Monday, July 5, 2010

“Oh, What Shall I Do?”

Special thanks to our guest blogger today, Wendy Diez. We appreciate you!

Chris and I had season tickets to the opera. He was passionate about the art form and I enjoyed it enough to go with him. I continued our subscription after he died and have started a new tradition of bringing a friend or family member with me to each performance.

One of the operas I saw last fall was Faust, which is about a man who sells his soul to the devil. Not surprisingly, this decision causes much angst and chaos throughout the opera. In one scene, a minor character dies (it is opera, after all). When his wife is told of his death, she collapses to the floor and sings mournfully, "Oh, What Shall I Do?" over and over again.

Anyone relate?

These words convey the sentiment that most people feel in the minutes they learn their spouse has died or is going to die. For me, as the mother of a toddler and soon-to-be newborn, no truer words could have been spoken when I learned that Chris had a brain tumor. "Oh, What Shall I Do?" sounded in my head like a relentless gong as I processed the fact that I was going to lose my dear husband. I was going to be a single mother. I was going to be a widow.

As the reality of the situation began to sink in, I realized I had to make a major mental shift. I had to devise a new set of commandments to match this new life of mine. I have needed to repeat these new life rules to myself many times in the past 17 months.

I shall allow myself to be humbled and let people see me as vulnerable when I am feeling that way.

I shall not only accept help when I need it but I shall ask for it before it is offered.

I shall relinquish some control and let others cook us meals, play with my kids, wash our laundry and load the dishwasher (even if I reload it the right way when they aren’t looking).

I shall expect to fall apart at the most unexpected times (t.v. commercials are especially good for this). And when this happens, I shall allow myself to be put back together through the love and care of family and friends.

I shall give myself permission to consider chocolate a food group.

I shall accept the fact that I am in the .005% of widows who gain weight while grieving as opposed to losing it (see above).

I shall learn to accept cluttered playrooms, messy kitchens and disorganized offices as part of my new normal.

I shall feel an immediate kinship with a community of amazingly strong people who call themselves "widowed".

I shall come to understand that I am much stronger than I ever imagined.

I shall reach deep down inside me and use my inner strength to start envisioning my new life and begin implementing it.

And the most important new commandment? Like this new life of mine or not, I shall survive. And you shall too.


  1. Love these commandments Wendy, and I hope you continue to create new commandments and give yourself new permissions to take care of yourself. Looking forward to meeting you and toasting a new normal :)

  2. The last two resonate because I did that myself, but I am not sure that many spouses of the terminally ill actively prepare - at least according to those I've spoken to. Pre-grieving is one of those taboo topics b/c people feel .... guilty? disloyal? ... I just know that if I hadn't taken steps, planned, prepared, let go of the future and dreams, I wouldn't have survived.

    Very nice post.

  3. Oh I love this post!!! Sums up how I have been feeling so great. Although I would add, I give myself permission to put my self, my kids, and our own sanity first. I have always thought about how others would feel, and done things to please them.

  4. True, lovely words! (And 10 months out, I also in that minority that gained weight, darn it!!)

  5. I can relate to what you have said. I had trouble asking for him, before it was offered for awhile, but now I realize often it is a gift others who share your loss want to give you. Do not feel bad about the weight. I am also one of those who gained weight- with double the work and no time to exercise. Just surviving for a while took all my energy. Weight can be lost later- after all it will be one loss you could look forward to!