I’m lucky in that I only go downtown to work in my company’s office once or twice a week—or sometimes not at all. I’ve worked from home for the better portion of the last ten years. (I can’t really imagine working any other way!) Though I sometimes bluster about going into the office, it is nice to see actual faces of people I work with (and not just via a Skype video call).
I rarely ever step into the lobby on the first floor, but I did last week as I had some cookies delivered to celebrate the veteran on our team for Veteran’s Day. The receptionist–we’ll call her Jane–has worked at the company for something like 30 years. She is always smiling, kind and polite. I offered her a cookie (they are really good cookies from Specialty’s. I highly recommend if you’re in Chicago, LA or San Francisco!) and made some small talk, asking how she has been.
“It’s been a rough year, but I’m making it through,” she said. In talking with me, she was also in the midst of doing her job, greeting visitors and answering questions.
I wasn’t sure if she was talking about work or her personal life, but I’m not one to casually delve deep into someone’s personal situations, so I pushed forward in our conversation, asking about retirement because I thought she was very close to it.
She sort of stopped me and said kindly, “My husband passed away this year.” It was something she clearly had to get out. And I understand that feeling all too well. It’s such an important, life-altering event you sometimes just need to say it.
Just like that. She was in the club. The club no one wants to belong to. The club where membership is permanent no matter what you do or say or think. The club that only asks for one thing before admitting you: your spouse. The Widow or Widower Club.
I feel an immediate connection with someone who has lost his or her spouse. Though I’m sure there can be vast differences in the circumstances, there is at least one basic feeling I think we all share: not just losing a person, but a future you’d both colored in so carefully.
I delicately asked how and when he died and she seemed relieved I was interested in knowing either. It had been since January when he died suddenly of a massive heart attack—after having had a good physical recently before that. She recounted their last conversation before he left for work. It was sweet and loving, which I hope gives her some measure comfort.
She told me they used to go “garage saling” together. “It was our thing,” she said. Whether they bought nothing at all, it was a fun activity they both enjoyed doing together. For months after he died, she said the thought of going to a garage sale made her sick. I knew that feeling well; that if you couldn’t do what you loved doing with your spouse, then you didn’t want to do it at all. For me, for a long that that sometimes even included hanging out with friends. If I couldn’t do it with Ken, I wasn’t going to do it all.
Jane and I chatted for about fifteen minutes. I asked her if she’d gone to any support groups or therapy. She cleverly side-stepped the question which is completely fine. I let her know I was around and had some measure of understanding what she was going through if she ever needed to talk about it. She thanked me with a smile, and I was on my way back upstairs with the coveted cookies.
I feel for anyone going through the death of a spouse—-no matter what the circumstance. I wouldn’t want to be less than a year away from it again. Even four plus years out, I still have no idea what I’m doing sometimes. But in trying to figure that out, the least I can do is reach out a hand someone else who is going through it. It somehow makes having gone through it feel meaningful in some ways. I guess you could call it a benefit of membership.
Also published on Medium.