Monday, February 19, 2007

On Being a Widow, Part 2

Judy's new bed, much emptier but at least a little more comfortable.
"In most instances, the most sound advice to offer a recent widow or widower is to do nothing drastic." Francis Degen

My sister Judy's husband Bob was killed last summer when his private plane crashed after an air show in Oregon. They usually attended air shows together from their home base in LA, but Judy was in San Francisco with a visiting cousin.

I've documented the crash, the details, the memorial and Judy's first thoughts on the aftermath. Coping with widowhood is challenging, especially when it's sudden and unexpected.

Judy's given me more musings to share on life as a widow.
I know I saw this coming – for years. Racing through the sky in high performance vintage WWII airplanes naturally carries a risk. I think that at some subconscious level I had prepared my gut for it.

That doesn't make it any better, nor does it mitigate the changes in my life – and the difficulty of adapting to those changes.

Bob and I had a ritual of a good-bye kiss before he took off. We laughed and agreed this was necessary in case I never saw him again. I wasn't there at that last air show -- so no kiss. My fault?

Friends and associates think a tsunami of grief should have knocked me over and rendered me incapable of almost anything. It didn't. It hasn't.

They are surprised by my efficiency in carrying out normal activities. I just do it one day at a time. Get up, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, move on to the tasks of the day. Repeat daily. I find myself trying to comfort them with descriptions of my routine. I hope it helps.

These same friends and associates seem to feel it would be insensitive to utter Bob's name in my presence. The name "Bob" is like the word "cancer"... in the course of a normal conversation, both words cause voices to drop to a whisper. That doesn't help.

I remember when my father died, we tiptoed around my grandmother the same way until after about a week, one day she erupted in a tirade of angst. Reminded us that my father had indeed lived among us and not talking about him was abnormal, unnatural and hurtful to her. I'm forced to agree.

No, I'm not okay with it, but I do what I have to do. I have thrown myself into work, sometimes long days, sometimes long distances, nearly always leaving the house in the dark. While I love my work, I'm still disappointed that there is nobody to call to say I'll be late. There's nobody to sympathize with my slave labor.

I had a 16-hour day last week and came home through the madness of post-UCLA-game traffic. I started to cry but decided to save that energy and with a few zigs and zags, made my 15-minute ride a mere 45 minutes.

And at the end of a long, busy week when I come home on Friday and have to slow down my engine alone, it puts me at very loose ends and I feel very blue. My cheery self reminds me I can sleep late, go to a movie, go hiking with friends, anything I want. My insides tell me those are not my first choices.

Then there is Bob's estate. My frantic work schedule brings a double reward: an income and distraction. I am good at a lot of things, but money management is not one of them. So I call upon my friendly lawyer, accountant or the investment advisor it took four months to choose, throw myself on their mercy and hope I'm doing the right thing.

There are family member issues that have necessitated more lawyers. I would have much preferred to discuss it all over a dining room table, but it's too late now. So that hangs over my head even on a good day.

So, weekdays are fair except for getting into bed alone. Weekends suck. It's that silence thing again, a mixed blessing because that's when I'm supposed to gear up for another week of a frantic work schedule.

I could gear up more easily when Bob was here. There's a hole in my life that wasn't there before my world exploded -- the world that is now too solitary and quiet.

I know I saw this coming and am living the way I imagined I would. I just didn't know how much I wouldn't like it.
Well. There's not a lot to say to that. Except this: you're not alone if you don't want to be. Your family is here for the asking.

And this: Judy, you are incredibly strong and brave. An inspiration even. We love you.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope it is not too late to leave a comment.
I'm a widow, it's been 6 months today for me. I was searching the web because I had suddenly wondered what the etiquitte (sp?) was about wearing my wedding rings all this time. Was I stupid, pretending I'm married when I'm not?
Anyway I wasn't married forever like most people I know and I was only married 6 years. I was 51 when I first trusted a man enough to marry I'm 58 and the love of my life has left me, is gone from my sight and I'm alone to carry on. Having experienced that love, finally was so healing...the trust we had in each other, so gone, he left me! Alone again after having found the perfect guy is so horrid it is indescribable.
I want to wear the beautiful rings he gave me forever but I wonder if that is appropriate, like is it lying, wearing them? After all, I don't have someone who loves me like that any more, right?
We had a year...ONE YEAR... of bliss before we found out he had prostate cancer and after that our lives were all about how to overcome the challenge before us, but I never imagined he would DIE until 1 month before he did. We were going to beat this thing, you know? But we failed and I failed because I was part of the WE. Hospice was great but they were all about death, preparing you for the reality of what was coming. I was very blessed because I had so much support from a friend and many sisters that most people would not have had. When my lover boy was dying I was never alone and in fact had several people here at all times...3 weeks of hospice care at home and the hospice workers said we were the talk of the town because they had never seen so much love present when someone was dying. But a week after he died, guess what happened? I was alone again. After all, I wasn't the one who was dead or dying. I was just a WIDOW.
The people who cared sent their cards and flowers and then their responsibility was over. Meanwhile I have snow to shovel, can you imagine having to shovel snow all winter to get out of your house? Before there was this loving guy who insisted you were too frail or something to do that...but he's gone from my sight, right? So I have to do that, and wear his snow boots too. Because I bought him these wonderful boots to keep his feet warm while he shovels snow and guess what, they ARE wonderful! I did something right, and guess what else? I get to enjoy them now because they are only a little big on me!
I love him, I miss him terribly and I want him HERE, not gone from my sight, like the hospice people wanted me to accept. I spent 6 years dealing with his illness, knowing he would survive, and he didn't get better. I want my love HERE, not gone from my sight.
I feel abandoned.

3:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i tried to publish a long comment and couldn't, hopefully you are still out there

3:33 AM  
Anonymous Judy said...

It's never too late to leave a comment. I've been a widow now for a little over eight months and nothing much has changed since Sally quoted me, other than that I returned the comforter in the picture; it just wasn't me. I can tell you are in great pain and my heart goes out to you. Advice coming from me may not be the best thing, but as I read yours, a few things came to mind:

Wear your rings! They're yours! He gave them to you because he loved you. Now love him back by wearing them. There is no etiquette about it, no worrying about ‘what people will think.' Who cares? Do you like them? Do they make you feel good? Wear them and enjoy them. You are not pretending anything – you are honoring the memory of your husband.

You had six good years with a good man; that cannot be taken away from you. You may not have him but you do have your memories, which are also yours alone. Enjoy them. Remember the laughs and laugh. Look at the pictures and smile. Spend a little – very little – time in some of the places you went together, like a coffee place or a book store, and think about what you talked about when there. Don't go to an old-favorite restaurant – that's the ultimate alone.

You say you weren't married forever, that it took you a long time to find your prince. Yep, you're single again, like the rest of us. That doesn't diminish the years you had together. Yep, we were both cut off at the knees, but there comes a time to get up and be productive. I'm sure you had a career prior to your marriage – go back to it. You have friends and family – use them, but don't abuse them. They'll only want to hear your sadness for a short time, so if they change the subject, don't mind them. They're sad, too.

And you'll shovel the snow and wear his boots, and maybe a sweater or a scarf you haven't yet given away, and it will feel good. And when there is no longer snow to shovel, you can tend to your garden, or whatever it is that makes you feel good in the summer – even if just lying in the sun. And you'll learn to fix the leaks or call a plumber. And you can cut the grass or call a gardener. You are clearly a strong and capable woman, so get out there and prove it!

Perhaps you might want to seek out a grief group. A friend suggested that to me, but I declined, preferring to throw myself into my work to fend off too much thinking, but this friend lost her daughter and she found the group very helpful. I'm sure you can find one through a church or synagogue, or even your hospice workers. Your angst is showing, and eventually you'll have to cover it up and move on. Groups can help.

Wear your rings.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been reading your comments. It helps. I lost my husband on Feb. 15th 2007. I miss him so much. I just don't know what to do. Thank you, Lauren Rongo

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just came across this site. It has hit some very practical areas for me. I was divorced 4 years ago after a 25 year marriage. Not my choice....I found my new love in Aug. 2005 - whirlwind romance and married in June, 2006. My love had a heart attack in May 2007 - right before our 11 month anniversary. WHY? I have asked God that question more times than I care to acknowledge. The practical things you mention are so true. The vast moments of meaninglessness - being alone. Hating one to call to check in after a long day at one to go to football games empty bed....not being able to sleep because you miss the sound of the snoring next to "spooning" intimacy. So sad

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Lauren Rongo said...

been two years now... it still feels the same. .. when does it get better.... i miss my husband so much.... no one to share thought with anymore......not easy that is for sure.... wish it would get better... everyday i think of him.... everyday.....

7:21 AM  
Blogger kristina-arcalas said...

i lost my husband 3 months ago. we were married for 32 years. it does not get any better. i mss him so much

4:40 PM  

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