Starting over is really nothing new to me. L and I did it numerous time over the span of our life together. I did it several times before I even met him. So, no, new beginnings are pretty much what I do. Of course for the last many years I have had someone starting over with me. L and I worked through the details and the questions of what we would keep and what we would let go as we began each phase of our life together. Early on in our marriage much of the starting over revolved around jobs and business ideas that one or the other of us wanted to pursue. Way early in our marriage the starting over was the very tough years when we tried and failed to have children of our own, tried and failed to adopt, and came at last to the really hard decision that even one child was not to be part of our life together. He spent a lot of years working overtime to try and convince me that this was not the end of the world as I knew it…or wanted it to be.
More recently our starting over’s revolved around changes in L’s health. Seven years ago he first suggested we winter in Florida. Come to think of it maybe these weren’t so much starting over as letting go–going to and from Florida became our only major travel replacing trips to other places…NYC, AZ, Europe, Canada. I still did some traveling for my work or to care for family members in VA but basically we had become snowbirds. During this time L continued to exercise and bike and fish but those things also gradually went away. He continued to cook three nights a week but then we started eating out more and almost without my noticing his cooking days also came to an end.
When he came home from the hospital last December a whole new form of starting over began–it too involved poignant letting go’s–realizing the likelihood that we were celebrating our last Christmas and New Year’s together. Realizing that his sleeping sitting up in his recliner foretold an end to our sharing the same bed–to our ever again being curled together spoon-fashion. The list is a long one and yet we did what we needed to do and found our way to a place where every day was a gift.
And now he is gone and I am starting over yet again–this time alone. I am out of practice with doing this on my own. I talk to L all the time but the problem is that he doesn’t answer. He always was a good listener but I need more than listening…I need him.
Being in the house is strange and yet far more comforting than I would have thought. L’s presence is still very much here and I can practically hear/see/feel him raising an eyebrow when I opt to open windows rather than turn on the air conditioner. I talk out loud to him as I move through the rooms, reporting in on what new task I’ve taken care of and crossed off the list of things he left. I have not yet called for the insulation to be added upstairs–something he was so adamant about being necessary that he wanted them to come while he was here–like breathing that dust would be okay but my opening the patio door on a nice day was not possible. I did talk him out of having the work done by promising that I would have it done after he died.
The cards and notes and donations continue–although they have slowed to enough of a trickle that I am actually feeling that I can keep up with the thank you notes.Friends and family continue to call daily and check in. We went forward with a dinner party on Wed. night that had been planned before L died. I thought it might feel odd but not so. It was a lovely evening of good food and laughter and conversation among old friends.
His fishing buddies took some ashes to the pond last night and then called afterwards to tell me all about it–they scattered them at the spot where L thought the fishing was best. Two other friends will scatter some ashes on the bike trail as well. Then I plan to go to Madison at some point and leave some ashes along the lake path.
I have not cried much at all and I usually cry at commercials so that I find surprising. Today I got in the car and punched the CD player knowing the Mandy Patinkin disc was in there and sure enough the Cole Porter song that J did at the memorial came up. It’s called “Experiment” and is a song about trying new things in life. I will say that I teared up for a moment–but no real tears. The truth is that it does not seem possible that he’s gone–not that I am delusional and waiting for an “appearance” but I seem to simply make my way through the hours–most days so far without a lot of discernible emotions–just going about routine things and somehow the day passes. In some ways it’s stunning that it’s already been two weeks and in other ways each day has felt like a month.
Today I went back to the studio I use for my writing and surprised myself by actually accomplishing some decent work on a new novel I’m finishing. I probably shouldn’t be that surprised since all through L’s illness I found refuge in work. I guess I thought it would be harder to get back to it. I guess I thought it should be harder–that it shouldn’t be so easy to lose myself that that world of characters and their lives. But as a wise friend who has been through this has warned me: There are no should’s — no rules at all. Another first today was my first session with the physiologist I’ve been seeing throughout this journey. He gave me the comfort of helping me to understand how L’s final deterioration could have come so quickly and helped me to see that I had kept my promise to keep him at home and be at his side when the end came. It’s small comfort in the greater scheme of things–but it is comforting.
First of all if anyone knows how I might change the title of the blog, HELP!!
What I am realizing is that dealing with facing the final months of L’s life was a walk in the park compared to facing life without him. The house seems suddenly far too big and the rooms empty. The “firsts” continue as I sort through clothing and drawers and papers. Today I found the exercises that L did after he had his brain tumor removed–his writing was childlike at first but as he did everything else he kept practicing until it was better. I also got back to work on my current novel knowing that L will not read this one as he did all the others.
The service was amazing and truly a celebration of L’s life. The music was upbeat Broadway. Four of his friends offered tributes–some sweet, some funny and one a song–how that friend held it together to sing is beyond me!! The reception featured enough food to feed a small third world country. The cards and tribute are still coming by the dozens. Among those who attended were people I worked with years ago, friends of friends who Larry touched with his gentle attention to every individual and the children of our friends–grown now but mourning their “Uncle.”.
And now the days have passed–the out-of-town company has departed; the friends–including the men–call to check in and I am beginning this new journey. Somehow it seems especially appropriate that it is a stormy night with thunder and blustery winds.
L died at 3:30 a.m. on Wed., 5/9. Note the avoidance of any euphemism such as “passed on,” “passed over” or simply “passed.” He died. He always hated the fact that people avoided calling it what it was. He was especially annoyed when anyone described the event as “we lost Mary today.” His reaction was always either “Where exactly did you lose her?” or “Why aren’t you out looking for her?” He would probably be annoyed with me for avoiding the obvious–this blog is called “Journey to Widowhood” and that particular journey ended at 3:30 a.m. on May 9th. L’s death and my entry into this strange new world came at the same moment. In the nearly 48 hrs that have passed–48 hrs that at times have seemed more like 48 seconds and at other times more like 48 weeks–I have run the gamut of emotion, Fear, anger, weariness, relief, happiness. The happiness part is realizing that he is no longer in a fight–no longer struggling to make it one more day. I don’t know what happens in the world beyond this one, but I have to believe that L is finally whole again–running, racing, gulping in fresh air as he runs unencumbered by his stroke through fields and streams. That image makes me happy. But then the reality of my own future darkens my spirits to a level of almost overwhelming grief and sadness. I will have to find news ways to do almost everything and I have started to keep a list of “first times” — first time I asked waiter for separate checks for me alone; first time I signed my sister-in-law’s b’day card with only my name not L’s, first time I went out with friends and returned to the house alone. First times to be repeated many times over the coming months and years. Today he was cremated and on Tuesday there will be a memorial service–one that he and I planned together. I am surrounded by family and friends–their calls and visits sustain me in these early hours but…
Two days in. What will four be like? Fourteen? Forty? Four hundred?
When I left this morning for a dental check-up all was what passes for normal these days. L was at b’fast, reading his paper, phone nearby for the first calls of the day. I kissed his forehead and we wished each other a good day. After the appt. I went to work at my studio and then grocery shopping. I came home and L was in his recliner with the TV on and tuned to the businbess channel he often watches in the day. He was dosing–not usual but also not unusual. I left him alone as the oxygen delivery arrived and there were friend who regularly call in the afternoon. But every time I checked on him he was still dosing. Suppertime came and went and he didn;t want anything. He did not want me to call hospice but finally agreed. I walk a fine line between making sure that things are the way he wants them to be and need to make sure that I am doing what I can. Finally he agreed that I could call hospice. Two nurses came out–checked his vitals and gave hinm morphine and a gel for nausea/pain. His BP was high but his lungs were clear. They offered in-patient hospice as an option. I am holding it in reserve for the moment. My idea was to call friends to come over to help me get him to/from portable toilet and then I remembered a letter we got from a neighbor who does CNA work. I thought perhaps I could call her and have her come but he says he doesn’t want that. We haven’t yet discussed the idea of one or two of the friends coming. What’s the right thing to do???? I feel as if he’s taken this sharp turn and is slipping away from me. I want to sit by him and hold him–or at least hold hius hand but he doesn’t want that. So hard–so scary. So very very terrifying.
There are little signs–things that might be missed if we didn’t know what was coming. We went out to eat the other night–something we’ve been able to do at a very small select group of restaurants for the last couple of months. Always before L has walked from the car–parked as close as possible to the entrance–into the restaurant where we’ve gotten a table closest to the door and enjoyed our meal. Then he walks back to the car for the drive home and then from car into house. These latter two trips can be excruciating for him but a week ago I truly did not think he was going to make it–either to the car nor into the house. His breathing was so very shallow and the effort of taking a step was clearly monumental. Yes, we have a transport wheelchair but so far he does not want to give in to using it. Still it seems we are getting closer to that if we want to continue to get out once in awhile. It’s also evident that his struggles at home are also on the rise. The thing is–the closer we come to the end, the more I think about after..the silence of coming home to emptiness and silence.
Quote for the day comes from John Wayne: “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway!”