going to come back from bridge, happy because he and his partner won.
I think of these things, but not as often.
To mark the year, I had my wedding ring resized and moved it to my right hand. I loved Jay, and I want to remember him. But I am not a wife any more. I am a widow.
I googled to find out the rules about wedding rings and widows. Apparently there are none. I have begun the last part of my life. The way is not yet clear and apparently there aren’t rules for a widow’s life, just as there are none for wedding rings. But slowly, slowly, slowly, I’ve felt the changes within begin that mean I can be happy.
copyright Margaret French 2019