This morning as I stopped by the grocery I fell into step by a man pushing a buggy. He probably thought I was a stalker as I walked near him pretending to shop, but just for a few moments I could pretend it was Terry and it was lovely to dream of being at the grocery together again.
Can it only have been three months? Life has been so full that it has only been in the last week that I feel like I’ve settled into a new “normal.” It reminds me of when I was pregnant. Being pregnant you never go a second without being aware of the baby within you. Part of that is the physicality of it but part of it is the awareness of a different life within you. Grief is like that. Never a second goes by that you aren’t aware of the hole in you.
Recently I found the perfect gift for Terry. It was in the basement of a wonderful little store in Black Mountain, North Carolina that sells wrought-iron items made by the artisans in the area. For our second Christmas Terry found a brass hall tree that he wanted and I had to get it home wedged between us in our Pinto, wrapped in a blanket and reaching from the back seat to the dashboard, our arms resting on it. He earned an Oscar for how surprised he was Christmas morning.
He would have LOVED the wrought iron one in Black Mountain! I loved it myself, and I’m sure I would have bought it for him in an instant, in spite of the seven-hundred dollar price tag and the fact that it would have never fit in Jan’s car.
Rebuilding has been both easier and harder than I expected. Easier in that life has been so crazy-busy that I’ve not had time to breathe, much less grieve. August was a month of endings but September brought beginnings, and it was welcome. August was full of family emergencies, including much sickness among my children and myself. I moved out of our house. My dad fell but didn’t hurt himself, yet trying to catch him my mom fractured her disk, resulting in minor surgery three days before we left on a week-long road trip. My car broke down and couldn’t be fixed. Even on August 31st my granddaughter was at the doctor with an ear infection in both ears. We were counting down to midnight, ready to celebrate a new month. By September 1st my keyring held two keys—the office and my sister’s house.
That was a new place for me both physically and emotionally—no husband, no home, and no car. It was very disconcerting, and while everyone was gracious to assure me I wasn’t, I felt in everyone’s way. My earthly security had evaporated into thin air, and yet I didn’t feel abandoned or fearful. Physically I felt very much alone, but that was because I haven’t been alone in thirty-six years. My family rallied around and my children carried me.
Here’s something I wrote during that time:
My heart stopped with Terry’s, but my body continues to move. On auto-pilot, it goes through the motions of eating and sleeping and life.
But my heart is still intertwined with Terry’s. He was admitted through the gate, initiated into the club, while I was left on the outside staring at the closed door—no admittance for me. Left behind.
I stare hungrily toward the walls but the separation is complete, he’s in another world.
What is he doing, he who moved in tandem with me. What is he thinking, he who shared my brain. What can he see, he whose eyes are open while I’m still blind.
I can’t spend the rest of my life here outside the wall, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. I have to find my heart and resuscitate it. Where do I find the energy to go on alone? Hold me Jesus, and start my heart beating again.
By October 1st my keyring held a key to my two-bedroom townhouse and my new-to-me car. Oh, the joy! I still want to fall and kiss the floor when I walk into my house. Some days I laugh a lot, other days are harder—I’ve cried in the parking lot of the bank and while standing at the meat counter at the grocery. In October we celebrated a wedding, and Jessie’s two brothers walked her down the aisle.
Rebuilding means walking it out day by day, which can be rough and yet to do so holding hands with Jesus is a joy. Yes, it IS possible to joyfully cry my way through grief. And I’m still so happy for Terry. He’ll never have to experience getting old, nor will he see me old. I know his life now is amazing and he knows all the answers we used to ask. Ah, but I’m jealous!
This week Jesus pointed something out to me and I had to admit that He was right. I was driving to the bookstore to sell a lot of books I had weeded out and as I turned into the parking lot my gas pedal fell off. Yep, the entire pedal, swinging around on a wire. My son Chris and his friend Clint drove the twenty minutes to rescue me, finding that the long screw that feeds through three holes had lost its bolt and fallen out.
At the same time I also discovered that I had left my purse and bag of things in my sister Jan’s car, so I had no money or driver’s license, and even worse, I didn’t have my book I was reading! Later Holy Spirit pointed out how that was a picture of me. I had lost my ability to move forward (no gas pedal) and with it I had lost my resources (money), identity (driver’s license), and pleasure (book). I’ve lost my momentum, my passion for the future. I feel at a standstill, without the ability to move forward. The future doesn’t look very interesting at the moment. And He wants me to fix that. To get my gas pedal connected again, to pick up my resources, and to move on.
And it’s good. And I’m good. And I’m going to make it. I love my new house, though it hurts that Terry has never seen it. I’m working to move forward with my passions and dreams, though they don’t look as inviting without him. But I know life is going to be good. My motto for the first few weeks was: “No crying before breakfast.” My motto for the next few weeks was: “Life goes on and it’s going to be good!” And my current motto is: “Five minutes at a time, with grace.” And I know life will be good. But I’m stumbling with learning to live alone. Yesterday I realized I have to choose to change that. Instead of coming home thinking “I love my house but how empty it is!” I change that line to “I love my house!” And I change my mentality to it being MY house and stop focusing on Terry’s absence. Just shift my head to how good it is. When I turn out the light at night to climb into bed, instead of thinking how empty it is as I go to bed by myself I think, “I love my cozy, warm bed!”
Hating the thought of sleeping in our vast, king-sized bed alone I bought a double bed, a set of glorious red sheets, and an electric mattress pad. (The blankets are all still king-sized but no one can see them piled on the floor at the back of the bed.) I’ve always said that the best part of being married is that you never have to sleep alone, but since I AM sleeping alone I’ve made it as pleasurable as possible.
After three months I’m adjusting to asking others to do things Terry did for me. I’m trying to put up curtain rods myself, figure out how to hang pictures on what size hooks and nails, and it took me two dollars the other day to get air in my tire. I’m adjusting to driving everywhere since I’ve always hated to drive. And I opened my own bank account and feel all grown-up.
I’ve learned some things. Mourning messes up my make-up. Tears ambush me. I feel like no one can understand the loss of a mate, emphasizing the feeling of being alone. I go to bed at night hoping for dreams including Terry but I’m not rewarded very often. Life looks bright one moment and impossible the next. I can do things I would have sworn I couldn’t do, and live through things I thought were impossible. I’ve noticed that grief is a great diet. And I’ve learned that you can’t go on and on about it to other people, they can only hear how you almost pulled out your phone to call Terry so many times, and you can’t begin every sentence with “Terry said …” or “This is the first time without …”, even though that’s in your head. I have to create a new life with fresh revelations and stories and experiences or I’ll wall myself into a mausoleum of memories.
Here are some tidbits from my journal over the last three months to show you a little of my rebuilding process.
- Got Terry’s wallet out of the coroner’s bag to take his $13.00. It was hard. Saw his driver’s license.
- My 2 Lovers. Wow. It was two of us and one of you Jesus, now it’s one of me and two of you. Enjoy him for me. Tell him I miss him.
- Yesterday I came across my New Year’s Goals and Resolutions. They mock me. They don’t even exist anymore. I noticed Terry’s death wasn’t on the list. Jesus, show me how to rebuild, to find my way. How to … WHERE to seek out my dreams, my new dreams, my only-Brenda dreams. How to find my way through the maze of change and loss and different. Where do I begin?
- To remember him, write his name, look at his picture, read my journal, smell his pillow—they tell my heart that he is alive, yet my head knows he is dead—it’s emotionally confusing.
- I keep thinking of things I’d like to do, then feel guilty. But I’m single and I might as well embrace it. I didn’t ask for it and I don’t want it—but since I have no choice I’m going to embrace it.
- I’m sitting here on Granny’s rocking chair. With Terry gone this rocker has no “belonging.” What made it valuable was the emotional connection Terry had to it. It’s an interesting realization on the things we own. I like this rocking chair and would never get rid of it, but I have no emotional attachment to it. It seems cruel when people die to get rid of things that meant a lot to them and yet, it’s the way it has to be. We can’t carry everyone’s stuff, we wouldn’t be able to carry our own. I can’t carry Terry, I have to be my own person—who God created me to be. If I kept my house full of all Terry’s things there wouldn’t be room for mine.
- This morning I got up and ate breakfast at McDonalds. It’s the new one that Terry and I couldn’t wait to have open, right here on our doorstep, so it was sad to go check it out by myself. The same with the new Super Kroger. And I had to call and have Terry’s phone line dropped, which was emotionally hard.
- It was strange last night to think how I’m borrowing people’s lives and homes. I told Jesus it’s a good thing I have him for my security, lol, cause there’s nothing else! But He’s so sweet and loving and wonderful. And I know things are going to work out, it’s just taking FOREVER!!!
- Today I’m hoping the couple buys Terry’s car, I’m hoping I get the money, and I hope I find an apartment. That’s all. A simple day jam-packed with hope.
- Yesterday I called someone and said, “Hi, this is Brenda, Brenda Murphy.” And it hit me in the gut. Brenda Cobb is a child, a daughter. Brenda Murphy is married to Terry. I’m just Brenda. And I don’t know who that is. Just Jesus and me together is new territory and I can’t wait to explore it, but it’s bittersweet.
- Probate court was hard. Hearing them call out “Estate of Terrence Murphy” made it more real than I like to admit. Ouch!
- I feel like the light inside me has gone out. I don’t feel that glow of life and passion, I just feel quiet and slow as I go through the motions of life. Sleepwalking. Life really doesn’t feel worth it without my Terry. But eating tastes good again. :)
- As I sit here at Starbucks my eye catches on a box. It presumably has a coffee press in it, whatever that is. There is no writing, just different shades of yellow, with a yellow daisy-like flower and white dandelion fairies. And my heart leaps—what a joyful box! So there is life in me somewhere. I just have to fan the flame.
- So, as a single woman, here I sit in the waiting room of the tire place while they see why my tire keeps losing air. I feel out of place in here with all these men.
- Terry said at the beginning of the year that this is the year of Jesus knowing us, because of the verse where Jesus says “I never knew you.” Terry always thought it strange that He wouldn’t have said “You never knew me,” but He didn’t. Well, this certainly was the year of Jesus knowing Terry!
- I don’t have good days and bad days, they’re all good.
- While I appreciate the outpouring of spiritual encouragement, my faith in God and his goodness have never been shaken. A spiritual God is amazing and I can feel His arms carrying me, but it isn’t the same as a physical husband, and you can’t lose a physical husband and expect a spiritual God to 100 percent fill that hole. It doesn’t work that way. And it doesn’t lessen who He is, how much He loves me, His place in my life, or my passion for Him. It’s just different.
- Today I can’t get into Terry’s computer without a password. His hint for the password is “end of normal.” Chris suggested August 1. Jeremy Googled “the end of normal” and the first response was “a woman’s anguish, a widow’s new life.” It’s the tagline of a book, but how crazy is that?
- I suppose I should get out of bed and begin my new wonderful life but my heart really isn’t in it. I can’t face life at the moment so I’m writing. But my carpel tunnel has made my hand numb so I’m off to create new routines!
- The office has been closed since Terry died but when Jessie ran over to use the printer she set off an alarm. That wouldn’t be a problem except that no one knew there WAS an alarm. In all the time we’ve been in that building there has never been an alarm. Being out of town I called the landlady and she said that the utilities company that was there five years ago put the alarm in and she has no idea who the alarm is with or anything about it but, she told me, Terry would have known. I said that he had no idea there WAS an alarm in the building. The police station said that no one had called in about the alarm, to which I told them that in that case it could go off till the cows came home.
- October 5 was a big day—I bought a car and a bed and it was my first night in my new house. Like all at once I fell into life again.
- I tried to update my car insurance so I didn’t have to pay on a car I’d sold and one I’d junked, and I would also be ready when I got my new one. But I was a challenge for the poor man—I have no address, no car, and no credit card. I’m not sure how many people they’ve had who want to buy car insurance but don’t own a car.
- I had the hardest time since Terry died Friday when I had to go to the office and boot up his laptop to look for something. Too close.
- As I put my dishes in the sink after breakfast I thrill with my lovely house, saying, “Terry, you would love my house!” And then I cry.
- Here is my struggle tonight—I want to move on and get used to being one person living and sleeping alone, but I feel like to be able to do that I have to let go of being two people, and I don’t want to. I’ve tried to make him as real as I can here. Our pictures together are around and I’ve put a picture of us on his bedside table, along with his iPad, glasses, and wedding ring, and it looks like there is life in the bedroom for the first time since he died. Like he is coming to bed soon. But now I’m not so sure that’s the way to do it. He ISN’T coming (falling apart again, but I’m sure this is healthy) and I have to learn to live by myself. But I can’t just pick up and pretend he isn’t here, that he isn’t a part of my life anymore. And have I mentioned that I don’t want to??? Is it possible to have his things around as if he’s still here just to feel him closer and STILL adopt the mentality that I live alone and he isn’t a part of my life anymore? His shorts that were hanging on the treadmill when he died are now hanging over the back of the chair in our bedroom … that is, MY bedroom. Do I just miss him but not have the tangibles? I don’t think I can put the tangibles away, and yet, how can I move on with them here, a constant reminder that this house is empty because he’s not here. I don’t know. I’m so tired of this. I’m off to hang with Jesus a while. Maybe He has some answers, lol.
- I dreamed that Terry and I went to a restaurant together and at some point he left to do something, and then never came back. I then spent the rest of the night looking for him. Even after the restaurant closed I was back asking the employees whether they knew anything about Terry and where he had gone.
I recently got this text from my brother Dow, who is a hospital chaplain:
(Dow) I brought a bunch of Terry’s pants that I couldn’t wear into our clothes closet at St. Joe’s. Just now a part-time chaplain was getting some clothes for a patient being discharged, and brought me $11 they found in a pants pocket. (Me) Wow, go get ice cream! (Dow) They are antique silver dollars from 1882, 1888, 1923, etc. (Me) Oh, his grandfathers …
Why would Terry have put the silver dollars his grandfather gave him as a child in his pants pocket? All his pants were clean, so how did they stay in the pocket through the laundry? If Terry had just hung his pants up after wearing them wouldn’t he have noticed the weight of them as he hung them up? The weight is what caused the chaplain to check the pockets and find the silver dollars.
I feel that after three months life is settling down and looking good, and I’ve learned a lot about what my relationship with Jesus can be. Many of the things I miss about Terry—the intimacy, the memories, the relationship—I can have with my Bridegroom Jesus. More than anything I miss the intimate communion between Terry and me—the soul-sharing, the inside jokes, the glances where we know exactly what the other is thinking. I have that with Jesus to some degree, but not nearly to the extent I can and want to. History together, that’s what builds a relationship. I saw a Crock-Pot for sale recently and began to cry. No one would understand why but Terry. It’s like that with Jesus. The more we hang out and enjoy each other the more history we have together, creating the memories. There are no memories if there is no history. I have my own private jokes with Jesus, things that no one would understand but us. History creates the bond, the intimacy. And I’m excited to pursue that more fully with Jesus now. I know without a doubt that the life before me is going to be full and good. I saw a sign last night at Starbucks and I laughed out loud, I’m making it my new motto: THE WAIT IS OVER. LET THE JOY BEGIN.
And how can I be discouraged when this week I received a marriage proposal that I find quite intriguing …
From: William Philip
Subject: I AM INTERESTED IN MARRIAGE
Am Engr william philip.I hail from lancaster UK,I attended oxford university,where i studied marine engineering,Am 47 years old single and work as a marine engineer in the submarine section. Am elegant,vibrant,vigorous and full of life I was opporturned to glance through your page and personnality profle.You seem to be the woman of my choice..You scarlet lips,ebong hair,well biult physique charming face,sedycing eyes are of great intersest to me.In fact,your entirety commands my variety of interest
It’s quite flattering and he’s from Oxford, no less! “My entirety” is captivated by his poetic proposal, especially the part about my “ebong hair.” The next time you hear from me it might be as Mrs. Philip!