Many people wonder what it’s like to be in my “situation.” The truth is, when you lose your partner at 34 years old with 3 young kids (one of which is a 2 year old toddler-zilla), unexpectedly and with no choice in the matter, it’s a trauma others can’t really understand unless they are a card-carrying member of this crappy club.
After you’ve finished tucking the kids into bed at night, thrown the trash away, finished the dishes, set tomorrow’s lunch preparations out, beat yourself up over all the things you weren’t able to do because you lack supernatural abilities, check all the locks and windows, and are about to turn off the lights for the day, you pause just before flicking the switch and your eyes linger on his picture. You wonder for a fleeting moment if this is real. It still doesn’t feel real, even 11 months later, but then you remember the silence in your home, the void, the extra space, and you feel it. Your brain knows, but your heart is still struggling to accept it. Your brain tells your heart to suck it up and you trudge off to bed.
You wonder if you should finally throw away his toothbrush. You realize it’s silly to keep it next to yours. You also remember his nato (Japanese fermented soybeans) in the freezer that still needs to be thrown away. Oh well. Maybe another day. You go to your king-sized bed and wonder why you ever bought such a big bed, until each of the children at some point in the night invade the space. You never let your grandmother know this, because she would surely lecture you about not having boundaries with the children. You risk being a “bad” mother and don’t say no because part of you likes having other warm humans there, and part of you is worried that this is what they need too as they continue to cope with the loss
You are never alone, but you are so very alone.
You wake up before the sun rises to make lunch and juice. You turn music on because it’s painfully quiet without someone to talk to. You think of something you want to share with him, but he’s not there, so you let it pass, feeling the pinch of grief. The world is changing and he isn’t around to see it. This isn’t his world anymore. He is a relic of the past. You quickly shoo away the sadness because you don’t have time to mope today.
You pull out of the driveway and contemplate the color you chose for the exterior of the house. You decide you like it, but you feel a little guilty because you changed your husband’s childhood home. You wonder if he would have liked it. You realize it doesn’t matter what he would have thought. He’s gone. Campfire ashes.
It takes an hour to drop off the kids. He used to do it. You try to be upbeat even though every morning is stressful and you’re always running later than you would like.
“It’s going to be a great day!” you say cheerily to the children, your driver’s mirror turned so you can see their faces. Eloise is pouting. She’s not a morning person. Ethan is talking about DNA. Peter’s legs are kicking in the air, dancing to the music.
“Hi Banana Tree,” you say, trying to maintain a tradition of greeting a cluster of banana trees that your husband used to do with the kids. The kids greet the trees back, and then proceed to argue over whether its name is Banana Head or Banana Tree.
“Hi, ‘nana tree!” Peter yells in his squeaky little voice. You realize he never heard Peter talk. Pinch of grief.
You go to work and the person that has taken over his classroom next door has annoying music on that you can hear through the wall. You let it go. But it’s not his voice. You wish you could hear him lecturing about the French Revolution just one more time. The pinch of grief stings, but you let it pass. Must keep going.
You eat lunch alone. You remember sometimes getting annoyed with him and telling him to eat in his classroom so you could work. You regret it. Another pinch of grief. Let it go. Let it go. No time for this. You stare at the walls. You want to complain to him and hear his opinion. You have nobody to complain to that would care like he did. Nobody understood the way he did.
Having a person who thinks you are the smartest and prettiest woman alive outweighed the annoying moments of having a significant other. You realized this after the fact. You are sorry. Moral support, a personal cheerleader, an assistant, a sounding board, somebody to care. Nobody else cares on that level. Not even your family. Nobody knew me the way he did. I am a stranger in this world.
Apparently love is addictive. That explains why it hurt so much at first. Days and weeks and months of numbness. Panic. Desperation.
Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist who studied the topic, said that “People have always said time heals and we’ve proven it.” The part of the brain that has the attachment and addiction has activity levels decrease over time.
It’s true. 11 months out, I can say that it doesn’t hurt as much. Once the fog lifted, things started to fall into place. I’m kicking butt taking care of business at home, just me, on my own two feet. It’s empowering. I will survive this. I’m stronger and better than ever, I think. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I’m different, but I am not broken. Whatever you think about single mothers of small children, you can just go ahead and set those assumptions aside. I don’t exist to fit your definition of who I am. I live my life the way I want to, especially since I know I have a finite amount of years left.
I’m in ass-kicking mode.
Nothing is going to keep me down. I watched my husband take his last breath on earth. I had to see him dead on a hospital bed, rigor mortis setting in, and in those same moments when I could barely breathe, I had to arrange for the disposal of his body. I know there will be more tragedy and sadness and moments of life not going how I planned. You don’t want it. You don’t like it. You just persevere, because the alternative is not an option. I will survive. I will get through it. I will move on. And I will be happy.
Still I Rise
BY MAYA ANGELOU
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.