Love in the Time of Corona

I received an e-mail offer from a Christian dating site this week, giving me the unprecedented opportunity to scan through profiles and respond to messages without paying a fee. It makes sense that dating would be a challenge during these self-isolating, social-distancing times, so a website that depends on the dating scene would need to come up with some kind of special to entice potential customers. After all, how exactly would one date during a pandemic? “Hey, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but let’s meet in a park and stand six feet apart and wear masks and talk really loud so we can hear each other.” 

I’m not sure what I think about dating sites, even Christian ones. On the one hand, I believe that if God plans for me to be with someone, he will bring the right person at the right time. On the other hand, God helps those who help themselves and I know people who have successfully navigated dating sites to meet their spouse. I’m not completely sold on the idea, feeling a bit creepy poring over photos and profiles to find a compatible mate.

With Coronavirus running rampant, however, my concept of an ideal dating situation (getting to know someone through e-mail or letters before ever meeting for coffee) suddenly looks like the best way to protect heart and health. So, yes, I’ll admit it; I took the bait. For one solid hour I perused the website, filtering first by distance (within 100 miles), and age (57-69), and eventually by status (widowed). The filtering system felt a little unfair, as I’m certain God has his own system for bringing someone into our lives, and I don’t like to mess with God’s plans.

I admit to having some fun on the site. I even found myself commenting out loud about some of the profile pictures. “You are way too good looking for your own good, fella.” Swish. (that’s the sound of my finger on the touchscreen, people…) Next.

“Puhleeze… You took your profile picture in a gym wearing a sweaty muscle shirt? Is that supposed to impress me?” Swish. Next.

“Ditto on the profile picture in the fancy sports car you probably borrowed for the photo.” Swish. Next.

“This photo is obviously from the 70’s! What do you look like now?” Swish. Next.

“Um, this one’s so blurry, did you take it in a dark alley?” Swish. Next.

I did learn I do have a type, and am drawn to kind eyes. But I also learned some valuable lessons you guys out there might want to take notes on; what not to do when you create a profile on a Christian dating site. Heed my advice if you want more responses than that swish, next.

#1) If you clearly state in your profile that you have no children, and I can assume then you also have no grandchildren, leave the Elmo toy out of your profile picture. You’re 59 years old, for heaven’s sake. Why do you even have an Elmo toy, and what message are you attempting to convey by cuddling up with it in your profile picture? elmo

#2) Ditch the leprechaun suit. The green tights are not flattering, and frankly, the beard dyed to match is just downright scary.

#3) Ditto on the penguin winter hat. Just no.

#4) Making googly eyes in the bathroom mirror? I’m sorry, you don’t look fun. You look demented.

#5) If, in your description, you lament your inability to find a woman “with morals,” rethink the profile picture choice of you at a theme park standing between two scantily-clad women, your arms thrown around their shoulders.

#6) In a similar vein, if you clearly indicate (sometimes with crude language) that you don’t believe in “waiting until marriage,” we all know what you want, and you might consider a different sort of dating site.

#7) Two words: spell check. I know plenty of intelligent people who aren’t good spellers, but intelligent people do know to use spell check for something important, and your profile description is your first impression. “I bean luking for a gud women for a vere lone time.” I wonder why.

I don’t think I’ll go back to that dating site, though I see in my e-mail I have a message waiting for me.  I’m scared to read it. The guy is 81. And from New Zealand.

But he does have kind eyes.

Purge

Wednesday night my sister Angela called and asked if I had plans for Good Friday, Saturday, or Easter. “I might be filling a dumpster,” I answered, and I’m sure she wondered if I had gone over the edge. Yesterday after the dumpster was delivered, I pulled the old carpeting off the porch and threw it in, then grabbed some wood from a desk my son had destroyed. I relished the sound of the heavy boards hitting the bottom of the metal dumpster and threw the next ones in harder, practically slamming them into the trash receptacle. I began crying, then laughing, as I imagined the curtains of nearby houses being pulled back and the residents of our neighborhood whispering to each other about the crazy widow down the street.  Widow, widow, widow, the word taunted me. I opened the garage door, looking for more things to throw away. I wanted glass, or mirrors to shatter. Tears poured down my cheeks as I surveyed the garage; the cluttered shelves, the empty flower pots my husband had collected.  I thought back to David’s last three weeks before his heart attack, when he’d spent several hours out there; a radio playing. “I got a lot done today,” he’d announced one afternoon. Surveying the garage yesterday, I wondered, where? Where had he gotten cleaning done? The state of the basement and the garage had been the bane of his existence. It had become overwhelming. There had to be four coffee pots in the basement that barely dripped, and yet David saved them “in case.” I tried not to nag him in any way after his cancer treatment, but the build-up of junk did bother me.  He knew that.  So I was glad it was his idea when on the way home from the hospital he’d said, “Let’s get a dumpster soon and clean up. I won’t be able to do much, though.” He smiled when I told him he could sit on the porch and order us around.

This morning started out as one of the Good Days. Before the children were even awake, I’d printed out a speech to work on, revised an essay I’d begun while David was in the hospital, and started my Sunday column. I’m writing! I’m writing! was the joyful refrain inside my head.

Then I went to Wal-Mart with the girls. Standing in the Easter aisle, I couldn’t think.  I couldn’t care less about chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. “Hi, how are you doing?” a woman I’d once interviewed approached. A woman who had been married over 50 years. A woman who still had her husband.

“Not very good,” I replied carefully. What is the proper protocol for these situations? Was I just supposed to answer “fine?”

“What’s wrong?” she asked, and when I told her my husband had passed away, she was genuinely sympathetic. The rest of the shopping trip was a blur. I know I sobbed in the car afterwards and Emily ran into the grocery store for the eggs because I couldn’t seem to stop the flow of tears.

I decided to use my sadness as an impetus to clean the basement. The first two or three trips out to the dumpster were easy; an old office chair, some broken plastic tote lids, a torn rug that had gone through the flooding in the basement.  When I entered the corner room of the basement, I suddenly wanted to turn back. This was David’s domain, and surprisingly well-organized;  lined up on the shelves were rusty-lidded cans of paint, a dozen spray cleaners that he’d confiscated when they were thrown out at work, and empty water bottles I’d discarded that he’d evidently plucked from the garbage. I was overwhelmed with sorrow at how my thrifty husband held onto things I would so easily toss. My eyes lit on the glass jars in a corner. When the sanitation company informed Manchester residents they would no longer take glass in the recycling, I’d casually dropped my jars into our kitchen trash. I’d  recently caught David removing a pickle jar and asked him what he was doing. “I’m going to take them somewhere,” he’d mumbled.

Evidently, the basement was “somewhere.”  I filled a box with the jars and headed up the stairs to the garage. My feet felt leaden as I walked towards the dumpster outside. With a grunt, I hurled them over the side, and was heartened when I heard the shattering, and saw sharp pieces of glass hit the sides of the container. I was surprised at the anger that assailed me. Who was I angry at? Certainly not my gentle husband who would not have chosen to leave me or the children. Not God, who had blessed me with those bonus five years after David’s cancer.  Was I angry at myself? I’d sometimes teased David about his frugal ways, removed his precious pie tins when I knew he was saving them for something. I didn’t always understand his penchant for saving everything, even as he didn’t understand all my idiosyncracies.  Had I hurt his feelings at times? I suddenly couldn’t stand to have hurt him in any way. I should have loved him more, treated him better! I railed at the skies, even as I knew I couldn’t have loved him any more than I had, and he had known how much I cherished him. One thing we could thank the cancer for was that each of us had learned to treat the other in the best way we knew how, short of kissing each other’s feet, and we’d even been known to do that on occasion.

The anger dissipated as quickly as it had come.

I went into the house to make a cup of tea, with a fresh sense of loss. David had made 75% of the cups of tea in our house for the last year or two.

I’ll get back to the garage and the basement, but not alone.

And here I’d thought it would be the clothing that would be so difficult.

 

A Good Day

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.