A Widow Faces Some “Firsts”

My beloved husband, Les, died on June 25, 2020. I was too numb on the Fourth of July to even realize it was a “first” holiday. The flag from his military service at Ft. Logan National Cemetery lay abandoned on the bedroom hutch; the boom, boom, booms did not reach my ears.

By our 72nd anniversary on September 12, Les had been dead for 79 days. I wore my 50th wedding anniversary dress—a beautiful, filmy blue gown—and silver shoes. My daughter brought hot fudge sundaes for a short, distanced visit on the patio. She took a photo, but rather than pretty, I looked thin and wan. That evening I dug out my 1948 diary, read about our wedding day and honeymoon. Just too sad.

My 90th birthday was eighteen days later. I should have had a weekend at a fancy hotel with all four of my children and their spouses, as we had done for all the big birthdays and anniversaries, but, of course, COVID. It would have been tough to stay alone in a hotel room, anyway.

My daughter, her oldest brother, and his wife came for another patio party, again well-distanced. My family put forth a lot of energy to make the occasion memorable—a sweet mechanical kitten who meowed, kneaded, and purred; multiple tiny lights sparkling in jars, nine gifts; a beautiful white cake and ice cream; heartfelt cards and letters from everyone. It was a wonderful celebration. I cried myself to sleep that night, not only because Les was gone, but because the love of my children touched my heart so deeply.

On Thanksgiving, my daughter, her two children (in Missouri and DC), and I each prepared a dinner for ourselves which we ate together on a Zoom call. We lit candles for Les.  We chatted and reminisced for three hours that afternoon.

Many in my large family shared a Zoom Christmas meal on December 23. Ironically, the six-month anniversary of Les’ death fell on Christmas Day.

I had purchased and wrapped seven gifts for myself, because Les and I always gave one another seven gifts. When shopping became difficult for him, he asked me to buy gifts for myself as I got gifts for him. This resulted in his being totally surprised with all fourteen gifts and my not being surprised by any, but it was a lot of fun. I knew he would want me to have gifts this year, so I bought them.

My naïve plan was to get up on Christmas morning, eat the customary special breakfast, and then open my gifts by the tree. What? With an empty chair opposite mine? There was no way I could pull that off. So, I just ate my breakfast and, throughout the day, began utilizing or wearing the gifts. Somehow the day finally ended. I made it through.

And then came Valentine’s Day. I baked a white cake for myself. I took a jar of frosting from the freezer. Once thawed, I dipped a spoon into it. Rancid. Icky rancid. Oh, well, I’ll just make powdered sugar frosting. I opened the mason storage jar and tasted a smidgen. Ugh. Stale cleaning grit? I did not know that sugar could go bad, but then I realized that it had been in the cupboard at least fifteen or twenty years. Apparently, I do not use powdered sugar all that often.

I ate my white cake with ice cream instead. Valentine’s Day was the movie of choice for the evening. I loved it, but when I went to bed, tears once more dampened the soft fur of my teddy bear.

Now, there are not that many “firsts” left: Les’ 99th birthday in April, Memorial Day, and the anniversary of our first date in June. The anniversary of his death can hardly be considered a “first” since I was right there when I happened. And when I get through all the “firsts”? I guess I will begin the “seconds.”

I am surprised to find myself here. Surprised that I am physically surviving widowhood. Surprised—not in the reality that I am incredibly sad—but that I keep getting sadder. Surprised that perhaps I am braver and stronger than I had thought, even as I walk in grief. Widowhood has been its own “first” in my life.

As the impossible year of 2020 goes into history and 2021 inches forward, we are all survivors of one sort or another. My wish for all of us—courage, comfort, and joy.

 

 

Comments

Ingrid Nelson 24-02-2021, 17:41

I can only send understanding with love to you, Great-Aunt Lois.
Your stories of life are filled with honesty and love. May God’s rich blessings touch your mind and heart.
Sincerely, your admiring Ingrid

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Lois T. Hjelmstad 18-03-2021, 13:21

Thank you, Ingrid, for your kind words.

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Kathy Kilduff 24-02-2021, 19:24

Your words are always just right. Love to you
Kathy

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Lois T. Hjelmstad 18-03-2021, 13:22

What a nice thing to say, Kathy! Thank you!

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Sylvia Pickard 25-02-2021, 08:10

Lois, I have thought of you often. Someday, hopefully this year I am coming to Denver so that I can give you a proper hug. In the mean time always know that I am praying for you and love you. One thing my husband says is that every marriage ends in sadness. I wish he was wrong but sadly he is right. As a family we need to be strong for each other. Hoping to see you this year. Love Sylvia

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Lois T. Hjelmstad 18-03-2021, 13:23

Thank you so much, Sylvia. I am so sorry about your brother-in-law. These have been tough times. Loving hearing from you.

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Laurie Weiss 26-02-2021, 14:06

Lois, You are such a beautiful soul. I have learned and been touched by so much of your writing over the years. Thank you for sharing this. Love, Laurie

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Lois T. Hjelmstad 18-03-2021, 13:24

Thank you, Laurie, for your affirming words. I needed them today!

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Anne Strobridge 26-02-2021, 17:24

You always find the right words, Lois, the best words. I’m so grateful that you put them out there for us so we know how things can be done.

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Lois T. Hjelmstad 18-03-2021, 13:25

Thank you, Anne, for your affirmation. I owe so such to your insight and inspiration.

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