I Hate That Word

Dear Larry:

Life goes on.  That is reality.  I can remember a few days, after you died, driving the same roads that I have driven everyday for 35 years.  The same houses.  The same cars, The same trees and dogs.  I became infuriated.  It is NOT the same.  How do they dare go about life as if nothing has happened?  Everything has changed because you are gone and yet it all still looks the same.  How am I supposed to pretend that everything is exactly how it used to be?

But life goes on.  Bills have to be paid.  Grass has to be cut.  Trash need to be taken to the curb. Except now, for me, all of those tasks look very different.  I do them alone.  I do the ones that you used to do in addition to the ones I had to do before.  Some I do promptly.  Some I put off because at times I simply do not have the emotional strength to put one foot in front of the other.  They eventually all get done because you expect that of me.

It was within weeks after I kissed you goodbye for the last time that things needed to be handled.  I know that I had neglected my health during your illness and grief was wreaking havoc on my mind and body.  I realized that I was an emotional mess and for my own sanity, I needed to get some medical attention.    First, of course, we needed to get blood work done.

She was so kind.  She knew when she first looked at me that I was fragile and that things were not normal.  She had no way to know.  She seemed to muster an extra dose of compassion but had the instinct not to ask.  She put her hand gently on my arm as if she could transfer courage from her hand to my body.  She sensed that I was about to collapse emotionally and treated me with the tenderness you offer to a helpless infant. 

But she had a job to do.  I knew what was coming and could already feel the anxiety of the emotional train wreck that I knew could not be avoided.  It was the first time.  I never wanted this.  I never prepared for this and have no way of knowing how anyone ever could prepare. 

“Are you name and address correct?  “Are there any other changes since your last visit?”

The tears flooded and there was nothing I could do to stop them.  My body shook and I doubled over in agony.  “Please, please, please don’t make me say it!  I have never had to say it before, and this will be the first time.  I beg you.  Please do not make me say the word.”

She got up from her computer and knelt down in front of me.  She gently and tenderly surrounded me in her arms and rocked me like an injured child.  “You don’t have to say it.  Let’s just leave it as it is for now.”   How I appreciated this woman’s instincts and compassion that day.   She walked me to the door, hugged me and said she would pray for us.

Most people do not mean to be cruel and do not intend to be the emotional sabotage that you spend your day praying that you can avoid.  But life continues to go on and “normal” is that people travel in pairs.  People expect pairs.  There are always questions for the odd man out.

I wear my wedding rings, so the assumption is that there is a husband someplace.  Sitting at dinner in a social situation recently with people I had never met before brings about the predictable questions.  Where do you live?  Do you have children?  What do you do for a living? 

I knew it was coming.  In fact, I was waiting for it as I felt the anxiety building waiting to see which one would have the courage to ask.  “Where is your man?”  he asked.  I felt the heaviness in the air which fell over our dinner table and the discomfort of the momentary pause in the conversation as I heard myself gasp.  Don’t cry.  Breathe.  Just wait.  “My husband passed away”, I said, but I think he sensed it as he regretted asking.  “I am so sorry”, he said.  “I am too”, I responded.

In the 16 months that you have been gone, I have never referred to myself by the word I hate.  Widow.  It makes it all too final.  It would be an admission on my part that you are not coming back and that now I have to describe myself as your “widow”.  I am now and will forever hold myself proudly as your wife. 

I miss you.

Your wife,