More Musings

So two years after being in an assisted living facility my husband has passed away. Now, I have the finality of the whole thing to deal with—grief counselors can’t seem to understand what I need. I have grieved over the little losses for lots of years and cried until I thought there would be no more tears and still they fell. Erv died December 6, 2007 so without counselors I got through the first holidays and his birthday which was January 3, 2008 but spent a lot of time in bed. The counselors from Hospice called before Erv died, but nary a word from them until the end of January.

Suddenly I am a different animal. Not a wife, caregiver, information gatherer, not a spouse but a widow. Not a member of the divorced and separated category—but WIDOW. Those who used to think of me as one of a pair—have trouble thinking of me as a single.

So single and no direction--to try to put what I feel into words is almost impossible. I don’t know who to say them to—the man I used to say needs me, no longer does. There’s the fear of being alone, but it also is a relief.

I have been thinking about why I have been at loose ends since Erv has passed away. It probably has to do with my work history. I was just 16 when I entered college and turned 17 that October. I didn’t work the first year, but started working the second under a “work study” program. So I have been working since I was 17 and in the summers worked in a little restaurant called “The Midget Kitchen”. It was a tiny place, but busy with a lot of local people with hamburgers and coffee. At school I worked in the library in the archives the last three years of college.

After I graduated from Oshkosh with a Library Science Major I took the summer to find a job. A good friend located information for me on libraries in the Milwaukee area that were looking for professional librarians. I came for a week in July and on the last day I was going to be here the Wauwatosa Public Library called me and wanted an interview. I interviewed and got the job on the spot. I left to go home for a week to pack up a few belongings and back to Milwaukee and stayed with my friend until I could find an apartment.

So seven years of working and dating and generally getting used to the “big” city life, I met and married Erv (Erwin). I continued to work—and the years seem to disappear—had lots of things happen in those years, but I was able to hold my own. My parents both died in 1995 six months apart in February and August respectively and Erv retired in March of 1996. From then on my life wasn’t my own at all. Erv seemed to want to cling a lot so I couldn’t go anywhere without him even when he could stay home alone without wandering.

I worked up to 2003 and had knee surgery January 1 and Erv was getting sicker and so I felt I had to give up the job I loved after being at the same place from 1967-2003. I wanted to go out when I was doing the best job I could and I did. I was off for several months with my knee, but officially was off a month and went back to work in June at 12 hours a week as a reference librarian and not a Supervisor. I stayed there in that position until I couldn’t anymore with my health and Erv was getting much worse. I retired-retired in January 1, 2006. So officially I was there 36 years full-time, with almost 40 years at the Wauwatosa Public Library.

I had to place Erv on January 14, 2006 and in so doing saw that after the fact I probably could have continued to work. But I still had a house to get ready for sale, get “stuff” ready for an estate sale, and still see Erv every other day or so 80 miles away so it was a hard hard few months so in hind sight it was the best time for me to leave my job. I kept busy with all of that until August when I moved into my condo in Fitchburg. In September the old house sold and now I have been in the condo for 3 years as of August, 2009. Erv passed away December of 2007 so it’s been a year and a half of no job, no need to keep going to an assisted living and keep on my toes about Erv’s care and no one to care for.

Except for my condo and paying bills I have lost the reason I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Living alone, which is a first, is very different. I like it, but never living alone before I wander around here sometimes.

I have gone from being under my parents roof, to college with roommates, to Milwaukee where I had roommates, to getting married and now at the age of 60+ I am living by myself. I do like it for the most part, but miss having someone to share the day to day experiences even though that hasn't been true for years and years. I have several good friends that have stuck by me through all of this, but would really like to have a conversation that goes beyond the "how are you".

I thought early in Erv's diagnosis I was slowly losing my mind and now I know I did for a time after he died. That's what grief does to you. I still am trying to get calendars and people's birthdays and anniversaries down, but had to let that go as he was getting iller and it's very hard to get that back. So, I tease that nobody told me I would lose my mind and they didn't. So if I could impart anything to spouses in the beginning stages of grief it would be to not worry about remembering everything or maybe forgetting small things because that is perfectly normal and slowly that will come back.

There must be reasons I had to go through the experiences that I went through in the many years. One, I suppose is that I can communicate with someone who can’t verbally communicate although I was able to do that pretty well before this whole experience. I am very aware of body language and what the eyes are saying.

I do know I have learned that a lot of people are afraid of diseases or things they don't understand. It was almost as if people thought they would catch what Erv had or they were just seeing what might happen to them so they stayed away. The other reason is that they would have liked to do something, but didn't know what to do or say.

I moved to the area I am in for many reasons--the first being that I wanted to find a smaller place for Erv that was more like a home then a uncaring huge place. The second was that my brother said that if I wanted his help I should move closer to Madison. Knowing Erv's daughter couldn't help me much I opted for the Madison area. The third is that the condo I found is perfect with no steps and all the living space I need to be comfortable. I am still going through things and trying to get Debbie and my grandchildren here to pick up a few things and my nephews, also.

The hardest for me are holidays. I am closer to my immediate family now, but they are busy with their own families. Here it is the second Christmas after Erv passed away and it seems like everyone else has gone away, too. I used to have five or six Christmas' to either go to, be at or get ready for along with stopping to see some of Erv's older aunts that could not get out. This is very different for me not to be anywhere.

I guess I will have to find someone who will adopt a "dotty old aunt" or an adopted "granny".

I have renewed acquaintances with three high school friends which has been wonderful. I still have several good friends that I try to see in Milwaukee and several friends scattered here and there that have remained close. I have extended family all over that also check in with me and make sure I know I am being thought of as I am thinking of them.

I also have been volunteering for a new library for Fitchburg which is near and dear to my heart. I have been doing web pages for people and writing here as well. Slowly I am making my way in a new community and a new life. It will take awhile to find that "old Gloria" of 35 years ago, but hopefully I will find a "new Gloria" that will be able to share her love, compassion and empathy with others and still be able to contribute and feel worthwhile.

That shared experience with Erv is gone, but I still have time to have many shared experiences with others and maybe a special one or two. So today has been a good day with a hopeful heart thinking of the future.