A simple thing, really. I swapped out the wind chime that hangs outside under the pergola. Weather and time had damaged it so it did not chime, kind of a big defect for the WIND CHIME. But as I tossed the old one away, there went another ghost.
Theologically, I don’t believe in ghosts. Except the Holy Ghost whose promise to never leave remains true. But there are ‘ghosts’…memories and sounds that provoke memories, and smells and sights and even touches that remind me of who is no longer here.
I am approaching the 3rd anniversary of Mike’s passing and he is present at the lake cottage that we shared for so many years.
In all sorts of tangible ways, he is here. I’m sitting at a desk that he made for me, the first in so many projects. When we believed that he would have less than a year, he was determined to build me a desk. He did. Then the custom chair, just a little higher for this long-legged lady.
But then came more time and, for a while, less pain so the furniture building continued. Everywhere I look in my little cottage, I see his handy work and I recall how I stood and sat in witness to construction.
I’ve added a few touches like that pergola, replaced some furniture, and repainted. The place is different than it was a few years ago but it will always be “our” place.
Those ghosts pop up regularly while I’m back in Indiana. Just yesterday I had reason to drive north through Leesburg and suddenly, glancing to the right, I spied the brick road that winds through town leading to Patona Bay boat yard on the shore of Lake Tippi. How many times had we driven there? To haul the boat with broken motor to a mechanic; to pick up the boat; to store the boat; sometimes to dream of replacing the boat. I had ridden shotgun in the truck but never really enjoyed the place. It was a necessary drag on our lake time. This day, I looked down the bricks as far as the turn, and yes, I wished I were making that boring trip again.
We had and I have many friends here. They are all so cordial and welcoming even as they are a part of US rather than ME. Not their fault. Most of our friends live here so my summer invasion is taken in stride. They don’t stop their lives nor should they. I have to push into their gatherings where I’m always welcome.
Last week I finally took Mike’s name off the utility bills. When I began paying those bills as a solo I found that we had not put my name on our heat/cool/water/electricity history. At the time, various agencies wanted steep payments to alter this so I opted out. Apparently times have changed and now it’s simple. And now I realize none of my bills will bear his name. Another ghost gone.
From time to time, I reflect on how much my life has changed but I try not to dwell on how it would be different if he were here. Because he’s not. 3 years ago, I was a wife and partner, a teacher with a closet of necessary professional clothes, a homeowner times two. Plus my name was on several vehicles. (although NOT on utility bills) That’s all changed. Except for a few dress up things, my wardrobe is all jeans and tops and let’s just say that my makeup routine is simplified.
This year Mike’s dog Ivy…she was HIS dog, no question…developed old age illness and we had to put her to sleep. Her ashes rest in an oak box on top of a Mike-built cabinet, awaiting a more formal burial at the place this family plants its deceased pets. It was time for Ivy but she represented a tangible tie to my guy.
I’m surviving but there are times I long for that face, those arms, that laugh, even that grimace. I have no cheerleader for my little victories. I have no marker for my little failures. Then when I realize that I’m missing the touchstone, I chide myself about how pathetic that is. Really Lynne? Really?
We had worked together to help me navigate some potential widow challenges but we could not anticipate everything. This last year saw me clicking off 65 years (HE remains forever 61) and that meant signing up for Medicare. I’ve had that piece of information in the back of my head for several decades: I can continue on the school’s health plan until 65 but as that was a simple take-it-from-my-check, I really didn’t give it much mind.
When Mike died, I had to sign some papers and so forth at the Kokomo social security office. I remember walking in there and after being greeted by name by the security guy, some nice woman took me by the hand and led me to a desk and helped helped helped me. Everybody in the branch was all smiley and nice. I think Mike had done most of their divorces and like so many of his clients, they loved him a lot so helping me was a way to express it.
Ah, but the move to Texas meant I would navigate it from there, in the big city full of people who don’t know me.
I knew that date was looming so last summer, a full 6 months before this needed to be done, I started the process. I did that apparently by tossing out a very important piece of paper that had a ‘card’ implanted in it. When I realized that I needed that card, I tried to get another one. “Use the website,” they tell you. I tried. Apparently on that card was a letter and I needed that letter. I tried “A” “B” and “C” before the website tossed me out. And wouldn’t let me back in.
So then I called, wandering through many menus and not-too-great computer music. When I got a human, she typed in some items and said they (this would be the federal government) had no record of me.
At the same time, I kept getting all sorts of official-looking mail warning me of the date, the date when this all must be completed. (These turned out to be advertisements for various supplement insurance but they did not look like ads; they looked like government documents.) And frustrating, when I would seek help, someone would hand me a big booklet. “All your questions are answered in there.”
Ah ha! I called the people who were on that help list Mike had collected. Alas, and this is no criticism of them, I got everything from “I have no idea,” to “sorry I know nothing about this.” At which point, I sunk into a metaphoric puddle on the floor and looked up for someone to help me/do it for me.
Alas, again, there was no one around so what do you do? Suck it up Buttercup. I shook out my skirts, smoothed my hair and handled it. It wasn’t easy…they keep telling you it’s SO easy…and it caused me more stress than I had experienced in the last few years, but I got it done. And then, where’s my attaboy? Huh. I guess it’s here.
I have not been asked when the pain of losing someone goes away. I think that until it’s your reality, it doesn’t matter. Friends want you to feel better but it’s not their job to move it along. In my case, I have a hole, a large hole, which has healed around the edges. It’s scarred and not so noticeable but it will never fill in. And that’s my reality.
I’m guessing that’s a reality for many others who have buried spouses. We belong to a club and we don’t meet very often but we share this sadness, this longing, tucked in to memories.
Mike and I shared 43 years together from the day we met. If I dug hard through memory banks, I could recall times that were not so great. Such is life. But the great gift of God to me is the gauzing out of anything less than wonderful. I spent much of my marriage cherished by my special friend.
I am blessed beyond my ability to express it. I have friends and family who love me and I love them. I have plenty to do and interesting places to be. I am now part of a great church family in San Antonio and so have adult friends there. I am still part of two great churches up north who welcome me warmly. I have some time to reflect, volunteer, socialize, read and learn. My life is rich.
But that hole. Those ghosts. Also a part of this life. Sometime, tears for no reason. Often unbounded joy at the simple wonders of this life.
And on I go.