It works something like this:
I wait until I am so tired I am about ready to pass out, and then I fall asleep.
I wake up sometime in the early morning hours. If the clock displays a time past 6:00, I tell myself that is a reasonable hour to wake up and I get up.
And then I get through the day.
And do it all over again.
I wonder if my sisters actually have a “Mary chart” that they use to stagger their visits so that it is never more than 24 hours between visits, never more than 12 between phone calls. I imagine Denise looking at her watch in the middle of the afternoon, calling out to her husband Mark in the other room, “It’s my turn, I have to go see Mary,” and I can almost hear his loud answering sigh. I picture Angela coming home from work, changing her clothes, and starting supper before she glances at the clock, gasping out loud. “I didn’t call Mary today. She’ll think I don’t care!” Jane calls regularly, Pat stops after work. Joan comes to visit. I smile when I think of these strong, loving women; my sisters~my friends.
This morning I was surprised to learn that the morning quiet is still a balm to my soul, despite the gaping hole in my heart. I make my pot of coffee, turn on the radio to the religious station we’d begun listening to a couple of months ago (http://www.life1019.com/), and for a short while, I just listen, finding solace in the inspirational music. I cry a little, but not the desperate, racking sobs of two nights ago.
And then I pick up my pen.
Last night I’d begun the mindless task of writing thank-you notes using the nice sticky labels provided on the memorial envelopes from the wake. Those were easy notes to write; most of the people I don’t even know. Today I began the thank-you notes that were more meaningful; the ones to those who have been most helpful to me. I decided to use some of my vintage scented stationery for the notes. For an hour, I wrote. Not an essay, not an article, but just the act of writing comforted me. I remember what I told my husband “Writing. It’s what I do.” Tiny nuggets for future reference are jotted down in between notes. I could someday write or speak about being a widow, I write in my journal, even as I wince with the sharp pain that knowledge brings.
In the thank-you notes I wrote of my undying gratitude. I wrote about David. In one letter, I mentioned how God had been preparing the way for me to make some money for our family, and as I wrote those words, I knew I would be doing the “Celebrate You” presentations on April 14th. If God had opened the doors for me, how could I turn away? I’d wanted someone to tell me exactly what to do, as if there exists a manual somewhere that informs us when we can begin doing certain activities. When do widows go back to work? How long before I can talk about losing my husband without having my eyes fill with tears? Where is the rule book for grieving?
I asked my doctor; can I do a speech on couponing on the 14th? I’d hoped he would either tell me to cancel it, or assure me I would be fine. Instead, he’d responded with a truthful “I don’t know.” Today, while writing a letter, I knew I would not be canceling.
The letters I began this morning would be mailed using my personalized stamps, but I needed to add a one-cent stamp. I would have to go to the post office. At the counter, the postmaster asked me what kind of stamps I had and I turned over the envelope on the counter, revealing the photo of David and me in the corner. His eyes welled with tears and he took the envelope from me, gently saying, “I was sorry to hear about your husband. These are beautiful stamps.”
At the grocery store, I wandered the aisles, not sure what to buy. I threw in a couple of cans of nuts (David liked these, I thought), some macaroni and cheese the kids could prepare themselves, milk for tea and coffee, chicken strips. It was no use; I wasn’t hungry for anything and I couldn’t concentrate. I avoided Dianne’s eyes as she bagged my groceries. I didn’t think I could bear it if she said anything about David. Then she leaned over, put her hand on my arm and looked right into my eyes. “I was so sorry to hear about your husband,” she said, and my chest tightened. I just nodded my head. I’d survived my first trip to the grocery store. I could do it again.
As I brought the groceries to the porch, my sister Joan backed up into our driveway and got out of her bright red Jeep. My heart leaped in my chest. I realized at that precise moment that my sisters had brought me more than food, love, and comfort in the past few days. They had brought me joy amidst the pain. I smiled, knowing I could still feel joy.
“I functioned, Joan,” I announced as I pointed to the grocery bags at my feet. “I functioned and went to the grocery store.”
She motioned me to come, opening the back of her Jeep to reveal bags and a tote filled with something green. “We’re going to plant these in honor of David.”
David, my beloved. David, whose interest in planting and gardening I did not share. I couldn’t imagine enjoying something I had resisted so long; the dirt underneath the fingernails, the back-breaking shoveling, standing out in the hot sun watering wilting plants. I’d been thrilled when David developed an interest in gardening. I’d encouraged him to buy decorative pots, I’d bought him a new shovel, picked up books on gardening. He’d gone flower shopping with our daughter Rachel,cajoled our son into making him a raised bed, talked planting with anyone who would listen, learned the names of flowers, used stones to decorate a flower bed. I’d studiously avoided joining him in his endeavors, not the least bit interested in gardening. And now Joan wanted me to dig holes and plant flowers?
It was the best thing I could have done.
Joan spent a good part of the afternoon outside with me and the girls, planting the flowers she’d dug out of her own yard, incorporating lessons on roots and rhombus, nitroglycerin and soil. I got my hands dirty. I wept a little, wishing I had done this with David instead of being perplexed by his hobby. In the next instant, I thought about how if it had been me who had died, David would have looked at my desk and my drawers of stationery, and shook his head. We each had our own interests, and that was fine. I grinned a full-fledged grin when Joan informed me the transplants would need regular watering for a while, and she hoped they would flourish. Nothing like making it obvious that she thought a little sunshine and physical activity would be good for me.
By the time Pat visited with me on the porch after her work, I was feeling pretty good. I’d jotted down some ideas for future articles and essays. I knew I would soon be writing about David and the spiritual growth I’d been experiencing. Yes, even in my grief I have seen God’s work. I wanted to drop everything and write all afternoon and well into the night; about everything that had happened. Then my niece Morgan stopped by and read books to Abby until her voice was hoarse. By the time my sister Jane called me at 11:00 p.m. (my sisters are assuming I am not sleeping at that hour, and they are correct in their assumption) I could truthfully tell her I’d had a good day. A good day, just one week after the death of my beloved husband! I know how the labyrinth of grief works; there are many dark nights and bad days ahead, many tears and cries of anguish, but thank the Good Lord, today was good.