I never really wanted to learn how to change the water filter underneath the kitchen sink or backwash the swimming pool. And I definitely wasn’t interested in fixing the leaks in our drip irrigation system. But after my husband, Ray, died, I found that many of the jobs that had been allocated to him in our very amicable division of labor, now fell upon me.
During the first months after he died, I walked numbly through our storage room, dazed by grief and stunned by the cache of tools that he had accumulated over the course of our marriage without my knowing. Was this the result of his surreptitious trips to Home Depot or evidence of a television shopping network addiction? Sadly, I will never know.
Things fell apart the day I attempted to hang a picture half my size — by myself. I scanned the shelves in search of the leveler that I had seen Ray use for just such an occasion.
As I reached up to grab it off the top shelf, I dislodged a box and watched as item after item rained down. From Tupperware containers filled with children’s books I had saved for my own kids to camping gear covered in years of dust, they landed at my feet. I crumpled to the floor, surrounded by a lifetime of memories, and cried.
Months passed. The picture was hung, the water filter, replaced. Likewise, over the past year, my numbness has been replaced by multiple, often inconsistent feelings. Sometimes anger or frustration, other times joy and curiosity. And yes, there is loneliness, but that too is accompanied by a sense of freedom. I don’t judge, I observe. Each feeling serves as a teacher and guide.
My greatest “fix-it” accomplishment came recently when I needed to disassemble our aging Jacuzzi in order to reconnect the water lines. Normally my relationship to the Jacuzzi is a simple one involving a bathing suit and a glass of wine. But this time I had to remove a panel which was within a few inches from the side of the house. I considered calling a handyman or the pool guy but there was a part of me that was determined to do it myself. I gave live birth, for heaven’s sake. I could do this.
I didn’t call the handy man but did the next best thing. I called a dear friend who patiently walked me through the process, literally one screw at a time. Yes, it took a half day and multiple trips to the storage room for tools to accomplish what another person might have been able to do in an hour. But I did it.
As I reconnected the side panel and filled the Jacuzzi with water, I felt a satisfaction that bordered on delight. But the real joy came later that night as I sat in the Jacuzzi, warmed by the water and a sense of empowerment. I had done it.
I glanced up at the stars, so perfectly placed in the clear night sky, and thought: “I can do this. I can do this.”
It was then that I realized that I was no longer talking about the Jacuzzi or the water filter or any of the other tasks that seemed so daunting to me. I was talking about my life. My life without my husband. My life on my own.
Amy Hirshberg Lederman is an author, public speaker and attorney who lives in Tucson. Email her at email@example.com