Grief is an odd thing. It can creep up when you aren't expecting it or make itself known by a sudden explosion. It can be triggered by almost any everyday thing. I try to let it in a little at a time. I know my new reality. I just don't have to dwell on it every waking moment, because that seems neither healthy nor wise. My husband and I were never what people might have considered a "normal" couple, especially starting way back in 1973. In our almost thirty-nine years of marriage, we found ways to adapt to each other, ways to live together, to divide up the work, and to take care of the family. We never had what other people would consider a fight. Although we certainly might have snapped in anger, it was generally followed by an apology within ten minutes, and neither of us stayed angry. We were opposites in a lot of ways, but the same in things of importance. I diaried the sudden loss of my husband here.
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I first met my husband on a blind date, set up by a married teaching colleague who had met him ushering at the opera house. He loved music and had a huge music collection. I enjoy listening to music, but it's nowhere the same intensity. He was a slow eater and I was always fast. On our first real date after we had met we went to Fisherman's Wharf for dinner. I was appalled that while I was trying to make a good impression, I suddenly had the blind spot I used to get when I had a migraine headache. I hadn't had one in ten years, but there it was. It arrived at the same time as the salad, which I managed to eat exceedingly slowly because I didn't want to say anything about it. He told me later that was when he really fell in love, thinking he had found an eating soul mate. We laughed about it for years, about how I "tricked" him. When we went to France on our only overseas vacation, he was complimented by the waiter on his eating speed. When we went to restaurants when the kids were young, we brought along activity books and books to read so they would be entertained while waiting for him to finish.
He was a student when I first met him, having gone back to school after the death of his first wife. He was living at his parents' house so his mother could take care of his son while he went to school. His mother never liked me. Some people thought it was because I wasn't Chinese and he was; however, it seemed more likely that she didn't want to lose her grandson. She had been raised by stepmothers and told her grandson that no one could ever replace your real mother. He was five at the time. When I came along, I looked like a threat to take him away, and I was.
We had some hard times in the beginning. It was stressful, but our love and mutual caring got us through. I was nervous for the six months it took for the stepparent adoption to go through. I took his last name and kept mine too, eventually hyphenating them, as I wanted the three of us to be connected as a family.
In the beginning, he was studying and I was teaching at the community college. He decided that he had no need to continue his studies (he was ten units shy of graduation) because he would prefer to stay home with our son. I thought that was fine, because I wanted to continue working and I loved my job, and at that time I was making enough for the family with just my salary, although we had to be frugal. Over the years and two more kids later, we developed a separation of tasks. At first he did the dishes and a little cooking, but later as it developed, I did the cooking and the dishes, and he did the shopping. I so hate shopping. He did all the laundry and took care of the cars.
As one of my colleagues said, "he was really devoted to his family." And so he was, for all the time we were together. Despite his mother's telling him our marriage would never last, it did, and we proved her wrong.
So when does this grief thing set in? All the time, a little at a time. I wake up in the morning. As the fog of sleep lifts, I take stock of where I am, what day it is, and what I have to do that day. Then I remember who's missing. I sigh, get out of bed, folding up the lovely quilt that the Rescue Rangers got me from Sara and Ann, and I'm up to start the day.
I go to make the same cereal for breakfast that I've made for many years, and as I go to cut the banana, I realize I have to use them all, instead of saving the mushier ones for my husband. He liked things overripe and I don't, so we made a good pair. I have to figure out when it's time to go to the grocery store and buy milk because that was something he did. My first trip to the grocery store after he died, I felt like a tourist, walking in a fog and trying to figure out where everything was. I have to decide which shades to open and when, and what windows to open and when, because he was the one who kept the house warm or cold. He loved checking out the weather every day, and the link is still on my computer, although I rarely use it. I think of him when I see the "W" for weather.
My son and I had to figure out the washing machine, as I had only used it briefly many years ago when my husband had been unable to walk for a bit, and I had forgotten how. Then the washing machine backed up into the bathtub and leaked on the floor and I didn't know what to do because my husband always handled those things. (The appliance repairman who came said it wasn't the washing machine, as of course it worked fine for him, but showed me where the water goes, and told me to call a plumber if it was leaking from there. A friend put some liquid plumber in the pipe, and it hasn't leaked since.)
My husband used to take out the mail every day, and now I'm lucky if I remember to get it to the mailbox in time. Someone sent me a gardenia, and I realized I could just leave it in the house because my husband, who was allergic to flowers, wasn't going to smell them.
I think of him when I see his favorite plate and his peanut butter (he liked his salted; mine was without salt). When I cooked while he was around, he'd catch me clanging the spatula on the side of the pot, and he'd tell me he could always hear his mother saying you shouldn't do that. I continue banging spoons and spatulas on pots, but now I think of him remembering instead. He had trouble with his teeth all of his life, and we used to joke that he married me for my dental insurance. It's odd that I don't have to overcook the vegetables anymore.
I still read things and think that I want to tell him something, and then remember I can't. I want to ask how to do something, and I can't do that either. Sometimes it is very disorienting and surreal and other times it is matter of fact. And that is my new reality. I'll leave the rest of my story for another day.
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