I’m just going to plunge right in here– or perhaps better yet, I’ll plunge right in after a very brief intro:
I became a widow almost 3 years ago. I was extremely fortunate in that we had 4 years to prepare ourselves for what we suspected was coming. The greater part of that 4 years was focused more on fighting back the beast, so really it was in the last 6 months of his life that John really put his energy almost exclusively into preparing his mom and me for his death.
As I have written in my blog for colon cancer patients http://sheddinglightonthecancerjourney.wordpress.com, John’s attention to the details of how we were to survive without him were exhaustive. Grueling, in fact, from my perspective– I was forced to think about many things I would have much preferred to ignore. But John refused to countenance my head-in-the-sand approach. He had vast amounts of vital information and instructions that he HAD to share with me. So I sucked it up and dutifully scribbled pages and pages of notes in the ubiquitous yellow legal tablet that John insisted was the only proper note-taking equipment.
At a certain point, it became apparent to me that there were more than a few categories of things I felt I needed to know that were not being covered at all by John. Like: how do I take care of this wonderful house he built for us when this man who knows how to fix everything is no longer with me? His answers were along the lines of “You’ll have to find some reliable repair people and get used to paying for their services.” But then that “solution” was always followed by the admonition that I simply could not afford to continue to live in this house after his death– it is too big and requires too much maintenance (and financial output) that I would not be able to manage. Net result of this conversation was always a long lecture about the need to downsize and to change my expectations, with virtually no direction on how to actually maintain, even in the short run.
But let me bring this back to my goal in starting this blog. I’m pretty sure that almost all widows would agree that one of the biggest and most daunting challenges we face after the death of our spouses is the new reality of having to suddenly deal with “man things”– all those aspects of daily life that we never paid much attention to because we had husbands to do them for us. Here’s the image I used that ultimately grabbed John’s attention and emotional comprehension:
I don’t want to be the wife sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor at midnight, sobbing her heart out because she doesn’t know how to deal with the latest urgent repair crisis. That’s what Eve said kept happening to her after Richard died.
John was totally horrified. It had never occurred to him how it might feel to be the helpless widow. He certainly didn’t want that to happen to me. But he really honestly believed in his own image of me: “Rachel is fragile.” Fragile?? That was the last adjective I would have ever chosen to describe myself. I may be thin, but my own self-image is more along the lines of the sturdy frontierswoman. We had, after all, lived a great deal of our lives in remote rural areas, on farms we carved out of the wilderness. Somehow the use of the word “fragile” to describe a woman who spent a fair amount of her time shovelling manure and hauling seaweed in her truck seemed misplaced to me…
I offer this as a little background to my reaction to those estimations of my competence to handle the nuts and bolts of life alone– alone and in situ. I wasn’t buying this at all. My plan was to have faith in myself, to re-learn how to trust that I could do what needed to be done with as little leaning on anyone else as I could manage. Because John was also very clear about this (and I do believe that he was absolutely correct in his assessment, based on actual experience):
You can only ask those people who really want to help you once or twice for assistance. Dean is the one to ask about cars. Dean can fix anything. The next-door neighbor will try to do hundred things to help you, but if you allow that, sooner or later, she’ll end up feeling resentful– so let her do just one thing. Bob is the guy to ask about computers, but everyone he knows is always asking him for computer help– so you can only ask him once.
Here’s the bottom line: it has been almost 3 years since John’s death, and I’m still in this beautiful house that he built for us and which he thought I would never be able to maintain. I’ve already revamped our extensive landscape irrigation system (thereby reducing my water bill from $400 /month at the peak summer watering period down to $75/ month), replaced 7 light fixtures (re-wired them myself after a friend gave me a tutorial on the first one) that had corroded in the salt air, repaired the tenant’s toilet and her garage door that wouldn’t open (three times now!), replaced my car’s engine and cabin air filters… There’s lots more, but you get the idea. All this from a woman who had never even bothered to consider what might be involved in any of these endeavors, simply because she never HAD to.
Back to my goal in starting this blog: I feel as though I’ve learned a lot about navigating widowhood. I suspect (as with our hard-won knowledge on how to navigate the colon cancer maze) that a fair amount of what I’ve learned might be very helpful to other new widows. I’ll let your reaction be the guide, dear readers…
Okay, now I’m into the meat of this topic. What really gave birth to this new project was the reaction of a neighbor to my self-description as “the intrepid widow”. For reasons not quite understood, he thought this description was absolutely hilarious and apparently, preposterous. This is an older guy, very intrepid himself for his age, with whom I have spent many hilarious hours at the beach, regaling each other after our mutual half-mile swims. I was adamant in the face of his guffaws: “I AM an intrepid widow!” After listening to my tale of how I successfully dealt with the Nissan service guy at my local dealership, he was definitely singing a different tune: “You’re kidding!! You actually told him that?? Wow… And I thought my gal-pal in California was a pit-bull– wait till she hears this! “ [In this case, the seemingly insulting descriptive term was intended as a testimony to perseverance, rather than character assassination…]
So the subtitle of this entry , and perhaps the entire blog) could well be: THE INTREPID WIDOW.[Official Merrium-Webster definition of “intrepid”: characterized by resolute fearlessness, fortitude and endurance.] Feel free to guffaw at the improbable descriptive adjective, you male readers. Widows: read on and benefit.