The Other Side of the Moon

It has been several months since I published a post here and I’m not altogether sure that I’m ready to begin writing regularly again, but for today I am inspired to share, so here goes.

I look back to the first post in this blog: a discussion of its title, Transilience. Transilience means abrupt change coupled with resilience. Little did I know when I chose it, that the title would be prophetic. It had been my intention to write about my thoughts and observations on being a woman “of a certain age,” and on topics that might interest and inspire other women in the last third of life. Now, the name Transilience seems to perfectly describe this time in my life and an experience that many share.

Twelve weeks ago I said goodbye to my husband. He was my best friend, my sweetheart, my everything. We were alone in his hospice room that morning as he drew his final breath. I had been terrified of being there alone with him when he died, but when that moment came I was so glad there was no one to intrude. It was private, beautiful, and as peaceful an ending as could ever be.

In 2017, there were 11.64 million women who were widows in the US and 3.28 million men. While these numbers include widows of all ages, obviously the vast majority are older. And for a variety of reasons I won’t get into here, most of the women who are widowed will never remarry. This means that millions of women are living a life they didn’t choose and didn’t want, that of being an older, single woman. Now I am one of them.

Since Will died, I’ve had many conversations about grief, mostly with people who relate it to the loss of a parent, sibling or friend. Grief is grief, right? We’ve all heard of the stages of grief we must traverse, and I’m given the repeated advice to take my time and be kind to myself. Dear friends have stayed with me, brought me food, mowed my yard, and regularly call or text to check on me and let me know I’m in their thoughts. I have been humbled by their thoughtfulness and attention. What few of them can know is how utterly and completely widowhood devastates your life. And how grief is far from being your only challenge.

When I was a kid, a popular plot theme in television shows and movies was that of a character with amnesia. Said character would awaken from some trauma unable to recall their own past or identity. The effort to build a new life from this nothingness would follow. This is very much the way it is when one is widowed. Though you recall the past in vivid, heart wrenching detail, you don’t know who you are anymore and the life you’ve led has been swept away as surely as ashes are scattered in a breeze at sea.

We knew for several weeks that Will was dying. In his final days he was never fully awake or coherent and I sat watching him slip away by excruciating degrees. Impending widowhood was in my peripheral vision, but I chose not to look too closely, knowing there would be an interminable eon in which to face it.

The first few days following his death were blessedly hazy. I had the warm comfort of my daughter and her family wrapped around me in a protective blanket of love. They fed me, hugged me a lot, let me sleep for many healing hours, and expected nothing of me. Plans for a celebration of Will’s life consumed the next couple of weeks, and were followed by a lengthy visit from an old school chum. But when the inevitable reality of my aloneness hit, it was as though a tsunami had swept away everything stable or secure I had ever known. Every single aspect of my daily life was different. Every single one.

It is hard to describe the changes, because where does one begin? With the morning coffee made for one? With the unslept-on side of the bed? With the single toothbrush in the holder? Or maybe with the discarding of “his” food items, the breakfast cereal and the jar of hot peppers that he loved. The rearranging of the closet and the dresser drawers. The sale of his vehicle. His mail, now addressed to “The Estate of.”

I’m struggling to learn to shop for and cook for only myself. I make notes on my calendar to check the oil in the car weekly and to take the garbage bin to the road, tasks I was able to ignore before. When the dogs must be walked while it’s dark or sweltering or rainy, it is up to me. When there is the bump in the night, I must gather my courage and investigate.

I frequently go for several days at a time without speaking with another human being. My dogs have become the recipients of my wandering thoughts and are the only witnesses to my tears and wails. The wailing that seemingly appears randomly, comes from deep, deep in my belly, and is unlike any expression I’ve ever made before.

The future is like a mirage. Sometimes it is a thing of beauty, shimmering and beckoning in the distance. Other times, it is elusive and shadowy, ominous in its brooding darkness. The past is equally treacherous, filled with holes of regret and the painful perfection of best memories. I am trapped on this small floating island of “today,” untethered and at the mercy of the tides which shift on a schedule not of my making.

I am striving to establish some sort of routine that will build structure in my new life. It feels a bit like construction made of straw, weak and tending to topple over with the slightest pressure. I’ve noticed that my tears have become less frequent since a recent week when I cried for days, the numbness worn off and self-pity taking its place. I see that my calendar has a half-dozen days filled with events to enjoy with family and friends. I seem to be better able to make decisions about the decluttering necessary for a future downsizing move, and the clearing of excess things in my home no longer feel like a loss.

But though I’m clearly moving forward, with the proverbial two steps forward and one step back, Will is still very real to me. My longing for him is endless and his absence is still a very raw wound. I talk to his picture, and each night I go out before bedtime and talk to him while gazing at the moon. Before he died, I promised him that each time I looked at the moon, I would assume he was on the other side looking back. “I hope that’s how it works,” was his tearful reply.

Though it still feels like my world is a shambles, I am slowly inching toward clearing the debris and finding those pieces that can be dusted off and put to use in my new life. A vision is gradually taking shape of what I want that new life to look like, and I’m learning to appreciate the freedom of selfishness with no one’s needs to consider but my own. I watch my widowed friends who are leading active meaningful lives and know that I will be there again one day.

Transilience has new meaning for me as I absorb this abrupt and profound change and I search for the resilience that will be my saving grace. There will come a time when my identity is intact and built on who I am rather than what has happened to me. I will again live in a cozy world filled with my loved ones, my treasures, and activities of purpose. These things I know. The healing will come, and the joy will return. Gratitude will fill the spaces where pain currently dwells, and the beauty of Will, watching over me from his side of the moon, will make my heart sing again.

Connected

A universal fear as we age is that of becoming isolated and lonely. Retirement removes the daily interaction with the outside world we are accustomed to. Often, our children have moved far away and widowhood is a factor for many of us. Sometimes, it seems that the world is moving on and leaving us behind, with technology that is baffling to us being the driving force.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to embrace the changes and learn as we go. Allowing ourselves to enjoy this new world can bring some wonderful benefits, along with keeping us connected to others.

I was initially intimidated by smartphones but I got my first one when I was still in business and needed access to my email account while I was out and about. Soon however, I discovered how many needs it would serve. Not only did it help me stay connected to my friends through social media such as Facebook and Instagram, there were dozens of benefits in my daily life that simplified and streamlined my world, allowing me to travel lighter through my days and my interactions with others.

I may forget my wallet, my keys or my glasses, but I never forget my smartphone. Constant companion and source of virtually all information and most communication in my world, it is either in my hand or pocket most of the time.

I can hear a few minds slamming shut already and I have been presented with all the excuses and reasons for not owning one by my flip-phone wielding friends before, but hear me out, please.

One’s relationship with a smartphone is highly personal. Unique to its owner, a phone can be used for a handful (pun intended) or a wide array of tasks. For me, it has almost completely eliminated my use of everything from my computer to my tote bag.

Ironically, the thing I use mine the least for is as a telephone. I keep up with most friends through social media and text messaging these days. Contrary to what many say, I don’t find this diminishes my closeness to others but rather enhances our intimacy and frequency of contact. My daughter and I communicate only through text messages when we aren’t together and we have done so for years. It is the closest we’ve ever been, each of us able to be frank and open. With a full-time job, a husband and three kids, she doesn’t have time to chat on the phone. Instead, we have an ongoing conversation, complete with pictures, and it is tailored to each of our schedules. If she doesn’t respond immediately to my texts, I know she will when she can.

I have reconnected with people I lost touch with years ago and I stay in regular touch with some that otherwise might slip away. I have nearly daily contact with several cousins that I’ve not been close with since childhood.And I’ve made many new friends that began as Facebook “friends.”

I do my reading on my phone. Beginning with newspapers in the morning over coffee, I keep up with the news of the day, read my favorite store ads and clip coupons, read the obituaries (this has gotten more important here lately for some reason), and if there is breaking news stories, I don’t have to wait till tomorrow to be informed, they’ll send it to me throughout the day. The subscription prices are dirt cheap and I don’t have stacks of newspapers to haul to recycling each week.

I also read my personal library on my phone. My Kindle account is linked to my phone, so I always have several dozen novels, non-fiction and reference books in my pocket. It took a bit of getting used to, not having a book in my hand, but now I love it and I’m not always looking for shelf space for more books.

Smartphones are great for travelling. A map is at my fingertips, so if I get lost its easy to find myself. I have voice navigation to take me straight to my destination. I’m alerted to road construction ahead, or traffic crashes that might best be detoured around. If I suddenly need a burger, all the options, including the menus, are a click away. Same with hotels, car rentals, and area attractions.

My phone has a terrific camera so I never miss a shot. But when I’m serious about my photography, every photo I take on my digital camera is automatically downloaded to my smartphone, ready to share.

We are told constantly at this age to keep our brains active. I keep mine busy with several puzzle games, different card games, and crosswords. I even have bowling and billiards I can play!

The weather affects us all and with my weather app I’m able to keep close tabs on the skies. It has a radar map and I can predict almost to the minute when rain is going to begin or end wherever I am. I don’t get caught without a sweater when I need one either.

Having the Internet at my disposal at any time is simply delightful. We love to watch birds and sometimes when we are out and about we’ll spot one we aren’t familiar with. In moments, we are listening to recordings of its call, learning it’s nesting habits, and seeing what color eggs it produces. Trees and flowers are easily identified, the history of a beautiful old church is revealed, or any other bit of information we might want. I did months of research about my husband’s cancer and treatments on my phone. All in my pocket.

I don’t keep a calendar or datebook any longer, it’s in my phone, and I get a reminder ahead of an appointment. My stopwatch and timer are there too, along with my address book, calculator and shopping list.

My phone keeps track of the steps I take each day, measures my heart rate and oxygen levels, tracks my weight and fills in all the nutritional data on my daily food diary. You’d think I’d be thin as a rail by now!

When I want to relax, my favorite tunes are on my phone, ready for me to slip in my ear buds and listen. I have an app that is a television remote, so we never worry over misplacing the real one. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen the remote in months.

It is popular to malign young people these days for time spent on their phone, but please reconsider before you do. You don’t know what they might be doing when they stare at the little electronic phenomenon in their hand. You may assume they are scrolling their Facebook feed but it’s just as easy to picture them reading a book or studying for their finals. They might even be writing a blog post on their phone, as I am doing now.

I’ve been asked what I would do if my phone were broken or lost. Wouldn’t my whole world crash down around me? Well, no. All this information, these hundreds of precious photos, addresses, recipes and books are not actually on my phone, they are in The Cloud, a magical storage facility that keeps it all safe and accessible. A replacement phone will be up and running before you know it, with hardly a bump in the road.

I’m by no means an expert or even passably adept at dealing with the latest technology, but I made a conscious choice to not allow it to get too far ahead of me. Like it or not, devices such as smartphones are the only way to keep pace with mainstream society, and I don’t want to be left behind. Do you?

Old Girlfriends

Old girlfriends are the best. As opposed to young girlfriends. As opposed to new girlfriends.

When I was a teenager and a young adult, I had a wide circle of friends as most young people do. We went to the beach together, went to dance clubs together, and hung out doing nothing special for hours at a time, usually in groups. We listened to music, talked about hair and boys and clothes and sex. Though our emotions at that age were intense and very near the surface, most of these friendships dissolved as we grew up and moved away to pursue our adult lives.

Now, as an old broad, I have the best friendships of my life. Our shared activities are certainly less than with my young friendships, but the bonds between us are a gift only age can deliver.

I have read that girlhood friendships are often role-playing lessons in intimacy, practicing for adult romantic relationships. Girls tend to have exclusionary “best friends” and are deeply wounded when they feel this bond has been betrayed. They tell their innermost secrets to their best friend, sharing a part of themselves no one else is privy to. When best friends break up, it’s an early lesson in heartbreak.

Old girlfriends aren’t jealous. If she has many friends I am happy for her, glad that her life is filled with people who love her. Glad there is always someone to share her joys and sorrows.

During my young adulthood and middle age, friends took a backseat to marriage, motherhood, and career. Seldom did a friend have priority; they were relegated to my spare time, which was rare.

A rich and deeply valued aspect of this stage of life is a return to friendship as a priority. The relationships I have with a handful of women near my age are different from any I’ve known before.

Old girlfriends cheer each other on. We’ve come to understand that success for one does not diminish the other, so we are free to extend genuine support and encouragement. Envy and jealousy are conspicuously absent in these friendships. We’ve outlived the need to compete and compare ourselves to one another, accepting that some friends are thinner, some are richer, and some are luckier in love. Life has taught us that for someone, WE are the thinner one, the richer one, or the luckier one.

Old girlfriends know how to truly share intimacy. We’ve all had our hearts broken by lovers, our children, or just the vagaries of fate, so we know how to walk gently around each other’s tender bits. We’ve helped each other stand again after our falls, leaned on one another when the rain poured down too heavy and cold. We’ve laughed together until we peed on ourselves about things we would never tell another soul.

As we go through this grand transition to the final third of life, we know what a dark journey it can be. Five years ago I counted one widow among my friends, now there are several. Five years ago, serious illness was an abstract thought, now it is a topic of daily discussion. We all have an awareness that we could be the next one to fall down this deep well. So we extend our hand to others in the well, lifting them back into the light and warmth. If necessary, we climb down in the well two at a time to rescue a sister who is too weak to help pull herself up. There but for the grace is on all our lips.

Old girlfriends accept us, take us as they find us. When they visit and the sofa is piled with unfolded laundry, they fold enough to make themselves a place to sit. If they must, they’ll wash a mug to share a cup of tea. Uncombed hair and chin whiskers don’t offend, melt downs and ugly crying are taken in stride. Because we know it doesn’t matter. It. Doesn’t. Matter.

There is nothing so fun as getting gussied up to go out with old girlfriends. Unlike in our youth, we aren’t comparing ourselves to one another, we are complimenting! We offer our favorite scarf to make our friend’s outfit complete. We loan our good jewelry to adorn her beauty. We overlook the scuffs on shoes that we know are her most comfortable. We tell her how beautiful she is.

My old girlfriends include some I’ve known since childhood. How different we are now from then, how alike we are again. Because the outer selves that had marriages and divorces and children and careers have fallen away, and once again we’ve chosen each other because our souls demanded it.

We have the capacity to make new old girlfriends too. We tend to recognize each other as kindred spirits when we are lucky enough to meet. That ease and comfort are there without need of time. It’s in her eyes, this sharing of knowledge about one another and the wisdom to recognize it. There’s no need to rush a friendship that may develop, it will seek it’s level like water.

We don’t squander old girlfriends. They are treasures to be hoarded and regularly polished, like good silver. The patina of the years adds value to what is already priceless.

And yet we don’t have to tend old girlfriends like the tender annuals in our garden. Old girlfriends are the heirloom roses that spring forth again and again, blooming through snow or scorching sun, releasing the heady fragrance of love and acceptance to surround us. They are dependable and reliable and when we are busy with our own concerns, they bloom on, not requiring an audience to their show.

I shudder to think how bleak my world would be without my old girlfriends. And if I’ve forgotten to tell them so, I hope they’ll read this and know I am writing to each of them. They know who they are.