September 19 marked three months since my amazing husband died. Grieving never ends but it does change. I’m back at work half-time (I had enough annual leave saved up that I was able to go half-time this semester but maintain my income—a privilege I wish every widowed person had) and the routine of work and the need to leave my house and interact with others twice a week have been helpful.
A lot of things that didn’t feel possible a month ago feel possible now:
- Thinking concretely about the future, at least some of the time. For the first two months after Tom died, all I could think about was the day in front of me and maybe, maybe the day after that. In the third month, I started being able to think about the next week or month. Two big markers of my being able to think about the future are that I applied for a 2023 sabbatical, and I committed to a trip to Europe next summer, which I’ll say more about below.
- Navigating a new city without my husband. That trip to Europe I mentioned? I’ll spend a few days in a city I’ve never been to and I’ll go alone, then I’ll meet up with friends in a second city for a few days, and then I’ll spend the last few days in a third city, alone. With my low vision, I am always anxious about going to new places and going alone, but my husband and I had talked about traveling more and I am not going to let my fears keep me from doing it. I deliberately picked cities he and I never went to so I won’t have any memories to contend with.
- Doing some simple cooking. Cooking for my husband was pure joy—I love cooking and he loved my cooking, so almost everything I made was greeted with, “This is delicious, babe.” Cooking for just me is not nearly as fun—even when I try to channel my inner Tom and tell myself, “This is delicious, babe.” Nope, just not the same. Plus I haven’t had much appetite since he died. But last week, on a whim, I invited a friend over and made us dinner. Then I did the same thing this week. Friends don’t call me “babe,” but they do compliment my cooking and it feels good to be eating real dinners at the table a few nights a week.
- Cleaning up the closet. When my husband had his stroke in June 2020, his recovery and care became the main focus of my life. It was exhausting, especially layered on top of the pandemic, and the walk-in closet in our basement bedroom—a bedroom we couldn’t use because he couldn’t get down the stairs—bore the brunt of that exhaustion. From June 7, 2020 until September 25, 2021, I did not put any clothing away. I wore only a limited rotation of outfits because the thought required to put together an outfit was too much for me, so the handful of outfits I wore just got piled on a footstool in the closet. When I did laundry, I simply put the clean clothes on the pile. The thought crossed my mind every few months that I should put the clothes away but the effort to make that happen was too much for me. Finally, last Saturday, I had the energy to do it, and now, for the first time in 15 ½ months, everything in my closet is where it belongs.
- Asking for what I need. I’ve been able to tell people I need company, I need to be alone, I need help with the dogs, I need a ride someplace, I need time to think, I need to be distracted from thinking. For the first couple of months after my husband died, I didn’t even know what I needed, so asking for it was impossible. Now I’m able to identify what I need, at least some of the time, and ask for it directly.
- Listening to others. After my husband died, I tried to listen to what others said, but my mind couldn’t really absorb it. I heard the words but my comprehension was limited. I’ve noticed in the last few weeks that my ability to comprehend what others are saying and to authentically engage with it is slowly coming back.
- Donating many of my husband’s things. After my husband died, I moved most of his medical equipment to the garage and most of his clothing and other belongings into the guest bedroom and closed the door. Out of sight, out of mind. About a month ago, I was able to sort through the things in the guest bedroom and identify the things I was still attached to and the things I was ready to let go of. I made a large donation of clothing. I still have a lot of his clothes—some will become a quilt made by a wonderful new friend of mine. Some will stay in the guest bedroom for an indeterminate amount of time. Some have been moved down to a drawer in the bedroom closet that I labeled “Things that smell like Tom.” Weird, maybe, but I’m ok with that. I have still not been able to bring myself to open the bag that contains the shoes and leg brace he wore to the hospital the last time. I’m not sure why I can’t open that bag yet, but I respect that I can’t yet.
- Enjoying myself at the celebration of life. I was able to enjoy myself at events in celebration of my husband’s life on the weekend of September 11-12. I wasn’t sure how I would feel as that weekend approached—Would I be overcome by grief? Checked out? Overwhelmed by details? It turns out that with help from family and friends, I was able to actually enjoy the company of the people who showed up and feel truly celebratory about the life my husband and I shared and the joy and laughter he brought to the world.
I’ll talk in next week’s post about what still doesn’t feel possible.