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 bathrooms...man, 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?