Sharona with her late husband, Ed
The receptionist hands me a questionnaire to fill out - Name. Address. Telephone Number. So far, it’s all routine. Marital Status.
Suddenly, I’m in tears. I try to hide my face. The pen falls from my hand and I bend down to pick it up. I’m embarrassed. “Is something wrong, dear?” asks the receptionist kindly. “It’s okay”, I mumble. I grasp the form and blindly look around the waiting room for an empty chair.
There’s one between an old woman and a small child whose mother is trying to keep him occupied. The child looks curiously at my tear-stained face. I almost drop the doctor’s form as I search in my pocketbook for a tissue. The old woman on my other side looks away politely. Maybe she understands. Perhaps, she, too, is a widow.
Marital Status: Widow
I should be used to it by now. It’s been a while since he died. Most of my life has been happy, a happy dream that we thought would go on for years and years yet. We weren’t ready for the nightmare of the last two years. No matter how much of the pain was shared by family and friends, he and I felt alone and frightened – and now he’s gone. I’m free of the worry, of the arrangements, of the responsibilities. Why don’t I feel free?
Black widow spider
The “widder-woman” that everybody says is a witch
I can do anything I want to do, go anywhere I want to go. I took early retirement from my job in order to be with him, to help him when he was so ill and needed me so much. He was always such a responsible man. His life insurance was paid up. I was listed as the beneficiary in his pension plan. I have my own small pension. I have enough money. I’m free.
Free to do what?
Our children are grown and settled with their own families. They call a lot and come to see me often. One of my remaining pleasures is visiting them and enjoying the grandchildren. I have good friends and they invite me and I like to spend time with them.
Time. I have a lot of time. I should use it well. I should volunteer to help others. I should travel and see the world. “Mother, do something for yourself”, my children say. The only thing I want to do is the impossible. I want to turn back the clock. I want him here with me. I want a chance to appreciate him more, to show him how much he means to me, to spend all this “free” time together.
Now, I am no longer the most important person in anybody’s life. My children, much as I know they love me, have their own busy lives. I once read a comment about marriage that rang true even then and now, more so: “In marriage, each person is a witness to the life of the other.” Yes, he was a witness to my deepest thoughts and feelings – but, also to all the little things of daily life that nobody else knows - that I like to listen to the radio while I prepare breakfast, that blue is my favorite color, that I water the house-plants on Tuesday and Friday. . .
Now, nobody else even knows where I am. I could go missing for hours before anybody would notice. When I leave the house nobody wants to know where I’m going or when I think I’ll be back. When I come home there’s nobody to greet me, nobody who’s happy to see me. When I read something interesting in the paper there’s nobody sitting in that armchair across the room ready to hear about it. When I laugh out loud at some phrase in a book I’m reading nobody says “what’s funny?” When I sneeze nobody says “God bless you.”
I turn to religion. I pray. I read some philosophy. What is the meaning of life? What is death? Where is he now? Sometimes I almost feel him near me. Sometimes I see him in my dreams. Can the idea of “multiple realities” be true?
I read a description of mourning that said it all: “I could write a handbook on mourning: how it weaves in and out of the ordinary traffic of your days, for weeks and months and even years, sometimes diverting you with a sharp little blip or reminder, like the warning blips from a siren (“pull over to the side of whatever you’re doing, and remember”); other times bringing you to a full stop with a piercing, extended wail, requiring you to leave the traffic altogether, turn your ignition off, put your head down on the steering wheel, let yourself be overwhelmed by the incredible words “Never Again” and wait for your breath to come back.”
Friends say, “Go on a tour somewhere. Go on a cruise. Get out. See new places. Meet new people.” Just thinking about it frightens me. If the new places are beautiful, who will share them with me? If the new people are friendly and want to get to know me, how will I tell them about myself? I feel empty.
I miss him so much. I miss his voice, his smile, his touch.
I cry a lot. Sometimes, my children cry with me. I’m sure they also cry when they’re alone. They, too, loved him so much. My grandchildren see me cry. I tell them, “I miss Grandpa”. I know they miss him too. My fifth-grade grandson “interviewed” me and wrote about Grandpa’s childhood. He got an “A”. When I was visiting, my five-year old granddaughter brought two pillows to the guest room. She gave me one and put the other one on the second guest bed, saying, “This is for Grandpa, if he comes.” Her three-year old sister was serving tea from her doll tea set. She brought me a tiny tray with two cups and saucers. She handed me one cup and put the tray down beside me, saying “Give one to Grandpa.”
“Life goes on,” they all say. “Time heals.” “It will get easier”. “Your memories comfort you.” “You’ll feel better,” they say. They’re probably right. . .
I begin to have thoughts about building a new life. The thoughts make me feel guilty but they appear anyway. They say that those who had a happy marriage are the ones who remarry soonest.
Hesitantly, I share these thoughts with my children. My son says, “We had a wonderful father whom we loved very much and whom we miss very much. We have a wonderful mother whom we love very much and we want her to be happy.”
Maybe, someday, I’ll be able to be happy again.