It’s expensive to lose your spouse.

I’m not talking about your spouse’s income. I’m talking about losing the services your spouse used to provide. Yeah, that statement seems heartless, but it’s reality and we are all living it.

Adam was my handyman, my rough-duty gardener, my sous-housekeeper (have I coined a term?), the dog-person-in chief. Car-washer, IT guy, heavy-furniture mover, painter, minor plumber, carpenter, gutter-cleaner, lawn mower, furniture refinisher, executor. I was the idea person, and he made my ideas come to life. Now? Pfft. Now nothing is happening and I have to hire out everthing and my ideas go nowhere.

Today I met with the man whose company keeps my yard. My yard is beautiful. Honestly, I’d been wanting to hire this man for years upon years, and when it became grossly apparent that I needed someone who could provide his scope of work, I was quick to give him a call. But it costs money and Adam provided lots of these services to our family.

Sous-housekeeper? Well, you know. I don’t have to spell that one out. He was great.

Dog-person-in-chief. I had one dog when I was a kid. A terrier. He didn’t require much. When I met Adam I knew that we would have labs and that was just the way it was. I acknowledge Phil, whose owner I don’t remember but Barb does, as the dog who really made possible our having labs. Phil was great. After Hobie died, I got us another lab. Then Adam died and my kids went to school and this was not my idea. Now I have a dog-walker and a trainer. $$$

The IT, furniture, gutter-cleaner, lawn mower and minor plumber haven’t been too bad to replace, just annoying. I am sad to have lost the executor of my ideas. My ideas and their supplies clutter my house and mind. I’m still determined to be a furniture refinisher and minor carpenter.

But this is a process. Were it the other way around, he’d be looking for a cook, a housekeeper, a driver, and errand person, possibly the dog person, who knows? Maybe he’d even need an idea person.

The point is that when you are married you are a team, and when you’re a good team you are a well-oiled machine. We were. Nothing even needed to be said. We just did it.

Now that Adam is gone, I not only have to do it, but I have to realize I have to do it, and then I have to learn the skills and maybe get the tools, but in the end I hire someone to do it. I just can’t do it all and it’s expensive. It’s expensive to lose your spouse.


The Cruelest Month


February. Do we really have to go there? I used to love February because I have a certain affinity for people born in the second month of the year. Don’t know if it’s astrology or what, but it *is.* Before I was married, I could survive Valentine’s Day only because surrounding it were the birthdays of my fabulous February friends. I never had a boyfriend, really, so for the historic me this day for celebrating love was just a day to mope. I was glad for the diversion of birthdays. Of course the moping went away when I met Adam (an August birthday, my second-favorite birthday month). He wasn’t big on what he called “Hallmark holidays,” though, so he never went to much trouble over it. I was ok with that because I had him.

February 2012 was different, though. On Valentine’s Day of 2012, Adam gave me an expensive watch. It was so unusual for him to do something like this that I couldn’t thoroughly enjoy it. A gnawing emptiness predicted that his unprecedented behavior was a harbinger of bad things to come. By Valentine’s Day 2012 he’d been nursing a serious headache for 2-3 weeks, a headache that was unresponsive to any medication.

I sometimes wonder if the victims of that Indonesian tidal wave felt a bit as I did as we waited for Adam to have the MRI that would seal our fates. Standing there, staring into the distance, and seeing a horizon that just didn’t look quite right. Should we run for our lives or are we imagining something? If it’s bad, will it drown us? That’s how I felt, anyway, but I don’t know about the Indonesians.

The night before Adam’s diagnosis we had to attend AP Night at the kids’ school. AP Night generally has a celebratory air because these kids have worked hard and qualified for AP classes. How could I deal with all that cheerfulness when the guillotine was hanging over my head? How could I be appropriately enthusiastic when meeting Caroline’s AP Gov teacher for the first time? She loved him and he deserved a warm welcome that I was simply unable to generate. It’s hard to be ebullient when a guillotine is hanging over your head.

The burgers at Char Grill later tasted like cardboard. It was way past dinnertime so we all had low blood sugar, had been overly stimulated by the AP Night info, and, mostly, were terrified about the next day’s MRI and what its results would mean to our family. Oh, and Adam had the worst screaming headache of his life, which he’d been enduring for the past several weeks. Short-tempered doesn’t begin to describe our little tribe.

All of this was on my mind when I read this week’s newsletter from a grief blog to which I subscribe. Its author said she knows of many people with diagnosis or death anniversaries in February. I know of at least one other, and she’s on my mind right this minute. The newsletter writer also claimed, rightly I think, that TS Eliot got it wrong and that, in fact, February, not April, is the cruelest month. Agreed.

Mother Teresa? Not.

I love Facebook quizzes and will take just about any one that appears on my newsfeed. I don’t look at my personal Facebook page much, though, so I’m sure I’ve missed many. My recent favorite is based on a personality-type quiz that divides “all of humanity” into four essential temperaments. Mine was “Guardian,” with Mother Teresa as the archetype. All right!

Ok so I’m not Mother Teresa.

The hallmarks of this type were, well, I’ll just give you a quote:

“Guardians are concrete, organized, caring, and have a deep longing for security and belonging. As a Guardian, you have strong organizational and analytical thinking skills. You’re the mama goose of the personality types. You crave order and you instinctively know how to care for and motivate others. You have a strong work ethic and you have very high standards for institutions and authority figures, which you tend to respect. You have a frugal streak and you tend to be financially responsible. You pride yourself on being reliable and there’s nothing more important to you than being dependable. If someone needs something, you’re the first to be there. In relationships you often play the same role of a helper, seeing you and your partner as a “team” with goals to accomplish. You have some impressive fellow Guardians to look up to. Queen Elizabeth, Mother Teresa, George Washington, and Barbara Walters are all famous examples of Guardians.”

I have to say that this description sums me up, and informs my behavior during Adam’s illness and in these three years after his death. But I’m not saying it’s really good for my health or the attitudes of others.

When Adam got sick, well, he and his illness were immediately my new job. Everything else fell by the wayside. In order to do my job well, I had to believe in my goal, believe it was achieveable. That, I surmise, is why I found it unbelieveable that the docs were telling me he wouldn’t make it (in so many words; no one in that medical community would say anything to me that wasn’t masking the truth). In order to take care of him and to achieve an acceptable outcome, I became a foot soldier. I was 100% in. I was The Guardian.

After Adam’s death I became The Guardian of my children. I had one goal, which was to see them matriculate to the college of their choice. It happened.

Now I am guarding others in my life.

But I’ve become a doubting Thomas all of a sudden (ha ha.) Today I watched a recording I’d made of D.G Martin interviewing Jason Mott on Bookwatch, a program on UNC-TV. The premise of Mr. Mott’s new book is, at what point does caring for others begin to deplete you to the detriment of your own hopes, desires, aspirations, whatever good things may be in store for you? It’s a perplexing question and I really am anxious to read Mr. Mott’s book, The Wonder of All Things. You can find the interview, if you like, at unctv.org.

Have your caretaking instincts depleted your own reserves? What do you think about that?