Posted tagged ‘Widowhood’

The Thousand Days

January 14, 2017

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This has been a rough week. Unrelenting snow and ice, temperatures well below freezing night and day, back in school after many months, and I have been off kilter the whole time. Bothered by everything, pleased by nothing. Too much so to be explained by mere weather, mere homework. Finally, though, just before falling asleep, it came to me. This has been the week of the thousand days, the thousand nights.

A thousand days since Shel died. A thousand days of making my way through life alone, hands outstretched, groping in the dark. A thousand days of picking myself up off the floor and telling myself to get back in the game. A thousand mornings of going out into the world trying to be a good, brave girl. A thousand afternoons of coming home to an ever-empty house.

A thousand days of putting air in my own tires, of trying to figure out how to put things together, and take things apart. A thousand days of talking to myself, singing to myself, cooking for myself. Trying to encourage myself, appreciate myself, dress for myself, tuck myself in and wish myself a good night. A thousand nights of sleeping alone.

A thousand days of wiping my own tears, celebrating my own triumphs. Going to the doctor by myself, going to the hardware store by myself, going to England, France, and Canada by myself, moving to a new town, watching our world spin and wobble, forgetting to mark the days as they come and go. Being hot by myself, cold by myself, happy and unhappy and everything else by myself. Getting older, by myself.

I never would have believed I’d get this far away from him. A thousand days. A thousand nights.

 

The End Of Time

August 4, 2016

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Shel’s watch stopped today. After keeping faithful time for the 854 days, 20,496 hours, and 1,229, 760 minutes since his death, elle a rendu l’âme, it gave up the ghost.

It’s not like it’s a pretty watch, or a valuable one. I can’t even wear it, the band was painfully reduced in size to fit Shel’s shrinking wrist, that last year. But I’ve kept it, because he wore it every day for 17 years, and I got used to seeing it. When he died I can’t say that I looked at it every day, or even with any particular regularity. Sometimes I would just need to see it, and would pick it up to find that time was still scrolling along, Shel-style.

But today I picked it up and it was running, then in the barest flicker of a moment, it went blank. Stopped for good, right while I was watching. Just like Shel did.

And now I don’t know what to do with it. It’s different from keeping and wearing one of his sweaters. The watch is a thing that was alive and moving and is now dead. It outlived him. It has no utility. What is a memory worth, anyway? It had only one function, one that it can no longer perform. Should I take it as some sort of sign? Is it one further piece of proof of the randomness of the Universe?

I’m thinking about whether to keep it. And about how no one else would want it, and about whether I would dare to throw it away. I wonder whether to maybe put a new battery in it, and let it remind me of him. Or would it always remind me, more truthfully, of stopping, of flickering out, of the life being sucked right out of you?

Of course every moment in time becomes just a memory, only an instant after its birth. I could let this memory go, but I don’t know what I would be losing.

 

 

The Courage To Cook

July 16, 2016

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Widows often say that they’ve stopped cooking. They don’t have the heart, they say. They no longer care what they eat, they say. They can’t bear to eat alone, can’t bring themselves to shop and cook just for one.

I admit that I don’t cook the way I used to, but I have kind of prided myself on the fact that I do cook for myself, do make an effort to eat well, go to the farmer’s market, frequent the good butcher shop, take care of myself as best I can.

And I’ve made sure that I always have something to read when I sit at the table alone, and I’ve mostly tried to taste the food and not just lose myself in a novel, as you might in a good conversation. Eating alone is one of the hardest things, it seems like an act against nature. But for two years and three months I have sat alone with a plate of something or other, and I have managed, as my grandmother used to say, to keep body and soul together.

Then tonight, don’t ask me why, I decided to roast a chicken. I’ve cooked and eaten a lot of chicken over those twenty seven months, but for some reason I’ve never actually roasted a whole chicken. I’ve just made pieces and parts for myself, as if I didn’t merit a whole bird. And as I was stuffing that chicken with garlic cloves and lemon slices, and showering it with salt, I found myself wondering whether I should make gravy with the drippings.

One minute I was contemplating stirring some good cream into the fragrant juices and reducing them, and the next minute I was doubled over the sink, wailing, tears slicking down, out of nowhere. Because, of course, a roast chicken with lemon and garlic and cream gravy was Shel’s favorite dish, and I’d forgotten all about that. If I’d remembered, in the butcher shop, I would have bought more bits and pieces and fed them to myself, never thinking about missing the whole. But now, it’s too late. The chicken is in the oven, roasting away as if he were here to eat it. I’ve avoided this pain so far -since his death I haven’t baked chocolate chip cookies or pound cake or biscuits, the things that remind me unbearably of my former life in the kitchen. But the chicken sneaked up on me, ambushed me after a hard afternoon of muddling through winery math problems. Cooking was meant to be a respite from that work, but instead tumbled me headlong into a sinkhole of grief.

I can smell it now as it roasts, the lemon note floating above the garlic, the golden skin crisping. It’s the thought of the gravy that undoes me. Yes, I know I can sauté those tiny eggplants with my friend’s zucchini, I know I can pour wine, because I can always pour wine. But do I have the courage to make that gravy, and serve it to only me, myself, and I? There’s still twenty-five minutes on the timer. Twenty-five minutes to face the fact that he will never again carve the chicken, serving himself the breast and me, the leg and wing. Twenty-five minutes to stare into the face of loss. What would you do?

 

From Darkness, Light

April 6, 2016

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I awoke expecting to feel gutted, on this, the second anniversary of the day Shel died, which was the worst day of my life. I had long envisioned misery, had prepared for it as for an arduous journey. As part of that, I decided to take the advice of hospice, which I had previously scorned, that alcohol and drugs make grief worse, and hadn’t altered my consciousness with anything but the scent of my plum tree in bloom for the past three days.

In anticipation of sorrow, and also because my back was sore from raking in the vineyard, I had slept in my recliner, which always feels like sleeping enveloped in a giant hug. Minou slept in my lap, on the fuzzy blue blanket that Shel used to wrap himself in, and instead of waking me up by knocking random things off my desk as he normally might, he snuggled and purred gently until I felt ready to face the day.

I got up slowly, waiting to feel fragile. I had thought about not going to school, lest I burst into tears in the middle of answering a question about soil micronutrients. I solemnly made myself a comforting breakfast.

And then, I found myself washing dishes, making phone calls I’d been neglecting, doing a little homework, dressing for a warm day, zipping up my backpack, and letting my car follow the well-worn path between my house and school, where I spent an absolutely normal day.

Coming home to a lovely warm afternoon on the patio, I was so tempted by a bottle of rosé in the fridge. And I thought two things about that. One was that maybe they were right, maybe I felt better because I hadn’t been drinking at all. And the other was that I should be feeling worse, that it was unfaithful of me to be spending this day without dissolving into a puddle of sadness. And so I tried, I really did. I thought about all the things that usually tear me apart, about everything I lost on the day Shel died, about how profoundly shattering it was to watch his beautiful light go out. For the first time in two years tears didn’t come to my eyes at the thought of it all. I’m staying away from that rosé though, just in case.

Perhaps later, as darkness falls upon me, grief will accompany it, although I don’t feel it lying in ambush. I wish Shel were here to see the new life I’m slowly making for myself, how I’ve navigated living alone for two years with only Minou for constant comfort, and even to see my tearless eyes on this momentous day. I think he’d be really proud of me.

Blue Screen

April 3, 2016

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When people ask how I came to be here, a student at my age, so far from home, I always reply with some version of “after my husband died I needed to re-boot my life, so…..” But although it’s convenient and universally understood, that’s really the wrong image. Usually when you re-boot, all goes back to normal, to the beginning, as it was before. You turn it off, you turn it on again, et voilà, all is as it should be.

But that doesn’t happen when someone dies. You turn it off, you turn it on, you sleep, you awaken, they’re still gone, you’re still here. The processor is still humming away, but the program is lost, suffered a fatal error. It’s the blue screen of death, each and every time you look at it.

Perhaps in times past people faded more quickly from memory. But now, with digital images, slideshows, videos, audio recordings, the face and smile and voice of the lost one remain here on earth, ever present. A beautiful picture of Shel sits on my desk, just next to this keyboard, and he’s looking right into my eyes every time I dare to glance that way.

It will be two years this week since he died. Two of the longest and shortest years of my life.

 

Across The Divide

March 29, 2016

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If you don’t live in Washington you might not realize that it’s two, two, two states in one. Yesterday I crossed the great divide from the dry side to the wet side, from the Red side to the Blue side, from my new life to my old, sort of.

I left Walla Walla on a cool day and drove across the eastern part of the state where the wind was whipping hard enough to make gripping the steering wheel tightly a necessity. Then I crossed the pass over the Cascades, where the snow was piled high, but the roads were clear and dry. Descending towards the west, there was a little rain, until I arrived in Seattle where the sky was blue. It was a big transition, a some-of-everything sort of day, and it gave me time to think about how I was traveling back in time from my new home to my old, and what I might find there.

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The ferry gods smiled on me, and my car got the coveted front spot. I was dumbstruck by the beauty, and wondered how I could ever have left all this to move clear across the state to such a different life.

I came back to the island because of death, yet again. A dear friend died a couple of weeks ago, and I wanted to keep her husband company, and cook for him, stock up his freezer, and do anything I could. They were both 81, married for 56 years, and I knew he’d be lost without her, especially in the kitchen. I began cooking for him practically the moment I arrived, wanting him to gain back the fourteen pounds he’d lost in the three weeks since she died. I so much do not want him to disappear too.

As a wholly unanticipated bonus, the sweet guy who’s been renting my house offered to let me stay for a couple of nights, while he’s out of town. So now I sit in my old home, which feels half-unknown. His shared-custody teenagers’ stuff is everywhere, homework, school books, sports jerseys. Some furniture has been rearranged to make for easier TV watching as a family. My stuff is all still here, but now it’s intermingled with heaps of other people’s belongings, in a way that I find quite jarring. A welcome bottle of wine that I left for them seven months ago sits on the counter, unopened. Credit cards and checks (wow, he really trusts me) sit on a glass tray that I made last summer. The fridge is pretty bare, as mine never would be. The heat is on but the windows are open. But still, he put clean sheets on the bed for me. My bed, nominally, although now I hesitate to sleep in it.

The weirdest thing is that the island feels so beloved, so familiar, but the house itself feels alien. It’s about 2000 square feet bigger than my little Walla Walla home, it feels huge, although it never used to. It’s so quiet here, no sound at night but the ferries plying the waters in front of the house. My wine cellar hums away, cooling the hundred or more bottles I left behind. Men’s clothes hang in my closet, but they’re not Shel’s. My apron and knives are still in the kitchen. The cat door is closed. The plants by the front door need watering. Are they mine to tend?

My French Brain

March 13, 2016

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This was the “TV room” in the house we lived in in France. Here’s the sofa where we snuggled together and watched French talk shows, improving both our language skills and our understanding of the culture. I didn’t realize how much I’ve been missing that.

Last night I decided to listen to my favorite French album, one by Gérard Darmon. I’ve probably listened to it 100 times, maybe many more. The whole year before Shel died I played it regularly, and the year after I still wanted to hear it a lot. But since I’ve moved here, I’ve been too busy for music a lot of the time, and not thinking much about France because school has overtaken my life.

Last night, though, as soon as French entered my ears, my brain said a long, relieved aaahh. All of a sudden my head felt clear and freshly washed, clean clothes snapping in the breeze on the laundry line. The words of the songs seemed to go directly to my heart, and because it’s an album of love songs, my tears slicked down like the afternoon’s rain. It felt indescribably good, like coming home after a long absence, but it hurt so sharply that I gasped out loud. And I’m no masochist.

I remember how the French prize emotion, and I miss that so much. The sensibility that lead four or five grown men to break into tears when they spoke at the memorial I had for Shel, in the town where we lived, elle me manque. I’ve always felt like a different person when French is my daily language, and I want to be that person again. How could I have forgotten how much I love that?

I’m working up to saying goodbye to a lot of things on April 6, which will be the second anniversary of Shel’s death. Before you ask, I don’t know why I’ve set myself that goal, to say goodbye, on that day. I’m trying to figure that out now, and I’ll probably be thinking out loud right here.

But last night I saw that it’s linked to France, somehow. I saw someone carrying a white pizza box today, and immediately I thought of how Shel and I used to go to the Serrebonnet, and I’d always get pizza with Corsican figatelle. Friends came over unexpectedly for a drink yesterday  and I realized that my cupboards were embarrassingly bare of treats, a state I’d never have let myself get into in France. I think about friends in France and I want to feel their kisses on my salty, wet cheeks.