Me and Marley, keeping going
It has been nine months since my husband died, and every day I adjust a little more to the new normal. It is not lost on me that nine months is the length of a human pregnancy. Maybe it is a length of time in which we are able to fundamentally change. Sometimes now I’ll have three or four hours in a row when I’m cheerful and life feels good.
Grief is a predictably unpredictable ride, though – as is life, but more so. I was watching “The Vicar of Dibley” the other night, and Geraldine (played by Dawn French, one of my favorite British actresses) was walking down a peaceful country lane minding her own business, when she stepped into a hidden hole and disappeared straight down into a pool of water that was over her head. Sploosh. Disappeared, just like that. She came up sputtering, of course.
Grief can be like that. You think you’re doing fine, and then, sploosh, you step into one of those holes. It isn’t always that dramatic, but my point is that you don’t see it before you’re in it.
And what do you do? You climb out as well as you can, and you keep on walking. You do what you need to do – get the kid to school, wash the dishes, do the laundry, go to the grocery store. You talk to kind people who care enough to listen. You see your therapist, if that’s how you roll. You pray. You think about your departed loved one. Sometimes you sob until your ribs are sore. You write in your notebook if that’s your thing. You sing or draw or pursue whatever your art or craft is, because there is heart’s ease in creation and using your hands. You watch the feelings and days go by, and sometimes you ask, how long, Lord?
Life does not stop for you. It goes on and it takes you with it, and sometimes you realize something inside has changed. Then you feel like you are betraying your departed loved one by feeling better. Here I am, laughing again, enjoying other people and myself.
A couple of years before Rick passed, he said he wished that we could both die at the same time – go out together after living together for so long. At that time I thought, speak for yourself, pal. I think he thought it was romantic, or maybe he thought I could not survive his death, or not survive it well.
After he died there were times when I felt the wisdom of his wish. It was, it is, awful not having him here anymore. I miss him so much. Sometimes I find myself thinking, well, I didn’t go with him, but I wouldn’t mind joining him. It’s so hard going on without him. I would not kill myself – that has never been a choice for me – but as I age there are encroachments, physical things that go wrong with me. For example, a blocked artery in my heart, I found out this week. Yikes, huh?
A few months before Rick died, his social worker called me in for a little chat. She asked if I had noticed that his health seemed to be in a decline, as the staff at the kidney center had noticed. I said yes, I had noticed. I was relieved to hear her say it because I was frightened. Knowing that his medical team was aware somehow made me feel less scared, or at least less alone.
We talked a little about what the future might hold. I told her that I knew I could survive Rick’s dying. I figured I would be a little ape crap haywire (cleaned that up for publication) for a couple of years, but I thought I could live through it. That was my intellectual take on the subject. Having an intellectual belief about an experience is not the same as living through it.
Our culture puts a lot of energy into finding true love, doesn’t it? The idea is to find that person, get together, get married, maybe raise a family, and live happily ever after. What our culture does not do is prepare people for the fact that even in the best relationships where both of you stay committed, “ever after” has an expiration date. I asked myself in the first few months after Rick’s passing, well, now what do I do, now that I’ve outlived happily ever after?
I don’t expect to get over losing Rick, or to have “closure,” which I think is a myth. I have been given the gift of a little more time to be myself. And who is that, without my dear companion next to me to reflect me? I’m going to find out, but first I have to have this clogged artery in my heart opened up.
See, when I’m actually confronted with the possibility of my own demise, I say, whoa, Nelly! I want to live! I want to be an annoying old lady for as long as I can! Nuts to that following Rick to the other side. It’ll happen soon enough. Stay tuned, folks. There will be more to come, I swear it.