It’s now been 7 ½ months since my husband died. My late husband. I am trying to get used to referring to him as my late husband to avoid the confusion that has come up a few times when the person I’m talking to asks follow up questions and then I awkwardly announce that I am widowed. I’m not used to attaching the word “late” to any reference to him because he was perpetually early to most everything—in fact, there’s a long-running family joke about him showing up at the airport a day early for a flight.
I still have days where I get out of bed only to spend most of the day in a puddle on the couch crying, but those days are farther apart now. Last week I only had one day like that, but this week I’m making up for it. I got two pieces of news this week that my husband would have found amusing and the desire to share the news with him seems to have kicked off some intense longing for more time with him. The non-linear road into the future continues.
Because my thinking this week is scattered and punctuated by crying bouts, I’m offering a list of random observations about my experience of grief at 7 ½ months:
- I am grateful to wear a mask on public transportation because it hides my crying. I’ve heard from many grieving folks that their commute home from work brings out their grief. Maybe it’s something about returning home to a house that is missing the person we used to come home to. I cry many days on the bus home from work. It often surprised me because I can now go a full workday without falling apart, so the crying-on-the-way-home can seem out of the blue.
- Going to places I went to with my husband continues to be difficult. I went yesterday to the art museum and cried most of the time, flooded with memories of going there with him after his stroke, making sure the artwork was in his limited field of vision, reading the exhibit text to him, and making smart ass observations about the pieces. I had to sit down several times to collect myself.
- I still can’t go to restaurants we went to together. I still haven’t been to our favorite neighborhood place and I avoid walking past it.
- I avoid some of the foods he loved, which puts many delicious ingredients and dishes out of bounds—like eclairs, cherries, tomatoes, and tangerines (his first solid food request after his stroke was for tangerines)—although I have made his true love, bacon, twice, and for his birthday in January, I found some prime rib in the freezer that he actually cooked before his stroke and had that. So yes, my late husband managed to posthumously cook his own birthday dinner.
Last week, I made one of his favorite meals for the first time since he died: enchiladas. It felt momentous and I cried while eating them, but damn, they were good.
- Many tasks that I don’t anticipate stirring up anything for me surprise me by sending me down memory lane. For example, earlier this week I started gathering receipts for my taxes. Many of them tell a story of Tom’s last days: how obsessive he was about knife sharpening, his ongoing quest to get my sister or me to buy him a ludicrous corkscrew device for his ear wax, his love of all things warm and soft, his generosity toward others.
- Logic goes out the window. With the cold snap and snow this week, I was worried about Tom’s bench getting cold. Tom hated being cold and the idea of his bench being covered in snow bothered me. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. one morning and hurried to the bench in the dark to brush the snow off it, realized the ridiculousness of what I was doing, and sat down and laugh-cried for some time.
Simultaneous with all this, I am enjoying my job again, participating in writing workshops and retreats, and traveling a bit. Feeling connected to my work again has been very important to me. I have always been passionate about my career and very much have identified as a professor and writing center director; feeling disconnected from it was disorienting. For the first six months after Tom died, I didn’t care at all about my job and found almost everything about it tedious. My re-engagement didn’t sneak up slowly—it happened all at once with the new year. The fall semester closed with me not caring about it at all and then on January 3, I had ideas and energy around work.