Life After Death

Just to pick up on yesterday’s topic a bit, my least favorite columnist at the local paper published her latest article on surviving the death of a spouse today. I understand the obsession.

She is only a widow of about six weeks or so and in the beginning it consumes you. You replay those last moments on a continual feed in your brain. It’s not painful in any way that you can explain to someone who has never been through it. It’s not pain at all. It’s an altering of reality that permeates existence to the point where you are not sure if you are part of the real world anymore. Everything is so removed and even for me, someone who often doesn’t feel visible to the world at large, this was eerie.

There are a lot of things about the aftermath of death that are annoying. People want to hug you; even people who know you would rather be peeled like a grape than be embraced by them. People you don’t like, and who are aware of this fact, impose their guilt-ridden amnesia on you as they make their worthless offers of assistance. They try to feed you. A lot. And usually baked goods. You spend a lot of time making other people feel better.

The night of Will’s wake I smiled and hugged and pretended to listen to an awful lot of people who frankly were a drain on my rather limited emotional reserve. And then they retreat, waiting maybe for you to “get over it”? Everyone you remain in contact with treads carefully in word and deed. You want to tell them to save their energy because most of the time you aren’t really paying any attention to them anyway, but you don’t because you know that these small acts of kindness will disappear quickly enough without any help from you at all.

Everyday activities that are actually necessary like cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, paying the bills seem to require Herculean effort. You live off PopTarts and feed your kid lunchables (okay maybe that was just me). You don’t sleep. The house makes noises it never did before, and in a last ditch effort to stave off complete insomnia you leave all the lights in the house on except the one in your bedroom. At some point you start turning them off, mainly because the electric bill is looking scary, until only the hall light is on. I’ll let you know when that one goes out.

You start to worry that possibly the stress has given you early-onset Alzheimer’s (and a veritable medical dictionary of other diseases while your very patient PA reassures, you during office visits that are fast becoming weekly, that you are fine). Every place you go you remember a time when you were there with him too, to the point where you stop frequenting those places and develop new haunts that aren’t so haunted.

And you desperately want to rebuild your life. Start over. I cleaned out closets. Threw things away that I had actually never used (mostly things from his mother so the guilt was minimal) and hauled the rest to the Goodwill. Then there was getting used to my single status. Even though Will hadn’t lived with me or our daughter in fifteen months, I was still married and people treated me as though I was.

Funny thing that ring on your left hand. It is a powerful talisman that confers great status on the wearer. I took it off the day after the wake. I had been wearing both his and mine that whole week but I knew that if I didn’t take it off, I never would. So, now in the eyes of the world I was just another single woman with a child.

Funny, but no one asks me about my daughter’s father when I talk about her. At the graduate seminar last week, a man from Madison chatted me up a bit and very obviously checked out my ring finger when I made mention of my little girl. But he never asked about her dad, even though he mentioned his ex-wife a lot. In our modern world I am a divorcée until proven otherwise, I guess.

The need to begin again becomes almost as palpable as the grief itself. A release from limbo. I don’t really cry. Now and again a song on the radio or something my daughter will say or do will bring tears to my eyes and that awful strangling feeling. I’m not angry. At least not with God or my husband. I don’t spend any time at all asking or wondering why this happened to us though I am annoyed at the time it has stolen. I’m a plane circling, waiting for permission to land and not really certain if I need to be granted the privilege or if I am supposed to plow through a forest and create a landing strip for myself. I’m thinking the latter while preferring the former.

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