This is a work of creative nonfiction. The events are portrayed to the best of Justineís memory. While all the stories in this book are true, some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.
This story is not an attack. It was written with the intention that it will hopefully be used as a tool in preventing others from having to encounter what I did. I am not trained in any specific areas of psychology or bereavement counseling. The stories in this book are the experiences I had in dealing with individuals and their reactive behavior following my husbandís death.
I want to thank JK Publications for taking on my memoir series. Nonfiction is an entirely different market and not always accessible to every author. I thank you for this opportunity. Itís a privilege that I donít take lightly.
Six Months In
“Well, just remember if you need anything…” Ray paused. His fingers dug at the slight growth that dusted his cheeks. “Just call, okay?” He tossed up his hands, laughing, his demeanor uneasy.
Ray was an animated guy, always using gestures to assist him in conveying a message that maybe he didn’t think he was getting across.
Today I was having a hard time getting an accurate read on his conduct. Ray had been stopping in at the house once or twice a week to see how I was doing. I didn’t want him to feel obligated to maintain his visitations. Everyone else—with the exception of my family, a few select friends, and my neighbors, Lenny and Shiloh—were gone, having receded into the background and moved on with their lives.
Mike and I had once been a unit. We’d had certain friends that we acquired through being a couple, but because Mike was now gone, so were the friends who were part of our marriage.
“I will,” I said. “Thanks.” I slid my keys off the counter and went to retrieve my car.
I’d just had a much-needed oil change. Ray had been repairing our vehicles for fifteen years. While Mike was sick I’d put a lot of wear and tear on my car, driving to numerous hospitals and doctor appointments. Ray assured me that I’d maintained my vehicle well. The last thing I needed was a car payment haunting my financial future.
Winter was looming overhead. I felt like I was being stalked by what I knew would be a difficult season; it was a gut feeling I couldn’t seem to medicate, no matter what positive tactics I used. The vise was closing too quickly. Forecasters already expressed that it was colder than it should be for early January in western Pennsylvania. I’d gone over and over the list I’d made back in the fall in order to ensure I was prepared. I tried to recreate Mike’s ritualistic behavior in my mind, how he’d prepared for the winter. I had followed his routine to the letter.
Mike always sealed all the windows with plastic, which we’d done together so I knew how to do it. I had insulated the outdoor spigot, and Vic, one of Mike’s union brothers, had checked the gutters after all the leaves had fallen. I’d kept up with the leaves as best I could, but where Mike’s standards were concerned, I’d fallen a bit short.
We had almost two acres of landscaped property, so no matter what the season, caring for the yard was job.
Vic had come over and tuned up the snow blower. He also checked the kerosene heater and the generator in case there was a power outage. I had good equipment. I just needed to learn how to use it.
Work was going well and I enjoyed it. My elderly client, Sonya, and I talked a lot about our husbands. It was helpful to have that bonding with her. Though she was eighty-two years old and I was only forty-six, the pain was the same. Sonya and her husband, Henry, were married for sixty-four years.
“There are certain things that you just never get over,” Sonya told me one night. I would prepare her dinner before I left, sitting with her, trying to coax her to eat. She was so frail and tiny. I worried about her keeping up her strength.
Sonya had been a piano teacher in her younger days. She and Henry had graduated from Syracuse University. Henry had played football. Sonya often showed me pictures of her and her sorority sisters as well as Henry and his fraternity brothers. The photos dated back to the early fifties. Though I’d seen these photos several times, I knew it was a healthy outlet for Sonya to relive the memories, and I enjoyed listening to her stories. It provided me with an escape from my life that was healthy, if only for a short time.
My widowhood thus far had become a solitary existence. I talked to myself quite a bit and made fun of it as my monologue continued to flow. I think it helped me to stay calm and focused.
Forecasters were calling for the first snowfall of the season in a few days. I was ready. The garage had been cleaned out and organized so I could pull my SUV inside. My snow blower was ready, but the machine was very heavy. The day Vic had come to the house to do the tune-up, he’d given me a crash-course on how to start it. Starting it was one thing; operating it was another.