On a strictly intellectual level, I expected I would outlive my husband since he was thirteen years my senior. Still, recognizing this fact over the thirty two years of our time together and dealing with the sudden end of our partnership are two different things.
When it happened, it kind of sneaked up on me. In November 2003, around November 9, there was an eclipse of the moon. We put up my eight inch Celestron telescope to watch part of it. That evening I made chili and cornbread for supper. Jim did not eat a lot and began to complain of pain in his back and abdomen. This rapidly worsened and I finally convinced him to let me take him to the ER. We spent quite a few hours there. They hooked him up to various machines and could not find anything that wrong. The doctor gave us a couple of prescriptions for pain and suggested Jim see his regular doctor the next day.
When we got home our little Brittany Spaniel Butch had lost his footing on the vinyl floor and struggled so hard he had lost the use of his hind legs. Thus I had two issues to deal with. Otherwise I might have tried to preserve Butch’s life a bit longer but I just could only handle so much. Jim took a lot of Ibuprofen and other pills that night and the next morning collapsed in the bathroom and I barely got him back to bed. He was a big man, 6’4” at his greatest height and close to three hundred pounds. I called his eldest son in Bisbee who agreed to come right over. Meanwhile I went to get the two prescriptions filled that we had not gotten the night before since it was two or three o’clock when we got home. As I drove to
Sierra Vista, I suddenly
had the odd thought: “This is the beginning of the end.” I did not yet know how
right that was.
|Jim and Butch, 1995|
Malcolm arrived and helped me get his dad into the car to go see his doctor in
Sierra Vista. There, he collapsed again in
the parking lot and the nurses came out and took him in with a wheel chair.
However the doctor did not take it too seriously and said he might have the flu
and to come back in a couple of days. Back home it was a struggle to get him in
the house. Malcolm and I used a rolling office chair which was an awkward wheel
The next thing I had to do was take little Butch to the vet for the shot to release him from his suffering. When I got back, the EMTs were there. Malcolm came out to try to ease me into it but broke down while saying, “It doesn’t look good.” By then the EMTs had failed to revive Jim and were waiting for an officer of the coroner’s office to pronounce him deceased. Thus Jim and Butch had passed from this life within a few minutes of each other. Malcolm and his step son had already dug a hole in the yard and buried Butch that afternoon next to Alanna, a dog we lost in 1990.
I had lost my dog and my husband in a single day. Jim’s dog, Sadie, a Lab-Setter cross, lived with me for three more years. In many ways the dual passing was totally fitting. Butch was “my” dog but very close to Jim also. And, November 10 is the official ‘birthday’ of the US Marine Corps so Jim could hardly have chosen a more appropriate day to leave this world since he was deeply proud of his service in the Corps and later in law enforcement. I shortly wrote a couple of poems, one related to the Marines and for living and previously deceased members of his boot camp platoon. It was shared by another retired Marine who put it on his website where it was viewed by many, some who sent me nice notes.
The telescope stayed in place, covered with a tarp, for several weeks. I have used it very little since for many reasons. I have to admit I never did a lot of crying and traditional “mourning.” There was no tearing of hair and wearing black. For one thing, Jim did not want a formal funeral so he was cremated as soon as the autopsy was done—required since he died at home. I still have his ashes to be scattered with mine someday. Our VFW held a small memorial for him which I did not attend.
Based on outward signs, I suppose I may have been viewed as unfeeling and cold. It certainly is not true that I was unaffected or felt no sorrow; I am just a self-contained person, a trait learned as a child and teenager from various experiences in those formative years. I keep most of my feelings inside and express them in writing if at all.
It takes a week or two for the reality to set in, I think. I went through that period in something of a fog. Thanksgiving came and I went to Bisbee to the regular family gathering at my daughter-in-law’s café and neighbors brought me a plate or two as well. I went through December much the same as I focused on selecting things of Jim’s to give to the kids and grandkids and making photo collages and an album to commemorate his life.
I did very shortly begin getting rid of things, perhaps an effort to make what had been our home my home. I never again slept in the master bedroom in that house but used what had been a guest room as mine until I moved. Suddenly it was 2004 and with the new year I sensed I had to start thinking about where I was and what I would and should do with the rest of my life. I was just sixty at the time and felt fairly sure I had at least fifteen or twenty years ahead of me.
In many ways that is the hardest part—the need to rediscover and reinvent yourself as a single individual, no longer half a couple. In this perhaps I was helped by that self-contained demeanor and by the fact I have always been rather independent and had lived more or less on my own for some years before my marriage. I was capable of doing many things and in the first five years I mowed my own 2/3 acre of ‘lawn’, serviced my evaporative cooler, changed tires and did some other small work on the vehicles I had and then began some fairly extensive remodeling of the house.
Yes, I worked through my grief in busy-ness. This is not the right course for everyone but for me it seemed to work. I also spent many nights reading until I could finally fall asleep at two or three but still got up to let dogs out. In February 2004 I acquired a new dog, a male Australian Shepherd I named Rico. Sadie was so disconsolate with her master and dog-friend both gone that I was sure I needed another dog. They never bonded as she had with Butch but I think he helped her survive, at least. I soon got a fence put up around the larger half of the yard with help from Malcolm and his step-son and felt safer about the dogs being able to go in and out through the doggie door. I still got up fairly early most days, though I did get a habit of a post-lunch siesta, and after I got my nice rocking recliner, that was my nap chair.
Reading over my journals, which I began again to keep about June of 2004, I realize I did suffer from a bit of depression. That remains to this day. I am still not sure what to do with the rest of my life although I have done a lot of writing—I created a new pseudonym and alter-ego person who wrote erotic romance and even LGBT (mostly gay) explicit love stories. I made a lot of jewelry, quilts and other art and craft projects and when Sadie crossed the
, I soon got
another dog. Somehow she (Belle, also an Aussie) and Rico never got along well
and after they had several bad fights requiring veterinary care, I re-homed him
but I kept Belle until her death in 2012. She was what dog folks call a “heart
dog” and was my constant companion for those years. Rainbow
Next. I moved a lot. After spending five years in the home Jim and I had shared from 1983 to 2003 where I remained until 2008, the first move was to
Hurley, NM near . This did not work
out and I ended up going on to Silver
to share a home with my brother, arriving there on April 1, 2009. He lost the
lease on one house and we moved up the street that summer to another house
where we stayed until October 2011 when we moved to New
Mexico and settled in Alamogordo.
Is this permanent? Hard to tell but for now it is!
It’s been over twelve years. During that time I had only one serious relationship which ultimately did not work out, mostly due to issues involving his kids and family. Do I miss being part of a pair? Of course. At times it is a very keen sense of loss and a hole in my life but mostly I have come to accept and deal with it. I know I am now even more independent and perhaps more touchy or prickly than I used to be, so finding someone who could put up with me and with whom I could get along is very iffy.
Friends are good and I have quite a few, many only through the computer/phone or at least most of the time since visits are rarer than I wish, but I am not daunted by a lot of time alone. I have my two dogs who are great company and still share a home with my brother. We have a strong and sound bond from the shared experiences of our youth and past. We know when to stay out of the other’s way but are there if needed. Iin some ways the best of both worlds, and I know I am fortunate and blessed to have it.