I Am Widow
I lost my husband, not my mind. – Author unknown
Chapter 3 – Disorganization
I felt I was coping well. At first, while I was going through the business side of becoming a widow, I kept busy phoning, writing letters – both business and personal, informing people, sending thank you cards. People were phoning me, feeding me, visiting and writing. The social side of becoming a widow kept me so busy I didn’t really have time to grieve. Robot-like I simply did the right things as best I could.
The shock and denial ended. Fewer people called. I accepted the fact that it wasn’t a mistake or a bad dream. I wouldn’t wake up to find John still at my side, gently snoring. John wasn’t going to come back.
I am a logical, organized person by nature. I’d set out a regiment from day one. I would stay in control. I’ve seen too many widows who have become drugged out zombies thanks to over-considerate doctors.
I remained drug-free and I don’t drink. I forced myself to eat three meals even if I wasn’t hungry and I went to bed and got up at normal times even if I stayed awake most of the night. I continued to exercise. John and I had always walked an hour a day to keep our legs strong for motorcycle rides. Now I walked the hour alone. I even kept my weight steady at 125 pounds. Before I dieted to keep my weight down. Now I forced myself to eat to keep my weight up. As I saw it, my first responsibility was to stay healthy.
My second responsibility was to be a good citizen. Smile and make pretty, we were told as girls. I paid bills on time, cleaned the house, mowed the lawn, weeded the garden and tried to keep things as respectable and ship shape as when John was alive. I wanted to be pleasant company in spite of how I felt. I wanted to continue to be a good neighbour.
I felt no joy but I told myself lots of people manage to go through life at this level. I would find happiness and purpose again, people assured me.
The awful thing was that I wasn’t always in control. I’d lose track of time. I’d sit down to rest for a few minutes and the next thing I knew it was four hours later. When I forgot to set the alarm for 8 a.m. I would sleep in until noon and normally I am an early riser up before the alarm goes off. I would plan to watch a TV show at 4 and then it would be 6.
Time was distorted. Twice I went to shops in the evening after they were closed. I hadn’t realized it was so late. Sometimes, in the morning, I would be up and ready to go out, glance at the clock and realize it wasn’t seven yet. No one would be open.
I must have phoned friends at terribly inconvenient times. They never complained.
I know I made a lot of business calls where I got the tape that said the office was closed for the day and then listed hours of operation.
I had problems with keys. They were constantly vanishing and getting lost. I was always misplacing and losing them. John had been the unofficial keeper of the keys. He locked and unlocked doors – the house, the garage, the sheds and the post office box. I had to figure out, through trial and error, which key unlocked what. Because John had always carried the keys, I never had to.
Twice I went to bed with my keys on the outside of the door. When I couldn’t find them in the morning I spent a half hour searching the house before I gave up. I decided they were gone forever until I heard a knock on the door and there were my keys dangling on the outside. After that I kept a spare set of keys hidden outside just in case.
Once I couldn’t find my blue denim jacket. I swear it wasn’t in the closet. After I decided I would have to wear another one, I saw the blue jean jacket hanging in its usual place. I seemed to have selective vision.
I’d start making supper then get side-tracked until I smelled burning food. I burned three pots and I am not a habitual pot burner. I forgot names and I have an excellent memory.
My life seemed out of control. I looked and acted rational, I hoped, but I began to wonder if perhaps my mind was affected. I wonder it this is how the mentally ill feel? I remember hearing stories of widows who have never been the same after they lost their husbands and I began to worry that I might be joining their ranks.
The world seemed to be out of focus. Unwanted thoughts and feelings went round and round in my mind like a broken record and they seemed to crowd out my normal logical thinking powers. I was often confused and off balance. I know I talked too much because I was trying to make sense of things and I needed feed-back. I’d go over and over the same subject like a stuck record as I tried to figure out why and what next. I told friends and strangers alike all the details of John’s death and funeral and usually I am a private person. I repeated myself endlessly and cried a lot.
Because I grieved so openly and honestly some people avoided me. However I got a lot of sympathy, support and positive feed back and made new friends.
Fortunately I didn’t have to move or make major changes. My only security was living as I always lived and doing what I’ve always done among people I knew and trusted. I was lucky. Family and friends let me be me and no one rushed me.
I was glad to find this stage didn’t last long. It is the least understood step of grieving and no one knows quite what to do. Everyone knows how to behave at a funeral but many people haven’t a clue when it comes to dealing with the disorganized.
Most disorganized mourners are as shocked and unprepared for this step as I was. I’ve spoken to widows about my disorganized stage and I have seen them look relieved as they calmly tell met that they, too, lost things, burned pots and had key problems. Most hadn’t realized that was a natural part of grieving and were as worried as I was.
They told me their stories. A sensible widow thought her house might be haunted when things vanished and the radio and TV went on and off at odd hours. The radio and TV had been her husband’s domain and she didn’t understand the snooze and alarm buttons nor could she work the remote. When she mastered these skills, the “haunting” stopped.
I, too, worried about hauntings when the clock kept stopping at 4 a.m., John’s hour of death. I remember ghost stories where clocks stopped at the death hour. It took a while to figure out. Our bed side clock is a wind up clock so we would have an alarm even if the power went off. I would wind it up at 9 p.m. every night. If I forgot to wind it up, it would stop at 4 a.m. the next day because it went for 31 hours when fully wound. If I wound it at 8 p.m. it stopped at 3 a.m., if I wound it at 10 it stopped at 5.
Sadly I have met widows who felt so afraid to be alone at this stage that they have moved out. One lady thought people were sneaking into her house and playing tricks on her. Another lady accused visitors of stealing vanished items until friends and relatives alike were afraid to visit her.
Many years ago I remember my uncle John laughing as he told us how the widowed neighbour was forever locking herself out and he had to climb through the window to let her in. She was obviously in the disorganized stage.
Sadly, you can do nothing at this stage but be kind to the disorganized person. Listen when they talk, reassure them that your are there for them and show them that you care. They probably won’t take in your vast wisdom and good advice but, through the fog and numbness they will be aware that you are kind and you are there for then. Accept the grieving widow where she is and when the time is right for her, she will move on and once more be the person she has always been.
The good news is, “this, too, shall pass.”