The two of us, 2001. Photo by Wayne Matley.

It’s been an incredible journey, from wife to wife-caretaker to widow, all in such a short number of days. Many duties that arise at the end of life and after the death of a dearly loved one are difficult. Fire-hosed with information and responsibilities during home hospice; fearing I’d make a mistake that would harm Bruce instead of helping him; afterwards, the work-in-progress of identifying and settling all the little pieces of closing his estate.


Those are the big things, things that demand time, focus, and all the energy I can muster at any given moment. But it’s the little things that pack the hardest emotional punches. Listening to a YouTube clip of our recording of “Silent Night” that a friend kindly posted a couple of days after Bruce’s death; Bruce’s narration, embedded in the song, made me cry like a baby. Yesterday, I picked up his death certificates at the funeral home. That was weird, but the worst moment of my day came when, for the first time in weeks, I was doing our regular weekly grocery shopping at our regular stores. We often did this together. It was painfully obvious that now I am doing this alone.


Navigating the details of a loved one’s death can be heart-breaking. I seem to be coping pretty well, possibly because I’m still in a state of shock. But, when I look back, some groundwork was laid to, if not make sense of death, help me better understand my feelings about it.


In the spring of 2017, Bruce and I both read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande © 2014. From my reading log:


Essentially, an informative book about end of life in our culture. When the incurable comes along it’s time to ask what do you understand your circumstances to be? What do you fear? What things in your life as it is now are important to you? What tradeoffs are you willing to make or not willing to make to be able to do those things? Many examples of more home-like assisted living/nursing facilities, how to talk to people when crisis hits so you understand what THEY want to do about it. Useful book for aging loved ones and myself, whenever it comes.


“Whenever it comes” in Bruce’s has come and gone. But well before the afternoon of December 14, when we learned that our only real option was home hospice, Bruce and I had discussed the ideas from the book in our own context. We both acknowledged that there comes a time where comfort and focusing on the life that is available is more important than gaining more time at whatever cost (cost in terms of available energy and quality of life, rather than money). I credit this understanding with helping us renew our resolve to make the best of what we’d been given, every time we got gut-punched with an increasingly short prognosis.

Also helpful was the revelation I experienced when reading Anne Lamott’s 2018 release Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. A concept she covers is her belief that, instead of being physical beings on a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on a physical journey. From this, I extrapolated that we exist not only after death, but before it, too. We exist continuously. In this, I find solace.


Underpinning the recent help from Gawande and Lamott is my core belief, courtesy of the Big Bang (the scientific theory, not the television show), that we are all made of the same star stuff. “We” includes every physical item in the Universe. We are continually surrounded by our kindred molecules, whether animal, mineral or vegetable. The world is anything but a lonely place. It’s no surprise that I talk to Bruce all the time. He’s here, just different.


Likely a big emotional crash will come in a few weeks or a few months. This was true when my father died, almost 25 years ago. I keep dark glasses nearby, knowing that tears will arrive when least expected. Support groups I’ve heard from suggest that I join in a while. Until then, I have watchful friends and family, books, and my belief in star stuff. Flowers, hot baths and music. An outpouring of love and respect for Bruce from thousands who knew him. My own memories of our life together. Even now, I can say it’s not all sad.

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