Last week, I zoomed with my grandson on his birthday, and I asked him how he felt about being 20. “Nanna,” he replied, “I don’t know if I’m ready to take on all the aspects of being an adult—things like paying taxes and all that.” He swooped his hand through the abundant locks of hair that fell over his forehead, as if to rid himself of such thoughts.
“Well, Galileo,” I responded, “the good news is that you aren’t a teenager any more, but adulthood in most ways begins at 21, so you aren’t an adult yet either. Maybe you could think of this as a grace year, a year to be neither.” He seemed to like that idea.
I have been called upon many times in my life to reinvent myself. My friend Gerri says I have more iterations than anyone else that she knows. I don’t have a way to judge, but I’m sure we all in one way or another, willingly or unwillingly, suddenly or gradually, have changed identities, more or less aware of what is transpiring.
I have started new careers three times, ended long term relationships, married, divorced, become a mother, and came out to the world as loving a woman. A few years ago, I even started this blog and adopted a new name as a way to make manifest changes that were brought on by aging. I had lost my mother, completed my doctorate, retired, and given up my beloved Maine home that we were no longer able to care for properly. I found myself living with Rosemary in a condo on the Connecticut shore, feeling a little bewildered about who I had become.
But this latest reinvention feels more difficult, more forced upon me than earlier identities. Her death did not result from anything I did or didn’t do; nevertheless, it has required adjustments on my part.
I have had Rosemary’s wedding ring resized and I wear it above my own. I have notified State retirement and Social Security to stop sending her money every month—tasks far more difficult than they should have been, perhaps because of COVID, but also just because organizations seem to have sunk more deeply into bureaucratic behavior than ten years ago when I did these tasks for my mother.
With difficulty, I have refrained from telling the first stranger I encountered after Rosemary’s death—a lovely young woman who chatted with me in line at the eye glass store—that my wife had just died. I have cried at night, alone in my room.
I have fought with the credit card company when, unannounced, they closed the joint credit card we both used, because I was just a card holder and not a joint member as I had believed. I have written about half of the thank you notes I want to write to generous and kind folks who remembered Rosemary in various ways. (Another friend who recently lost her wife, tells me I have six months to accomplish this task, and, given the number of people who honored Rosemary and supported us in so many ways, it may take that.)
And I have for the first time written Widow next to marital status on a form. I wasn’t at all prepared. My breath caught and the world went silent.
I am still too submerged in grief to know who this widow person is, too stunned by Rosemary’s death to look further ahead than the next week, and too troubled trying to sort out where to live to give thought to who I am now.
Every so often, however, in the middle of some innocuous action—making an appointment to get the car serviced or putting a piece into the jigsaw puzzles that I work on every night on my sister’s coffee table—I catch a momentary glimpse of the future, not of where I will live, nor what I might do, but an inkling of the person I am becoming. Perhaps, like Galileo, I could use a grace year, a year between wife and widow. A year to just be curious.