I had to fill out a form a few weeks ago in order to collect the death benefit offered by my late husband’s former employer. There was a space on the form for listing my marital status. These are the choices the form gave me: married, single, or living in sin. Whoops, I‘m mistaken about that last choice. It actually said domestic partnership. Only someone as old as I am would’ve made a mistake like that. “Living in sin” became obsolete some time during the 70s, I think, and was replaced by the far superior domestic partnership label.
I didn’t like my choices. Where was the choice marked “widowed?” After all, this form was an application for a death benefit. You might think the creators of the form would’ve considered that at least some of the applicants had recently been widowed. I pondered how to answer the question of my marital status for some time. I still feel married: it’s only been six weeks since my 50+-year marriage ended with my husband’s death. And yes, I do understand the part about “till death do us part.” We have parted and one of these days I might stop feeling married. But that day hasn’t come yet.
Putting my checkmark on the single category didn’t feel right either. I don’t feel single! Maybe someday I will, but that day is probably quite a way off yet if, in fact, it ever comes. I’d find it hard to believe I’m the only recently widowed person who feels that way. I’ve been married for three quarters of my life. I didn’t want to check the space marked “single.” But I did want the death benefit and I wasn’t certain if leaving that space blank would help me succeed in getting it. A little more sensitivity on the part of the creator of the form would’ve been nice.
Can people who’ve already walked this road tell me just how soon they started to feel single again after losing their long-time spouse or partner? I’m an old woman! In my youth, I had the ability to make all the compromises and accommodations necessary to have a workable partnership. Anyone who doesn’t think there are lots of compromises to be made if a relationship is going to last has either never been married or had the world’s most accommodating partner. I’m way too old and set in my ways to do all that compromising again. Somehow, marking the box that said single felt wrong.
Why did the lack of a box that said “widowed” bother me so much? I’ve thought about it repeatedly over the last few weeks. I was able to compromise enough to go ahead and check that box marked “single” so that I would get my money. Isn’t that a sign that I could compromise enough to actually consider myself single again? No, apparently it’s not.
I was invited to lunch a few weeks ago by two wonderful women, Claudia Gambino and Bonnie Myers. Both of them were recently widowed and they were kind enough to invite me to join the sisterhood of recently widowed women. We had a great lunch and it was fun to be able to talk with some people who understood how I felt. My mother was widowed at 48 (and never remarried) so I have seen an outstanding example of how to carry on by myself. Now I need to pay close attention to how all these amazing folks manage the transition.
My husband and I started this blog nearly a year ago because we were very intent on being able to still enjoy life in spite of his chronic illnesses and our joint entry into old age. My husband, Bill, was completely homebound by that time and it had become very challenging to continue to keep our life fulfilling. I did a lot of research to try to find ways that he could still have fun in spite of his disabilities. I like the idea of sharing when I find information I consider useful. And we did have a wonderful time planning and writing our posts for this blog and reading the responses that we got from people who read it. I have always found it helpful to recognize, when I am having a difficult time in life, that there are many other people in the same boat, and I try to learn from them.
I’m going to continue writing the blog on my own. I did a little more research and found that I am certainly not alone in my widowhood. In fact, more than 40% of people my age (72 years old) have already been widowed at least once, and during the next 10 years, more than half of the people close to my age who are in committed relationships will also lose their partners. Finding a way to keep life fulfilling in the face of any loss is challenging. So the blog will continue and the theme of the blog will remain the same. My path to continuing to find life fulfilling will still include sharing ideas with people in the same stage of life, the final fifteen percent.
So what have I learned in the last six weeks that is helping me keep my life fulfilling? I’ve learned that, whether I can prove it or not, thinking of my husband as someone who still exists in another form and is now far more capable of having fun than he was six weeks ago can take me from a sad mood to a joyful one faster than any other idea I have considered. Being aware that Bill is well again on the other side and that his life is far more joyful than it had been for many years in spite of our best efforts to make it as fulfilling as possible, gives me permission to make my own life as much fun as I possibly can.
I talk to Bill every night. I feel as though he’s with me when I do that and it gives me a great deal of pleasure to feel that way. (No, he doesn’t answer in words but I do always feel calmer and happier after these “discussions.”) If I’m wrong about my concept of life and he simply no longer exists and can’t possibly be listening to me because there is no hereafter, then I’m just deluding myself. But I’m going to keep right on talking to him because the idea that he continues to exist and that he continues to care about me is something I choose to continue to believe whether I can prove it or not. (I have had a few interesting events occur since Bill’s death that make me feel I have it right, however. More about that in a future post.)
I feel that our happiness in life and our feelings of fulfillment depend largely on choices we make. I have observed many times that people who appear to have all the makings of happiness (wealth, family, friends, etc.) can still feel depressed and unhappy. I’ve also seen people who appear to have very little to be happy about, people who have suffered great losses, who have serious physical illnesses, and who have few possessions. It appears to me that they can still choose to react to the events that occur in their life in a way that gives them fulfillment and happiness.
I choose to believe that Bill’s spirit lives on and that he is thrilled to be free of a body that could no longer function effectively on this planet. When I’m feeling sad, I have only to remember how happy Bill was when he just came back from a ride on his beloved motorcycle, and that memory makes me feel happy too. Those memories I know are real. But I also choose to believe that Bill is now out cruising around the universe in some sort of an energy body and that he is having a fabulous time. That thought, which I recognize is not a provable memory, also makes me extremely happy. And holding on to that concept allows me to go out into the world and create some fun of my own. I may still need to experience and express the sadness that comes from being alone after so many years of constant companionship, but I don’t have to get stuck in that period of mourning.
Today would have been my 53rd wedding anniversary and it hurts to spend it without my partner. But I’m going to celebrate the many years we had together; I’m going to talk to Bill like he is right here and tell him how grateful I am for the time we spent together. Then I’m going to spend the rest of the day doing what all widows and widowers hope to do: learn to enjoy life on my own.