I also spent each evening reading and crying my way through bereavement books as I wrote in the margins. It was like having a dialogue with the author, which was another way of talking to someone. During the day, I was so forgetful and preoccupied with memories that I couldn’t remember much of anything else. When I had jobs to do, I wrote them down on a list and then couldn’t find the list. I felt heavy and dragged myself through each day. My appetite was missing and so was my brain. I felt
disengaged. Driving a car was risky business, and I almost caused
an accident twice. At night, I often drove for miles with the headlights off until a more alert driver gave me the “horn.”
But what helped me most of all was concentrating on something that gave me comfort, which was writing down my
thoughts. You might find comfort in gardening, cooking, or service to others. But for me, writing gave me solace, and every day
I jotted down the thoughts and feelings that filled my heart.
Sometimes the reflections were heartbreaking – sometimes they
were resentful. I wrote on whatever was handy: scraps of paper,
backs of envelopes, receipts, or anything that would take the mark
of a pen. I put the little pieces of paper in safe places, but I never
remembered where those places were.
Gradually, I abandoned scribbling on scraps and used full-sized sheets of paper. The notes became paragraphs, pages, and
then chapters. Writing began as my tool for healing and eventually became my passion.
Now that I’m finally cleaning out drawers and cupboards
that haven’t been touched for several years, I’m finding those notes. I don’t even remember writing some of them. But they
bring back memories of my passage through grief, a journey that
I marked with stories I would like to share with you.
My Second Act
My donations: Embracing the pain
I wrap my feelings in funny words and give them away so
you might listen and hear my heart through my paragraphs on
paper, for that’s how I package my pain. I have more than I want
and have used what I need. I like to share, so please enjoy or pass
the pain along to someone else. Avoid calling Goodwill; they
won’t pick it up, for pain’s not deductible. Someday it might be
when there’s too much discomfort for humanity to bear. We’ll
hide our emotions, disguise them as knickknacks, and Goodwill
won’t know they’re collecting bags of sorrow labeled as “useful”
and left on the porch to be picked up by noon.
But until that happens, I’ll conceal my hurting inside the
polite wrapping of smart, funny writing that makes others crack
up and fall on the hard floor and lie there a-laughing. It’s the way
I get rid of my pain.
Negotiations have ended: Accepting the loss
After several months of being a widow, I sensed I had regained a fragment of my stability. I still cried when I felt like it,
but I was learning to stay afloat. Three times in a row I paid the
bills on time and did all I could to follow Denny’s master budget
plan. But I wanted to do more than just follow the leader, so feeling plucky, I decided to make some changes on my own. The
familiar things around me that we had shared for almost 49 years
were a constant, painful reminder that he was gone. Meeting
widowhood head on, I started replacing our belongings.
The first thing to go was our massive dark walnut bedroom
furniture. Alone, I was lost on that half-acre of king-sized mattress. My daughter and her husband, who lived with an odd
assortment of furniture, took all six pieces. It was their first
bedroom set, and they were thrilled to have it. The room where I
had slept with Denny for decades was now empty.
I moved into the computer room, sleeping on a day bed at
night and shopping each day for a bedroom set of my own. After
many weeks of searching, I found a charming Shaker style that I
adored, and it was on sale. I put strips of masking tape on the
floor and walls of the bedroom, pretending it was furniture. It fit,
so I ordered every piece and left town for two weeks on my first
trip without Denny.
While I was watching two live shows a day in Branson,
Missouri, my children were at home painting the master bedroom
and bath with my all-time favorite non-color, Kelly Moore Navajo
white. The furniture arrived while I was away, and my family set
all six pieces in their designated places. When I returned to my
new nest, with the bed freshly made and nothing on the walls but
what I might put there, I felt that I had taken the first steps in starting my life over.
That night, while flossing my teeth in the newly painted
bathroom, I noticed the gray front tooth that had always bugged
me despite the fact that Denny never noticed it. Even my 80-year-old mother in the convalescent home, who had cataracts, had
asked, “Is your front tooth kinda gray or are my eyes gettin’
Denny insisted, “I never even notice that dark tooth, honey.
Forget about it.”
But I never did, and I wanted that ugly tooth out of my face.
With very little thought about the master budget plan, I made an
appointment the next day to have my four front teeth capped, then
pondered what I might do next. There were many things on our
master list, but Denny and I couldn’t agree on what should come
first, so our life-improvement projects often bogged down during
I wanted double pane windows; he wanted new carpets. I
wanted new copper pipes; he wanted a new car. I wanted a cell
phone, email service, and an ATM card; but he didn’t want any
of those things and declared, “Honey, that stuff isn’t necessary.”
Just thinking about what I could do on my own brightened my
mood significantly because I could do what I wanted without