My husband died this year. I buried him after watching him waste away with lung cancer.
It was only eight months after he was diagnosed. Eight months in a fifteen year relationship, a relationship that brought two children into the world, a shared house we loved, a kitchen renovation, and plenty of arguments about the colour of the paint on the walls, and just who was in charge of cleaning the toilet.
And now, here I am, raising two girls, nine and 12, watching one get ready for high school and the other struggling with her six times tables, and it’s me in charge of cleaning the toilet, and the colour of the walls don’t seem quite so important as they once did.
In days gone past, ‘the olden days’, as my nine year old calls anything before her birth, I would have worn black for a year. I would have been taken in by some charitable institution, and made to sew. I guess.
But I have a job and (thankfully) a controllable mortgage. In many respects, I’m lucky – he left no debts, no inescapable death duties remain to be paid, no mountain of medical bills.
There are many, many single mothers doing it tougher than I am.
And yet, the black widow’s weeds and the gruel call to me, mocking my economic independence and my social freedom. There is such a sadness in all of this, that a black crepe veil makes sense, and such a vulnerability, that a widow’s handkerchief seems vital.
There once was a template for this.
But I have no black dress, no arm bands, no uniform.
How do you do widowhood? I don’t even know how to be single anymore, after so many years of coupledom. People respond to me differently now. Sometimes I feel like a vessel of broken hopes and dreams, and I know that people stop and think for a moment ‘thank God it’s not me.’ I know this because I’ve thought the same thing of others.
Sometimes people ask me how I am. ‘How are you?’ That emphasis gives it away – it’s not a polite conversation starter. They also ask how I’m doing, usually with a shoulder rub.
There are days I tell them that I’m doing well, and I see a slight disappointment flicker across their face – they have prepared themselves for a widow talk, and I have refused to participate. And I feel like shrugging my shoulders and telling them that I have no tears left today. Come back tomorrow.
And there are other days when my friends ask after me in a casual way, and get on with conversation about their kids, my kids, school lunches, whatever, and I feel one step behind them, and I want to scream ‘we can’t talk about this, because he’s gone.’
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