Monday, 15 August 2011

A Different Place.

A difficult time.
These are a few of the books belonging to my husband. I don't want to say 'late husband'. He was a carefully punctual man. I don't want to say I have 'lost' him, which is a term used by many who don't like to use the word 'dead'. I have not lost him, nor is he late. He died but the evidence of his past life is here, in our home, and the memories are everywhere.

Nearly five years after his death his books are boxed, ready to go to a new place. I am grateful to have found an appropriate home for them; a home that wants the complete collection, and where they will be kept, still under his name. A glance at the titles may indicate that this is a specialised collection, mainly of theology, with some philosophy and a great deal of devotional material. Not everyone would want it but for those who do it is a great resource.

I live through the paradoxes of death and bereavement. Nearly five years, and yet I still have the feeling that he'll be furious when he comes back and finds his books are not here. Not if, but when.
There is no sense in this, and I know it. Yet it happens, this bizarre fusing of reality and complete illogicality, not just to me, but to many who lose a husband, a wife, a life-partner.
The worst thing that people say to me is that they are sure that my husband is watching over me. It is said with the best intentions of giving comfort, but it's bad because I have that feeling anyway, and I know, in my practical, common-sense way, that I must work hard to create a new and different life, to stay positive, not to be a nuisance. In doing that I know that I'm doing things that would cause him annoyance, anger even; radical surgery on his favourite tree, throwing away boxfuls of old newspaper-cuttings and now, worst of all, giving away his beloved books.

If I believed in any sort of after-life I would not find it comforting, for with his deeply held religious convictions he will have streaked ahead in the spiritual race to sanctity, while I will be floundering about on some dark and indistinct shore-line, and this is somehow an even greater separation than death. Few things make proper sense in widowhood, except for simply getting on with it.

Widowhood is a shockingly different country. After the inevitable drama of death the reality begins to hit, but it may take years, or it may take forever. You do not 'get over' the death of a life-partner, but you do learn to live a different way. You simply have to do so.
Marriage was the country where I lived for nearly thirty years, secure, happy, busy, fulfilled, engrossed, irritated, exhausted, light-hearted, miserable - the whole spectrum of human emotion experienced when living with another. I find, somewhat to my surprise, that somehow I can accept the huge changes, but it is the trivial losses that hit hard. Every time I asked if he wanted a drink my husband would respond by looking at his watch or asking, 'What time is it?' It drove me mad, but now I find myself thinking, if not actually doing the same thing.

Widowhood happens in a second. That second when the breath and heart of another person stop, and from that second you are changed. You are perceived differently. Externally, nothing much has changed for me. I have the same address, drive the same car, use the same shops, the same library, and yet everything is different.
At first I was beguiled by busy-ness, keeping the bleakness at bay with a host of distractions. Now my life seems to have become focused into islands of silence, peaceful silence, balanced by the voluntary work I love, and times with people I am lucky enough to love too, in person, by telephone, by e-mail.

I send this out into space today, because my husband's books go tomorrow, and it seems, once again, like an ending.
I send it deliberately for others feeling the bleakness, and it goes with the message that endings can often be beginnings as well, and life in this strange place goes on.


gz said...

Thankyou for the post.

You haven't just given away the have kept them together and found them a new home where they will be loved and appreciated. Nothing wrong in that.


Molly said...

I think "when" he comes back he'll be very pleased that you found a home for this books where they'll be so appreciated! What a thought provoking post. We'll all get there some day, or be the ones to leave our husbands widowers.....sobering thoughts.

Zhoen said...

I believe we can speak to the dead. I don't believe the dead can speak back, and probably don't hear us.

Books need to be read, they deserve to move. As you have the right to make your own choices now, about books and trees and all those details that once required negotiation.

The thought of widowhood takes my breath away/

pohanginapete said...

I've never been able to make any kind of sense of death, and can't envisage ever doing so. It's just too incomprehensible to me, and all I can do is try to find a way of dealing with it, even if that way seems illogical. But logic has nothing to do with coping with incomprehansible loss.

Your post articulates these kinds of emotions better than anything I've ever read.

Anne said...

I can only say that I felt every word of that post. I felt how lucky you were to have had 30 years with a true partner, and how deeply changed your life is now -- even if the externals remain the same. And I thought how devastated I would be if I lost the partner of my old age. I was not fortunate enough to find a real partner until I had made 3 lengthy mistakes -- 10, 10 and 20 years. Now I have had 5 years of happiness and I tremble to think of its inevitable end. It seems unfair to wish that I would go first, because I suppose I could manage better alone than he would. And I know that death is death and it is final.

Isabelle said...

Beautifully put. Things are potent, even though they are just objects. After my mother-in-law died and we had disposed of all her possessions, I dreamt that she was actually alive, and it had all been a mistake, and I had to explain to her that we had got rid of everything. Then I woke up and felt so ashamed at feeling relief that it had been a dream and that she was in fact dead.

I'm glad that you've found somewhere appropriate for his books.

marigold jam said...

It isn't an end is it for those books but a new beginning and the sentiments they contain are continuing on their journey and not being incarcerated any longer. Other people will now be able to absorb their contents and value them which I am sure your husband would be the first to agree was only a good thing. My mother had just a couple of years in which to love my fathger and yet she said that she never "got over " his death but simply learned a new way to live her life - she never did marry anyone else though even though she was on 32 when he died.

I hope you will find that by passing on the things you no longer need of your husband's you will also find your way to a different way of living which brings you peace.

Frances said...

Yes, very thought provoking, RR.
What thoughts did it provoke?
The necessity of moving on, which takes courage: stagnating is not a good option.
The importance of enjoying the moment.
Good wishes.

Relatively Retiring said...

Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments.
I know I have moved on a great deal in the years since my husband's death. I wanted to make the point that there is no time-limit on this process, and that unexpected reactions can hit you at any time, for any reason. There is little sense in the bereavement 'process', and the acceptance of that, the total acceptance of your own weird reactions may help.

Frances said...

I do hope that you did not see my comment re moving on as directed towards you, rather than a reminder to myself.
It is 21 years now since my husband died. In some ways my married life seems not real,an invented memory...and that feels sad.
On the other hand, some issues remain. Do you recall those Derwent colour pencils, arranged in two tiers within a cardboard box with a little tab at the back so that you could stand them up on your school desk? What on earth do you do with a hardly used box of those? They must be over 60 years old. He was such a squirrel!

Relatively Retiring said...

Frances: Thank you for the kind thought, and no, I certainly didn't interpret your comment as being directed personally, but as another interesting observation on a process.
The Derwent pencils are collectors' pieces - then as now!

Anonymous said...

My first visit here and your writing took my breath away. I didn't expect to cry. I've read a few books on loss (Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking) and none come even close to expressing the true feeling that you have. I am terribly sorry for your loss. Sincerely, Maureen

Relatively Retiring said...

Maureen: I do hope that my writing has not upset you. Please feel free to e-mail me (my details are on my full profile) if it would be helpful to discuss anything.
At the same time, thank you very much for your comment.

Jenny Woolf said...

This is painful and moving to read. Thanks for being honest. I agree with gz though. You've found the books a good home where they will help someone else.

herhimnbryn said...

As a book collector myself (so too my Pa, who has already told me I can have any of his books and his 'Roman' collection can go to people who would use it, when he dies), I would want my books to go to someone who would appreciate them. It's what books are all about, moving on, opening new worlds to others.

Your words about living after your husband's death are deeply moving and practical too. You know he's not there, but you have to live alongside that? One step at a time...

Mouse said...

I have no words of wisdom, just tears and a very strong urge to hug you. This is such a beautiful and moving post

DeeBee L. said...

It always takes time to move on after a loved-one's death. Two years of mourning when women used to fully dress in black then three of "semi" mourning when they swapped for grey clothes (in France)...but they remain with us while we are getting on with our everyday tasks...
It was time for the books to start a "new life"...
Lovely blog.
Kind regards

Annette said...

I just found your site through A Mouse in France. I love how you write. I found myself nodding while I read this post. My husband is still very much with me but your writing of the solitude and difference made so much sense to me. He is 11 years older than me and we aren't young anymore so I imagine I will be in your position at some point.

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

I just came to read this when I noticed your comment on Mouse's post. Although each person's experience is unique, I feel as if I can understand what you are saying very well. It is nearly four years since my husband died after a long illness. The day after his funeral was our 35th wedding anniversary. In an instant, yes, everthing has changed. And yet everything always is changing from moment to moment. Nothing stays the same........There is still in me a reluctance to change things, even those that need to be changed because it is another small piece of my world turning into something that was never part of his world.
For me, a Buddhist book, Grieving Mindfully, was the most helpful one after Paul died. It led to a new way of being alive in the world, though just in a gentle way. We just need to be kind to ourselves and realize we're doing the best we can. You should be happy that the books have found a new home, and I believe you are.

I have a blog and am not a secretive person, really, but I wonder if I could be as honest and authentic and you have been here.

Relatively Retiring said...

Many thanks to all who left comments on this posting. I have been touched by your kindness and thoughtfulness.
Special thanks to those who came via Mouse's blog, and were caring enough to comment.
I am truly grateful to you all. There are times when blogging becomes a most enriching experience, and this is one of them.