Isolation leads to trip down memory lane

What did you do for Easter? Bet you didn’t go far from home. Me either. The highlight of my day? I cleaned out the cabinet in the hall bathroom, something I may not have done for, oh, a decade or longer. It was like opening a time capsule.

It’s a deep cabinet, not the one just under the sink but beside it, two shelves down low so you have to half lie on the floor to get the stuff out, which explains why I hadn’t cleaned it out in a long time. I can GET DOWN, but I don’t want to get down on the bathroom floor. It was time. Things were falling out when I opened the doors, and I had no idea what in there. Tired of staring at my computer screen, I had just enough sunshine, caffeine and Easter chocolate in me to tackle the job.

Out tumbled years of memories, stuff I don’t know why I kept, and things I didn’t know I had. For example:

  • A steamer! I had totally forgotten I had it. I first used steamers during college when I worked at the uniform shop at the old Valley Fair shopping center. We sold uniforms for nurses, waitresses, and other professionals. Remember when nurses all wore white dresses? One of my jobs was to steam out the creases in the newly arrived uniforms. The steamer worked so well I bought myself one to use on the gowns I wore to sing with the Valley Chorale for 14 years back in San Jose. Gowns, crystal earrings, jeweled sandals, makeup . . . I felt so gorgeous in those days.
  • Three boxes of hair ornaments from when I had long flowing dark-brown hair. I found barrettes, clips, and scrunchies, pretty things that make me want to grow my hair long again, even though I think it looks better short. Maybe it will happen. With all the beauty salons closed, my hair is already growing out of shape. I could go through the awkward phase while we’re in isolation. Maybe I’ll even give myself a home perm. Looks bad? Who’s going to see it?
  • Nail kits of various sorts, including free ones from a charity for the blind and the worn leather case of tools that Mom used on us when we were kids. I brought it home after Dad died last summer. I remember sitting on the side of the bed while she cut my tiny nails. She often cut them too close, and it hurt, but a lifetime later, I learned while cutting my husband’s nails at the nursing home that it isn’t easy cutting someone else’s nails short but not too short.
  • Suntan lotion galore. I confess I rarely remember to use it until my skin turns pink.
  • Two wrist braces from my various sprains and strains. I had wondered what happened to them. Annie, age 12, and her brother Chico (no longer with us) were headstrong adolescent dogs when they knocked me over on the concrete out back and I landed on my right hand. I had planned to take Chico to the Blessing of the Animals at church. I went to the ER instead. I have learned that if a dog is coming at you like a speeding freight train, get out of the way.
  • A full bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a can of Off! bug spray, and a can of Wizard air freshener, gardenia scent.
  • Several wrapped toothbrushes, a half dozen travel-size tubes of Crest toothpaste too hard to squeeze, and several dozen of those floss-on-a-stick things that Fred liked to use. Stocking stuffers?
  • Enough disposable razors to keep me smooth till I die at 105 and some blades that go with razors that disappeared long ago.
  • Two zipper bags with eye drops and “fit-over” sunglasses from my two cataract surgeries in 2010 and 2011. One eye was done before Fred died April 23, 2011, the other after.
  • An expired night light. When my late husband Fred was ill with Alzheimer’s, he got lost at night looking for the bathroom. Nightlights helped. I also have more recent memories of my father’s house, which was lit up like a football stadium at night. The light didn’t bother him, and during those last awful nights at his house when I was up and down giving him pain pills and answering his calls for help, they were useful. But I tossed this one in the trash. It’s just me now, and I like it dark.
  • A big basket of gauze, tape, bandages, and ointments left over from various injuries. Dad kept a similar basket of first aid gear on the dresser. Because he was taking blood thinners and his skin was like tissue paper, the slightest cut bled like crazy and required serious bandaging. His arms were covered with half-healed cuts. So far, I have been lucky and haven’t needed these things, but you never know.
  • Blow dryer, curling iron, a dozen attachments I have no idea how to use.
  • Hotel soaps from trips all the way back to our visit to Portugal 30 years ago.
  • A Styrofoam pipe cover with chew marks from when my puppies got hold of it at least a decade ago.
  • A face mask, probably purchased to help with my allergies to pollen, dust, fur, feathers, various fabrics, and oh, just about everything. I already have a beautiful cloth mask a friend made for me, but now I have options.

I filled a garbage bag with the throwaways, moved some items to more appropriate locations, and slid the rest back in with room to spare. We’ll see what’s there in 2030.

Meanwhile, Jesus is risen, and I’m off the floor. Hallelujah.

How did you spend your Easter Sunday in this strange, strange year?

The Dead Husband Thing

“My husband passed away.” That’s all I have to say to turn a conversation upside down. Women say, “I’m so sorry.” Men of a certain age take another look at me and say, “Really?”

To be honest, I hate to bring it up. The pity makes me squirm. I find myself gravitating toward older women who take widowhood in stride. You’re eighty-something? Of course your husband is dead. Besides, it has been almost four years now. Fred died the day before Easter in 2011. How long am I supposed to be pitiful? He wouldn’t want that.

Most women my age have living husbands. The husbands are getting gray, bald and jowly and they have various health problems. Maybe their sex life has fizzled. But they’re still alive. Then the wives look at me and think, “Whoa, what if my husband died?” I’m too much of a reminder that it could happen, that it does happen. God knows, if I were 15 years older, most of my friends would be widows.

Alzheimer’s took my husband out with a nine-year descent from beginning to end. Maybe he had it before that. He was always forgetful. By the time someone dies of dementia, you have spent years grieving already. The man you loved is mostly gone. After he dies, you miss him, but it’s a relief to have it finally over with.

Losing a husband is a two-sided loss. You not only lost this person you loved, but you lost your position in the world as a wife. Now you’re this new thing called a widow.

It’s surprising how people react. If I said I was divorced, they would just say, “Oh” and move on. I know; I was divorced for five years before I met Fred. But “widowed” draws a knee-jerk “I’m so sorry,” followed by an awkward moment when nobody knows what to say. Dear friends, It’s perfectly okay to talk about it.

Hey, I’m alive. Having a dead husband sucks, but not every minute of every day. Do I miss having Fred to talk to? Yes. Do I wish he were around when the car breaks down? Definitely. Do I feel bad when I’m the only single person in a room full of couples? So bad. Do I miss snuggling, kissing, and sex? Absolutely. Do I cry sometimes? Do I want to kick things? Do I tell God I would trade anything to have Fred back? You bet.

But then I realize that since he was always a lot older than me, he’d be 77 now and I’d have to go through his dying all over again. Been there, done that, wearing his T-shirts. And his socks and his jackets and his hats.

Here’s the thing. We go on. We eat, sleep, shop, walk the dog, go to church, and watch TV just like we always did, but now we don’t have to worry about doing it on anybody else’s schedule or catering to anybody else’s tastes.

Don’t get me wrong. We had a good marriage, one of the best. But we finished it. We loved each other to the end, we never cheated on each other, never fought about anything that mattered, and did everything we said we were going to do. Till death did us part. Amen. He went to wherever dead people go, and I have gone on to my next chapter.

Will that next chapter include another man? Maybe. I stopped wearing my wedding ring after six months mostly because I was starting to look at guys and wanting them to know I was available. Do I want to become a wife again? I don’t know. The financial fallout from getting married again could be disastrous, and do I really want to deal with another man’s family, including his kids, this late in life? Do I want to become a caregiver again if/when he gets sick? But what if I’m the one who gets sick? Who will take care of me? Sigh.

I love my freedom. I lost 20 pounds after Fred died. Not having to cook elaborate meals to please him meant I could actually stay on a diet for once. So now I feel younger and sexier. I flirt. I get horny. I enjoy dressing up and going out. I also enjoy working when I’m in the mood without the need to quit because somebody’s hungry or bored.

Would I give it all up in a heartbeat if I could have Fred back? I would. But that’s not going to happen, and I may live another 20 or 30 years, so I’m looking ahead, making plans, and thinking about projects I want to do, vacations I want to take, and movies I want to see. I have a bucket list that has nothing to do with Fred. Crass? I don’t think so. He died, but I’m still alive.

Thank you for reading this. May your Easter be filled with blessings.