He’d come through heart surgery and we were all relieved.
Then he died.
Sadly, his widow lives very far away from us and we’re not close enough friends that we would fly cross-country.
But our hearts ache for her, a funny and kind woman who helped me through some very tough times, long-distance, in 2014-2015.
This is the sixth woman I know who has been widowed in recent years — all of them younger than 70, many in their 40s or early 50s, with or without children.
Two died of that brute, pancreatic cancer. Two of heart attacks. One was a 40+ year relationship that began in high school, another a happy second marriage.
It’s the moment every happily married woman (and her children) dreads. We think it will happen, hope it will only happen, when we, or they, are old and wrinkled and have enjoyed decades together.
But sometimes we are robbed.
I’ve now been with Jose, my second husband, since we met through an online dating service in March 2000. We married in September 2011.
I cannot imagine my life without him.
Yet one has to.
So he created what we call the “red binder” — which I wrote about this year for the website considerable.com. It describes how to create this binder, which is meant to ease in all practical aspects, what to do after your partner or spouse dies: passwords, PINs, pensions, bank accounts, car leases and loans, mortgage details.
All of it.
Much as I know a lot about our finances and the details of our shared life, like many couples we also divvy some stuff up, so he handles some and I handle some.
Storage locker clean-up, scene two. Another six non-stop hours of going through boxes stacked to the ceiling. We’re almost done!
Next week we’ll have the remainders — which we have promised ourselves we will go through again soon and purge even further — into a space 5 by 7 by 10, at $100 a month, not the $250 a month we have been paying for a decade for a large room full of…
That means we’ve blown about $20,000, a sum that makes me embarrassed to even write it publicly, over the past decade on storing a bunch of things, none of which is worth even $2,000 apiece.
Some of it we have been very happy to re-discover, from the camo-colored Kevlar vest my partner wore while covering the aftermath of the Bosnian war as a photographer and my vintage paisley shawls and quilts to his kindergarten graduation certificate, signed by by mom, his teacher, who died in the 1980s.
I know now why so many of us put off going through our accumulated stuff. It’s tiring, boring, demands snap decisions and can be emotionally a little painful. I found dozens of photos of myself, younger, thinner, in jobs I loved, long-gone. My wedding invitation and album (divorced in 1994.) Photos of five ex’es, including the husband.
Although it was fun to see I’d kept a picture of Nigel, the impossibly blue-eyed Welsh engineer from Khartoum I met on a flight from Dublin to Bristol on Christmas Eve. We were both heading home to see our mothers — but sneaked away for a brief tour of Wales, covered in thick fog. It was one of those flings where you realize there’s a lot more there than you’d thought — and you have large continents and oceans between you. There was no Internet then or Skype, so I still have some of his postcards.
I am delighted to have re-discovered some childhood images, and to find several work-related items just at the moment I most need them.
It also feels good to lighten up. We’ll save $150 a month by renting a smaller space.
Too many recent obituaries, like that of screenwriter David Mills, working on the new HBO series Treme in New Orleans, who died last week on-set of a brain aneurysm — at the age of 48 — remind us death can claim us anytime, anywhere, whether or not you’ve written (or re-written) your will or cleaned out your basement, attic and/or storage locker(s.)
Too many friends of mine have found themselves overwhelmed physically and emotionally trying to clean out the accumulated detritus of a parent’s life and home. What matters? What’s important and to whom? What’s of any financial value — and then what? (My father, recently, finally asked me which of his artworks I really hope to inherit. Fingers crossed.)
A few tips to help you get started and stay the course:
1) take lots of packing tape 2) fresh, clean, new boxes into which to repack; small enough you can easily lift them 3) lots of blank paper and tape and a Sharpie to label every box with its specific contents and the date you closed it 4) tape measure 4) ladder 5) folding chair — it’s a long day and sitting really helps! 6) a camera to photograph anything of value you may want to sell on Ebay or craigslist or send to auction 7) food, water, a thermos of coffee — no leaving! 8) a radio 9) bandaids — paper cuts were common as we shoved tons of old paperwork into garbage bags 10) a box-cutter or small, sharp knife for opening boxes and cutting tape 11) bubble wrap to cushion delicate or breakable items you decide to keep — we encountered a lot of broken glass from several framed pictures, one of which cut my finger 12) Kleenex and paper towel; my allergy to dust and mold kicked in a little after going through so much stuff.
Then, a really good lunch or dinner out — some motivating treat or reward that doesn’t need to be stored!
There may be, as there was for us, some sharp words over why that battered frying pan or framed print are must-keepers as you jockey for every inch of remaining space. Teachable moment!
We have no kids or close younger relatives, so no one will want our memorabilia. To them — as it really is to us if we admit it — it’s just stuff.