This week two of my girlfriends have birthdays. One is younger than I; the other just a few months older.
The younger woman is part of a small group of friends here in my community. We enjoy our times together – lots of laughing, story-telling, wine imbibing. These women are wise and compassionate, and have been mainstays in my life since losing Rick. They lift me up in this new stage of life.
My other friend is a college classmate with whom I talk almost weekly and see periodically. College is now a distant chapter, so our conversations revolve around the present. I value her intelligence, good manners and kindness.
Nurture vs. nature. Genes vs. environment. How much longer will I live? Rick was active and healthy. He took after his long-living maternal side – he easily should have lived another 15 or more years and perhaps even reached 100. I look at my own family history and wonder if I have just 10 years left, dying at my mother’s age, or if I will make it into another decade as did my father. What are the implications?
If I only have another decade, how do I want to live? Does it even matter?
If I have another decade (or more) to live, how do I want to live? It matters!
The grief of losing my husband paralyzed me for a time. I struggled to put together a list of activities to try, which I’ll share in another blog. I read books about widowhood, starting over as a single woman, finding oneself. I engaged a therapist. It is so much easier to not take responsibility for self-exploration and growth, but simply to drift along – but I have jumped into new ventures and this blog is one of them.
Today I saw a new movie, The Last Word, which stars Shirley MacLaine as an older woman who wants to have her obituary written ahead of her death. I wrote obituaries for my mother-in-law and my father, and updated my husband’s from his initial draft. I have written my own for future use. Death notices can vary regionally. Here in Florida with so many retirees, military service is always indicated. Where we lived before, obituaries often began with “So and so went to be with her Lord.” (I’d love to be that sure!)
It feels disturbing to publish a newspaper notice which proclaims one’s loss and how others can jump in on the bandwagon of grief by attending services and/or making donations. Yet it also seems so crucial to spell out achievements of the individual and note how much he was loved.
I attended the movie alone. That is not new for me. My first time was at age 30 and I felt so out-of-place to be in a theater by myself – especially when I spilled a diet Coke down the front of my white shirt! Now it seems normal. I like going with friends, but I do not pass up movies simply because I don’t have someone to go with me.
There have been times when well-meaning married women friends have suggested I meet another widow. I resist. The other widows may be wonderful women, but I have such a difficult time with being labeled “the widow Mary” and being pigeon-holed by my marital status. Maybe if I was more open to the possibility I’d find a new friend who liked the same movies . . .
Since the fall I have been paddling with a local dragon boat club. I like the women paddlers for their strength, vitality, friendliness – not for their marital categories. They are married, single, divorced and even widowed. Those statuses may change, but my regard for them will not. I have been in all four categories and yet I remain “Mary.” Maybe those should be my Last Words – “She stayed true to herself throughout her lifetime.”
Some years ago I read something which resonated with me and I’ve never forgotten the message. Contributors to O, The Oprah Magazine usually are asked questions relating to the issue’s major themes. One time there was a question about aging. A contributor answered that the older she gets, the more willing she is to tell others she loves them.
Of course I loved my husband and told him often. But, I have always, always been uncomfortable with saying “I love you” to others. Even as a teenager I don’t think I ever wrote a casual “I luv you” with the ubiquitous heart drawn above.
In the time since my husband’s cancer became terminal and today, I have made a shift. It is not without some long-seated hesitation, but I am authentic when I tell his daughters I love them. They adored their father and have been so gracious and kind to me. I could go on and on forever about their attributes, but they have their own stories to tell and they are not mine to convey – but suffice it to say that I am so grateful to receive from and give love to them. What a blessing!
There are some friends and cousins to whom I may say “I love you” as well. I can be vulnerable before them with my current unsteady emotions and behaviors, and yet they remain consistently in my life. How fortunate!
I relish in the knowledge that as an older person, I can speak my truth and receive affection back without fear.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. . . .
Everyone has seasons/chapters of their lives – defining them for a certain period of time and influencing their future times. I look back on my life and loosely define my main chapters as childhood, college, career and marriage. Now a new chapter is underway.
I spent years living in west Michigan and a friend there wonders why I don’t return for a visit. That life is over; without Rick by my side I simply have no desire to return to the neighborhoods in which we lived or to rehash old memories of happier days. Those memories are with me here in Florida, too.
It is easier to consider visits to places I knew before Rick, or to travel to new locations.
There is a certain push-pull to this new life. I am smart and capable, and I can navigate my world just fine on my own, thank you very much! But I desire connections with others, and sometimes fill up my calendar with too many activities. Solitude vs. busy-ness. I still have not found a reasonable rhythm to this new chapter of life.
To move forward, I will step back a bit and repeat a Facebook post of mine, written late last year:
Focus is already shifting past this month’s holidays to the next. Articles about the New Year abound. Resolutions almost never work for me; however, 2017 fills me with dread, hope, pain and sanguinity. I want the most wonderful man no longer of this world back in this world. I want his love, touch, counsel, humor, kindness — I want it all.
The journey of grief is unique to everyone. I work hard to “fake it ’til I make it” but that comes at a personal cost. To act socially appropriate exhausts me, and thus, in turn, I need a large measure of solitude and silence.
I am making one 2017 resolution to stay longer in the present, and another to realize over how little I have any control.
In the here and now, my world has expanded. My husband Rick’s family is warmly embracing; I am grateful for the love between his daughters and me. Scattered cousins shower their affection. Friends are kind and thoughtful.
Control? Ha! I am responsible for my decisions and behavior, but I cannot control how others respond. There’s no controlling the future — all I can do is walk on, picking my way over and around life’s challenges.
This is my first blog. My first year as a widow.
Life has changed dramatically in the past year and I am picking my way through feeling dazed, despondent, and depleted to reach a new normal of living, learning, and loving.
Journaling just does not do it for me. I enjoy writing with an outward intent. Over the years I have written handbooks, benefit summaries, strategic visions, and even a few poems. Just recently I began a web-based column on bicycling for a city. So this is the logical next step.
In my opinion, anyone who blogs is searching for meaning in her own words – as well as offering viewpoints to the greater world of followers. So many of the books and articles I have read about grief and widowhood seem off-base to me and I feel a need to push back against expectations.
- There is no way to make this journey in a prescribed fashion to a logical conclusion; the loss of my beloved husband will always be part of me.
- There is no way to move on that satisfies everyone around me; I simply have looked for opportunities to get back in the game of life.
- There are infinite ways to live my life.
I believe my blog can be helpful to others. My target readers are in the second half of life, singles and/or life-long learners. A wry appreciation for the incongruities of life is also helpful.