I’m sitting on a chair I assembled myself. My computer is sitting on a table I assembled myself. I’ve set hot coffee right next to it. The faith I have in this is undeserved, unbacked by history, but seems to be holding.
Seven years ago, when I came home from prison, newly widowed, I ordered an office chair off the internet so I could comfortably get back in the habit of blogging. It arrived in pieces, ready for assembly, and I broke down into pieces, not ready for building anything new.
I was still trying to salvage.
I don’t remember exactly how it got built, but I suspect it had something to do with Mr. Friday.
That day, I posted a picture of the office chair in fragments, with the word widowhood written over it. Many widows reached out in understanding.
I had no idea I knew so many. Overnight, my landscape of what widowhood looked like changed completely. At the time, I couldn’t see past the funeral sobs, a life stuck in a pew made from what used to home me. I couldn’t imagine walking away from what I built to last a lifetime; I couldn’t imagine a full lifetime of this.
What struck me first was that the wounds always seemed fresh.
A woman, telling me about her first love, now married 30 years to another, caught tears in her breath and a wisps of sadness floated between us. Fresh-scented like a sadness just cut.
What struck me next was that the sadness was not a bottle-stopper. Life kept happening, kept bubbling and pouring over the top. Some more tragedy. Some more comedy. Some more miracles and celebrations of love.
And finally, it was the honesty. It was the honesty that kept me up at night imagining something different for myself than quicksand grief.
There was a strong thread of strident truth between all of us. Not all marriages were as happy as mine, but they were something significant anyway. Many of us were angry widows, or tired widows, more than we were sad ones. And the ones who had made it farther and farther away from the date of impact, had what I would call a culture, a life-accent. They had a deep sense of the unpredictability of life, and an admiration for the things that outlive us.
They had an acceptance and appreciation of the assembly that life asks of us.
“I can’t build everything again.” I said to a young widow, only four years older than my thirty. She shrugged, “Everything you ever build in this life is something new. You won’t be building again.”
“I can’t build everything.” I said, overwhelmed, to a widow my mom’s age, who had never remarried and never dated again. She shrugged, “There’s no expectation to, except the one you’re putting on yourself. Just build what you can.”
“I can’t build.” I said to a person who had lost their partner and children in one day, only two years ahead of me in grief. They said, “Then how is it that we got here? All the beautiful things we’ve lost, we had a hand in building.”
I’ve been widowed for 7 and a half years, home from prison without anything to my name for about that amount of time, and the life I have now is something I’ve assembled myself, with a lot of help from friends.
I’ve needed one hand to just hold myself up, but the other hand, I’ve devoted to assembly. With mixed results on both sides.
The truth is, I did not salvage much of my old life, and that’s perhaps why I hold to it and write about it as often as I do. And the truth remains, I am not the best builder. This was a particular gift of my late husband’s, as it is a particular gift of most of my friends.
But I can say with certainty, I had a hand in making everything I love about my life now. I can say I finally left the funeral, and that I did not let myself stay bottled.
I can say that, despite the mourning that blooms fresh every day in my heart, a good life keeps pouring out of me like champagne, with sound and fury, and bubbles and bubbles of joy.