Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Lessons I've Learned from Widowhood

Leukemia.  The diagnosis was shattering. 

Within a week my husband was hospitalized, undergoing treatment that required him to spend a month in an isolation room, removed from contact with anyone except medical staff.  I could speak with him on a telephone or wave at him through a window.  I was getting my first introduction to life alone.   But I didn’t let myself believe it would happen.  Hope lit our way:  enrollment in a clinical trial in the top cancer hospital in the country, a stem cell transplant from a sister whose blood was a perfect match.

Hope was transitory; it disappeared like vapor in the sun.  Ten months after his diagnosis, leukemia cells reappeared in his blood.  His options were limited, infinitesimal.  A year, almost to the day after he began treatment, he was gone.

The first morning after he died, I woke up with a sense of unreality.  I couldn’t imagine he was gone, and I was a widow.  The word sounds somehow old-fashioned:  a gray-haired woman clothed in black from head to toe, her face shuttered with grief.  I didn’t want to be that woman, but I didn’t know how to be someone else.

Time has passed and I have learned.  The most important lesson is how fragile life is.  I have learned to appreciate every moment:  the sound of rain, a sunset, an evening with my children,  my cat’s soft fur, flowers, a movie that makes me laugh.  And yes, I have learned to laugh.  And to enjoy.  I’d rather share the fun and laughter with him, but I can’t.  Would he want me to spend the rest of my life being miserable?  Missing him, yes; miserable, no.

I’ve learned to cherish friends and family.  Not that I didn’t before, but I do even more now.  I stay connected, in the virtual world and the real world, too.  If a widow has a choice, the real world is best, but on-line friends bring joy as well.

I’ve learned to be kind to myself.  I’ve learned to rest when I’m tired, eat a healthy diet but give in and eat coffee ice cream when I’m stressed,  and say no if I want to.  And I’ve learned that time is precious so I don’t waste it with people who annoy or upset me.

There are some things I just can’t do.  Ralph would double over laughing if he saw me trying to change a tire.  I wouldn’t even think of it.  I can change a light bulb but a tire?  Not possible.  I’ve figured out who to call when I need help—I make a lot of calls.

I think I’ve learned a lot.  I’m a pretty good survivor.  That’s not to say I don’t wake up some mornings and wonder why the other side of the bed is empty, why I often visit Ralph in dreams and  why I still hate the word widow and always will.



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