By Marilyn Lanza
Loss of an egalitarian relationship is how I thought of my husband’s death. Ron and I had a real and consuming relationship based on equality. I was always spontaneous and shared with Ron my love for him, including on the day he died.
I go over and over the last time I was with Ron. It was wonderful but far too short, not only that particular day but our life together. He had prepared breakfast when I came downstairs as usual at 4:00 A.M. and I went and sat on his lap. I was going horseback riding before leaving for work and he had just come back from the barn where he had put the bridle on my horse. He tickled me and I kissed him goodbye and said that I couldn't wait to go on vacation that night. We never went. Ron died that day.
Ron and I were married for a few months shy of 40 years. It was a shock, a catastrophic loss for me when he died in 2008 and I'm still caught in the throws of the turmoil. It seems as though a major part of myself is gone. I have ups and downs and sometimes it feels as if I'll be turned inside out.
I don't know exactly why I'm even writing this. Maybe writing about his death is a way of reflecting on our life together. The grief has been so deeply moving, hardly an adequate description, but friends have suggested that writing about our life together might not only help me but others as well. People who know or knew us say that most people haven't experienced a love relationship for 40 years that is so vital. We saw the other as profoundly interesting and through our marriage, we continued to grow individually and as a couple. Now I have myself, I guess.
Ron And I Together
I don't mean to make it sound as if we didn't have any problems. We did, but we continued to struggle to make them more understandable. I was so honest with him and even though he was a very private man, he was more open with me than with anyone else. He was my best friend. We didn't hide things from one another. Very importantly, we always kept our marital problems in the marriage, i.e. we didn't seek out a relative or friend to solve them. We worked on things ourselves or obtained professional assistance through a psychotherapist.
After his death, I was looking through a drawer in Ron's desk and came across cards that he intended to give to me. Ron collected cards far ahead, if he saw one he particularly liked. I still read them years after his death and cry until it feels as if there is nothing left of me.
Alike And Not Alike
Ron and I were alike in many ways and yet we were so different. Ron, an electronics engineer, was also a percussionist for the state symphony and philharmonic. Six months after his death, I was asked by the New Hampshire Philharmonic, if they could borrow some of Ron's numerous instruments. I have made a library of his instruments of which he had about 300 when you count the smaller percussion items. Ron learned to play as a child. His mother could afford the $2 for drum sticks but not a drum. They did have a plastic pad, though, and this became Ron's first drum. Ron played all his life. He attended the New England conservatory from 5th grade. They offered him advanced standing in college but he wanted to be an engineer. In high school, he played at Carnegie Hall and for President Kennedy. I have a record he made with the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. I am enormously proud of him. I remember him, when playing in the Philharmonic, looking at me in the audience smiling and winking from afar.
The army made a statue of an eagle to be presented to Ron at his retirement but was presented to me posthumously along with his inclusion in the company's Hall of Fame. It bears an inscription, which characterizes him well:
"The eagle can see great distances and stare into the sun without being blinded. Though lesser birds head for shelter when a storm approaches, the eagle does not. It spreads its wings using powerful updrafts to soar to greater heights.
He was not one to shy away from the difficult or disagreeable; no task was insurmountable; no task ever too immense; no issues without resolution. His optimism and fortitude will long be remembered."
I remember a boat ride in a terrible storm. Ron captained the boat while the rest of us ran for cover. Through the storm's heavy rain, sharp lightening filling the sky and thunder clapping deafening sounds, I see him soaring like that eagle.
We had very different childhoods. Ron was expelled from school many times, usually for getting in trouble with a teacher. His music and interest in science saved him whereas many of his friends landed in jail. I was much more gregarious but also much more compliant and always wanted to be the good student. If Ron and I had met then, I would have put as much distance between us as possible. However, Ron was a successful college senior when I met him and he readily adopted my lifestyle: horses, farm life, etc. Maybe for him, it was a new life, a new beginning.
Our Egalitarian Life
When we first met, we were seniors in college on spring break in Bermuda, Ron from Boston and I from Buffalo. The colleges were in a tug-of-war on the beach and I saw Ron pulling for the Tufts' team. I was deeply involved with another person back in Buffalo who had gone skiing. He was an expert skier and did not want me to go skiing with him since "it might hold him back". Instead, I accompanied my roommate on this trip to Bermuda. We had no plans of dating; we just wanted to have a good time in the sun. Ron and I formally met at a large dinner party, when my roommate and I happened to be paired up with these two guys who knew each other from the same college. Ron was "Mr. Cool" and after the dinner party, we saw each other most of the week. As it turned out my roommate and I married these two friends - - one year later and one month apart.
At the end of the vacation, I only knew Ron's first name. I was afraid to ask his last name since he looked either Spanish or Italian. My family, or should I say, my father was very prejudiced against anyone who wasn't WASP. However, I rationalized that this was a "spring fling" and I wouldn't be hearing from Ron again. However, when I returned to Buffalo, he called me and told me that he was planning on coming up to see me and he did. In the meantime, the 3-year relationship with my boyfriend was not the same anymore. I saw him at school but I was very impatient with him and even now, I wonder how my feelings for him changed so quickly.
My roommate and I traveled to Boston for Ron and his friend's Ivy Weekend. We both wanted to see what our relationship was like on "home turf." Those couple of days cemented it. It is hard to explain. I, who was slow and careful with relationships, became overwhelmed with emotions and I terminated my relationship with my boyfriend. Ron wrote and called every day. In June, we started planning to get married but waited until the following April. April 2, 1968 was our meeting anniversary, we were engaged on November 8th,1968 and our wedding was April 26,1969. We celebrated these anniversaries every year for all our 40 years together.
When we discussed marriage and children, Ron's traditional view of marriage was called into question. I had always planned on having a career equal to my husband's but when we discussed how to combine work and children, Ron said in a disparaging tone "what would I do about work - have a babysitter?" to which I answered "yes" - and thought that perhaps we should not get married since this was a very important issue to me. However, Ron said that he did not know marriage in any other way but that he was willing to learn, maybe there were alternatives. It was this desire of his to have our relationship work and not be static which moved him along. Our ability to be excited by new ideas that came from the other was so central to our marriage - the ability to grow and change.
We decided to charge childcare expenses against both salaries, not just mine. Many couples charge against the wife's salary, only, and for many women, whose salary is often lower than their husband's, this results in her giving up working. I was determined to not let this happen to me. I, on my part, shared in the outside work, e.g. with the horses and field maintenance.
Our wedding was small, 50 people, but it was great. Ron was Catholic so we decided on a "catholic" service, though it was different from the usual Catholic service. According to traditional thinking, I could not receive communion at mass because I was protestant. However, I wanted to be equally involved in the ceremony and, therefore, we chose to be married in a church, which was part of the underground Catholic Church movement back in the 60s with Phil Barrigan etc. Our priest married the following year. The service included everyone as equal participants. Ron and I had written the service and took turns reading the various parts. It was the greatest wedding and we started marriage on equal footing. I think I' m just reflecting on the fact that our equality transcended our life.
To achieve equality, we decided that we wanted to hire a House/Barn Keeper. We thought this was such a clever idea: Someone to clean the house, care for the kids when needed, and take care of the horses, clean stalls, provide feed, etc. We never actually found such a person but it was a great exercise in creativity.
Horses played a very important role in our lives. Every year we camped with our horses at Acadia State Park in Maine. The carriage roads in the park were envisioned by John D. Rockefeller and are absolutely beautiful. We camped out while the horses lived in relative luxury. We went with friends and typically would ride for several hours in the morning and drive the horses in the afternoon. We had so much fun and I remember hugging Ron while sleeping.
We never had a bed larger than a double, by the way, but somehow we always had enough room.
In the winter, we would go skijoring. One of us would ride the horse and the other skied behind holding on to an ax handle, one of Ron's adaptations. The children joined in the fun and sometimes, I would ski with both children at once.
Ron made carriages for our horses or rather, he took the frames of antiques and redid the wood and leather parts. Sometimes, he had just the hardware left as when the neighbor's bull demolished an old sleigh and literally left only the iron guts of the thing. But still, it was enough for Ron to work with. He never did anything halfway. When we had eleven carriages and two sleighs, I told him that I would put up a sign and charge admission, if he did not stop. We could have a carriage museum.
Ron could be so funny and would joke around. We have a picture, taken when there was gas rationing, of Ron pretending to fill gas into the mouth of one of the horses pulling a wagon in which he had built a rumble seat for the kids.
When we were building a fence for the horses, we used a non-electric post hole digger - I stood on the digger and was the ballast, while Ron turned it by hand. At that time, we had all our money tied up in land purchases, Ron's $6,000 and my $5,000 salaries. Ron was absolutely brilliant concerning our finances although it did not always feel that way as when one month we could not pay off a credit card bill of $20 for food. We had just returned from a month's camping trip across the US and were building a barn for which we had borrowed money from Ron's grandfather. Despite not having much cash, I always felt wealthy - I felt so secure with him. We had several fixed priced options at 5 and 10 years on land adjacent to our property. The owner eventually came to us and made a monetary offer to not buy the land; it had increased so much in value. We, however, wanted the land and bought it at each parcel's expiration.
Traveling with Ron
Ron was a wonderful traveling companion. One year after we were married, we went to Europe. We had the plane tickets for $50 through Ron's work. There were various high lights for me. On our way to Paris, for example, we stopped in Amsterdam where Ron bought diamonds to make a third band for my engagement wedding ring with increasingly larger diamonds in ascending order surrounding the center stone. In Paris, we stayed in John Robillard's apartment for a week, while he was on a trip to the Orient. John was a Parisian who worked in the US as the president of an international solid state electronics firm. Ron worked for him when he was in college; he was a mentor to Ron. We were having dinner near John's apartment with John's friends and neighbors and were talking about our first jobs. Mine was in an A&P, wrapping meat. Ron's was as a lab supervisor for solid-state electronics at John's company in Boston. Anyway, at the dinner, no one spoke English but Ron knew some French and German, I some Spanish. We were at a table with twenty other people and we managed to discuss a lot of topics by communicating in six different languages. We had so much fun.
We were diametrically opposed in terms of physical modesty. Before we were married, we stayed in Ron's parent's house for a week. One morning getting ready for work, I was dressed in my slip going into the bathroom. I met my future father-in-law who reacted as if I had no clothes on. Obviously, Ron was ultra conservative - my words. I was raised to not be restricted by lack of clothes.
Ron and I differed politically. Ron was a republican, I am a democrat but when it came to his workers, he would slide to the left politically. His greatest triumph was that in contract negotiations, he was able to set aside 20% of the dollar amount for his workers. Contractors would often want the work done yesterday and Ron saw to it that the workers received generous bonuses. Occasionally, he arranged sponsored parties with "door prizes", though one has to question his use of the term, since a prize would be e.g. a dining room set. He also arranged dinner cruises in Boston Harbor and, in general, he went out of his way to make the employees happy with working for the company. The only complaints were from other managers who could not figure out how Ron accomplished this or, more likely, wondered why he took such care of his employees.
We also had wonderful parties at our home for Ron's work. I remember one party where the guests would take turns driving the horse and sleigh through the snow. I hadn't met many of the people before and was busy in the barn when they started arriving. When I came in from the barn, I pretended to be Ron's neighbor. Ron wanted to kill me but our guests thought it was great fun and loved seeing Ron in a completely different role from the one at work.
Another party included business connections from Thailand who came to our house in Maine. Ron had the idea that we and the children could serve a clam bake. I objected. The problem was that the party was far too large, at least 75 guests. He insisted that he knew how to do it. We would need a hundred lobsters, three hundred ears of com, and huge amounts of potatoes and clams. People from my work offered to come and help serve but finally, I succeeded in persuading Ron to have the party catered. Kira, our 8-year old daughter, had been looking forward to playing an important role in the party and was disappointed when she learned about the catering. However, she managed to deal with it by instructing the caterers where to put the tent and where to dig the hole for the clam bake.
One of the highlights of the party was when one of Ron's employees who was an excellent water skier - he used to be a water skier at Cypress Gardens - put on a show for us. Not to be outdone, a colonel from the Thai army wanted to try. He had never skied before and could not get up but did not let go of the rope. He was dragged like a swirling torpedo until we rescued him. Fortunately, he was ok.
The caterers left before coffee was served. Ron was on the sailboat and I have never learned how to make coffee so I was a little hesitant. However, I am sure that men can make coffee as well as women so I assigned the job to one of Ron's right-hand men.
Several years before he had planned to retire, Ron wanted to do so. He was upset with some regulation changes at work. The company wanted him to stay and we discussed it at length. In the end, Ron submitted a list of demands including promotions and salary increases for everyone who worked for him. The company met all his demands and he put off retirement for several years. He died three months before retiring.
Ron was at his best when driving to Maine. He loved Maine. He was so funny and able to let his hair down. I often said that at these times, he reached the high end of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. We bought a house on a lake. There were the four of us would spend as much time as possible sailing and water skiing. The house was a compensation for the problems I had with my family over land we owned in Nova Scotia. Since I was 15 years old, I had traveled to Nova Scotia every summer where our family owned thirty acres of beautiful ocean front property. However, there were stepparent issues. Money was always in contention in my family after my stepmother arrived on the scene, or actually, even before that. My father used to hold money over my head as a way of exerting control but I rebelled. I had to fight to become an adult because my father wanted to keep me as his little girl. Ron was in many ways similar to my father but he was more stable and most importantly, he valued my independent spirit. Ron helped me to let go of Nova Scotia. In this way, we avoided the legal entanglements Ron foresaw and he thought that Maine would be so much closer. It was a hard decision for me but we ended up with our house in Maine.
Ron was very quiet about his personal life. Although he was a good conversationalist, many people, upon reflecting, knew little about him. The people at his work, for example, had no idea that he was an exceptional percussionist or for that matter, even that he played the drums. It was much to Ron's distress when he came home one day and I asked about a curious phone call I had received. The director of personnel at the Philharmonic called to speak to Ron. I told her that he wasn't home so she explained who she was but was hesitant about who I was. When I said that I was Ron's wife, she seemed surprised, almost embarrassed. Apparently, she (along with other people) thought that Ron was single, even though he wore his wedding band, which he could not remove. Originally she wanted to introduce him to a single woman in the orchestra. I pointed out to Ron that his excessive privacy sometimes backfired. This woman misinterpreted Ron's lack of openness about his personal life.
The Day of Ron's Death
I have told the story of our last day and Ron's death numerous times, maybe in the hope of getting a better grasp, but it does not work. It is always horrible to relive and to realize again and again that his death does not go away.
I was sitting down after work on that beautiful Thursday reading the mail before getting ready to go on vacation that evening. I had a message on my private practice phone line to call the hospital. I called and a nurse told me that Ron was ill. I insisted that there had to be a mistake, that Ron was fine - I had just talked to him one hour before. She rechecked the information and said that no, it was correct: Ron was ill. I asked to speak to him and she said that he was too ill. The call did not make sense and it did not make sense to me that she had called on a phone line, which Ron would never use. The nurse wanted me to get a ride to the hospital. I was annoyed and said I would drive myself. Yes, I did have friends but they were married and busy with dinner. I cancelled a patient's appointment and then drove myself to the hospital. I was concentrating so hard, I did not want to stop for red lights. It kept running around in my head that Ron was dead.
When I arrived at the hospital's emergency room, I was shown to a private room where I was left alone. On two separate occasions, I would go back to the front desk and try again to see Ron. I was feeling desperate, I wanted to see him and the hospital staff was in my way. I was very agitated and, in the back of my mind, I began wondering if they would call a psychiatric emergency on me. They finally had a doctor tell me that Ron was dead. He had walked a short distance from work to pick up his truck from the repair shop, paid the bill, and was talking animatedly about his intention to put a special mirror on my car when he suddenly stopped talking, keeled over, and was dead.
I wanted to see him. He was on a stretcher. His body was still warm. I touched his face, he seemed to be asleep. I talked to him, telling him to wake up. I tried to sit him up but he would not move. I was in total shock. Staff tried to help me but what could they do? The doctor said to take as long as I needed. It sounds trite but that really helped to decrease my agitation.
I continue to grow and will hopefully do so until I die. In my personal life, I think I have all these tasks that I need to do and I do them until I am tired. For me, the saying should be read as "do tomorrow what you did not get done today." Maybe I should try to relax a little but I guess that being busy all the time keeps me from thinking. Achieving balance in my life is a huge step forward.
Finally, a friend of mine came and took over. Family arrived as did my Episcopal priest. Ian, our son, and his wife flew in the next morning. I knew I could expect a lot from Ian but he was beyond belief. He stayed for two weeks but then had to return to Minnesota. He started calling every day because he was not sure how I would be - I had been completely numb while he was with me. My lawyer brother was an enormous help. I love my brother. He lives four hours away but he was there in an instant. He was so much help. He knew the legal mumbo-jumbo that comes with death.
Eight months after Ron's death, I was still feeling numb, a feeling that I keep expecting to become less intense, though it does not - not really. Sometimes, it feels as though Ron never existed and then at other times, I burst out crying because I miss him so much. He was the center of my soul and I'm tearful now writing this. The loss has been so hard.
The picture would be incomplete, if I do not write about my stroke in 1999. It was a horrific experience. When I woke up after three and a half days in coma, I knew very little about myself and my life - I knew my maiden name, as though I was 21 again. I thought I married the man I had been engaged to before meeting Ron and that it had lasted only one year before we divorced. I knew I was 52 but thought I had been single all that time. I was very sad and very scared. This man, Ron, came to see me but I did not know who he was. The same was true of my son. They did not know that they were completely strangers to me, that I did not recognize them as family members or as even part of my life. I thought of them as nice strangers. After 6 weeks, I began to figure out identities. Gradually, the pieces of the puzzle started fitting together and I remember being so happy when I realized that I had been married only to Ron for most of my life.
I was completely dependent on Ron now. I would speak but had tremendous aphasia and did not know basic words such as carrot, com bread, etc. and I would be easily frightened, if Ron left my hospital room even with my best friend there. The hospital staff would ask me if an appointment on a particular date was acceptable. I had no idea and told them they would have to check with Ron. It seemed as though he did everything for me, including talking. Afterwards, I have often thought that I do not know if I could have put up with the extreme dependency, had the situations been reversed.
Ron started to be responsible for all the medications I was prescribed. He handed them to me - twelve in the morning, fourteen in the evening. Even though I was an advanced nurse practitioner who had authorization to prescribe drugs myself, we continued this pattern until the day Ron died. Now I take care of the medications myself but what a struggle! I think it became one of the last things to renegotiate in my movement toward increasing responsibility. Frankly, I did not want to give up that level of dependency on Ron but this was largely out of awareness at the time.
Because of my condition, I was told I would never be able to return to research, though in time, I might be able to do something like filing. I had no movement in my entire right side and was confined to a wheelchair. I was so incredibly depressed but I was also always extremely stubborn, a quality that lives with me today, and I refused to accept my situation as permanent. Ron alone thought that I would get better. He and my trainer at the Y helped me to walk, ride my horse, and ride a bicycle again. When trying to bike, Ron and my son Ian supported the bike while running on either side. Ron figured that to get on, I should step on the right pedal when it was raised, swing my good leg into position, and try to ride. Now I can even go alpine and water skiing.
To state that Ron devoted himself to my recovery is such an understatement. He even learned to set my hair. He was so very patient with me. At one point, when I was still at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, I was allowed to go home for a few hours. I wanted to bring back an article I was writing on chaos theory. Ron did not want me to do that, since I had the one hand-written copy, only. There was no copier available at the hospital and Ron was afraid that I would lose the article at the hospital or that something would happen to it. We had a huge argument and I ended up telling Ron that he had won. I had to go back to the hospital and I could not do much without his help. He did not sleep that night. The next day he brought the article to me. I worked on it until I felt it was done, and wanted to send it to the editor. Ron was very reluctant. He wanted me to have someone else check it over but I just wanted to send it. Ron was afraid for me because my language was so poor then but I sent it anyway. I could still write, even though I had such difficulty talking - the article was published.
When Ron finally went back to work, there were the two care-givers who stayed with me. I guess they were there to care for me but also to make sure that I did not kill myself or otherwise get in trouble. Ron's worrying about me was not entirely unrealistic because I was so incapacitated that I actually was considering suicide as an alternative. I resented having people watching over me and I called them Babysitter #1 and Babysitter #2. However, they continued coming for a year and I became attached to them.
Back to the stroke. For the first year, when I was around other people that I did not know, I would say out loud whatever came into my head. In nursing school, I had learned about this post-stroke syndrome but I never imagined that it would come to apply to me. There is, in fact little one can do about it. It was not that I did not care what anyone thought, I just was not capable of caring. Ron was always easily embarrassed and he would become angry with me but I did not care. Scott, my physical therapist, was more laid back and dealt with the issues by treating me in a separate room.
However, I was slowly getting better. Before I was discharged from the rehabilitation hospital, I returned to work for one day a week. I knew the people I worked with but I struggled with the simplest things: how to use the telephone, how to turn on my computer, etc. I had no recollection of my research, though I knew that assault in general was my area. Fortunately, I found that if I read the first few sentences of an article I had written, I would know the rest of the article, often including the references. I had problems with email. Ron would review my emails before I sent them, otherwise the recipient would not know why I was writing. I knew what I wanted but could not express it - the aphasia made it very hard for a while. Ron helped me manage my first grant funding post-stroke and my second investigator was fortunately very supportive. This was extremely important because I did not even know how to conduct a meeting, since I often could not talk and thus, could not find a way to assert myself. However, with the help of Ron and my second investigator, I was slowly able to return to my research.
Many people did not realize the extent of my regression. At times, Ron became frustrated with me or rather with my limitations. Friends sometimes did not think that he was patient enough but I knew what a struggle it was for him to help me day in and day out with issues such as using the toilet. One time we were at an event and I needed to go to the restroom. I was in a wheel chair and could not do it on my own so Ron had to help me. The women's bathroom was accessible but the attendant first had to ask other women to leave. Ron was very reserved about his body and was uncomfortable with the arrangement but we had no choice so we plugged on.
At some point, the nursing administrator at work, who had often helped me after the stroke, wanted me to meet with the hospital director. The nursing administrator had always been very nice to me in many ways and was eager for the hospital director to meet me again. At a nursing administration lunch where I knew everyone, I felt comfortable and free in talking and laughing. Fortunately, after that lunch the nursing administrator agreed with me that, even though she knew me and knew what I meant, I was still not inhibited enough to meet with the hospital director. I do not know why but I have always had a good internal sense about my recovery and what I needed when.
After 6 months, I was finally discharged from the Rehabilitation Hospital. I refused to accept how helpless I was and wanted my old life back. I asked Ron to come with me to a handicap water skiing program I had heard about. He said that he could not go because it conflicted with work so instead, I had babysitter #2 take me. I wanted to just watch but then I decided to try it the following week. When I told Ron about it, he came along reluctantly and had to leave work early. They had me "ski" in a sit-down position but I did not like it and wanted to stand up. I kept trying and I kept falling and I kept coming back. Ron, by this time, had become very involved and worked with the staff on trying new approaches that would be better for me. Eventually, he developed skis that could be held together with a trombone. In time, I was able to ski using regular skis, Ron became an "instructor" for the skiing association and the water ski manufacturer is now producing the "trombone" skis.
Recently, I had driven to Maine to go water skiing. It is something I still love to do. Ron and I started to water ski in our forties. Ron could complete 360 degree turns. No one knew how he did it but it was great fun to watch. When he finished, he would wave and dive head-first into the water. Now, a young couple helps me get up on the skis and then I am on my own. I feel so free when I ski. It is a real "high" for me and that is especially important to me now. I have not felt so exhilarated for a long time. My orthopedic surgeon says I should not water ski because of my artificial hip but I am trying to make him understand how important it is to me.
Mourning: Collecting the pieces
At the funeral, one of my colleagues made an interesting comment: there's more love shown to a person who dies than is present even at a wedding. Maybe it has to do with the culmination of feelings, feelings which are generally not expressed during the person's life. Or maybe it has to do with a sense of loss as opposed to death - e.g. as with the loss we feel when someone retires, there is festivity as well as sadness. With death, it is the finality of life that seems to free up the positive feelings that were often kept in abeyance.
It felt like such an effort to collect the parts of the family that remain after Ron's death - like after a deluge, as if there was nothing left. I have two children in their 30's who live far from me. I could have been with them on the first Mother's Day but I chose not to - I was too depressed and did not want them to see me like that. My friends were around that day but were at home celebrating with their families. I felt alone. I missed Ron. The first Father's Day after Ron's death was also very sad. I focused on my children but they were distraught, too.
I have the awareness that I'm still in mourning. Maybe I should become active again in the Mourners Support Group. But the group meets so far from where I live and I get lost driving there. Maybe it is my intense ambivalence about the group. I need to think about Ron's death and how it has rudely changed my life but I want it all to go away, as if it is a nightmare. My time alone is difficult. I am very busy when I work but on the weekends, I am not. I have too much empty space. I do not know what to do with myself and sometimes I just cannot think of what comes next.
I miss Ron growing old with me. It would have been so nice. We talked about staying on the farm where we live and when things would get too difficult for us, we would hire people to help.
I wish I had given Ron more of my attention around his particular ailments such as e.g. the arthritis in his knees. It was hard for him to walk downstairs when he first got up in the morning and he had to use a mounting block to get on his horse. I think I am hard on myself and hard on everyone else, meaning that I did not give his limitations or mine much attention.
The biggest conflict we had in the last few years was about Ron's weight. He was overweight and I would point out the danger to his health, recommend dietary changes, etc. I tried just about everything; I even gave his cigarettes to the horses years ago when Ron still smoked. I knew health is something a person must own in order to make the necessary changes but it is terrible to love someone so much and yet watch them essentially make themselves worse. Ron's weight did not go down and I stopped talking about it because any discussion would end in an argument. Ron just thought that he was invulnerable. Sometimes, he would complain about his knees and I was impatient. Now I face similar dilemmas, such as walking safely e.g., and feel alone. The loneliness is terrible and I cry.
I came into work early one morning - no one would come in for several hours - and looked through what I had written thus far. I had not worked on this for some time. I reread the cards Ron had not given me yet and I was sobbing uncontrollably just sitting in my office. I had thought I was doing better but apparently, I was not. I am up and down like a yo-yo.
I can get involved in my life through interactions with people but I will always be living with Ron. I do hope there is an afterlife but I don't really know. Ron always said he loved me across time and space. That thought makes him so near to me. I feel complete, at least for the moment.
Ron loved Maine and he seems to be most alive there. I remember sitting on the deck where I played backgammon with him by the hour. I sat in the swing he made under the house. Now, I was back home. My writing was shaky and I felt old and decrepit. Then I looked at Ron's picture and I was happy and I cried. I felt young with him.
I have had to take over all the things Ron used to do such as paying bills for the first time. In the beginning, I paid all the bills in the old fashion way, by snail mail. After three months, I could relax a little and at least not visibly shake when confronted with these simple tasks. I now recognized the bills and where they came from so I began feeling more comfortable making payments. I also learned that we have two sources of heat in the house, oil and electric, and which contractor to call for each. I always just let Ron handle stuff like this, since it did not interest me - unless the heat stopped working for some reason. I have been talking with a financial advisor, a lawyer, and an accountant concerning my future and how to hand things over to Ian. Death is a reality I don't want to face, neither do I want to grow older without Ron.
In some ways it feels as if I have had to grow up again and in ways I never did, or to put it more accurately, to learn to be more responsible. Like everyone else, I feel vulnerable. I never had to deal with this kind of stuff before. I am in danger of overdrawing my account; the credit card company sent my credit card to the Fraud Bureau by mistake; my first root canal; problems with a cracked windshield of my car. Ron always took care of these things. In many ways, I see what my friends meant when they said that I was spoiled. I did not think so at the time when Ron was alive but I pretty much did what I liked. Now, I sure am not.
Ron and I each did the part of the housework that we liked or maybe disliked the least and in the later years, Ron did almost all the cooking. Now I had to start doing that again. However, part of the success of our marriage was due to the fact that we were able to synthesize our differences so that these became complementary rather than ending in conflict. In the kitchen e.g., Ron would arrange the shelves according to category whereas I would stick the string beans anywhere they would fit. Ron would joke with me and say that I had a random access system for putting groceries away.
I miss so much being close to him, yet I cannot write about this feeling of loss. I guess grieving is never over. Ron's death stares me right in the face at year three. It is a couple of days short of the 3rd anniversary of his death. Suddenly I am stricken. I do not feel like doing anything, not even working. I was going to Maine but a major hurricane was approaching. I wanted to go anyway but an elderly neighbor in Maine said bluntly that Ron would still be dead no matter where I was - endangering myself would not bring Ron back. - "Anniversary" - what a word, as if it is a happy occasion. Like wedding anniversary. This anniversary I am still crying and feeling very despondent.
I try to continue living the way we used to. Interesting slip - like we used to. I guess I drew Ron's strength into me so it felt like mine. I still want all the fields cut, the horses still need to be cared for, etc. It takes a large, strong person and without Ron, it feels as if there is nobody. I am so sad and I just keep crying. It still feels as though Ron died yesterday. I miss him loving me. Then I think of how lucky I was to have had him.
It is very painful for me to write this because it seems to put a final end to Ron's existence, yet our love is forever. Forever? What does that mean really? I don't know.
I have too much time on my hands. I do things with friends - that helps but not enough. I need something that keeps my mind going, like writing. Maybe by writing this, I feel that I give to others and that helps me.
I still have my husband's voice on the answering machine. I could not make myself remove it. My friends told me "it brings them up short" but I could not change it. Ron sounded so nice. To remove his voice would mean a further death. Unfortunately, the phone company eventually removed it and now a computer does the greeting. I do not want another man's voice on my phone but I am afraid to it myself.
find that I am open to the persistent message that we can avert death and if death catches us, we only have ourselves to blame. I found myself going over and over Ron's symptoms. Should I have insisted that he see a doctor, when he got tired after mowing only part of the lawn? Should I just have insisted that Ron come with me to Massachusetts General Hospital - as I had done years before. Now with HIPAA, etc. there is much more patient privacy but at that time, Ron initially refused to come along. I told him that as his wife, I had the right to take his medical records and have a consultation with or without his presence, but it would be nice to have him there. Ron was so angry but finally came with me. The doctor was extremely nice and in fact spent two hours talking with us. The visit proved invaluable and in fact saved Ron's life. The local doctor had him on the wrong medication.
A nurse called the evening Ron died. I recall that she was nice but I did not want to donate any organs. I felt guilty and so conflicted. I was afraid they would cut Ron because then for sure he would not live again. Ian took the phone and explained that I was in shock and could not make that decision. I felt so grateful to him.
I had difficulty thinking of myself as a widow. I didn't know what to check when filling out e.g. an insurance form. I had always been "married" - but I was not anymore, I had no husband. I still felt married but if I was not, - what am I? "Single" did not seem to fit and in general, there is no category for "widow".
I do not want to finish this narrative. In some way, it finished my husband's life. And as more time goes on, his memory becomes more remote. I do not want the memory of Ron to become more remote. The more remote he is, the less likely he is to come back. People tell me that the raw feelings blend over time. Ron becomes transmuted over time into whatever best serves my life without him. I do not like it because I want my memory of Ron to be intact but I can see it happening in my own life. I think now is a good time to write this while my feelings are so intense.
I try to keep the dead alive, in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves, there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. The apprehension that our life together will decreasingly be the center of my everyday life seems a betrayal of Ron.
Did Ron know that he was going to die? I do not think so but I will often stare at his picture for a long time - he looks so happy. Sometimes we would talk about death but only in the abstract. Not as something that could be ours personally, right now. Maybe it is denial of the inevitability of death to think it is a long way off.
Ron's death was not a hero's death but he gave his life for me. He always took care of me but did not bother much about himself and his own health, which may also have been a kind of denial.
One summer evening, I was watching a concert on TV - the Boston Pops - and they played "It's time to say good-bye". I cried and cried. I thought of Ron's death and this project. I had better finish this, since I have no idea how long I will be around. I am also afraid of beginning to forget. Right now, I still grieve for Ron - nine years later. Some days, I just feel so much love and want to be with Ron but I think that I have finally arrived to where I can say "good night, good bye, and I will always love you". The dream will continue.
About the Author
Marilyn Lanza has worked as a psychotherapist and nurse researcher since 1968. She has dealt with grief, not only in her personal life, but as a therapist through her clients and through her work as a researcher. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This material is based upon work supported in part by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Office of Research and Development, Bedford, MA 01073
Brook, D (2011) The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources Of Love, Character and Achievement. New York, NY: Random House Dideon, J (2005) The Year of Magical Thinking. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. Oates, J. C. (2011) A Widow’s Story. New York, NY: Harper-Collins Publishers.