Monday, December 3, 2012


Spending the last 15 years with a man who was as industrious as a person can be meant that I got away with doing very little. I always thought I was an independent person, especially after the childhood I had, but being with Dave allowed me to relax that "I can do it on my own" attitude. Little by little, I let him take over so much because he loved to make life easier for me.

Of course, I worked full time, too and I'd help out around the house a lot. There were many chores I took care of that he never did (mopping, dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the, we were conventional!), but mainly, that dude loved to be busy and productive and I wasn't about to take away what made him happy and fulfilled! It was nice to split up the tasks and not have to do some of the things I detested doing.

So, he repaired, maintained and replaced everything, changed the litterbox, mowed, fertilized and weeded the lawn, kept up on all our vehicle's oil changes, repairs and tune ups, dealt with ALL things financial, assembled things, cleaned our gutters, made practically all the calls, researched all our big purchases, drove us everywhere, and just generally spoiled me ROTTEN. And he wouldn't have had it any other way.

He took great pride in this. It's not as though he slaved miserably over me and I sat around watching him toil while eating chocolates. What gave him purpose and made him proud and happy was to do these things that made my life (and our life together) run smoothly.

I truly didn't realize the extent of my dependence on him until he was gone. I'm STILL realizing it now!

In the past 18 months, I've taken on all of the jobs he used to take care of for me and some. I don't mind hard work and I like the feeling of being independent and capable. I like knowing I can handle it all myself.

However, it's been a huge learning curve. I just installed blinds myself and one of them kept falling on my head every time I'd go to lower them until I figured out how I'd installed them incorrectly. There was a constant stream of cursing and a little bruising before I had that situation handled.

I've had a refrigerator stop working on me, an AC unit leak all over the place and ruin a wall and soak the carpet in the hallway. I've taken apart and reassembled an Ikea bed (with no leftover parts, thank god). I've had a few extra bank fees because of financial mishaps - did you know that Dish Network can charge you for cable when you're not even using their cable? For 10 months? And that it's possible to not NOTICE that fact? For 10 months? Well, it is. I've moved furniture around that was way too big and cumbersome, absolutely HATING the idea of needing someone stronger than me around to help. I've done it all on my own. I think a stubborn form of anger fueled me to move some of that stuff around. I turned all Hulk on it.

I don't regret allowing him to spoil me the way he did. He loved it. He wanted everyone to know (most endearingly his impressionable pre-teen students) that a real man takes good care of his life partner. His former students still tell me stories about how he'd lecture them about this between math and science lessons. My favorite story was that he told all his girl students to accept nothing less than a platinum ring from their future spouses-to-be.

I don't wish I'd done more. It was the way our marriage worked and it worked well for us. It's just that I'm learning all of this now and it's coming at me regardless of my need to heal and the fact that I'm still grieving. So on top of nursing a shattered heart, I'm also learning to do everything all at once. All the tasks we shared are now mine alone. Not gradually, over several years, so I could take my time learning them, but all at once.

It's no wonder I'm still exhausted. It's not just grieving we're doing here. It's relearning and sometimes learning for the first time, how to be alone. It makes me feel both weak and exhausted and endlessly powerful. It's a contradiction like so many other aspects of this experience.

There were some things I did along the way that eased the process though, and they might be suggestions that could help someone else who is new to this.
1. I simplified. Not everyone might be able to sell everything and move to a more convenient location or take time off work like I did, but there are a million little ways to simplify. Eliminate all that doesn't need to be done RIGHT NOW. Give up tasks you don't have to do that cause you stress. You'll need time and energy to learn all of this stuff, and most of all, to heal.

2. Get help. I was able to "hire" a team of people to help me. I was lucky enough to have amazing friends who swooped in and helped me in the very beginning. They took care of figuring out my financial situation and what bills needed to be paid so I could take over once I was able. They took care of shopping and cleaning for a while until I could begin to do it on my own. If you get offers of help, TAKE THEM. Now isn't the time to be a hero and try to do it all at once yourself. It's simply too much. It's your turn to be helped. You'd do it for them if this had happened to the ones you love. I even found a team of professionals. I have a life coach (or 2!) and a great therapist. My life coach has been incredibly helpful. She's taught me ways to be more financially organized and how to re-imagine my life and career situation. When I moved I had movers do it. When I furnished the new place I had someone help me in the planning and shopping. Even if you can't afford to pay professionals to help you, take advantage of people in your life who want to help you and let them. Eventually you'll be able to take on more yourself.

3. Utilize the internet for help. You can find a YouTube video on just about anything. Don't know how to fix that appliance or install those blinds? Someone out there made a how-to video and you can benefit from their skills. I've used the Internet to help me figure out what was wrong with my broken fridge and AC unit and how to get a generator working. There are also websites dedicated to all sorts of things, of course. I found several helpful websites when I was trying to learn to deal with all my financial and career issues.

4. Read up on everything. Knowledge is power. Feeling power means you'll feel in control of something, and even a teeny bit of control can feel good. We've had this rug pulled out from under us and the helplessness can be powerful. Combat it with a little bit of knowledge-is-power. It was maybe two days after Dave died that my book buying began. I've read books on grieving, finances, self-esteem, dating, traveling solo, meditation, and most recently cookbooks because I'm beginning to enjoy cooking again after not doing it for nearly a year.

5. Connect with the widowed community (like you're doing by coming here!).  This one move has saved me more than any other. It is from my fellow widows I find inspiration, advice (when I'm ready for it), love and acceptance.

Of course all of this is what's helped me. That doesn't necessarily mean it will help you or that it will be feasible for you in your situation. We are all so different and our situations warrant very different strategies, so take what helps and lose the rest. Do what helps you, whatever that may be. Your survival depends on it!

I would trade in all my new knowledge and independence to have my baby back.
Since that can't happen, though, I'm pretty damn proud of myself and know he'd be too.

What have you done to combat the extremely steep learning curve?


  1. I am three years out and can say that what you say rings so true with me. too. Accepting help from others was the hardests, but they are happy to do it. I think your list is good advice , so if you are new to this journey listen to it. In the very beginning give yourself as much time as you need to grieve, but later set aside a special time in the day to do it was some of the best advice I heard my children's doctor give them. Sometimes later in the journey we forget that and all of a sudden the grief sneaks up on you. If you do set up time,even doing this, there will be things that set you off again. But it will be for less of a duration as before. Thanks for this post, I just wish those who still have a spouse could see it, so they would appreciate what they have now, I know if I am ever lucky enough to find someone else, I will now, which is something I can bring to the relationship now that I did not before.

  2. My husband was not so handy around the house as a normal course of life - he had a terrible temper and could get so easily angered that risking a melt-down from him was much more dangerous than doing tasks myself. His attempts at household task often left me with the task to redo and the stuff he broke in the process to fix


    every fall, he could be genuinely relied upon to clear the leaves and put out the Nativity. One a good year he would put up the tree, but that was iffy as he could (like last year) get upset and throw the whole tree (lights ornaments and all over the back deck.

    My kids wanted the tree up but none of them could bear to get anywhere near it...I had to do it all. And I kept it together until I also tried to work on the leaves and put the Nativity out and his absence became painfully palpable and Im sitting here in tears feeling very sorry for myself.

    These are all firsts as he has only been gone about 12 weeks and his death was very sudden...I could have never imagined I would go into the Holiday season a new widow. I put up 8 stockings over my fireplace (7 for humans, one for a dog) yet one of my humans is gone and the others will be leaving in the next 18 months and the thought of rapidly disappearing stockings (and people) started my tears flowing.

    When I ready your story of how well your husband took care of you, I envied you, my husband didnt seem to find the same meaning in service and he never spoke of devotion, but he tried to live it as best he could and right now I desperately miss his grumpy but real acts of service.

  3. My husband too was an extraordinarily competent man who loved taking care of me (and everyone else). I was supremely independent and then became quite ill and he was in his glory because now I really needed his help. I learned happily to let him take over so many things, big and small. After his death (really in his illness), my independence took over and I charged ahead with taking back my life and relearning how to do so many things.

    I too discovered the how to videos on the internet and with my laptop beside me, fixed my dishwasher and my toilet among other things. I've read mountains of books and rediscovered the library - my father always said, with a good brain and a book, all things are possible.

    And, I've had many moments where I ranted - just wanting a break from having to do so much, to figure so much out. There was something broken or something needing to be decided seemingly every day and I just wanted to have a chance to get my head on straight.

    Now, I'm calmer and not so easily frightened or frustrated and have figured out that somehow what needs to be done will be done and that yes,it's awfully nice to have help now and then.

  4. Cassie! This is such a needed post. Especially the list.
    Like you, my Jim did so much and loved doing it.
    I have learned to fix a central vac, purchased my first car and used online negotiating to do it! Made some big financial decisions, fired a lawyer, got rid of three friends that I should have turfed years ago (two of which my husband use to gently remind me were takers and controllers and boy without him as my buffer did that come out like a giant flashing warning sign after he died)
    Like you - I found youtube and was amazed what I could find on there to teach me how to do something. Love that! Now it is the first place I look if I think - how do i do that?

    Best of all - this community for support and caring and to be reminded we are not alone. I have been coming here for two years. Once and awhile I think - well maybe I don't need the support . . so a few days go by and then I think - but I can give it too!
    Helping each other on this journey.

    Thanks of the reminder - we may have got a new independence the hard way - but we can do it. We really can.

    1. Yes, the "thinning" of the people you want near you is a big deal! There was only so much I could tolerate and other peoples' drama was the LAST thing I needed on top of my own. It was simplification at work and it was CRUCIAL.

    2. Ditto for me. I swear I could have written this response! When I bought the car, it was the first time (I am 54)that I had bought a car without my dad or husband. For me, that was a biggie. Also I am with you on You Tube, although crawling into the bottom of my fridge to fix the ice maker was a lot harder than it looked. Great post and great response.

  5. Oh my, you basically have told my story of my husbands love for me! His question was "What can I do to make my wifes life easier?" I was so blessed. Thank you.
    I too am experiencing this learning curve. It's only been 21 months and I have learned and done a lot. I know when to ask for help now and who to ask. A team of "advisors" has evolved, that I can call, even if they aren't going to be the "fixer" of the problem, they will provide me with the advice I need to make a good solid decisions which come my way so often. There is so much I don't know and I hate learning behind the eight ball after something has broken - but this cannot be helped. I have downloaded home maintenance sheets from the internet. I purchased Onstar with my new car purchase (this was a big deal but I did it!) and the Onstar provides me with a monthly maintenance report. I have a great grief counselor who keeps pointing me to the light and also listens to my heart and the deep, deep pain I feel.
    A couple of things that have been helpful:
    My physician randomly recommended that I give myself the entire first year to take care of only myself, even putting my adult kids second. That was good advice and gave me permission to say no to many things that were places of pain. No reason given, it's just what I had to do.
    Early on in my grief, it was as if I could hear my Marty say "Mary care for yourself" and this evolved to my purchasing flowers at Costco regularly just like he used to do. It is NOT the same, not even close, but I do like seeing them on the counter and they add a little sparkle to my drab life that is now.
    The other thing to care for myself was that I allowed myself the expense to get regular massages. What started out as once monthly for 60 minutes, quickly became every other week for 90 minutes (there was only a $10 price difference for the extra minutes); massages have been the one place I can truly escape. They help fill the gap in a very tiny way for the touch I am missing so deeply.
    I also try to not pack too much into my days. I move so slowly and need time to process so many things. Nothing comes easy - not even putting gas in the car - this was something he used to do - not that I can't - he just did it for me; so now I have to plan and then do it. My life now requires quite a bit of planning because it is ALL mine - everything and every bottom line is mine. I find that if my days are not packed it leaves margin for the many things that go wrong regularly with my schedule or in life itself.
    Marty had an alarm system installed the year before he died because he was going on a 2 week business trip and wanted me to be comfortable and able to sleep . This has become my good friend now as I nod off to sleep I see the red light telling me the alarm is set and I can drift off feeling secure, though missing deeply my human protector next to me.
    I have made charts and taken notes for things that people show me how to do; like how to manage the chemicals in the hot tub; how to raise and lower the flag on the flagpole; how to change the timer on the garage lights; how to load staples into the staple gun! I don't do these things enough to truly learn them and so I must write down on paper how to do it. This has saved me much frustration the next time the task is needed.
    The last thing is that I try not to be too hard on myself. There is so much I don't know. And how could I? I have concerns from time to time that I am missing some big deals in the house or the cars or all the many other things he used to do. We were a team, and now I have my things plus his things and I can only do so much.
    One more thing - what I have realized is that I am going to make mistakes and I need to extend myself grace to make them. In reality, when I've made a mistake or wrong choice, it only costs money.......I am doing the best I can do, under difficult circumstances without the love of my live.

    1. Yes! Good ones! I've also taken notes on some of the procedures people have shown or explained to me only after learning the hard way that I WON'T remember the things I think I will remember.

      Giving ourselves some grace for not getting it right the first time is so crucial too.

      You're right, having a really packed schedule just doesn't work out like it used too. I also need a buffer of time to make up for how long it takes me to do some things. I'm in outer space sometimes and I simply take longer than I used to.

      I used to be early or on time for just about everything and now I find myself struggling to be on time more often.

    2. Oh, and you reminded me how important those massages are. I haven't had one in a while and need to book one soon.
      I love the idea of Onstar, too, because it's delegating. Great idea.
      Good for you on the flowers too. Doing simple but kind things for ourselves is so important and I think as women (designated nurturers) we often struggle with that.

  6. Thank you for this post. 5 years out and still going through the turmoil of having a man (36 years) in my life that did EVERYTHING. The term "Hulk" it through those tasks is appropriate. Yes, we are superhumans when we lose someone.

  7. Thanks for this post. My husband also did everything for me. Since I got married later in life, I was already used to being independent. What I had to learn was to be dependent. During our 9 years together my husband spoiled me and took care of everything for me. Now I'm back to being independent...again.

  8. 1. I am trying to simplify, but even that is overwhelming. He was a saver, computer, tools, books etc. Hard to let go but I am trying to find homes for all. I am a list maker, and have prioritized the most important to be done tasks, like the leaky ice maker on the fridge (I temporarily just turned the water off to it).
    2. Yes, get help, especially when you struggle with it. It is not worth the stress. I tried to decipher our small business books, but finally found someone to come in to the house and set it up so I could understand it. Do I still need help? yes, but I know who to call.
    3. I too have fixed the toilets with the help of you tube. Next I plan to change the kitchen faucet. And if I have problems, follow step #2, get help. There comes a time when it's ok to say I can't do it, and I'm learning my limit.
    4. I had trouble early in widowhood with retaining what I read, there was just so much brain fog going on that I could not read a book and remember what I read. But that has subsided somewhat over time. Books on tape are a good option too, soothing to be read to.
    5. I did not connect early on to this widowed community, I thought i could manage on my own. I now know that is so untrue, there is such a community among us that I regret not being a part of it earlier. My local support is a big part of my healing journey too.
    Thank you, Cassie, and all others who responded.