In Short: Sadness, anger, guilt.
I use the term “become” a widow because after more than a year I don’t think I yet know how to “be” a widow. I’m sure every experience is different. My own came after 53 years of marriage.
Weeks before his passing, my husband Chuck’s cardiologist told us he was probably in his last 12–18 months of life, and we should prepare. So difficult to hear but I asked his gastroenterologist for her opinion; she concurred.
At that point we decided to let our two grown boys know, and to start getting ready — mentally and physically — for what was to come.
Within days things started going downhill in a hurry. Emergency room visits and frightening test results were the norm. His final hospital stay was only weeks after the Covid-19 restrictions were put in place, and I was pretty much resigned to dropping him at the door of the E.R. and pleading for information from whomever would answer. When one of his doctors called to tell me he had put me on a list of approved visitors, I quickly came to the realization that 12–18 months was not in our future, and that these would likely be our last days together.
That week I was told there would be one procedure they’d been postponing, trying to get him in better condition for it. It would take place on Friday and he would be sent home on Saturday with Hospice. My thought was to make him comfortable in his recliner with the TV remote, provide company and whatever meals or other comforts he wanted, to create a cocoon where he could live out what time he had left.
To my shock he was sent home in a coma; there would be no last loving conversations, no opportunity to care for his needs, no preparing for my future life alone, no good-byes. He was gone within a couple of hours.
Thus I became a widow, sad for all we’d never had the chance to do together, for life ahead without my lifelong partner, for our grandson who’d lost so many loved ones in his young life, for our two boys who butted heads with their Dad but learned so much from him.
But anger was strong too, against the doctor who let us believe we still had time to enjoy life together, against the hospital who sent him home in a coma without warning, at circumstances that put us in the middle of a pandemic in which visitors weren’t allowed in the hospital. At my husband for not taking better care of his own health.
Ridiculous, of course: the doctor didn’t and couldn’t make any promises. The hospital was buried in Covid issues, the pandemic was no one’s fault, and Chuck was a victim of his genes as much as his own bad habits.
But oh the guilt. Why wasn’t I more patient when he was first getting ill, why didn’t I take control of his unhealthy habits, why didn’t I push for more family time, why didn’t I spend every possible moment with him that week in the hospital?
There aren’t really answers. Neither the sadness, anger nor guilt has gone away completely. However, over the last year I waited for a “day without tears” — and realized a few weeks ago that it had happened without fanfare. Occasionally a song or a story will still touch me and bring the tears, but it’s no longer every day. I’m still in the process of “becoming” a widow.
Lynda Koenen is retired after 35 years in the aerospace industry, in jobs ranging from production associate to materials analyst to purchasing agent.
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