Mundane memories and the first solo road trip


Since my husband's death, it's my job to wind his grandfather clock...a job I seem good at forgetting.

Since my husband’s death, it’s my job to wind his grandfather clock…a job I seem good at forgetting.

Widows and widowers often mark their progress along the recovery road by specific milestones or “firsts.” These markers could be as simple and mundane as forgetting something silly, due to the distracted and preoccupied mental state we’re in at the time or to the fact that the forgotten tasks or items never used to belong to us before death intervened.

It was my late mate who always wound the grandfather clock I bought him on our first anniversary. In fact, during his lengthy illness, it became the source of an argument one day. He chided me for letting the weights get almost to the bottom of the clock case. In my typical overwhelmed caregiver mode, I retorted, “Winding the clock is the least you could do.” Yes, I know, shame on me in retrospect. Later, we always joked about that moment.

I came home from an overnight trip Saturday to find those weights almost at the bottom of the case again. That discovery followed an earlier realization that I had driven to and from Columbia, MO with less than a quarter tank of gas in the car.

I could no longer blame my oversights on my mate as being his job assignments to wind the clock or play cop to my forgetfulness where the gas gauge is concerned.

Despite the gas tank level, the trip that emptied it was one of the previously mentioned recovery milestones…the first trip away from home since my husband’s death.

Traveling is usually far from the radar of couples dealing with a prolonged illness. Pain and suffering can keep you homebound or racking up frequent flier miles at hospitals or urgent care clinics.

In spite of his disease and discomfort, my husband and I managed over the past few years to make occasional road trips to a professional meeting. We enjoyed renewing friendships with colleagues and getting a much-needed change of scenery and perspective on those rare occasions.

Shortly after my mate died, I decided to make reservations to attend the same professional gathering. Guilt over being the surviving spouse and some grave misgivings almost caused me to back out. But the dog-sitter had already been paid, so I pointed the car with little gas in the direction of Columbia and was soon basking in the warmth of familiar friends and stimulating workshop presentations. Affirmation soon showed itself in the form of an In Memorium program that I had forgotten was always part of the annual meeting. My husband’s name was on a list of colleagues who had died during the year, so I was grateful to be present at the program.

Twinges of pain and loss did crop up at odd moments during the trip. I noticed the little sample size soap and shampoo bottles at the hotel bathroom that my mate would have insisted on bringing home. Then there were the multiple pens and notebooks he would have snatched off the registration table and the many t-shirts and other freebies he picked up at the trade shows. I just discovered a truckload of those freebies stashed away in a forgotten corner of the house and now get to figure out what charity or what trash bin to transfer them to.

As I checked out of the same hotel the two of us stayed in just a year ago, I headed back west, anxious to greet the dogs and cat back home and retreat to the familiarity of my hidey hole home. But impulsively I took the exit ramp at Rocheport to grab a bottle of Grape Goose Grape Juice from the winery. Sadness soon descended at the memory of doing the exact same thing a year ago with my mate.

With the help of a Barbara Streisand CD on the car stereo, accompanied by someone suddenly freed from fears of singing off-key, I made my way back home. The sun was shining through glorious, fleecy clouds. God was present all around and hope was in the fall air. Recovery milestones are ticking by as quickly as the mile markers along I-70. There will be another one to check off on the day I don’t need reminders to wind the clock or check my gas gauge.

Widows and widowers have many opportunities to journey through grief into freedom and new joy.

Widows and widowers have many opportunities to journey through grief into freedom and new joy.