Going through the motions

The cat is being extra friendly to me, presumably because she's lost half the staff that pets her.

I'm doing all the things I've always done, with frequent interruptions to scream or smash my fist into the wall or burst into tears. When the sadness is too much, I go for a walk. And then another.

I've walked many miles the past few days. Walked a few miles more, between the first and second paragraphs on this page.

Stephanie is gone. Everything she cared about, she doesn't care any more. All the jokes she would've cracked, she took with her. The insights she offered every day, never again. The kooky slang we had between us is now a language no-one will speak again.

When I glance into the bedroom as I walk down the hall, she's not in it, and I cry again.

I did a load of laundry, and then still hot from the dryer, put most of Stephanie's blouses and pants and underwear in the pile for Goodwill. Now I'm cleaning out her closet, a chore I never imagined.

Of course, we had talked about death and death directives and what one of us should do when the other one died, but the practical reality of it is something else again. I never imagined taking her clothes off the hangers and plopping them into a plastic bag.

Next I'm going to take the paintings off the wall; they were more to Stephanie's taste than mine. Instead I'm going to nail up some of her favorite t-shirts, souvenirs from places we'd been — the minor league ball park, the diner, the museum... The t-shirts are happy memories, so I'll build a memorial around them. In the living room, I think.

As a very special treat and only when she could snag a very special price, we would occasionally drive 100 miles to Milwaukee and spend the night at the Pfister, an ornate 100-year-old four-star hotel. She called it The Fairy-Tale Palace. We stayed there half a dozen times, and even when we were paying 75% off, they always treated us like royalty. We had dinner at the hotel's steak house, and breakfast in bed.

Here's her sleek, slinky black formal dress, which she wore only twice — both times at the Fairy-Tale Palace. She wore it the night we walked around the block at midnight, years ago when she could walk, and she wore it a few years later in her wheelchair, when we sipped champagne in the cocktail lounge. That dress is going onto the memorial wall, beside her t-shirts.

I opened the freezer, and found a couple of the smoothies she liked so much — treats I had surprised her with, but her appetite was failing so they went into the freezer for "later," which never came. I let them melt and then flushed them down the toilet, the saddest flush of my life.

Bringing home treats for her was one of my favorite things to do, like the smoothies, or cookies from the bake shop, or fast-food french fries, or a burger the way she liked — no cheese, no onions, no tomatoes. No more.

At the grocery store, I always pay by plastic and get twenty dollars back in cash. The cash isn't for me, it's in case I want to take Steph to breakfast on the spur of the moment, or buy her a treat on my way home from work, so when the machine at the cash register asked whether I wanted cash back, I stood there and stared at the beeping screen and cried.

I cry a lot. Every little thing is relentlessly sad.

We were both readers, but my books were usually checked out from the library, while she preferred to buy books and keep them forever. Thus the books on the shelves are almost entirely hers.

Most will go to Goodwill or be scattered to all the Little Free Libraries in our neighborhood, but I'll keep her Game of Thrones books, and her collection of everything Jane Austen ever wrote — those are the books she read over and over again.

Always Stephanie was reading two books — something new, and re-reading Game of Thrones or Jane Austen. I tried them both, couldn't get into either, but maybe I'll try again.

I'm getting rid of most of her possessions — her pillow that smells like her, her candy, the Dutch oven she liked so much, her vibrator, her earbuds, her brand of soda pop, and so many other things everywhere around the house.

For every item thrown away or put into a pile for charity, there's a brief pang of guilt. Why am I throwing away her panty hose, her medicines, her half-finished needlepoint and knitting, her magazines, her ratty old pajamas? Why am I giving away her shoes, her DVD player, her bookends, her puzzle books, her glasses? I want to apologize to her for every single item I can't bear to have around. 

I'm sorting through all this stuff in a daze, trying not to think too hard about what it means to be going through her most personal stuff.

Every once in a while I come across notes she'd written to herself, about her health issues, about our plans for some weekend a few years ago, about errands to run and bills to be paid, about anything really. I read them all, even the ancient shopping lists. A few of these notes I've re-typed into the computer, and I envision myself reading and re-reading them in my lonely future.

The TV hasn't been on since she went into the hospital a few weeks ago. I have no interest in it, and rarely did unless Stephanie & I were watching something together, so we can cancel Netflix and cable (and of course, there's no "we" anymore, unless "we" is me and the cat).

She did all the cooking, and I'll probably revert to my long-ago bachelor habit of sandwiches and microwave food. As I wash the dishes, I'm wondering how many of these plates and cups and bowls and pots and pans and such are needed, when it's only me. Not many. Another haul to Goodwill.

Her makeup is in the bathroom. Her jacket hangs by the door. Her crackers are on the table. Her checkbook is on the counter. Her scrunchies, her cough drops, her marijuana, her moisturizer. She's gone, but she's everywhere.

Meanwhile, I pet the cat. Change the litter. Get the mail. Answer the phone. Vacuum the carpet. Surf Reddit. Take another walk.

I'm going through the motions, trying to live something like a life. Maybe if I do the normal things long enough, some semblance of normalcy will return, and eventually there might again be a quarter-ounce of joy or meaning in life. I don't really believe that, but I'm giving it a try, because what else is there to do?

Republished 6/4/2023  

TL/DR: My wife died and it sucks.

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