Yes. I learned to do many new things on my own.
Initially, I felt proud of those newly acquired skills, that new-found power:
“Really? I found a way to fix that cabinet door?”
“That was me, who finally phoned about getting the squirrels out of the awnings?”
“Did I make that decision to buy all the kids tickets so we could get together for Christmas this year?”
I was proud, but, as I have said, at the same time, I worried that somehow, this was treason. That I seemed a different person – that people could perceive my pride as being relief, freedom from having been pushed into an unwanted role during my married life.
Nothing was further from the truth, but still, how to explain that ambiguous mixture of pride and loneliness.
I asked myself “Who was I before I met Bill? Who would I have been?”
The reality is that, yes, people who find themselves in this situation do change.
Before your husband, lover or partner died, you were different, because you were the perfect melding of the best qualities both he and you had brought to this union.
And so was he.
You were the give and take
You were the empty vessel and the flask pouring into it
You were his leg up. You reached out to him in your downward spiral
You were the steadying hand on his shoulder, burrowing into it for support the next day
You were the dark night of the soul
You were the light at the end of the tunnel
You were the stillness and the storm
And so was he. And so was he.
This is the miracle of a good and enduring relationship. You are each other’s compliment.
You are each other’s fulfillment. So intricately entwined do you become, that it’s difficult to distinguish your character from his.
“What would I have done if I hadn’t known him?”
It’s impossible to say.
So – when that perfect other half is suddenly ripped away from you, somehow you have to grow back its shadow. You dig into your primal self and sow the seeds of independence.
So what if your way diverges from his?
It’s okay. You’re coping any way you can. You’re reinventing yourself and that can be exciting. Take the excitement and run with it. There is little enough to get excited about.
However, after a winter of shoveling snow yourself, getting bags of salt for the water softener and changing furnace filters, the excitement wears off. Making decisions is now your daily task. What once seemed new and exciting is now becoming a burden in the daily trudge through life.
An endless string of decisions going from the sublime to the ridiculous assault you day and night:
Whether to get snow tyres.
How to look for a meaningful occupation.
The time to get up in the morning.
The time to make dinner.
The time to go to bed.
What to do about that broken light.
Whether to pay for cable.
Stay or go?
Sell or give away?
Throw out or fix?
Buy a new couch?
Get a job? Volunteer? Stay home? Go out? Go for a ride? Go for a walk? Stir fry? Barbecue?
I hear them while I make breakfast. I hear them when I can’t sleep at night, while driving or biking. They’re not all that hard, but the sheer volume wears you down.
So this is what happened to me:
Little by little, the empowerment I once felt turned to resentment.
“Why is no one thinking about this with me? Why do I have to be the only one? Did I ask for this? Is it to be my lot in life to drag around with me this house with its empty rooms and its demanding set of needs?”
And little by little, I had to face some new-found truths:
The friends who promised so resoundingly to be “there for you” are not always able to. Not because they didn’t mean what they said. They did. But life intervened, for them too.
No one will or can really help you fix the multiple things that need fixing every day: the pump, the porch light, a broken railing, a malfunctioning sprinkler, a sliding door, the internet connection, the shower head, that door hinge, that spot on the ceiling, that scratch on your car.
They may say they sympathize – and they do – but you’re in it alone.
I remember my brain becoming very self-centered, all my thoughts focused on this singular need:
Someone to sit beside me. Someone to say,
“You’ve been very brave and you’ve done very well on your own, but now you can rest your head on my shoulder and I will do some of the thinking for a while.”
And then one day, I was sitting on my deck, looking at the wonderful view: the trees, the river flowing gently by. Everything picture perfect.
Except that it wasn’t. It was an empty stage. I was living on the set of a play that had run its course. The cast had gone and all that was left were the back drop and props.
And, yes; I might have been in the director’s chair, but there was no one to direct. The actors had found other stages on which to perform. The audience had gotten bored with the play’s theme, an endless spiral of self-pity and need.
It’s time to face facts, time to close the theatre and find a new venue.
So this will be my task in the days and months to come:
Separate the things that count from those that one can live without. Which should be most. They’re all things after all.
What counts are people, are friendships, is love.
I’ll be on my way now, forging my path, looking for that love. If you care to join me, take my hand.