Have you ever wondered how your spouse would have handled it if you'd been the first one to die, what his first year of widowhood would have been like? In Don’s case it’s a no brainer. The quality of his life would have changed drastically because there is no way he could have lived alone, being right side paralyzed and with severe language disorders. His next in line POA after me would have had no choice but to put him a nursing home. If there is anything good to say about him dying I can say I’m glad my husband was the first to go.
A few years ago I told him in jest that he’d miss me for about a minute and a half if I died. Don was not shy and I could visualize him becoming an unofficial greeter---no matter where he’d end up living---hanging around the front door hoping someone would stop and talk. But Don didn’t take my toss-away remark lightly. Over the next few hours he kept grabbing my arm and emphatically saying, “NO!” With his aphasia that was the most language he had at his disposal to tell me that he would miss me more than a minute and half---that and his expressive, sad eyes. I felt bad for making him think about me leaving him behind. The loneliness of living without language is hard enough for me to imagine doing but to live that way among strangers is something I can’t grasp. Cripe, I was so worried about that happening to Don that I kept a notebook full of information about his history, likes, dislikes and habits just in case I did die first. Same with the dog.
Speaking of Levi, have you ever tried to put a sweater on a dog who simply doesn’t understand the thrill of looking good while keeping Warm? Levi hates winter coats and sweaters and I guess it’s my own fault. The first one I bought for him I mistakenly got the wrong style. I soon discovered it wasn’t made to accommodate little boy parts and when he peed the material absorbed all the liquid and held it close to his body. In my defense, I didn’t even know they made gender specific dog coats and I’ve been buying dog coats and sweaters my entire adult life. So when I bought the next one I took him to the pet store to try some on to…ah, check out the fit of his undercarriage. That’s when I got my first clue that Levi is not a fashionista. Coats are for sissy, Mom! Don’t make we wear that thing. Yesterday I had him outside with me while I was shoveling snow and every so often I’d show him his coat and talk sweetly to him about putting it on but he’d run to the opposite end of the deck. I’d rather be cold than look like a dork! Argyle, Mom! Really? Argyle? Get me something PSY might wear and we’ll talk. So this is my lonely life. I talk to the dog and I hear him talking back in my head.
Recently I read a blog entry by another widow who said she "isn’t cut out for widowhood." She didn’t like living alone, and was very lonely. That part of her husband dying, she said, was a bigger challenge than dealing with the grief she felt when he passed away. Oh, goody. Why did I have to read that? Then she went on to say she wanted to get re-married as soon as possible. May the gods of snide remarks forgive me for saying this but did she frigging overdose on fairly tales in her youth? What does she think, that you can just call 1 (800) GET-AGUY and a new husband will arrive on her doorstep? She is only four months out from her husband’s death. Four months! As a feminist, I find that astonishing.
But in the interest of full disclosure, at four months out from Don’s death Levi started asking for a puppy "to take Dad's place" and I’d tell him if he still wants one after a year has past we’d talk about it. In doggie time, though, four months out is probably a respectable period of mourning. Either way, the other woman’s blog got me to thinking about the difference between grief and loneliness. I decided that a lot of us widows don’t separate the two emotions in our minds as surgically precise as she did. Maybe if we did, it would be easier to move forward. I’m not suggesting that the 1(800) GET-AGUY number should come in the packets many widows get in the mail from support groups. Hell, no. But for me, I need to explore the idea that grief is about losing Don and loneliness is about finding me. Who am I without Don? Am I still a whole human being without a man in my life? Did the feminist in me sell out and start believing in the fairytale White Knight that saves the damsel in distress? And since I can give an emphatic ‘NO!’ to that question then the next question becomes: where do I look to find to the strength that will help me thrive again on my own?