I think that I am not very good at being a Widow.
I don't have the patience to be long suffering, nor the fortitude to endure. I hate shopping, so I can't indulge in tearing my clothes, or at least not for long. I've no handkerchief with which to delicately dab at my eyes. If I am busy pining for the past I may not recognize whatever qualifies as my future when it walks through the door. And I would rather run the trails than endlessly walk the Widow's Watch, scanning the sea for my missing mate.
I am not fluent in the right lingo. Mike didn't "pass," or "transition," or "go to heaven." I didn't "lose" him like a set of keys. He's dead. He was alive, and now he is not. And I am. And while it could have conceivably happened the other way around, it didn't. (Poor Mike, whenever I traveled for just two days he said he "de-evolved," and after a week he was begging me to come home. How would he do all alone in this big bed after a whole year?)
The word "widow" comes from Sanskrit, and it means "empty." I feel too full to be empty (and no, for once I am not talking about bacon). I miss Michael, yes. I miss how he made me laugh, and I miss how he wouldn't let me be intellectually lazy. I miss hearing him tell me that he loved me, and sometimes--sometimes--I even miss hearing him rant and roar at something he saw on the tee vee. Ohmygod how I miss his cooking (less so his refusal to clean the bathroom). I miss seeing him excited about learning to make wine. I miss seeing him excited about a burrito. I miss the "somedays," and the "eventuallys," and the "we could go/do/see..." I still can't quite cotton to the fact that there isn't still a "we."
But I am not empty. And sometimes that makes me feel shitty, because I get the sense that I am supposed to be.
No, nobody expected me to practice sati and throw myself on a funeral pyre. And if I'd gone a whole year wearing nothing but black it would have been only the most subtle sartorial change from my typical monochromatic grey. But I am so often told that I "must" feel sad, or I am "allowed" to collapse, or that "it will get easier," as if implying that it is simply too hard to bear now. But I am bearing it. Some days I am even thriving. Does that make me callous? Unfeeling? Clearly, I am not a widow at her peak.
My heart tells me that I should accept these comments, the ones directed at me but not reflective of me, and with gratitude and grace. I should help others to loosen the demons that trouble their own sleep. My shoulders should be strong enough to carry others who need some ease and comfort as they struggle to comprehend that he is gone.
But it grates on me. Sweet baby fucking jesus, but it really pisses me off sometimes. Because that ain't me, Baby. It just isn't.
The only thing I know is to lift my chin and soldier on. My first real, sustained memories come from when I was about 7 or 8. With the exception of an isolated vignette or two, I got nuthin' before the Carter administration (that's Jimmy Carter for the youngins among us, the Habitat for Humanity dude was President once). But my biological father died when I was 4. So, you see, I've been living with the lived knowledge of death literally since before I can remember. It formed my synapses and my senses, it courses through my veins. And everything--every single itty bitty thing--that I do actually remember learning, or doing, or feeling, they all happened to the person who survived that hole in her little toddler's heart.
I am not empty. I am still learning, and doing, and feeling new things. I run, and I play, and I drink, and I cuss, and I get tattoos, and I am held in others' arms. I like sunrises, the smell of cut grass, the first sip of a cold beer, slow deep kisses, cowboy boots, and dancing in the kitchen. I want to travel, and make new friends, and lick bits of chocolate off my fingertips. I'm not willing to give those things up in exchange for the role of the grieving widow. I have to build a new life to carry me through the next year or five or ten or forty or whatever I have left on my own. That may well make me a piss-poor widow, but I hope it makes me a good friend, colleague, mentor, auntie, lover, confidant or whatever else the universe has in store for me.
So, you may be saying to yourself at this point, "Yeah, okay, so what the hell do I say to you? I mean, you don't care about basketball and your husband is dead, give me a clue here." Fair 'nuff. And, yes, this is hard for all of us, so let's be forgiving and patient. My top recommendations are:
- "How are you?" (shows no presumptions, reveals a basic level of concern, implies a willingness to listen so don't use this one if you are not, actually, willing to listen because sometimes we who were left behind do need to talk, but try not to say it with that furrowed-brow-half-frown-"oh-you-poor-thing" look on your face, that kind of undercuts this one);
- "You're doing great" (this remains a struggle sometimes, a little reassurance can be helpful, other related options include "You're crushing this," "You rock," and "You go, Girl");
- "I am going to Costco, what can I get for you?" (I think we all know how I hate the Sample Eaters at Costco who have apparently never had a Vienna Sausage before and approach them with an enthusiasm I find truly distressing--and it's an hour drive away--so this is genuinely helpful and arguably a nice thing to do for friends even if they don't suddenly find themselves living all alone);
- "Let's get a drink" (this, I think, is self-explanatory, but it's nice to be invited out and to spend time with friends laughing and chatting rather than sitting around in an empty house);
- and my all-time number-one favorite, "I love you." That one always works. Every time.