Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Widow Advice #16 The Biggest Role

Dear Carol, (PWM)

I am besides myself. You always seem to put things in perspective and since you've been there I am willing to listen to what you have to say. You say it funny, too and that raises my spirits.

So, here's my story. I lost my husband, Phil 3 years ago - it will be 3 years this month (May 25Th) and our 35Th wedding anniversary was last month (April 22ND)

I forgot it! I forgot our anniversary! The day passed and it was two days before I realized. I feel just awful. I never would have believed I could forget such a milestone date. Maybe, I could understand it if it was 10 years , but not after only 3 years.

I can't forgive myself. I feel like I'm leaving Phil behind.

Terrible Widow Penny

Dear Terrible Widow Penny,

STOP IT! The only widows who are terrible are those who killed their husbands. Did you kill Phil? (Hey, that rhymes)

Let's look at your letter together, Penny. Your three year anniversary of Phil's death is just weeks after your wedding anniversary. Is it possible that you were so anxious about that date that your mind skipped over your anniversary, a day that frankly you no longer celebrate?

A milestone? You didn't miss it by a nose, Penny. It's three years later. Not for nothing, it's like a finish line you didn't cross.

My gang of old friends were talking recently. I was married in 1972 and the others were married in 1974. My last anniversary was in 2005 - we clocked out at 33 years. If I was still counting we'd be celebrating our 37th anniversary this August.

My friends are now married 35 years - They actually said, "You're married the longest." What? I told them I think we stop counting when death do us part. Same as with our husband's birthday. We pause and remember he would have been... but we don't order a cake.

I know. I know. You are beating yourself up because you didn't pause and remember. So what?
I take this as a sign that you're living your life. The death date interrupts our life far more than a wedding anniversary because we tend to compartmentalize "before" and "after." And, people constantly ask us, "How long has it been?"

A widow's response? (including you) We rattle off the exact number of months, weeks and days like Dustin Hoffman did with the toothpick count when he played an idiot savant in Rain Man.

Let's reverse this. When we do remember something does that mean it's more important than something we've forgotten? I'm a bit of an idiot savant so my head is crammed with dates that I know longer need. I can tell you that my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Fowler's birthday is February 9th. She mentioned it once...more than 45 years ago. Do I love this woman?

Listen, you are leaving Phil behind. As unfathomable as this feels, it's a fact. You can't take him along with you. Your journey isn't complete but your time with him is.

And you say "only" 3 years. Try making a list of all the global changes, example, new president, economic climate that occurred since your husband is gone. Then, your personal choices and changes...did you move to a new place or buy a new TV, couch, car? Have you taken a trip these last few years? Are you dating? The grandchild that was saying "Mama" and "DaDa" now can show you how to work the remote.

All you did was forget a date on the calendar, not your life together. Little by little we leave them behind, Penny. We have to. But, until we're senile and our kids come to visit and we ask, "Who are these people who keep calling me Mom?" he'll remain a part of us.

Memories do fade. Still, in the story of our life, he will be the one who played the biggest role.



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