The Widow Rules

I make lists of arbitrary “rules,” for holidays, or for living as a middle-aged woman, or for taking fall excursions.

But haven’t made the obvious list for this blog: The Widow Rules.

Angelic Daughter and I are rounding the bases of the fifth set of holidays and anniversaries without Mike, the calendar shoving us toward August, and the fifth anniversary of his death. I’ve written about how I think ritualizing these milestones is probably unhealthy.

But five years feels significant. From the frantic activity of the first year, to the breakdown toward the end of the second, to the slow healing of the third, Angelic Daughter and I have been through a lot together.

Then in year 4, the pandemic hit. I’d go out only for groceries, prescriptions, or essential medical appointments. I’d watch helplessly as the isolation took its toll on my daughter. Crawling along, day by day, issuing the same reassurances, that it will end, it will be over, eventually.  We will get to see our friends and family again. Sometime.

But the dream of a life beyond grief and loneliness is fading. Retirement, travel, meeting new people, finding a new man, even wanting or desiring a new man at all, seem lost or unattainable to me now.

But losing hope is against the rules (that rule is implied by the others).

So here’s what I’ve got, for a nearly 5-years widow:

1. Clean it when you notice it.

Little tasks add up and aren’t overwhelming, like taking on an entire room. I don’t pressure myself to maintain a pristine household. I shoot for a reasonably healthy one. No one’s coming over now, anyway, and they may not, ever, even “when COVID is over.”

2. Enjoy what you see in the mirror.

I have naturally curly hair. Deal with it. I’m not blow-drying it for anyone, anymore. I gave Angelic Daughter and myself do-it-yourself haircuts when we couldn’t take the shagginess of nearly a year without a visit to the salon anymore. We turned out looking pretty good. Cute, even. But I don’t care if you don’t think so. I like it, and that’s what counts, now. Besides, the Bulgarian is the only man I have ever known, including male relatives and my late husband, who ever noticed a haircut of mine within 72 hours, if ever, anyway. And he was getting paid to work on the house, so being nice was in his best interest.

I’m still using my “skin care for the apocalypse,” exercising regularly, drinking more water daily, and cutting down (or completely abstaining, at least until two weeks after my next vaccine shot and I’m as immune as I’ll get) on certain liquid comforts (used for ‘medicinal purposes,’ as my Dad used to say, on his way back to the bar cart), which has done wonders for my skin. I’ve always enjoyed my face in the mirror, and I still do, when it’s rested, eye-creamed, made-up, and most importantly, lipsticked. But I do that for me. Nobody else ever notices anyway.

3. Forgive yourself.

I can’t change the past. All I can do is change how I think about it, or just let it go. I can try to create a better “past” for my future by reminding myself to live with compassion, humility, forgiveness, and gentleness. When I fail, as I regularly do, I try to forgive myself, and get right back on that horse.

4. Keep learning.

Since starting my job a year and a half ago, I’ve learned how to use about 7 new types of software, plus 4 online tools relevant to my work. I communicate in gifs with my colleagues, as they like to do. Learning new things keeps the mind nimble, it’s fun, and it makes me feel like life is still moving forward–not stuck in stop-time, COVID time, grief time, loneliness time.

5. After you’ve done what you must, do what you love.

I’ve spent most of my adult life doing what I thought was my duty: trying to please my parents, taking care of my husband and child, trying not to screw up. I still have important duties, like staying employed and covered by health insurance, and helping Angelic Daughter learn independent living skills, even if she is too stressed out by loss and isolation to even discuss an independent future. But I refuse to feel guilty about doing what I love, like writing, and, “when COVID is over,” singing, even if it drives my daughter nuts, once I’ve done what I must. Life is happening now, not after I finish the next chore.

I don’t know if these “rules” will help any other widows. I hope they do. Maybe have your own rules to share. Please do. Until then, I remain,

your one-day-at-a-time, enjoy-the-sun-while-it-shines, fail-and-get-up-again,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Piyapong Saydaung from Pixabay

Tree for Two

Mike used to make us wait to the second week of December to get a tree, but Angelic Daughter and I went to fetch one from the big box hardware store early on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Double masked and distanced, I motored in to the outdoor section where the Christmas trees were. Since Mike died, we’ve been getting smaller trees that don’t require me to get up on a ladder to do the lights or the tree topper. Falling and breaking a hip or an arm would be, erm, …. non-optimal.

I went straight for the 6′-7′ section, grabbed one of the shortest trees, gave it a cursory once-over and decided it would do.

Self-check out, and I stood back a good 20 feet while the chain-saw guy cut a slice off the end so the tree could absorb water better. Asked him to chuck it over the chain that separated me from the saw area. Picked it up off the floor, stuffed in the back of the Subaru, and off we went.

The annual Christmas tree fight Mike and I used to have about the tree originated mostly from our inability to use our tree stand correctly. It has a foot pedal in its base, and a separate piece you attach to the trunk of the tree.

You’re supposed to fit the tree, with the separate piece attached, into the base. Then you depress the foot pedal and waggle the tree around until one of you pronounces it straight.

The problem was, we rarely remembered that the piece attached to the trunk is supposed to snap in to the bottom of the base.

For 17 years, we waggled the tree, pronounced it straight, and pushed the foot pedal back into the base, which was supposed to lock the tree in place. It rarely worked, and we settled for teetering trees in danger of keeling over.

This year, I got the tree stand to work the way it’s supposed to after just a few tries. I got the “click” I needed when I lopped off a few more branches to get the attachable base high up enough on the tree.

Minor waggling, and it was straight. Push the pedal in, locked!

Then for the lights. I tested the strings before I started. Predictably, when I got lights around the entire tree and plugged them in, the top half didn’t light up.

Sigh.

My old self would have spend a good 15 minutes swearing and yelling. This year, redoing the lights seemed like a minor inconvenience. Second time around, they lit up just fine. I probably just hadn’t plugged them together tightly enough. Sigh.

We used to put the tree in front of the bay window in our “library” room. I turned that room into a dining room that could seat six. It’s kind of a combo library/dining room with a clubby atmosphere – reading chairs in the window, and another in a corner by the bookcases. I love it, sloppy paint job and all.

The front room, where the fireplace is, to me has always been a more natural habitat for a Christmas tree. My idea for that room was a kind of pseudo-eighteenth/nineteenth century parlor, where guests have conversation before dinner, and the ladies retire after dinner to sip and chat, while the gentlemen enjoy their brandy (but no cigars, not in this house) in the clubby dining room.

I went overboard. Too much furniture. I’ll find another place for four chairs, or sell at least two of them. I liked two I bought online for their eighteenth century shape and animal pattern. Online, the background had appeared to be a lovely gold color.

It turned out to be a pucey- green, which I don’t like, and which doesn’t go with the room. They’re in my “budoir” now. My mid-century looking plum velvet chair is in the basement, all to make room for the Christmas tree. I’ll switch it all back after Christmas, and figure out what to do with the ancestress rocker, as well.

All this talk of excess furniture and guest-worthiness is meaningless until vaccines are more widely available and enough people have taken them, sometime around the end of the third quarter of 2021.

There will be no happy guests and lively conversation this year. It’s just us, with a tree for two.

I got an email from a friend this week, bemoaning the loss of our annual holiday brunch with another friend. But we’re in it to win it, being as careful as we can. We’re hoping to be around next year for a mimosa-saturated good time.

By then, maybe this house will finally see the dinner parties with friends I had hoped to host.

Until then, I remain,

Your double-masked-with-filter-inside, hand-washing, diligently distancing,

Ridiculouswoman

Widows and Germ Freaks

By definition, a pandemic affects everyone on the planet. Synchronicity has been powerfully present – scarcity (toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, food, money, jobs) and distractions (sourdough bread, home improvement, sports with cardboard fans, political vitriol) afflict us all. As I was ruminating on a post about how we’re all widows and germ freaks now, the New York Times published a piece about declining social skills caused by isolation. Synchronicity.

People are still dying, behind glass, while their families helplessly watch on tablets, speaking final words through phones held by brave and compassionate nurses. This plague makes new widows and widowers every day. There are coronavirus orphans, and babies born during this time are dubbed “coronials.”

I hear fewer people using the phrase “back to normal” lately. It’s sinking in now. After a pandemic, there is no “back to normal.” In that sense, we’re all widows now. Doorknobs and light switches, the sound of a sneeze, offices with sealed windows, crowded concert halls – none of these will ever feel “normal” again, even after a safe, effective and adequately tested vaccine emerges. We’re all germ freaks now. I don’t expect consciousness of sources of contagion to go away for anyone who has measured their relationships in 6-foot circles, or washed their hands for two rounds of Happy Birthday, umpteen times a day. Who of us will ever hear that birthday song the same way again?

We’re all widows now, too, in a sense – grieving for a life that was supposed to be, but has vanished. School will never be the same. “Learning pods” may become permanent for those that can afford them. Those that can’t must send their kids, wearing masks they’ll never be able to keep on over their noses for a full school day, into classrooms where they’ll be seated at desks spaced 6 feet apart, surrounded by plexiglass. What kind of learning is that? Learning that laughter and singing and holding hands with your friends are dangerous? How are these kids going to carry that message into their future lives? There is grief for play and joy, displaced by sterile, lonely, fearful childhoods.

Grieving young adults behave wantonly, in total denial, feeling cheated of their “right to paaaartay!,” risking each others’ lives by packing themselves into illegal or unauthorized gatherings, resulting in colleges and universities reporting thousands of new cases. Dorms shut down, classes go back online. College isn’t what it was supposed to be, and may never be whatever that was again.

I take no solace in knowing that so many people now understand the permanence of grief. In my case, it’s carrying the weight of memories of Mike, the good and the bad, every minute of every day. There are triggers everywhere, especially at home, where we’ve been holed up for six months. It’s not that I think about him all the time – I don’t – but the “presence of absence” hangs around me like a shawl.

The “Lost Generation” emerged from the horrors of World War I only to confront a pandemic of their own, one hundred years ago. They were also faced with a president, Warren G. Harding, who was was pro-business, anti-international organizations, and anti-immigration. Three years into his presidency, Harding died, and his administration was revealed as the most corrupt in American history, up to that time. Harding appointees sold government medical supplies to private contractors, and benefited from loans and gifts in exchange for directing oil leases to cronies in the famous Teapot Dome scandal. The echoes are deafening. Harding campaigned on returning to “normalcy.” He succeed only in proving that there are some kinds of “normalcy” we could all do without. No wonder so many of the lost generation writers decamped to Paris.

Will this present generation, a century later, robbed of innocence by 9/11 and of proms and graduations and big happy weddings by a pandemic, turn into another “lost generation,” living for the moment because they expect the next moment to be worse?

I hold on to examples of these young adults’ resilience, leadership, and compassion. Their zeal for justice, equality, dignity, and environmental responsibility is undeniable. They give me hope.

We widows and germ freaks can’t recreate the “before” in whatever our “after” is going to be, if we survive. But we can learn from all this to be kinder, to respect integrity, to appreciate competence, and to be humble in the face of irrefutable scientific facts. We can move forward together with decency.

Naked Emperors, living in houses of cards, always eventually crumble. In the ashes of the chaos they created, those they duped and those whose worst fears they realized are left to clean up the mess together, and move on.

Hunkering with hope, I remain,

Your masked, sanitized, socially distanced, trying-to-stay-positive-while-grieving-with-Angelic-Daughter,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Daniel Langezaal from Pixabay