“Of the widow’s countless death-duties, there is really just one that matters: on the first anniversary of her husband’s death, the widow should think, 'I kept myself alive.'” Joyce Carol Oates “A Widow’s Story: A Memoir”
It’s been a week since the one-year anniversary of my husband, Mason’s, death. The actual day of the anniversary was hell, but having gotten through it, I seem to be in a better place now. It was like I needed that day to come and go, a milestone of sorts, where I then could allow myself to think about actually changing the world of “us” – letting go of the house, moving away from our friends and neighbors, maybe meeting someone new – and then baby step by baby step, begin to evolve into “Just Jane.” Mason would, could, never leave my thoughts. I just think I’m ready to shed the safety blanket of memories, the ones that held me together at times, and face the world by myself. I’m too young to let it all fall apart. And too strong, so I’m told. And after all, so far, “I’ve kept myself alive.”
I started this new leaf ceremony back in September, when I realized that emotional eating had gotten the better of me and I had to do something about it. So I got a personal trainer and started going to aerobics classes. To date, I’m down 15 pounds. I started writing again, which had all but ceased because my concentration was shot for some time. Now I’m back on a semi-regular schedule and hope to keep improving on that. You can never write too many stories for an Internet employer, it seems.
And the big one for me is that I’ve started getting out and about again. For my birthday last month, I went to Las Vegas and had more fun than I’ve had in, well, at least a year. I’m already planning another trip back. This week I had lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in years. I’m meeting another friend for lunch on Sunday, going to a concert next week with another friend, and have up-in-the-air plans for dinner with yet another friend. And, purely by chance, when I mentioned that I wanted to start skiing again this winter, I instantly collected three or four people who wanted to join me. I felt like I really had made the effort and it was paying off.
Somehow though, things just didn’t seem right. I was angry. Angry at people, who, upon this one-year anniversary’s arrival kept telling me that it didn’t seem like I’d grieved enough. They made me doubt myself. Should I have gone around crying for an entire year, shrouded in black? How does one grieve? I’m an emotional person, but not a big crier. Mine was a “Pull up your socks and get on with it,” kind of family, so crying didn’t really get you anywhere. I once was put to bed with a broken arm, being told I’d feel better in the morning. When I broke my foot, my sister told me to put some lipstick on and I’d feel better. If you dialed 9-1-1 on any of our phones, the call probably wouldn’t have gone through. Not that I wasn’t loved and completely cared for, I just learned early in life that crying gets you nowhere. It just makes other people wish you would stop.
Then I realized, though I’d had my crying fits, upon my return from Las Vegas, one of my sisters said she hadn’t heard me that happy in a long time. A year perhaps? It occurred to me that, while I hadn’t been crying for everyone to see, I’d been overwhelmingly sad every day for the past 365 days. For months and months I hadn’t been able to figure out why I’d been dragging around aimlessly, so unbelievably tired all the time, with no explanation at all. Then one day it finally made sense.
I was letting go. Maybe Mason was letting me go. Whatever it was, I was starting to become “Just Jane” and my energy came back, my desire to do what I liked came back – all those things. But what I’m most happy of all that came back was my smile, and the feeling that came with it. Because, although you may never have any intention of acting on it, there is that thought that crosses your mind many, many times during that first year. But through it all, I’m glad, “I kept myself alive.”