A few weeks ago there was an 18” bruise up the side of my right leg and pain in my back. A mean windstorm flipped our stupidly giant hammock over the top of my upper deck rail, I fought to stop the thing from totally wrecking a rain gutter, and I lost. There is a 3” dent in the drywall in my office because I have no business wielding a hammer of any sort.
Where I’m lucky is that at least 20 people read those things and thought, BUT I TOLD HER TO CALL ME IF SHE NEEDED ANY HELP AROUND THE HOUSE! I’m grateful that’s the case, but, honestly, like I’m going to do that. Why should my friends be inconvenienced when I want to hang things? Also, I’m not patient. If something needs doing, I’m not good at waiting for help. I’m going to plow ahead, do a horrible job, probably break something, and then take a humble pie in the kisser by way of paying a guy to fix the result of my impatience, ignorance, and arrogance.
I’ve always talked to myself when things are hard. You can do this. You can do this. Problem is, I’m generally wrong. But that’s what I whispered heading out to the garage this evening on the hunt for a stud finder. (Couldn’t find one. We have every other tool imaginable, but evidently Jim didn’t need to find studs; they found him.) When the tool chests came up dry I scanned the garage for more possibilites. I’d already been teary, searching through Jim’s stuff, but I didn’t actually lose it until my eyes landed on his nail bags. It wasn’t often that Jim donned bags to get my silly home decor tasks done, but when he did it was about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. He loved me for how capable I am, and man I loved that about him too. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. My husband liked that about himself. When hanging shelves or mirrors or doing whatever strange thing I dreamed up for him—Can you please suspend this painting from our slanted ceiling using eye hooks and rope?—he’d be about halfway through and say, “I’m really talented at this stuff.”
Heart eyes. Eyes spewing a shit-ton of hearts.
It’s just about every day that I’m grateful I cupped Jim’s face to kiss him. It’s not only my lips that remember his face but my hands can too. Sometimes I bring my hands up and reach out like I can hold his face in front me. My fingers don’t find anything, but I have to make sure my arms remember the height difference between us and my hands don’t forget the width of his face and feel of his whiskers.
We hit seven months last week. Another dumb marker. And one that makes conversation kind of harder. “My husband died.” Sad eyes and sympathy accompany, “How long ago?” “Seven months now.” And then faces lift a touch—I don’t have to be too, too sorry for her now; phew—and sad eyes shift into a look that reads something like, Oh, so you’re pretty much fine now, right? No. Not how it works. And even though I appreciate that you try, you can’t understand. I’m happy for you; being able to understand what this feels like means you’ve been through it, and that’s awful. There are very few people on whom I wish Awful.
I look pretty normal. I act pretty normal. I pat myself on the back—I’m a yogi; I can actually do that, pat myself on the back—when I consider that my new students can't guess that my insides are wrecked. I’m just the really, really encouraging teacher who gives her all to trying to curse less in class and manages to laugh off moments where she biffs it out of an arm balance in front of 20 attentive adults. I am pulling this off like a champ.
I recently saw my dentist for the first time since losing Jim. She gave me the inevitable sad eyes and said, “You were so happy.” I’ve gotten good at accepting sad eyes without crying in response, but her words did me in.
“We were,” I replied, “So, so happy.” She and I talked about how great things had been and how I have piles of amazing memories that make me smile and get me through the days. In remembering Jim, nine times out of 10 I laugh instead of cry.
“But, really how are you doing?”
After a pause I said, “Well, I’m good at this. I know it sounds weird, but I’m pretty good at alone and I don’t deny myself grief. I can’t. I love him too much. So while I’m not doing good per se, I am doing good at this.”
It’s weird though. While I’ve pretty well ditched shame regarding public crying, I am having a hard time figuring out how to talk about Jim without making people too uncomfortable.
I was talking with a gum-loving student after class the other night and told him about the time that Jim was chewing gum in one of Tanya’s yoga classes and she walked over, put out her hand, and he spat his gum into it. “One of my favorite memories,” I said. And then I looked away and quickly pushed the conversation another direction. Because when you say “memories” it implies that something is done. But why? Why’s it done? Not because you got a divorce; you don’t usually talk about favorite memories when you’ve gotten divorced, right? And if not a divorce, well, what is it? Yeah, a death. So then you have to go there. And while I love talking about my husband, I’m more socially adept than that. People don’t know what to do and I just end up apologizing for telling them about my situation.
I was at a doctor’s office a couple weeks ago and a nurse asked about the double strand necklace I wear. “What’s engraved on that second pendant?” she asked, “The thing that starts with N?”
“You’re so bummed you just asked about that,” I said.
“Oh, I’m sorry. If you don’t want to talk about it—”
“No, I do,” I told her, “It’s why I wear it, but you’ll be sad you asked. The top pendant has my husband’s initials, JSE, and that number—N985CA—on the bottom pendant, it’s the tail number from the plane that crashed and killed my husband.”
And then shit gets all awkward. Killed. My. Husband.
“Oh I’m so sorry.” “I know. Thanks . . . ” And so on.
My friend Liz who also lost her husband gave me an analogy that stuck. This widowing thing is like learning to live with a limp. Initially, it's everything. The pain that causes you to limp is your world. And then you learn to live with your new escorts, Discomfort and Difficulty. It might look unwieldy, but that's just your new way to walk. I limp now. Depending on the moment my limp is more or less pronounced. It might not make me stall at crosswalks anymore, but it's there, and figuring out how to maneuver around the change and craft a new normal is the task at hand.