OK, he wasn’t my husband, strictly speaking, and I’ve done 110 scary things since he died, maybe 1,010, but I’ve culled what for me is the top 10, and I’ll share them here one at a time in what I understand to be a David Letterman–type list (without a TV, I lack experience with much of our culture), in which 10 is the least and 1 is the most.
10. Got up in the morning.
In this way, the widow not only acknowledges that life goes on, but also that he or she accepts it. This can be dreadful and scary.
My father died in the evening, and my stepmother did not rise from the bed for a day. She had my half sister and me downstairs, dealing with the concept and practicalities of the funeral. Dan died at about 9 p.m., and after a few hours’ sleep I got up the next morning: our two dogs had to be let out and fed—at seven o’clock, not nine or noon. At that point, you might as well make a cup of coffee and stare out at the backyard. Or go to the computer.
Since everything had gone so terribly wrong for the last four months, I was writing Dan’s obituary myself, so that it would be correct, and would include what I wanted it to: the dogs and me as his immediate family; his canoeing the length of the Connecticut River, from the Atlantic Ocean to Canada, in weekend trips (and not writing a book about it); his full academic scholarship to Columbia; his generosity to local causes.
I had to deal with the odd but kindly woman at the local funeral home, which I had chosen only the night before, minutes after Dan’s death (I grew to think of her, not unfondly, as Morticia). I had to call the gentle, marvelous people at the Buddhist cemetery across the Hudson River, which was the only place I could think of in which Dan might be happy to have his ashes buried.
In all of these distractions I took some comfort. Because not only had I lost the love of my life but also, in another part of my brain, I knew that each thing that I touched—the kitchen sink with its mysterious gurgle; our three cars (his idea) with their total of almost 400,000 miles; the ancient Cooper, the adolescent Lulu; my unremarkable paycheck—was now mine to deal with alone.
Not just the expense, more important, the decisions, without Dan, the witty, practical man with cutting-edge taste in music who paid off his credit card every month, and who had been at my side for 25 years. During the four months of his illness I had paid the bills, cared for the dogs, got the cars serviced, and neglected the house.
Now it was September, and I wasn’t so much up a tree as out on a slender branch, among leaves that fluttered to the hardening ground.