Confessions of a 50 Year Old Widower

It’s been over two weeks and the flowers are wilted and going into composting, the extra food has either been eaten or been given away, and the sympathy cards have slowed to a trickle.  It’s starting to feel that a new normal is settling in.  After nearly 24 years of marriage and 26 years of being in one relationship I have found myself widowed and entirely in a new life situation.  I thought it might be interesting to share my experiences with this group – as it might be therapeutic for me but also to spark up some interesting dialogue and perhaps cause some internal thinking on your part.  I hope you indulge me and I promise this will be the occasional posting and not a vehicle to go all “woe is me” on everyone.  So with that preamble…

I found right away that the loss of a spouse means that all the decisions are on you, immediately.  In some cases there is literally no time to think, you have to make decisions on how you want to proceed.  Now Elaine never talked about what arrangements she wanted -- that would mean she was going to lose the battle and she was never going to go there.  I did know she wanted a burial – not cremation; that it would be Lakewood Cemetery, and that we would have a service at our church.  The rest was up to me.  Plus she always had strong opinions on everything so I had to try to think what she would want.

Someone told me that she and her husband once had a “what if I got hit by a bus” discussion.  They talked about what kind of casket, what songs at the service, open or closed casket, which funeral home, who gets the memorials, etc.  They actually wrote it down and put it with their papers.  I would suggest you have a similar discussion with your spouse.  While I think I did a good job with all the arrangements and the service, it definitely was source of stress thinking “What would Elaine want?”

Also get life insurance, even if it’s a cheapy pay-for-a-funeral policy.  Funeral home, church luncheon, cemetery -- these things are expensive and unless you have a bunch of cash laying around you don’t want to be making funeral arrangements stressing out on how you are going to pay for everything or worried about maxing out your credit cards.

As for home life, I am lucky in that my children are college age so I’m not all of a sudden put in the position of taking over a lot of motherly duties.  Also due to my wife’s health issues over the past year I’m the one who has done the laundry, gone grocery shopping, done some basic (real basic) house cleaning, cooked meals.  So all these tasks haven’t all of a sudden been dropped on me, I’m used to doing them already.  For me it has probably been a little easier than someone whose wife had died suddenly and had to take on a bunch of new (traditionally female) responsibilities.

Also I’ve already made the decision not to revert to some bad bachelor habits.  I make the bed every morning.  I eat meals at the kitchen table, not in front of the TV.  Dishes, clothes, etc get put away every evening.  Beer bottles go in recycling.

Decisions on what to do with Elaine’s stuff is next on my agenda.  She had a lot of medical equipment/supplies that thankfully I have found a home for.  She was much more of a collector of things and I like it somewhat stark so I will bring a lot of books to Half-Price Books, clothes to Goodwill, I will talk to the school about all her school supplies.  Obviously I will keep things that have sentimental value but I also think – for me – I have to move on while at the same time keep her memory close at hand.  This will be one of the touchiest things I do as I am not as sentimental but I realize I need to be respectful.  I will clear things out slowly, over time but it is something I will need to do, I mean do I really need 5 crystal bowls?

Finally the wedding ring.  I strongly believe that I need to move it to my right hand but when that happens I don’t know.  I actually googled it and there is no right answer, it’s just when one feels ready.  Again I want to be respectful to Elaine and our marriage so I don’t want it to be too soon but for me, I will need to eventually move the ring.  I know when it happens I’ll just do it.

Thanks for reading, not sure if I asked for any answers here but it was good to get it out and hopefully I’ll spark some reflection.  I hope to come back in a few months and discuss how things are going.

37 thoughts on “Confessions of a 50 Year Old Widower”

  1. free - a bit off topic, but I didn't get the chance to tell you in person. I really appreciated Elaine's service and luncheon. Your love for her, of who she was and how she lived her life, as well as the stories about her related by family and friends really highlighted what a quality individual she was. Thanks for sharing her with all of us and for continuing to invite us into your life.

    You may not have asked for any answers here, but you've given us a great opportunity to think & talk about something most of us would rather avoid.

  2. I'm glad you took the time to write this, free. I've talked over some of this stuff with my wife in case of one of us passing unexpectedly, but there's so many things that would change so drastically, it's hard to think of them all beforehand.

  3. You are absolutely right about discussing funeral desires beforehand, but I can understand how that is awkward at that point. We've both got living wills, although this is a good reminder that we need to revisit them again.

    I hope you have access to help from family, neighbors, and church, but you certainly have sympathetic ears here.

  4. I’ve already made the decision not to revert to some bad bachelor habits. I make the bed every morning. I eat meals at the kitchen table, not in front of the TV. Dishes, clothes, etc get put away every evening. Beer bottles go in recycling.

    This statement really struck a chord with me.

    I've been (not-clinically, I think) depressed before, and I'm a slob at heart. Kudos for making this commitment to taking care of yourself. It's a kind of tribute to Elaine in its own right.

    And thank you for the post. A whole bunch of us are in your age demographic. As we age together, our little corner of the Internet is going to continue to face life's realities. You've given us some key things to chew on.

    You make the cases for life insurance, wills, and adult "what if" conversations. I'll make a different, related pitch. Close friends of ours (with considerable assets, but still) recently spent the money and effort to put together a living trust (I think that's the right term). Having a consult on that topic is on my short-term agenda.

    1. We have done that as well (set up trusts). If you have assets to protect (from unnecessarily paying inheritance taxes), you should do this.

        1. This, too. My in-laws never took care of their affairs and it took a lot of money and a lot of headaches to clean up the mess.

          1. Some of my in-laws have severed family relationships over an inheritance dispute. I never really knew them, because the dispute happened some time ago, but it serves as a reminder to me that these sorts of disputes can go terribly wrong.

            1. My wife lost her entire family, except her mom, over an inheritance dispute. Family was suing each other for grandma's stuff.

              1. I've known Sheenie for 14 years, and I've never met her uncle because of an inheritance dispute. Her grandfather died in 1988 and the estate was finally resolved last year.

      1. We had a trust and a "I Love You Will" (the survivor gets everything) and I agree, get that done post haste.

        However I was really talking about those decisions that you have to make about the arrangements. For instance at 3:15 in the morning, about 10 minutes after the paramedics left, I had to decide what funeral home we were going to use. We never talked about something like that and I had no idea. I just picked the one that I knew was closest to the Church. It ended up working out just fine, but man I wish it was something that was decided upon rather than me making some sort of informed decision at that point in time. There are all kinds of decisions like that which aren't necessarily found in a Will that you have to make, many times when you don't really feel like making that kind of decision. Some of it is the nature of the beast, but if you do feel comfortable talking about this stuff, it will help your survivors greatly.

        1. Yes, all sorts of decisions that, in the rush of the moment are hard to contemplate or process.

          I've told my wife and others that I want my remains donated to a body farm. This donation can be made after organ donation, and generally does not require embalming.

          Here I will make a pitch for signing up to be an organ donor. For you Midwesterners, this is a good place to start.

          1. I'm going to emphatically second this. Go be an organ donor. Make sure your families know that's what you want.

          2. I've had the "Donor" blip on my license for a few years now and have emphatically told all family members of my intentions a number of times.

            1. then be sure not to die in Alabama, Alaska, or New Jersey. And if you plan to die in California and have your body shipped by common carrier, insist that your religion forbids embalming.

              My wife's grandmother died in Florida, but was interred in Illinois. Much shenaniganism and expense involved. Respect for mortuary services not earned.

          3. I hope to live long enough to make my organs useless, but in the event that's not the case, I've signed up as a donor.

  5. Thanks for this, free. Without getting into too much detail, my sister-in-law was widowed at 51 when my brother passed away almost thirteen years ago. I remember a conversation we had a few months after his death where we discussed the difficulties of divesting of much of my brother's stuff. What she finally decided on was her kids had the first shot at anything that wasn't deemed "absolute." Then she picked out things to give to his siblings that she thought we might use/like. The rest eventually went to a free store that is run by the church they attended. It was a very difficult step for her, but one that had to be taken. Good luck with it.

    1. Also, it should go without saying that you and yours have been in my thoughts. Best wishes from NE MPLS.

    2. What she finally decided on was her kids had the first shot at anything that wasn't deemed "absolute." Then she picked out things to give to his siblings that she thought we might use/like. The rest eventually went to a free store

      When my mom's dad passed he did the same with all of grandma's stuff. First choice went to the kids, next choice went to the grand kids, then to the rest went to the VFW charity drive. When Dr. Chop's mom died her dad didn't save amything. He tossed almost everything immediately. There was a lot of anger and frustration on all sides of her mother's death, but what is missed most now are the personal items that were too quickly discarded.

      I'll echo what everyone else has said here, free. Thank you for sharing this with us. You haven't been far from my thoughts recently.

      1. When my grandmother died, my grandfather closed the door to her bedroom. Nothing was done with anything. He died 14 years later. All her clothes were still hanging in her closet, her photo albums and all her personal stuff was sitting right where she left them.

      2. Grandpa R has been doing that with things since Grandma first started showing signs of Alzheimer's.
        Christmas Ornaments, family heirlooms, etc.
        Children have first pick followed by grandchildren, with some special exceptions.
        That's how we ended with great-grandfather H?R's baptismal certificate. He shares a first and last name with HPR, his great-great grandson.

  6. The internet's a crazy thing. I went from this post to the Strib and this article was staring me in the face. It deals more with what you've recently lived through than plotting a course forward, but still, things to ponder.

  7. Thanks for sharing, Free. I've been thinking about you a lot lately. You've given a lot of good stuff to think about here.

  8. I have nothing to add, but thank you for writing this and please know that you remain in our prayers.

  9. Free, the visitation was wonderful. The pictures showed so much happiness and love.

  10. I agree with the Pirate.

    Keep in mind that the Lowbrow's proximity to 35W means I can get there in under 20 minutes. If you ever feel like grabbing a beer or full scale caucus, just say the word.

    1. If you ever feel like grabbing a beer or full scale caucus, just say the word.

      If we've established anything, it's that I'm definitively down for this.

  11. Hey Free. I'm totally tracking on all of what you said. I lost both folks and think it's better to deal with things before-hand.

    Talked with the wife about all of your experiences. She feels the whole topic is too stressful and doesn't want to talk about it.

    1. I totally get your wife's sentiment. I don't want to be too morbid but you can keep mental notes of things your wife (or any loved one says) and use that in case you need it. One thing I did regarding the music at the funeral service was to pick songs that I knew Elaine liked. Those songs that in the car going home from church she said "I really like that song they played." Another example is that we once went to a funeral and the casket was placed in this brass vault before burial. Elaine was really turned off by that so I got the basic, legal vault that was required. I was lucky in that my wife was very expressive and would give her opinion on things whether I wanted to hear them or not. I used that to my advantage when making decisions regarding arrangements.

  12. Thanks for sharing this Free. I lost both parents to cancer very early and I remember the details us boys (4 brothers) had to manage. Vowed to put together a living will, etc, but your comments have kicked me in the seat to get it done. I am glad the crew put together this little basement/special place where you could share your thoughts and feelings.

  13. Free, Thank you for writing this, and sharing it. I hope to read more, if you're willing to share more.
    I know you like to keep personal things personal, so I don't feel like I can ask "How are you doing?" But in reading this, I can see how you're doing.

    I was surprised to learn that you and your wife hadn't made funeral plans.
    The ceremony seemed personal, like it had been planned with her wishes in mind.
    I never met her, but I came away wishing I had.

    You and your family have been on our minds and in our prayers.

    I printed this out to share with EAR. I think it will spur us to have these conversations.

    1. Thanks. Even though we never talked about what we should do about a funeral service I think it came off great. We always talked about that Johnny Cash song "Meet Me in Heaven" was a great funeral song so that was a easy choice. As I mentioned above, the other "church" songs were ones that I remembered she loved from regular church going. The three singers were good friends and knew Elaine well so they had good ideas too. As for the readings, I met with Father and a Sister to plan the service. They had typical verses read at funerals. Father was suggesting these dirgy scriptures about struggle while Sister was suggesting these wonderful passages. The first one literally brought tears to my eyes. So I was trying to be be nice to Father rejecting all his suggestions while enthusiastically siding with Sister's. Also the New Testament reading was suggested by a friend who said she shared it with Elaine when her brother died 9 years ago and Elaine found solace in it. My eulogy was all me and it was slyly directed at some people as well. Oh and I slipped a GBV reference into my eulogy too :o)

      So, what I'm saying is that even though it wasn't planned out ahead of time, one rallies. I was lucky in that Elaine was opinonated so I know what she liked and didn't like, which made decisions a little easier too.

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