It's strange how life goes. At 50 I found myself alone. My son had gone to Europe to college, and in a flash, my husband was gone in an auto crash. I'd always worked to have an extraordinary life. I'd done some traveling, mostly close to home or around the East coast. I'd raised a child and done a relatively good job. I'd moved with my parents from my childhood home in Indiana when I was in high school, only to have them move out west while I was in college. I'd owned a diner at one point, but decided that it wasn't the way that I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I'd done all right. None of it was extraordinary, but it was acceptable. It was amazing to me that it was all changed in a flash.
The funeral was over. I didn't have to go back to work at Walmart yet. My son had reluctantly gone back to school, even though he was worried about me. He was a good son and I loved him more than anything else in the world. After it was all over and done with, I sat on my porch, watching the world go by.
Is this it? I wondered. Is the sum total of my life to be positively average? If I did die, would anyone notice? This was what I believed was the point where a lot of people would consider suicide, but I'm not wired that way. I've always believed that it's better to get pissed off than pissed on. I looked back at my uninspired life. My husband, whom I was mourning, had been perfectly happy with mediocrity. He watched TV, drank beer, smoked cigarettes, and died young. He was several years younger than me. We sat around a lot. We got fat a lot. We ate a lot. After 20 years the only truly amazing thing that happened was that he died first. He actually got to one up me by dying first and leaving me to figure out the rest.
I wanted more. I wanted a life to be proud of. Sure, I had a great kid who was following his dreams. That was good. I owned my home. I guess that's good. I wanted more. I wanted people to remember me for something. I wanted someone to pay attention to me before I screwed up or died. I didn't want to go quietly into that good night. I wanted more. But what?
I was somewhat jealous of my kid. I wanted to live in an exotic land. I wanted an adventure. I wanted to go somewhere and either do something or create something incredible. It didn't even have to be incredible to everyone. It only had to be incredible to me. I had no idea how to accomplish what I craved, but I knew I had to do something. I was 50 and the clock was ticking. It ticked faster every day. I'd gotten a start, but I stopped and waited for my marriage to inch along on an even keel with all the things that married people are expected to do. We had IRA's, savings accounts, a good roof on the house, and sensible cars. Because I had gone along with what my husband said I should want for the last 20 years, I had become the most boring person on Earth. He was gone and I was stuck with his dreams.
I became boring and uninspired to suit him. I gave up every dream and every goal I ever had for him. I became efficient instead of creative. Now that he had passed, I was left to decide my future on my own. I know I should have grieved uncontrollably worn black for a year, kept my wedding ring on, and pined away for the missing piece of my life. I know I should have been devastated. I know I should have wished it was me instead of him and all that stuff that goes along with becoming a widow. The problem was that I had become practical and efficient. The problem was that my husband had droned on for 20 years about not letting your emotions rule your life and how you should make rational decisions and use logic. By the way, I was married to an overtestosteroned machismo version of Mr. Spock. So I was trained to react differently than most widows, irregardless of the fact that I'm sure that when my husband arrived in the afterlife that he was positive didn't exist that he changed his tone.
The result of the whole mess was that I wasn't overcome by grief. I didn't want to die, and the only question on my mind was what shall I do next? I realized that I wasn't that old, and that I still had time to do the something amazing that I'd always dreamed about. I could go anywhere and do anything that I wanted. I didn't see this as an end. I saw it as a beginning. This time it was all about me.
The first thing I did was hop on the computer and update my resume'. I didn't have to work for Walmart anymore. I didn't have to live in my crappy neighborhood or crappy town anymore. For heaven's sake, I didn't have to live in this country anymore if I didn't feel like it. The world was my oyster.
I had just finished my resume' when the phone rang. It was my son calling from Italy. My first thought was that it had to be the middle of the night in Italy, but then I realized that it was the middle of the night where I was. That meant it was morning there.
"Hello my son," I said as I picked up the phone.
"Did I wake you?' He asked.
"No. I was busy and lost track of time."
"I'm worried about you."
"My psych professor was talking about the steps of grief that all people go through. I think you're in denial."
I rolled my eyes as I remembered my time in psychology 101. I too had attempted to apply everything that the professor spewed to my personal life. Turns out it was all three hours per week of useless drivel that has never had anything to do with my life.
"I'm not in denial. I'm quite aware that your father is dead and that dead is permanent. So, how are you?"
"I'm fine, mom. I worked through all the stages, but I'm worried that you haven't."
"Well, you've finished your stages. Why don't you do mine for me."
"I'm not joking."
"I know honey, but you should be. I'm fine."
"Aren't you mourning dad's death?"
"Honey, I don't believe in mourning. It's pointless. I'm thinking over how to get on with my life. Your dad wouldn't want me to grieve. He would say it was pointless."
"You have me there. So, what exactly are you doing?"
"I'm looking into doing something different. I always wanted to do something amazing, and I think it's time I figured out what."
"Are you sure you're not getting weird? I mean, you've been to Washington DC, and out to Arizona. Isn't that amazing enough?"
"That's nothing. I want to see the world, like you. I've always wanted to do that. What I mean is, I'm not done yet. I want a project or a business or a career that I can make a success of. That's what I really want. Is that really unreasonable?"
"No. I don't understand, because if I were your age, I would relax."
"If you were my age."
"You know what I mean."
"Well, you might still want to do things when you're my age. When you get here, you may change your mind and decide that you're not ready to sit down and wait to die."
"I didn't mean to upset you."
"I know you want to make sense of my behavior child, but please give up. Walk a mile in my shoes. Tell your psych professor that for me too."
"Point taken. As long as you don't go postal or anything."
"I won't. Now, go to school and learn something."
I missed my son. For 18 years he'd been my only child and my best friend. I wanted him to chase his dreams. I certainly didn't wish for him to eventually turn my age, land in my shoes, and find himself at the crossroad that I was standing at right at that moment.
What shall I do? Where shall I go? Who do I want to be when I grow up? They were all interesting questions to which I had no answers.