The first person I ever knew whose wife or husband died was my own mother. My dad died in 1963 when I was six years old. Looking back, I wish I had been a more obedient child after he died. It has been two years since my wife Gail died and now that I know firsthand the emotional, practical and logistical hurdles a widow or widower confronts, I can’t imagine going through that and having to raise a little boy or a little girl. Making sure I get home in time to feed my beagle can be enough of a challenge.
After mulling those thoughts and others around for the last two years, one thing I find surprising is how the passing of special anniversary dates causes me to feel. When I had gone through the first wedding anniversary, our birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve without Gail, I thought, “Well, alright, I can get through this.” In each case, the anticipation of those days alone was worse than getting through them.
You bring in, I’ll put up
What now blindsides me with a full force blow of depression more than the “dates,” are the “days.” Just run of the mill moments like grocery shopping, cooking dinner or deciding what to do on a weekend. I still park on “my side of the garage,” leaving plenty of empty space in it where Gail’s car used to be. I’ve tried to move to the middle, especially if I’m unloading anything from the passenger side of the car. But it doesn’t feel right. After parking toward the center, I have actually backed out into the driveway and aimed my car where it seems to know it belongs, then pulled back into “my side.”
Our usual shopping routine involved me loading in grocery sacks while Gail put things away in the pantry or refrigerator. Now when I get home from Publix, I sometimes say to no one what she always said to me, “You bring in, I’ll put up.” Belle, the beagle, usually greets me and distracts me from taking an emotional ramp leading down the road to self-pity.
Some of my television viewing habits have changed as I avoid watching some, but not all, of the shows we watched together. As time has passed, I returned to a couple and they bring fond memories rather than tears. I am relieved that I don’t have to endure some shows anymore. Gail loved American Idol and Survivor and I never liked either one. The first few seasons of each, I would find something else to do during their broadcasts. Then I realized that I wanted to spend those hours with her so I joined her on the couch and watched (and learned to watch my comments).
Getting my taxes done for the first year without any of Gail’s income or expenses to report, going to church alone, and not having her to plan vacations with are among the days, rather than dates, that sneak up on me if I let them. As with the big dates, I now do my best to take a deep breath and forge through. Sometimes, those moments pass quickly and at other times they last way too long. But I have gotten through them.
I am not unique
The chance of rain may be forecast at 20 percent and that means it may rain on some people somewhere. But if you happen to be where rain chooses to fall, it’s a 100 percent chance for you. I realize that I am one of many who have dealt with learning to live without a loved one. Before and after Gail died, I have known friends in my general age range who have encountered the same gut-wrenching sadness.
I also have to remind myself that I’m not the only one who misses Gail. She had many dear friends, as we did together. Sometimes I ask myself if I’m just being selfish when these days occur.
I am grateful for my friends and a loving family. At every turn in the last two years, they have been with me when I needed them. But when these memories and emotions sneak up on me, I truly feel alone. My goal is not to be “the grieving husband” forever. I want to move forward and I realize I have to work at it. And I do. My own sheer determination, a short daily devotional and Bible reading session and taking a lot of deep breaths all help me make it through the days.
Text and photos copyright 2016 by Les Kerr