Saturday, March 7, 2015

You Only Think You've Made It Over the Finish Line

Having observed the first anniversary of my husband’s passing, I felt like I’d accomplished something – I’d lived through that first year and would never have to do that again. In this sense of relief I relaxed. I was feeling pretty good. The drama was over. Not quite. Suddenly this week it was necessary to remove Rick’s name from our checking account. I had thought about this at times over the last year, but occasionally I’d get a refund check from some medical agency that had taken care of him before he died, and it was good to have his name on the account when I deposited the check. It turns out that there is some paperwork you cannot process for a joint checking account unless both parties sign. Rick is no longer available to sign, and I never was one of the wives who learn to expertly forge their husband’s signature. So yesterday I had to take a copy of Rick’s death certificate up to the bank and have his name removed from our accounts. It became emotional for me. The feelings kind of ambushed me. It feels so good to think you’re almost normal instead of completely wrecked following the death of your spouse, but turns out that was a comfy little lie I’d told myself. I’m still wrecked, only not having to disturb the rubble as often as last year, so I don’t see it as often. After leaving the bank I called my step-mother-in-law, Diane. Diane was married to Rick’s father a few years after Rick’s mother died. Mark, Rick’s dad, died exactly four months before Rick. Sorry there are so many dead people in this column. I’ve reached an age where I know a lot of dead people, and stories that involve them. Diane and I are widow buddies. Because she is four months ahead of me in the process, she is my mentor, but we also can talk widow shop together, and compare our experiences. Being married to a father and son, respectively, gave us both insights into their family dynamic that no one else could see, and it’s good to be able to talk about our lives with them as well as our lives after they’ve gone. Neither of us planned this, but it is a comfort for both of us. I recommend having a widow buddy. No one will understand your experience so well as someone who is going through or has been through the same thing you’re going through. You understand things like being out in public and seeing couples and wanting to go up to them and grab them each by the lapels and say, “Be grateful for each other! Do you know how lucky you are to have each other?” We don’t actually do this, but we feel it, and think it. Conversely, when you see couples who are all lovey-dovey, you feel so bereft and cheated you have to go someplace quiet and pull yourself together. That’s after you’ve managed to stop yourself from slapping their smug couple faces. Or some legal matter comes up, and you have to dig the death certificate out of the file and use it to prove that yes, he is dead, and no, he is not here to sign the paper. Every time you have to do that, it feels like your departed spouse has another bureaucratic brick piled on his grave. I talk to Rick about that. “Well, Rick, you’re even more dead than the last time I had to do this.” Oddly enough, I find that the longer he is gone and the more officially he is deceased, the more aware I am of his presence in my heart and mind and soul. I found a video of him the other day, sitting across a table and talking to me. The liveliness of his face, the familiarity of his expressions, his smile, the love that he gave in every word and movement and gaze, are all so deeply ingrained in my consciousness that it felt like it had only been a day, an hour, since we talked, instead of over a year. I watched the video and smiled and teared up a little, but didn’t break down. I can barely remember all the years of illness, that long grinding decline that sucked up both our lives and that finally wore him down. I remember the bright essence of him. There are no certificates for that. I don’t have to prove that he lives on in my heart and memory. Having lost his corporeal being, it is good to know that he lives on in me, still himself, still that guy who after forty years could tell me stories about his life that I hadn’t heard yet. Dang it. I wanted to hear them all.

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