moving after being widowed


Image by 4nitsirk via Flickr

From time to time the topic of choice comes up on this grief journey. There is a camp, and I fall squarely into it, that believes that happiness is something you choose. The other side of the coin is the belief that you cannot make yourself “get happy”. The reality, as it often does, lies somewhere in between the extremes. I made the choice to be happy again long before Will died. Happiness has always been the light at the end of my tunnel. If it hadn’t been there. If I couldn’t believe in it. I wouldn’t be here right now. So in some ways it is rather simple. But, in others, it is not. I didn’t wake up happy one day. My decision to pursue happiness actively didn’t get me to the state of bliss quickly. Indeed, I would say that though much of my life is on track and I am quite happy with where I am heading, there are still pieces of the puzzle out of place or missing altogether. The idea that happiness is achieved simply by the act of making the choice is one that is most common in those who refuse to choose. Those of us who have chosen, know better.


Happiness is not handed to anyone. There is work involved and in the beginning as many setbacks as there are steps forward. The happiness seekers are criticized for wanting to distract themselves from their grief or avoid it altogether. It’s not possible to do this however. You can’t make the milestones and memories disappear. When I sold the house, it brought out of the shadows the memories of that summer we bought it. Of Will’s rapid descent into dementia. Of learning he was terminal. All the financial difficulties. Worry about how I would care for a dying man and a not quite toddler and still hold down a full time job because we needed the money and the health insurance. I am planning a major move and preparing to marry. I don’t need to go back there right now, but I do. Those memories would have stayed put otherwise. And you might ask, what does that scary time and sad, painful memories have to do with happiness? Aside from provide a contrast? They are a reminder not to take now for granted. To be thankful for the love I have found with Rob and the life we are starting. Because grieving is not just about leaving someone behind, it is also about taking stock of where you are and deciding where you want to be. Some of us decide that where we want to be is stuck. More of us, I think, choose to push through and pursue a course that, though harder at times, is ultimately more rewarding. Grief work is not about wallowing. It is about living. And if that sounds simplistic, it is because most things in life are rather simple. It is we who complicate matters with over-analysis and supposition.


“Thinking makes it so” is what I believe Shakespeare wrote in his ode to being stuck in grief, Hamlet. I never have liked that play. I loathe the character of Hamlet. I had a professor in a summer humanities course who waxed endlessly about the intricacies of the character and the profundity of his thought processes. I just saw someone who was more content in rationalizing and second guessing because it was safe. In the great “to be or not to be” soliloquy, Hamlet ponders the question of seeking refuge in death and wonders why he cannot. He surmises that it is the dilemma of trading the known for the unknown. It is the same for those mired in grief. To make a decision to seek happiness is to trade the safety of your known misery for the uncertainty of finding a life beyond it and in seeking happiness, end up more miserable.


When you choose to be happy, you are in no way guaranteeing that happiness will be the outcome. Too many variables. However, in not making the choice you are assuring that you won’t be.



Dream House Country Inn (1852)

Image by origamidon via Flickr

Selling the house is proving to be more traumatic than I would have ever guessed. In so many ways the house has been my prison these last 3 years. There are very few happy memories and the majority of those are recent ones, but I have been feeling more and more down as prospective buyers traipse through. In part, I think, because of the silent (or in the case of one snotty woman not so very) judging that goes on.


Mick remarked to me in an email early on in the listing process that she found the whole process of showing houses to buyers weird. That it would feel as though they were checking her out too. In a way she is right. The walls need paint. The flooring is outdated and worn. The bathrooms need a bit of updating as well. Nothing monumental but if you didn’t know my story, you would wonder what kind of lazy home-owner I have been.


In an even odder way, it makes me feel more like a failure than I already do when I reassess my care-taking and early widowed days. Leave it to me to seek perfectionism in roles that I never wanted in the first place.


This house was supposed to be our future. We had spent endless hours speculating and planning. Thinking about it now, our dreams were so cliche. A suburban life. The kind that everyone else lives. At the time I wanted to be like everyone else. I guess if I am being honest I sometimes still do want that. To be like everyone else. I am not sure though that I am like everyone else or ever was. The root of my discontent perhaps is that I have spent a large part of my life trying to not be myself.


When I go into the basement, I see the pool table that Will wanted. The patio out the sliders to the backyard should be a deck. Dee’s room upstairs should be occupied with the baby brother she has always wanted, and the spare bedroom should be green with Disney princesses on the wall. The kitchen should look like someone actually cooks, and the living room should actually have furniture in it that we shopped for on a Sunday afternoon while the kids climbed on the displays as though they were at the playground down the street. His white truck should be sitting in the drive and the creepy guy who lives next door shouldn’t have ever felt free to watch me like he still sometimes does.


It’s silly to let all these endings drag me down when I have so much love and life surrounding me and so many happy events and happier days and nights to look forward too. But the past must be bid a proper farewell and tucked in to rest for awhile. I want to meet the future with my heart and mind fully present and that means letting certain memories and regrets have their moment when they come knocking. Acknowledge the past that could have been while remembering that you never were meant to live there.


Tricky business, like letting go. I didn’t realize until recently that I had let a certain part of myself go back there from time to time. I had always thought that I was moving forward at all times. Surprise, eh?


My favorite couple to come through so far looked to be first timers. I could hear her gushing about the color of the upstairs bath which I had loved myself when I first saw it though the realtor and Will thought it was awful. She was animated and excited and bursting with enthusiasm. The house deserves someone like her after what it has gone through. It should have laughter and life to look forward to again.

a nice starter home

Image by girl_onthe_les via Flickr

I came home this afternoon to a “For Sale” sign in the yard. I had actually been a bit worried about my reaction. This was the house that Will and I wanted to make a home out of. Have another baby in. Live the future we had planned. None of those things ever came to pass. It is still just a house. There is no baby and never will be. Ironically we’d never had even the slightest chance at a future from the day we first met because he was already dying.


There was a message waiting on the machine already from the realtor who had found the buyer for our last house asking could he bring clients by later and could I call him to confirm. I decided to take that as a good omen.


I would love for this house to be sold in a matter of weeks. It has held me prisoner long enough. It was meant to be someone else’s home and future, I think, and I have just been “keeping it warm” for them. But I am realistic enough to know that finding a buyer in the current market could take a while and, regardless, we are leaving for our new home in Canada with Rob mid-June.


All this packing and realtor stuff has brought back memories of selling the last house and all that was going on at the time. The house we were living in was mine. I had bought it the summer before I met Will. I loved that house. I loved the area which was the original part of the suburb we live in. The neighborhood had been flooded out in 1993 and the house on my lot torn down and replaced with the tiny starter home I ended up buying. It was just a couple of blocks from the old shopping district. I could walk to the farmer’s market on Thursday evenings and over to the post office. There was a walking path not too far off that I did my daily running on. I had an old-fashioned front porch where I would sit on the steps and listen to the trees whisper to the skies on windy evenings in the summer.


When Will moved in, we put in a brick patio in the back and grilled out with friends on the weekends. Actually, we grilled all the time as soon as the weather was warm. He loved to grill. The epitome of the male stereo-type if you want to know.


We decided to sell and find a bigger place when our daughter was about 9 months old. Will was already quite sick but we were still choosing to believe the doctors who told him that it was stress and depression. I am not sure I ever really believed that but I know that by the time we had begun the process to sell the house, I didn’t believe it at all.


The house sold the weekend of July 4th. It had only taken about 4 weeks. By the end of that week, he had been placed on leave because of two accidents he had with his cube van. Ultimately they would fire him, but at the time I was so angry with him for keeping his troubles at work from me. I still sometimes wonder what he was thinking then but I doubt he had any clear comprehension of what was happening by that point as he was just weeks away from the point of no return physically and mentally.


The day we moved I had to forge his signature on some of the documents because he couldn’t really write anymore. It was obvious to anyone who talked with him, looked at him even, that he was very ill. Moving day was a blur of people and an overwhelming desire to throw my baby into my car and drive as fast and as far away as I could get.


I had loved this house the first time I had gone through but from the moment we were moved in all I wanted was to leave. I didn’t hang pictures on the wall. I stacked unopened totes and boxes in the basement that are still sitting there today. I just knew somehow that this was not permanent.


Selling feels right though I can’t deny that it is stirring up memories of times past. Feelings of being overwhelmed, helpless, lost, cheated, trapped. Not good times. But, they are just memories.