Someone asked me recently if I was better. Better….better than what? Am I better than I was in those first stages when something as simple as a song or a smell could reduce me to racking sobs on my kitchen floor? Am I better than the completely numb person who went skiing in the Wallowas last winter, and knew that if I fell, I had no adrenaline left to self rescue? Am I better than when the work week exhausted me, but I dreaded the unstructured time on the weekends even more? Am I better than the girl who could not sleep, and to do so would tuck a pillow behind my back, just to fill up the bed? If those are the questions, then yes, I am better.
In reality, I am better. Might sound blasphemous, and certainly not like a “good widow”, but I am better than before. Before Jim got sick, before I watched him die, before I went through the valley of grief. I am better…than…I…ever…have…been….before….in…my…life. This awareness has dawned on me slowly over the last few months. At some point in my grief over the last year, it changed. It became less about missing Jim and the life we had, and more about the longing for the rest of my life to come. I wondered when the time would come, when would I be released from my “good widow” role, and be allowed to live, truly live, again?
Last weekend, a dear friend kept repeating that she was sorry. Sorry that Jim had died. After about the 4th repeat (she had imbibed some wine…and perhaps a gin and tonic, too), I told her I was not. The room got very quiet. That was not a good widow thing to say. I didn’t take the comment back, and I did not clarify. I am not sorry that I married Jim. I am not sorry that we struggled in our marriage, worked through it, and still managed to raise 2 kids. I am not sorry that I cared for him through his illness, and memorialized him when he died. I am also not sorry that he died, I got to live, and will continue to do so. If Jim had continued to live, would I have had the gumption and freedom to gather friends and family for a weekend at Burgdorf, gone on hikes in a snow globe, soaked in hot springs, and made pig piles on my bed? How could I be sorry, when this was the result, and it was all so dang beautiful?
I look at my son, my precious boy, and realize that he would not be the man he is becoming if Jim had lived. Jim was big. He was a big presence in any room he walked into, and could take up a fair amount of space in the wilderness as well. If Jim had lived, Jasper would have grown into adulthood in his father’s shadow. Now, he is becoming his own man in Jim’s moonbeam. Not only are my kids going to be fine…they are better. And so am I.
I recently marked a year. A year without Jim, a year without any other man in my life. A year is by far the longest period in my ENTIRE life, that I have not been involved in a significant romantic relationship of some kind. Remember, I am a serial monogamist, and since age 16, I’ve never gone for more than a month or 2 without a partner by my side. There were even times they overlapped for a bit. I was a good girlfriend, I was a good wife. I am a good enough mother. I am (usually) a good widow. I’m a girl from the mid-west. We define ourselves by serving others and making them happy. It makes us feel valued, and important. My life is about making other people happy. It’s scary to think about letting myself be happy, but I am getting better at it.
I like being in sole charge of my time, my money, my house, and my energy. I can wake up in the morning, blow off the snow shoveling for a couple of hours, and go for a run. I can make the exact breakfast I want, and leave the dishes until I feel like doing them. I can struggle through a home repair, or pay someone else to do it. I can buy myself a new coat, or a raft frame that is my size…or both. I can say yes, or no, to a dinner invitation, and leave when I get tired. I can go to bed at 9 pm…even on a Friday night…and not be woken up by someone snoring, or farting, or pawing at me. I have time to exercise, I have time to eat well, I can take naps on the weekends. I don’t have to share my toys.
I am better. I am a better person for having married Jim. Keeping up with him for 25 years made me a much braver piglet. I am a better person for working through all of our struggles and raising 2 kids. A life of service to others still defines me. I am a better person for having cared for Jim during his illness, through his death, and memorializing him. I am stronger than I ever believed I could be. I am a better person for having lived through this first year of grief. I know the value of my family and friends, and that I am never truly alone. I am not sorry. I am grateful. I am better