Just Saying: The Widow Barlow Shall Remain Seated

By Shelley Wildgen

This summer I lost my husband. Not in the snack aisle at Dewe’s, which has been known to happen. On June 26th, my husband left this world. It’s the day we all wonder about when we’ve lived and loved for a long time. My husband, Rob, was several years older than me and he had a chronic illness — Parkinson’s — so perhaps I gave endings more thought than most. I don’t know how I visualized it happening, but it was always far worse than what actually occurred. Death was kind to Rob.

After a spectacular first day home following a long hospital stay, he slipped away sitting in his favourite chair. Just. Like. That. Still, as quiet and pain free as the experience was for him, it was rotten for me. How do you say good-bye when you can no longer say good-bye? There are so many mixed emotions that well up together and erupt at any given moment … sometimes in the snack aisle at Dewe’s. Like a protective coating that keeps too much sadness from happening all at once, numb is at the top of the list. A deep sadness flutters about and lands from time to time, as does anger and resentment — but, the one thing that stays constant is the loneliness. I think lonely happens mostly because being with people feels weird and so does being alone. There’s no real comfortable place to settle when you‘re used to taking up space with a sympatico soul.

It’s all just weird. Death is what we fear most, so people get awkward. Some say awkward things and some say relatable things, like my friend who told me that when her husband died she simply couldn’t part with the last bottle of dish detergent he’d bought. I get that. Another person meant well but confused the beejayzes out of me when she said, “Don’t feel guilty about following your dreams. You must follow your dreams.” As she had woken me from a nap, I almost wisecracked that I was currently trying to do just that. But I didn’t. She took the time to stop by and say something, so that’s nice, right?

I will say that the nicest thing anyone can say at such a time is to relay a good experience they had with Rob. For some reason, that shared warmth is very comforting and can be remembered several times long after it’s been said. So, how about a service? The funeral home. I was accompanied by Rob’s daughter, my daughter, brother and stepdad — all there for moral support. It takes a village. The funeral home people are really good at this end and we ended up feeling organized and right about our choice of memorial service.

Next came the ashes. Here’s the thing about ashes that surprised me. They’re very important and I don’t even know why. I say this as someone who heretofore felt nothing about services or ashes or death formalities. The thing is everything became significant and somewhat real after going through such a hazy time. One thing that became instantly clear was that I needed to be at our summer place on Prince Edward Island. Very soon after the service, I hit the lonesome highway headed east with two close friends, my two dogs, and Rob’s ashes, in his usual seat. Upon arrival, just as we were lounging outside at the PEI farmhouse, a stray black cat sauntered up, ‘talking’ constantly and he sat with us for most of an hour. The next day he appeared again, parked outside my bedroom window and called me to come outside, where we sat together again for an hour. It happened once more then not again. Rob loved cats so maaayyybeee.

Back to the business at hand. There wasn’t going to be any ceremonial sprinkling of the aforementioned ashes at any special place. Rather than head for the ocean, it felt better somehow  to keep the ashes with me and our pups, in our house on PEI. Now, you may have a different ashes preference for your dearly deceased but this felt right and when one is entering widowhood you just have to go with whatever feels right, minute to minute. Decision made, so I did what every newly widowed woman does, I went straight to housewares at Winners.

In my kind of tired, kind of tender frame of mind, I browsed the vase aisle and came up empty. Yes, I meant to say that. All the vases were lovely but none had lids so I started to leave, but something made my wobbly, arthritic knees turn around at the door and go all the way back to where I’d started. Blankly but with some notion of what I was doing, I stared again at the vases. Then I bent sideways and looked again. Lower, a little lower still … and then I saw it. Hidden behind the standard fare was the perfect receptacle for my Rob. An ice bucket … with a snug lid.

So, now Rob’s in the bookcase surrounded by his favourite novels in a really nice ice bucket. I think he’d be good with that. He might not be the black cat, and he might not be in the ice bucket, but here’s what I’ve learned about coping with the death of my husband. If you find comfort … in an old shirt, a bottle of dish detergent or a stray cat. Hold on and just let it be.