I find that I am in the process of building anew my life without my spouse. It has only been eleven months since he died, and while the pain has abated, the memories are fresh for the picking depending on my mood.
I have found a new freedom to make my own choices without concern for another and I finally find it exhilarating rather than guilty. Guilty that I felt free from some bond that shouldn’t be broken, but was by death. I think we hang on to that bond out of some sense that if we let go it will feel as if we had abandoned our love for the one we lost. Truth is, we haven’t for that special love will always be something I will cherish and hold dear in my heart, but will not let it bind me to memories that prevent me from making free choices. I have, however, lost that companion and advisor when I question one of my choices and must rely completely on my own information, intuition, and inclination.
And, if my choice turns out to be the wrong one, I’ll be the only one who has to deal with it and make it right or abandon it without another to say, “I told you so” or “Why didn’t you listen to me?” I feel like the caged bird set free to fly into the world to explore a life heretofore restricted and restrained. Yes, I am going to enjoy this new freedom that allows me to rebuild my life anew, in the image of my own imagination and choice. Watch out world, here I come on wings sprouted anew.
I have never felt old, like in old, old. I know that my body is not as firm or strong or flexible as it was in my 20’s, 30’s or even in my 50’s. I did, however, lose 50 pounds when I was 54 and I pumped iron so my body was probably as good as it would ever get again. I know for sure that my boobs will never be as firm and bouncy as they once were, as they now nestle somewhere between my waist and my belly button. Even my eyelids now droop and my skin is beginning to look like crepe paper. But, who cares. I’ve earned all those signs of aging and I claim them as badges of wisdom and accumulated knowledge.
But back to old. I have always felt young in heart and mind and soul. When I was in my 40’s I felt like I was 18 years old. When I was in my 60’s I felt like I was in my early 30’s. And now that I am 82, I still feel as if my soul and spirit were somewhere in my mid 50’s. I am at that age where I have learned a coal-truck ton about life and suffered more than I bargained for when I was 20.
I won’t talk about the fat that secretely crawls in under your skin at night while you sleep. Or the clothes hanging in your closet or dresser drawers that shrink a size or two at night. Anyone my age knows all about those things unless, of course, they are those skinny, perfectly proportioned, robots that are manufactured on a faraway planet and shipped into our world when we aren’t looking.
My eyesight is hanging in there with the help of glasses, and while my hearing isn’t too bad, my understanding of words (clarity) are in the pits. I can cover it pretty well if I look at people, but my least favorite phrase is, “What did you say?” And, with the aid of an army of medications my cholesterol, blood pressure, and A1C is all good. If you don’t know what A1C is, just wait until you’re older and your doctor will explain it to you.
So for an 82 year-old crone, I think I’m doing pretty good. I get plenty of sleep, watch my sugar and carb intake, have about one glass of wine a week, don’t smoke, and try to find joy in everything I can. And, I try to be kind and gentle to everyone. My goal is to reach 100 years-old. But if I don’t make it, it won’t be because I didn’t try. Onward.
What is it with this weather? I thought that climate change meant that things were heating up, that those snowbound New England winters would turn into forever springtime and the snowbirds could stay home. Those in Florida would love that as the traffic would be bearable and the beaches would be all theirs. They might not like the slump in the economy due to the dearth of northern dollars flooding in, but hey, you know you can’t have it all.
I am sitting at my desk in lower Delaware, the sun is streaming in my easterly window and I’m freezing. It is May 12 for God’s sake and is only 61-degrees outside when it should be somewhere in the mid 70’s. Those May flowers, brought on by April showers, are shivering in their planters and I’m concerned they will not survive until June. As much as I love my spring and summer blossoms, I’m not a gardener by nature. The thought of having to buy new plants and replace my frozen buds doesn’t excite me.
However, I have noted that it is our human nature to complain when it is too cold and complain when it is too hot. In the winter months, we run from heated house to heated car to heated workplace, to heated grocery store to heated pharmacy back to the heated house. In the summer months, we exchange the heat for air conditioning and rarely suffer exposure to extreme hot or cold weather for more than three nanoseconds. We just can’t win unless we either love to be outside to ski or sled, or outside at the beach to bask and bake in the sun.
So I’m waiting for this climate change to settle somewhere in the middle and give me 50-degrees give or take a few degrees every night and 80-degrees give or take a few degrees every day. Or, as many have suggested, I could move to San Diego where those temperatures exist 365 days a year, and quit complaining.
Not too long ago I wrote about taking off my wedding rings after my spouse died last fall. I have also pondered since then as to what to do with his wedding ring. It is way too big (size 11 or 12) for any of my fingers and I’m sure it would fetch a pretty penny if I sold it for the gold content. However, that didn’t seem like a very honorable thing to do since it represented our 40 years together. Ponder, ponder, ponder.
I also remember writing about our “Logo” some years ago on one of my blogs. Maybe even on one before I lost them all to a hard drive crash before cloud storage. The logo was of two seagulls flying together which my spouse wrote about in an early love letter. In the letter he compared our lives as two gulls who fly together most of the time, but also fly away on their own path for a while, but always return to fly together. He wore a gold pair of flying gulls I had made for him around a chain on his neck until he died. He loved to tell people about how it represented our love, togetherness, but also our independence.
I finally decided to meld his wedding band and the two flying gulls together and have them made into one pendant. The rub here was that I have a Jerusalem cross that I bought in Jerusalem in 1998 that have worn around my neck every day since then. It is a gorgeous piece and I was hesitant to stop wearing it in favor of the gull-ring piece.
And so, the wedding took place. I took them all to a jeweler and had them pieced together into one pendant. It is exquisite and I now carry some of my love with me every day while still wearing the cross I cherish. A win-win.
I recently had to have a CT scan, but before it could be done, the technician said I had to have an EKG (Electrocardiogram – why the initials are a “K” and not a “C” is beyond me). As he was about to lift my blouse to attach the electrodes, I said, “Now don’t be scared, but I have no bra on.” He hesitated. I added, “I haven’t worn a bra in at least 30 years. They are instruments of torture.” I don’t know what he thought after that, but the female assistant burst into laughter and said, “Can you stay here all day, you are my kinda woman, and after the morning I’ve had, I want you to stay and cheer me up.” We both chuckled. The flush-faced male technician lifted my blouse, attached the electrodes, and carried on trying hard to make me believe my drooping ladies were an everyday occurrence to him.
This bra talk got me thinking about not wearing my bra since I have not worn a bra in over 30 years. Oh, by the way, in case anyone is saying, “Ewwww,” right about now, I always wear two layers or at least a camisole, so my girl’s nipples won’t offend. I have found that bras don’t have any measurable effect on keeping my girls up and bouncy. Inch by cruel inch, they slowly slithered past my waistline and are now becoming intimate with my belly button. Each morning I stand nude in front of the mirror and cup them in both hands and lift them to my twenty-year-old something position. Of course, not for their benefit, but so I can have a moment to recall their glory days. Those perfect 34B orbs were the envy of all my friends. Especially Andrea, who was a whopping 44DD, and Penny, who was a minuscule 30AA.
Over the years, I have also learned that bras may also contribute to cancer. I won’t bore you with all the research details, but it has something to do with constricting our blood vessels and lymph-somethings. Anything that constricts or binds up the flow of our bodily fluids can’t be good. So it makes a lot of sense that it might be a cause for any number of rather unpleasant consequences, including cancer. Surely kidney stones back up our kidneys and are very painful. Bladder infections can form large blood clots in the bladder and contribute to pain and suffering. We all know that blocked arteries cause heart attacks, constipation isn’t good, and God knows what else goes on underneath our unique sack of skin in the dark recesses of our body.
Come to think of it, in our au naturel state, nothing binds us up. Maybe the healthiest alternative is to go naked. It has its advantages – we don’t have to keep “in style,” no dry-cleaning bills, no need for a washer and dryer, a walk-in closet space could be used as an extra bedroom for small people. We could fill our minds with much more helpful information instead of wasting it deciding what to wear, what color looks best, or whether or not a particular outfit makes us look fat. And our time – think of the time spent shopping for clothes – hey, we could read the classics, listen to music, volunteer at a non-profit, play with our children or grandchildren, write that book……the possibilities are endless…or at least bra-less.
Normally I like rain. I view rain as nourishing the earth and bringing forth new life, particularly in the spring. When I was a little girl our street would flood when it rained long and hard. My mother would let me and my sister outside when the rain ended so we could splash around in the “lake” in front of the house. It was such fun. Not so much anymore, but that is more a consequence of not wanting to have a grown adult look ridiculous jumping up and down in a big puddle, laughing and giggling at the fun of it all.
And I often wonder what happened to umbrellas. I have three golf-sized ones that never get used, and two small collapsible ones that rarely get used. It seems so much easier to make a dash for the door even in a downpour rather than struggle to get the “brelly” open outside of the half-open door to my van. And getting it back inside the van is even more of a challenge and much wetter.
Today it has been raining steadily here all day and our rain gauge shows we have about three inches so far. I’ll not go out in it, I’ll just watch the trees leaf out and the bulbs blossom as they suck in the nourishment. I am, however, grateful that it is not snow. That would be about three feet of the white stuff which I and the flora can do without, thank you very much.
After my husband died in September 2020 I found that I had joined a host of wingles. Wingle is what my daughter calls me because she didn’t like the term “Widow” as it reminded her of the black widow spider who consumed her mate after mating. I must agree that is not a pleasant vision.
So, she invented “Wingle” which is a contraction of “widow – wi” and “single – ngle. and it has stuck.
But I digress. I had a quandary – when should I stop wearing my wedding rings. As wingle after wingle stopped by to drop off a meal for my family and visitors, or I ran into one in the grocery store, I would ask them when they stopped wearing their rings. One said after about a year when she took them off to garden and never put them back on. Another said she couldn’t remember, they were just gone one day. One said she considered herself still married and still wears hers. Another said she just put them on her right hand, but only the engagement ring. One wears her engagement ring on the ring finger and the wedding ring on her pinkie. Well, I certainly had a choice now didn’t I?
And then I remembered the wedding vows Ralph and I exchanged some forty years earlier. We had changed the part that said, “to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death,” to “love and to cherish forever.” Forever.
And it struck me then that being a Christian and believing in the afterlife, I would be loving my beloved forever. I no longer had to wonder when I would remove my wedding rings.
It is never too late my writing buddies say. Well, that is good news because I have three writing projects that are on eternal hold since my spouse Ralph died. Actually, only two because the third idea came after his death. The first is to finish my novel on domestic abuse with some detail on the divorce process and pain, the second is an article about the advantages and disadvantages of being ordained at the age of 60 or older, and the third a book of the love-letters Ralph and I wrote to each other over the period of a year.
I’ve always thought it was strange that we had stopped writing to each other once we moved in together, but we did. One year for our anniversary we decided to write each other a love letter. It wasn’t the same. It didn’t have the same yearning, the same ardor, the same sense of romance and excitement. You see, while together we were living our love letters in action, while apart we lived in an unfulfilled void that was only filled with letters. Not filled with our actions together, hugs, snuggles in bed, lovemaking, kisses, “I love you’s,” joy as we laughed together, sorrow as we wept in each other’s arms. The ability to share our stories, our days, our feelings, our hopes, and dreams. To touch, to hold hands as we walked down the street together, or the fun of tossing a meal together, or the happiness of sharing a meal at a fancy restaurant. The kind of togetherness that only best friends and soulmates enjoy together until death comes to one or the other. When only memories of their glory days as one soul fill the hole ripped out of one’s heart as the other’s heart ceases to beat and the beat of grief takes over the one left behind. The one left behind to ache and weep and mourn until that precious and cleansing tincture of time heals and closes the wound while the memories become pearls of comfort, carried along until that last breath of a beautiful relationship crosses over into the spiritual realm where all souls dwell.
Thursday afternoon, September
3rd, was the worst day of my life. My spouse of 40-plus years,
Ralph, went into the hospital last Monday and this Thursday had surgery to
remove a bowel obstruction. What they found shocked everyone including his
surgeon. His entire abdomen was filled with metastatic melanoma cancer. There
is no cure. There is no treatment. His digestive system has shut down. He
cannot eat and can only ingest small amounts of clear liquid. They are only
giving him weeks to journey with me in this place. He is coming home to me
today and into hospice care to die in peace with dignity.
Monday morning, September 7th, my beloved soulmate, Ralph, ended his earthly journey at the stroke of midnight announcing Monday had begun as his cherished grandfather clock tolled twelve for him. He will be deeply missed but his memories live on in my heart and will forever. Rest in peace, sweet, kind man. Your footprints are left on this earth and in my soul. The memory of your smile will continue to light up my life.
24th, a friend asked if grief would be different when death occurred
at different ages. I think if a spousal death occurs when someone is younger
than 50 it could have a greater impact on the grieving process. I think
that when the spousal death occurs when people are in their 80’s there is less
impact since there is less time to live ahead of them and often couples speak
of death and some even make plans such as funeral arrangements, wills, advance
directives, etc. Death is much closer at hand and I think some subconscious
grieving occurs even before a spouse dies. I know in my case, if I was up
early and doing chores that Ralph usually did, I would say I was preparing for
widowhood. Sometimes I would even shed some tears at the thought of
losing Ralph whenever that might be. Also, older people have experienced
more deaths of their contemporaries which brings them face-to-face with death
more often than younger people.
So, I guess the short answer to her question is yes, age does make a difference. I am sure her daughter Liz will grieve much more deeply and perhaps longer because her spouse Brian died so young at age 42 of alcoholism. She can’t say things like, we had a long and happy life together, or I have forty years of memories that will sustain me. And, of course, the quality of the relationship will have a bearing as well. I think the grief from the loss of a spouse in a happy marriage is going to be different than grief from the loss of a spouse in a miserable or abusive marriage. In a miserable relationship, grief is often mingled with guilt. Guilt because part of you is free, released from the misery. Grief because you lost the once love of your life. In a happy relationship it is much easier to dismiss and forgive those arguments you had, the niggling little annoyances in life you both tolerated in each other, and bathe in the overwhelming happiness of the relationship as a whole. I am blessed with the latter. Thanks be to God, and thank you, Jesus.
I am learning how to live without my Ralph. We were attached at the hip and the heart, not to mention the soul. Many commented on our deep love and connection with each other in the over 80 cards and e-mails we received. They saw what we lived.
I am learning to live without his smile except in pictures. I am learning to live without his presence that so filled my life.
I am learning to live alone with my daughter who lives with us and to forge a mutual connection that suits both of our diverse personalities. We have found that it isn’t going to be as easy as we imagined. We are trying.
I am learning to live with a sense of freedom I haven’t had since I was twenty. The freedom to chose what I want without discussing it with anyone else. The freedom to go where I please, to make independent decisions, to not be accountable to anyone but myself.
I am learning to get my own morning coffee, change the dog’s water, and feed both of us at days end.
I am learning to be a widow. To forge stronger relationships with other widows. To share our grief and our joys. To be with people and not hide myself away in my house. I am learning to venture out more often and see the world without sharing it with Ralph.
Good-bye, my beloved. I will miss you every day and wish that I wasn’t learning to live without your presence.