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I am a human being

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Dear friends

"I am too young to be a widower and too old to be a bachelor," I said to myself on one of those dark days when Jane was in the hospital in one of the three comas that would eventually claim her life. It is the kind of thing I said to myself  to convince myself she would not die--that we would find our way through this crisis and she would come home.

In the end, I slipped on the mantle of "widower" easily enough when she died. It is the cloak I have worn every day of the 56 months since that night. It is a comfortable and comforting identity for a man who has lost everything he cared about--and who is surrounded by the meaningless reminders of what was. 

I cannot say that nothing good has come of my taking up that role. My father, who lost my mother less than a year before Jane died, and I found in our shared widowerhood a bridge across all the animosity between us. It gave us a shared experience we could talk about-- a shared pain none of my siblings could comprehend. We made a peace that let us set aside our adversarial past.

He died a year ago this week. A part of me was happy for him. My mother was his lodestone. When she died, he was ready to die. In some ways, he spent the last three years of his life waiting to die. His ashes and hers are mixed in my sister's garden.

He was 85 years old. He had lived a good, interesting and productive life. He had six children, all of whom were still living when he died. And his work in engineering will likely survive even his great grandchildren. But he was interested in the world until the day he left it.

He was a widower, but the word did not entirely define him. He was ready to die, but he didn't want to. He was too curious about what was over the next hill. If someone had offered him a good quality of life for another 50 years, I think he would have taken it. But his body was failing him--and he knew it.

For the last six weeks I've been teaching a journalism course in Boston. It was good for me. It forced me to think about something other than cancer and loss for a few hours every day. It reminded me that I am too young to be a traditional widower. I am not old enough to spend what remains of my life waiting for death.

I am, in that regard, my father's son--and likely would be even if I were much older. I want to see what is over the next hill. I want to see the death of cancer. I want to see the things Jane never got to see, that my mother never got to see, that my father never got to see.

But I have become too comfortable with the cloak of widowerhood. I need to be something more--need people to see me as something more. Jane is gone--and I am still broken in so many ways. But Jane would not be happy--actually, she'd be damned angry--if I let the word "widower" define however many years I have left in my life.

I wrote earlier about the topiary heart Jane made early in our marriage--and how it was the one houseplant that died during her illness. I talked about having found another piece of ivy growing in another pot and how I had trained it onto Jane's original mold.

The original strand has stalled in its journey maybe three inches short of a full circuit. But new shoots have emerged from the surface and are moving up the base. Perhaps they will fill the space that remains. Perhaps then my soul will heal.

This much I know: I am 63 years old. I am still too young to be a widower. I am still too old to be a bachelor in any traditional sense. I am caught between two things I really have no interest in being--because I am more than either of those things--or at least I think I am.

We all have many roles we play in life--and it is easy to define ourselves by any one of them. But when a single role ensnares us--when we let that single role determine not only how we see ourselves but how we allow the world to see us--we stop growing and begin to embrace our own deaths.

At the end of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, John Proctor asks, "What is John Proctor?" He is a complicated man facing the immediacy of his own death. And the answer to that question will determine what his life means--whether he will go to the gallows and die or live a lie.

Yes, I am a widower. But I am more than that--even though I have forgotten that fact more often than not in recent years. I am a writer, a teacher, a warrior, and a peacemaker. I cook, I garden, I build. I go for long walks and long drives. And I love. I am a human being--and no death changes that. 





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Right on Harry!  You are indeed a human being.  I may be older than you by four years but I feel somewhat the same. I have found myself living again and exploring new adventures.  I shall always be part of who I was evolving sometimes by things I could not control and that will include being widowed, an experience I shall have had but once.  You have always sounded as the voice of reason although anguish has been part of your life for these past years. Good for you and inspiration to us.

Some of us are born with courage. Some of us must achieve it.  I believe death can make or break us. What we do next is what counts.


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Your posts always inspire me, Harry. I too want so many things ~ the end of Alzheimer's disease, to see my grandchildren become adults and to continue to learn how to take good care of this body I was given.

I like the topiary heart your Jane started and to see it now must give you a spark of joy. From the picture on FB it looks like it's almost full. I see it as your love for one another continuing to grow ~ only in a different way.

I agree with Stephen, you are a beautiful human being and what you are doing with your life inspires me.


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It's a full circle trek to finding that we are still individuals with so many facets, and yes, still have some life left in us.  Thank you for sharing, Harry, beautifully stated, as always.

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