Bless me blogosphere, for I have sinned.

OK, so I don’t actually believe in “sin.” I believe that there are some things that are bad and some things that are good, with most things somewhere in between.

But this feels like a confession. In my head I know I’m not really “bad” and that probably many (most?) have gone through this “stage.” But the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when I realized I felt this way told me I had crossed a line. So, thank you, blogosphere, for hearing my confession.

It hit me like a ton of bricks, as I was walking today. Having tried running for the first time three days before at a friend’s encouragement (and survived), I was eager to exert myself more than I usually do on my lunchtime outings. So, armed with the trusty psycho-mind-reading ipod, I charted a new route, and it wasn’t long before I was huffing and puffing up the quiet, winding, narrow streets of Portland’s West Hills. Sure enough, as I began to twist and turn my way downhill, a song about grief triggered a flash of realization:

I no longer miss Julie as an individual as much as I miss the roles she filled in my life.

The details of her as a person have started to fade, to lose focus in the haze of memory. How she spoke, how she would act, what she would or wouldn’t do in a given situation—these are becoming less and less clear. What looms larger now are all the things she is no longer here to be—wife, mother, partner, companion, someone to talk to and share all the joys and burdens and tasks and events of life.

I suppose it’s inevitable—all the unique details of what a person was like in life will fade, as do all memories, especially those not assisted by visual or audio recordings. I can remember her singing voice or how she played piano because I can play them back with a few clicks of the mouse in the studio, preserved in all their digital purity. I see her photos, whether from 2 or 20 years ago, every day on the walls of our house. I am very thankful for these things. (Ironically, it was she who always pressed us to take more pictures, fix the video camera, etc., so that we would have these memories preserved. Now we are here, able to recall her in great detail, thanks to her own wish to look back on the three of us from a vantage point she never lived to enjoy.) Especially for the kids, they refresh her memory in ways that I’m sure will become more and more important over time.

But for me, her individual presence is fading in ways no photo or video or CD can revive. What remains, missed more than ever, are the holes left behind by her passing. For 21 years, my life grew and evolved and changed with and around her, like a tree that takes a unique shape based on the rocky landscape in which it grows. Now, the rock is gone, making the things I no longer have in my life—partner, lover, co-parent, friend, head of household—stand out in their absence more than the person who was all these things.

For now, no amount of rationalization or intellect can persuade my heart to give up the feeling that this makes me a terrible person, as if it means I am reducing her to a job description, a series of roles that could be filled by any number of likely candidates.

I’m sure, as my former therapist would so annoyingly say, it’s not so much a question of either/or as “both/and.” My pals in the widowverse will surely tell me that there’s nothing “wrong” with grieving any aspect of loss, whenever it happens, and that the river of grief ebbs and flows, changing course in ways that are not ours to predict or control. Intellectually, I get all that.

But in my heart it feels as if I am somehow the perpetrator of a great betrayal. Greater than loving another woman, or making decisions she might not have approved of, or anything else I have done since she’s been gone.

The news that truly shocks is the empty empty page
While the final rattle rocks it’s empty empty cage
And i can’t handle this
I grieve for you
You leave me

Let it out and move on
Missing what’s gone
They say life carries on
They say life carries on and on and on

12 Responses to “I’m a bad, bad widower. (But that’s OK.)”

  1. heidi says:

    Ouch. Beautifully, beautifully written. Makes my throat ache, which I can only imagine is the tip of the iceberg you’ve been experiencing. Yes, it’s normal. No, you’re not a bad person for having felt the emptiness of the roles left now as vast negative spaces. The feelings are real and all you can do is hold on as you move through them. And keep stumbling forward one winded step at a time.

    • Jay says:

      Thank you, and very well put, Heidi. As I often say (probably too often), “Onwards and sideways!”

      XXX

  2. Andrea Renee says:

    Made my throat ache, too (what a good way to put it, Heidi!). It just confirms for me how differently, yet the same, we all grieve…. For me, Matt’s roles are less missed lately, but his individual characteristics are what I’m grieving more these days. You’re not terrible, Jay. There are no rules or order for what we’re going through. (((HUGS)))) XOXOXO

    • Jay says:

      Thanks, Andrea. I “know” I’m not terrible, more so after writing this, but still. The feeling that they’re slipping through your fingers, or that they are no more than the roles they played (“You or someone like you” is an album title, I think–ick!), I guess it is just one of those things we go through–not bad or good, just is. Accepting and giving yourself those encouraging words we would give to a friend or loved one–that’s both the tough part and the part that provides the greatest growth, I think. As an old boss of mine used to say, “If it was easy, anybody could do it!”

      XXX

  3. Charlena says:

    ‘For 21 years, my life grew and evolved and changed with and around her, like a tree that takes a unique shape based on the rocky landscape in which it grows.’

    This is so beautifully and poetically written and says so much so clearly… I felt more intimately what your journey is and has been.
    Love, C

    • Jay says:

      Thank you, Charlena. You continue to inspire me and lead by example, so I’m glad this spoke to you.

      XXX

  4. Abby Carter says:

    It is strange how grief morphs into something different as the ripples of memory move away from us. Every now and then, a piece of Arron will come into sharp focus, only to fade as quickly as it appeared. Often it is in the glimpse of one of our children.

    So we cling to those roles that they played in our lives, the gaps they’ve left behind. Of course this is normal, our minds forcing us to carry on with our lives by showing us what is missing from them. In their own way, our loved ones are showing us the path towards living.

    And just when we need it most, we will be reminded of them once more, in a moment or a glimpse, as if no time has gone by at all and we will smile, satisfied that all is as it should be.

    A beautiful piece of writing Jay. Nicely done.

    • Jay says:

      Thank you, Abby. Such praise from one of the giants of widowed writers–even your comment is beautiful–I am very honored.

      This post was funny–it wasn’t the post I was planning to write. The feeling hit me, took me over, and as soon as I could make the time to type it, it was done. It didn’t really feel like I was “writing” it, as much as it was coming through me. I’ve heard lots of songwriters and poets describe this experience, but for a lowly blog post, it was kind of surprising.

      XXX

  5. Barbara says:

    Dear Jay,
    I share your undeserved guilt feelings for not remembering “my husband: the complete and complex person” so much as missing what he did in our life together. I feel especially responsible to carry on a clear memory of his details so that I can attempt to adequately portray (force feed) those memories into our children. They were so young they cannot clearly remember much about their daddy on their own. But then a moment came when I realized, they simply will not grow up knowing him the way they would have if he had not died. I cannot change that. I surrender that which I am incapable of doing and I accept that neither I nor anyone but Mike himself could have possibly ever let our children really KNOW him.

    Still, the irrational guilty feeling of forgetting creeps over me. You’re right though, it IS okay. I will do my best for my beautiful children as a solo mom. I cannot make them know a person they can’t remember any more than I can keep his memory crisp and fresh in my own life as I continue to grow older and move forward without him.

    xoxo

  6. Jennie says:

    Well Jay, these are first writings of yours I read, and you achieved something I have not yet, which is to commit to paper the feelings and guilt associated with the shifting, fading memories of my beloved.
    It is powerful to read something that echoes my own sentiments so precisely.

    Thank you!
    J

  7. dana lewis says:

    I feel as if I betray every time I am happy without him, but the immediacies return as well. You are working on his car, and stop to pick up the cell to call and ask where the fuel filter is, or you drive by a roach couch and think.. dang I should bring him here.
    Thank you for writing about this

    • Jay says:

      Thank you for sharing that Dana, I’m laughing and sad at the same time. (True so much of the time, isn’t it?)

      I live surrounded by (sometimes it feels like “drowning in”) her stuff. Our house, but filled with so much of hers; her car, etc., etc. I know at some point a “purge” will be very helpful, but at the same time, all this of her around me is comforting, so I let it stay, for now.

      I had a very vivid wanting to call her experience that I wrote about here, and another time when I was dating someone and felt the need to have “a talk” with her as I was driving home that I sort of described here, but I’m surprised how much it keeps happening. Every time I discover a new band she would have liked, or the kids do something or pass a milestone (our son graduating from 8th Grade), it hits. We saw King Crimson once together, and so I know she heard the line that says it so well: I wish you were here to see it!

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