Excerpt – The “W” Word

I didn’t choose this—no one does.

The first time I filled out a form asking for my status, I automatically colored in the ‘M’ box—as in ‘married.’ I was still married, right? After 40+ years, which was still a valid response, right?

But then there was the ‘W’ box—the identity no one chooses as they might choose to marry or divorce or remain single. Widowed is not a choice. It is an identity thrust upon you, and no matter whether you saw it coming (as I did) or not, there’s not a damned thing to be done.

And so, you become…widowed. You cast off the identity you spent years shaping with another to reveal this stranger—this person who is only half of what they were just a day earlier.

In some ways, I was lucky, I guess. After all I had months to say that final goodbye. But on that December morning, I had no clue how I would ever do that. After eight long years of surviving multiple medical events and crises, my husband and I were told in no uncertain terms that we were coming to the end of one long journey and beginning another shorter but far more challenging one.

For years, his pulmonary hypertension and assorted other health issues had been managed through a combination of medicine, therapies and his own indomitable spirit and will to keep going. We suddenly found ourselves in a whole new place where the doctors spoke in terms of palliative care, comfort care and hospice.   We had no GPS for this journey. We had no timeline or schedule–weeks? months? We did know this was the inevitable end of the road–for us as a couple, for my husband as the life force he had been, and for me as his life partner.

Much has been written after the fact by those suffering the death of a spouse or significant other. A good many of those stories have to do with an end that came suddenly. For those dealing with someone in a cognitive state such that they could not participate in those final days, experts often speak of a double whammy—the loss suffered as the person’s mental status declined and then, sometimes years later, the actual death. Our story is unique in that we were told. We were given a sort of macabre gift of time to say goodbye.

As a writer by profession, I felt the need to record the journey as it happened. I doubt that I will always be a sympathetic voice in all of this– after all I was not the one facing the end of MY life—although in so many ways I realized afterwards that indeed I was, at least one phase of my life. I suspect there will be times when I will indulge in self-pity and downplay my good fortune to be financially secure and surrounded by support. At such times readers would be completely justified to indulge in the urge to shout, “Snap out of it!”, but I will not sugarcoat my story.

No matter the circumstances, anyone who has lost a life partner has walked this road. Death does not distinguish when it comes to ethnicity, gender identity, age or finances. My goal is simple–to document my story and perhaps in writing that offer hope and empathy for others. Certainly, I have gained wisdom from others who found their unique way to and through the “W’ journey.

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