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

Tandem and Telescope: A Father’s Day Lament

The tandem is gone. I finally sold it, at a garage sale, for a tenth of what it originally cost.

The telescope, too. Sold on Letgo, for a third of a tenth of what it originally cost. It sat in the garage for more than 15 years; he stopped using it when something went awry with the star-finder thing; IMG_20190602_133923769_HDR~3.jpghe wasn’t much for spending time trying to figure out how to fix things, even if it was just how to recharge or replace a battery. He lost his astronomical mo.

Or maybe it was just that I had chosen the wrong kind of scope, or didn’t get the right filters or something, and he didn’t want to hurt my feelings so he used it for a little while and then retired it to the garage, where it stayed gathering dust for years. I was glad to see it go.

The tandem is another story. That was hard. It went to someone down the street and around the corner, but I’m guessing it isn’t going to stay there – probably will get resold for more than I got for it.  So though I told the buyer I was happy it would stay in the neighborhood, I cried when it was rolled away.

Mike transported our daughter all over the place on that thing, from the time she was in elementary school through half of high school, when she had gotten big enough to make her difficulty with pedaling with any force, a problem.

The diagnosis came a year or so after that.

So off to a corner by the wall in the garage it went, to gather dust itself, forlorn.the tandem

People in town who never met or spoke to Mike, knew him by that bike. They saw him riding her to school, then home by himself (a total distance of 5 miles), then back to school to pick her up and home again.

They saw them riding together on the bike paths, through the forest preserves and to the pool in the summer.

The bike, and how Mike used it to get her from place to place, become a sort of living “meme” of  fatherly devotion around here. Mike simultaneously got our daughter some fresh air and exercise (her legs had to go up an down, even if she couldn’t pedal very hard) while also giving her a view beyond the boundaries of our home and her school. Kids with developmental differences are often isolated, kept in their “special” classrooms for more than half the day, then transported to some kind of program filled with more kids with differences, to spend time until a parent could pick them up.

Mike didn’t let that happen to her.

Even though he chose to spend a lot of time alone, imposing a lot of isolation on himself, and by extension on our daughter, they were a very happy team, and under his protection, on the back of that bike, she got a broader view of the world and its possibilities.

Mike also got time away from the routine – the frequent drudgery – of being the stay-at-home parent.

But he made sure we knew that he loved his job.

And the bike was very much a symbol of that. Not just to me.

So if you happen to come across a big blue tandem on E-bay or some other online marketplace, please show it some respect. It might have been ridden by a World’s Greatest Dad.

I never got him that t-shirt. He wouldn’t have worn it, anyway, and he didn’t need a t-shirt for everyone to see what a great Dad he was. All he had to do was get on that bike.

There are two women, myself and our daughter, who have shed more tears today over that bike, and the Dad who rode it with such strength, love and devotion.

May happy memories, and maybe a good bike ride, comfort those who are missing their Dads today, and strengthen bereaved Moms who have to tell their kids that it is OK to cry.

And listen, helpless, when they do.

Trying to decide whether today’s cold drizzly mist is a blessing or an excuse, I remain,

Your thinking of buying a “World’s Greatest Dad” balloon to tie to the shepherd’s crook at Mike’s gravesite,

Ridiculouswoman