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

Thinking Thematically

I got a notification that my stats had experienced a surge yesterday, January 18, 2021, when this blog post was at the top of my home page.

I can’t explain it, other than maybe some weird, misguided attraction to the word “revolution,” which, used here, is just another way of saying “resolution.” As in New Year’s.

The phrase that contains the word links back to a post I wrote a few years ago, about changing things as a way to keep going after my husband died of cancer. So if anyone came looking for something darker, I hope they were very, very disappointed. And I hope they never come back.

I used to make a list of New Year’s “Revolutions.” The idea of changing something that I can’t change back has helped me keep moving ahead, in these years without Mike.

We just passed our 5th New Year’s Even without him. It was weird. Angelic Daughter went to bed early and slept through the sounds of fireworks from somewhere close by. I was surprised they even had them this year.

I finally turned on the TV to watch the last 45 minutes or so of the odd, empty Times Square celebrations, flipping back and forth until I settled on CNN as the most entertaining. I was lucky to land there just in time to see Andra Day sing a stunningly beautiful rendition of “Imagine.”

The recorded music that played after the ball drop included Ray Charles’ version of “America,” which made me cry, thinking that we sure could use some more of God’s grace shed on us right now.

I waited until it was midnight in Chicago to open the Veuve Clicquot. We tried it years ago, before it cost $40 a bottle, and liked it. Made it a tradition for New Year’s Eve. When Mike was here, I remember describing the flavor as “like drinking liquid gold glitter.” This year, it tasted too dry to me.

I’ve always been vaguely aware that the Veuve Clicquot brand was run by a widow, taking over for her husband in the late 1700s. But I wasn’t thinking about Madame Clicquot when I bought the bottle – I was just thinking of remembering Mike on New Year’s Eve.

When I got the bottle out of the fridge, I noticed something on the back label that I hadn’t before: there’s a line across the bottom that says, “La Veuve The Widow Die Witwe La Viuda La Viuva.”

Wow. Rub it in, much? “Widow,” in 5 languages!

I’ve never felt more widow-y than in 2020. Being responsible for Angelic Daughter’s safety this year has been nerve wracking. “Don’t take your mask off!” “Wash your hands for two Happy Birthdays!” DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!”

I hope my bouts of hysterical maternal protection haven’t made things harder for Angelic Daughter. She’s been so resilient and patient, but the loneliness is getting to her. She misses her friends. She reaches out with texts and calls, but half are never answered. She sends greeting cards. Of the twenty or so friends she has sent cards to, five have responded. Yet she doesn’t lose hope.

“Almost to the New Year!” “Almost Martin Luther King Day!” “We’ll have meet-ups again soon!”

I guess I can be excused for not building a business empire of my own, like Madame Clicquot did, this past year. But that line on her champagne label made me look back on those past New Year’s Eves with Mike with a chill – that portent, a warning, staring us right in the face. I didn’t notice it then, but I’ll never forget it now.

Recently, I found out about a different way to look at aspirations for a new year: choosing one word to guide your actions, instead of making a list of resolutions. Apparently this is something Melinda Gates popularized.

I’ve been trying to come up with my word for 2021. Gates has used “grace,” “shine,” “spacious,” and “gentle.”

I want a word that helps me focus on what’s truly important. I want a word that filters out the noise, and helps me live with love and laughter. This past year has been a tough test for both of those.

I thought of “purpose,” but that’s not quite it. “Meaning” doesn’t seem quite right, either. I want a word that evokes an appreciation for the preciousness of time–that every second matters, and I should live that way.

Intentionality? Nah, too new-agey-trendy. Savor? Makes me think of food. What one word would encapsulate the desire to make every minute count?

“Urgency” sounds too desperate. I’m trying to stay calm here, but focus on what’s important. “Clarity” is good, but I think Ms. Gates has used that one, and I don’t want to be a copycat.

How about “lucid?” The synonyms for that one get into bright, gleaming, luminous, etc. I checked for synonyms for “present,” as in “I’m here,” but I was looking for a word that implies being present-mindfully, lovingly, present.

That brought me back to “now.” Why didn’t I think of that? Actually, I did think of that, a few years ago, in much the same way.

So, I think I’ve got it. My word for 2021 will be “now.” That’s a word that will help me attend to how I’m spending my time, each moment of each day, without before and after.

Happy I spent “now” writing this for you, I remain,

your flawed, anxious, trying to stay calm and attentive,

Ridiculouswoman

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