Dispatch from WidowlandThis widowhood thing is exhausting. I realized last night, in those dreary waking hours, that grief is a lot like trying to hold water in your bare hands. No matter how tightly you clench your fingers, its slips through. That process is natural; it’s inevitable. It’s foolish to try to hold on to water using only your two hands.
Grief is like that, lately. I’m feeling—in addition to the sorrow, loneliness, and emptiness—a lot of pressure to try and hold on to my husband, to keep him with me and my daughter, to keep him in other people’s thoughts as well. Someone mentioned to me a novel called A Brief History of the Dead, where, if I understand it correctly, the dead exist in a kind of shared limbo-world as long as someone on earth remembers them. These days, I feel that burden of memory, as if I alone am responsible for preserving him. As if only I can keep him alive, somehow, by holding on ever more tightly. But like the water, he is slipping away.
Since his death, I’ve immersed myself in the routine aspects of life: caring for my daughter, teaching my classes, obsessively tidying my house. I’ve also avoided (not intentionally, but still) some of the friends with whom I have the best memories of my life before. Instead, I spend most of my social time with newer friends and colleagues, who scarcely knew my husband. For them, and, in their presence, for me as well, he exists primarily as a narrative, a point of reference.
By staying away from those deeper friends, I think I’ve fooled myself into thinking I’ve stopped time. As long as I’m not there, I can pretend we’re all in a deep freeze, and that his death is still the biggest thing in their lives, as it is in mine. But I’ve had several rude awakenings: two of my dear friends are contemplating a move overseas; two others have bought a house and begun the procreating. I’m not stupid or selfish enough to imagine that my friends’ lives won’t go on without my husband, but it hurts to come up against the truth of the cliché: life goes on. I can’t stop it; I can’t hold it.
I don’t want him to be forgotten. I don’t want to be the only one who thinks of him, misses him, and realizes what a wonderful man has been lost. I don’t want it to be easy for any of us to move on, even though I am tired of hurting.
In the basement I have box upon box of his things: scrapbooks, notebooks, photos of places and people only he could identify. Toys he saved from his childhood because they meant something special. And my daughter and I will never know what the toys meant, who those people are, what he treasured about his own memories. I’m not going to get the full tale of his cross-country road trip—we were always too busy to dig out the photos. I never got to hear so many of his stories about his life before me.
I had started to deal with losing his present and his future. Now I am mourning his past, as well.