Tuesday, November 01, 2005


There are several stages a bereaved person goes through before accepting the death of a loved one, and I have forgotten what most of them are. But I remember distinctly that, when I lost my husband, I went through a long period of intense anger. True, this anger was coupled with grief, but it was anger nonetheless, not anger at a fate that slapped me in the face, not anger at a God who wreaked havoc with my life, but anger at my husband.

It was as though he had died on purpose, a dirty trick he played on me, passing away and going on to other things, while leaving me behind to cope with the toilet that wouldn't flush, the important papers I couldn't find, and the car that was developing a decided clunking noise.

"He didn't fight hard enough," I would say. "He gave in too soon! He should have fought harder!"

The minor irritations of life became mountains to hurdle and I was clambering over peaks without oxygen. I hate paperwork at the best of times and found myself laden with it, a flurry of insurance forms, death certificates and other necessary items.

I had visions of him lazing around some sunny and bright Eden, on some kind of celestial couch, playing with a remote and watching football games, while I carried in bags of dog food and grocery items, tried to figure out how in tarnation one got the balky lawnmower started or opened the hood of the car.

Including the opening of a car's hood may seem ridiculous to most people, but I actually could not figure out how to get the hood open. I consulted a little black manual I found in the glove compartment, followed it to the correct degree, did everything it instructed me to do...and the hood still wouldn't budge.

At this point, if my husband hadn't already passed away, I might have sent him on his way to his Heavenly rewards had he revealed himself to me.

It took awhile for this rage to cool down, and since then, I have thought about my feelings. It seems to me that we have divided our lives, men and women, to a point where each of them is helpless when left to cope with life on his or her own. I didn't change light bulbs. My husband did not pay the bills. I didn't handle the toilet repairs or any mechanical job, and he didn't handle the housekeeping chores or get the kids off to school in clean clothing. We divided our lives down the middle. And so, when he died, I was left in foreign territory, forced to learn how to do things I had never considered before.

Being introduced to the world of Tools was one of the most difficult for me. There are still items in my husband's toolbox that I cannot identify, looking like grisly instruments used by some mad brain surgeon. But I have mastered the use of a hammer and a screwdriver and I have learned that if a wooden chair falls apart, losing a rung or two or a leg, there is no way on earth I can fix it. I have thrown out many broken items that my husband would have repaired.

When one becomes a widow...or, I presume, a widower....one's status in life changes. You are no longer a half of a pair, a part of a couple. You are the Lone Ranger, with no Tonto. Always before, I had another half of me at my side. Sometimes this was great. At other times, it was like having a Siamese twin attached to your hip, a distinct personality not always agreeable, but always there, like your shadow. When this half is gone, you feel bereft and not quite complete. As Elizabeth Taylor put it, "like a half pair of scissors".

You receive a great deal of sympathy, folks with pitying expressions who pat your arm or hug you and express their sorrow. You also usually get the " lurking boyfriend" or "girlfriend", who arrives to give you comfort and, just as an aside, suggest that perhaps that comfort should be sexual. I think these people read the obituaries and keep a list, which they check off as they go along. And you find that you rely on tried and true friends more than ever, always accompanying them as that extra baggage, like an old suitcase battered by thousands of trips but good enough for a few more.

Your anger at your spouse fades and you find yourself angry at other people for offering comfort. Why don't they just shut up? How would they know what you are going through? What good does it do to mouth all of these compassionate words when nothing will ever be the same again and everyone knows it? Are they pitying you? Have you become nothing but an object of pity?

Self pity is a full time occupation and, after losing a spouse, it encompasses much of your time. If you try very hard and are good at it, you can rake up old slights and tedious grudges from years back, sipping your coffee in the morning as you go over these indignations, one by one, coming to the conclusion that you despise everyone and that is just fine, because everyone hates you, anyway!

You might lose a few friends during this phase, but some are usually steady enough to tough it out. So, you go on to the "Set in Your Ways" part of all this. As the days pass by, one after the other, you find yourself with a set routine. You eat at a certain time, you rise at a certain time, you retire at a certain time. Pretty soon, the slightest deviation of your routine upsets you. You can't leave the house until the tablecloth is smooth and the pictures on the wall hang straight. You dine at six, no earlier, no later.

This is the deadly phase. This is time to take a plunge....into any waters, cold or hot, stormy or calm. Take off your clothes and put them on inside out. Take off your shoes and wear them on the wrong feet. Get out of there. Do something. Get a dog. Take a trip. Have an affair. Take a chance.

Then, if you fill your life with a little more excitement, the pain, grief and anger begin to fade. You become yourself again. You have fashioned a few goals, opened a few doors, done something different with your life. The Black Widow...or widower...has become just an ordinary spider, with webs to spin and flies to gobble. Slowly, slowly, life becomes good again.