Today, as I write, December 29, 2016, at 2:20 pm PST, my husband Rick will be gone exactly three years.
Each anniversary is different. The first year I was steeped in my grief. The second year surprised me by unexpectedly not being so sad. This year I am called to solemn contemplation of Rick’s death and the life I am building without him.
He is physically gone, but lives on in my heart and memory, and in the hearts and memories of the many people who knew and loved him. He was a musician, a cartoonist, a true friend. He was funny, and ribald, and angry, and wise, and loving.
He worked on island water systems for almost forty years. By the end of his life he was digging up pipes he’d put in during the seventies when he worked for Mr. Mukai. He was completely dedicated to bringing people safe drinking water.
When you marry someone, you vow to stay with them until “death do you part.” How lightly we say those vows on happy wedding days. We were married a little over thirty-four years and I ended up thinking that happily ever after sure didn’t last as long as I thought it would. So many of us spent our youthful energy and purpose looking for true love, as if that was life’s main goal. Turns out it isn’t.
True love is a great thing, a wonderful thing, an extremely challenging thing. It is a great blessing to live with your one true friend.
Living with another human being will stretch you in ways you could never imagine in your youthful flailing toward your destiny. No one else (except your children) could make you feel so happy, or so angry. Sometimes you feel the intense gratitude of having met your match. Sometimes (rarely, thank the Lord) you wish you’d never met them, or their family, or their family’s dog. That’s all part of marriage, or lifetime partnership or friendship, or whatever label you use. Living with humans is hard.
So I spent my twenties looking for my partner, and now he’s gone. So now what? For the first year or more I was so lost in grief I couldn’t even ask that question.
But now, three years down the road, the answer for me seems to be playing and singing music, and writing. These are the things to which I have always returned, the steady threads and colors of the fabric of my life.
I’m not looking for a new partner. After spending so much of my adult life looking for love and then living out the results of finding it, I am on my own. I have no wish to be a caregiver again, or to saddle some nice person with being my caregiver. My children are grown up and living their busy adult lives. My grandson is on his way to adulthood. I have time to reflect on who I am alone. I am not an extension of or corollary to someone else.
The kids came home for Christmas, and that was lovely. We had a quiet weekend hanging out together. Before they came I meant to clean the house a bit, but I got that cold that was going around, and that flattened me.
An old friend from college days once said to me, “House cleaning has never been your long suit.” Hah. That’s an understatement.
So I looked at the mess and thought, at my age, am I going to change and suddenly become tidy? I don’t think so. I think this is it. I’ve felt such shame about my messy house, but you know what? It’s my mess, and I’m at home in it. It will be hard acquiring the habit of accepting who I am, who I have always been, and how I have always behaved, but I don’t know how much time I have left, and I don’t want to spend that time busting myself for something I am not even interested in taking the time or energy to change.
And if you want to live with me, and you don’t like the mess, you’d better bring the money to pay for a cleaning service when you come. If you are a tidy soul, God bless you. I envy you and wish I was more like you, but I’m not.
My calling in life now is to love the people I love, and sing songs, and write songs and essays. That seems to be who I am without Rick. I’m okay at those things, and I’m okay with spending the rest of my life trying to get better at those things.
So happy new year, friends, and courage as we go into the uncertain future. We’re going together, ready or not.