Having not lost a spouse, it’s likely you don’t have a good feel for all the things that you lose along with that spouse. Likewise, you probably don’t have a good feel for the name problem – so many things have to be renamed. The problem isn’t immediately obvious. But trust me, it sneaks up and vomits all over casual conversations.
If you have been married, you might remember that weird transitional period, the in-between times when your mouth was learning how to form awkward phrases like “my wife” and “our house.” You probably practiced each phrase out of earshot of the ball-and-chain so that when the right moment came up, you could sing them with elegance and ease… or at least so it didn’t sound like you were totally faking it. The female version is more difficult: “my husband” is one thing. Worse is learning to sign someone else’s name where your last name used to be. Or answering to someone else’s name, I can’t even imagine. Even if you haven’t been married, you still know the feeling. Remember that day when the words “boyfriend” plopped out, like an accidental burp. It was strange at first, then, over time and with practice, it became just what you said. It became natural. It was wonderful. It was comfortable, like home.
So imagine that process in reverse. How do you unravel those ten years of practicing the phrases that, despite the initial strangeness, we perfected? How do you unravel something we… damn it… I loved? So, so many things have to be renamed. It’s not “our” house any more. It’s “my” house. It’s not “our” bed. Now it’s “my” bed. “Our” weekend. “Our” plans. “Our” life together. “Our” kitchen. “Our” closet – well, actually, it kinda still is “our” closet. I’m working on that… still…. Slowly.
Some things, however, are much tougher. Take, for instance, the phrase “my wife.” It was such a strange and unfamiliar phrase to me seven years and one day ago. Now what do I say instead? Where do I go from there? “My wife”? It’s so natural now. It’s how I still feel and probably always will. But it’s also probably not best as I work on creating a new life for me. (Surely you can see how talking about “my wife” would impede that whole “new life” thing.) “My ex-wife”? Nope. No way, no how. Absolutely not. No, no, no. “My late wife”? Daggers stab me in the heart. Ice pierces my soul. It’s unnatural. It’s hateful. It’s cold. It’s dismissive. It’s not loving. And it doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Factually, I suppose it’s the right/proper phrase. Damn, I certainly don’t own it. But like those early post-marriage days, I’m practicing saying it. I don’t like it. In fact, I hate it. HATE IT. I don’t want to own it. I don’t want to say it. But I am practicing. Sadly, one day I’ll probably get it down and it’ll sound natural with maybe just a barely perceptible gnashing of teeth that no one will hear but me.
Another fine example: “mother-in-law.” Where the hell do I go with this one? “Late mother-in-law” certainly doesn’t work. “Ex mother-in-law” gets the same rank: no way, no how. At the risk of minimizing my relationship with my own mom, I think the best choice is just simply “mom.” I’ll just call her mom.
The same goes with “sister-in-law.” “Sister” however, is tough to pull off. We’ve tried it and come up with frowns from the crowd. “Ya’ll are related?!?!?” they asked. It’s tough to dodge the obvious diverse genetics but we’ve stuck to our guns (and then quickly changed the subject.)
How about this one for a kick in the nuts: “our anniversary”? “Can you use it in a sentence?” you ask. How about “Today is our 7th anniversary”? Seven years ago, she walked down the aisle and into my arms until death did us part. I remember it so clearly, like it was yesterday. Cliché but absolutely true. What a glorious occasion. Guys rarely say this but if I was to ever dream about a wedding, ours was just what I would have dreamed about. It was absolutely perfect (and I said that before all this crap happened, too.) But what do I call it now? It’s not really OUR anniversary; we aren’t “married” any more. Maybe it’s “my anniversary”? But that doesn’t seem right either. It was us together, “our.” But “our” is no longer “us.” It’s now just “me.” Damn semantics. Damn this all.
One day (he says optimistically), I’m going to have another “our anniversary” but on a different day with a different wonderful woman. It’s true (I know so because I tell myself that each and every day.) When that happens, it won’t be right to call both special days “our anniversary.” If nothing else, imagine the confusion others might have. So, like so many other things, I’ve got to find another name.
Well, I suppose I have to find another name eventually. Just maybe not today. Maybe just for today… Maybe just for today I’ll still call it “our anniversary.”
Happy anniversary, My Angel, where ever you may be. I miss you no more today than I did yesterday and no less than I will tomorrow.
12 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?”
What a great post. Please keep writing. I lost my husband two years ago.
It feels weird to call her my sister too. Expecially when people ask me if I have any siblings. But as weird as that is, I can only imagine “my wife” and “my/our anniversary is weird too.
Maggie will always be “your wife”, and one day if you find another one that is strong enough, smart enough, and sweet enough to be “your wife”, then she will also understand you have two wifes in your heart and one in your hand. That will naturally work itself out to be comfortable however you choose to say it. Your house is still yalls house and everything yall had is still yalls. This is a new life for you and you will have anther new life again one day in the future.
On another note, when are we going to go ride the sleds?????
All I can say is “ditto”. Thank-you for taking the feelings in my heart and putting them on paper/computer/iPad/ whatever…..Fiona
I can relate to this post. I lost my grandson, who lived with me and was a daily part of my life. Frankly, he was like my own child. The one-year anniversary of his death just passed, and I wonder…am I still a grandma? I feel like one, but how can I be a grandma without a grandson?
I too have started a blog in his memory. I never thought I’d need to, but after the initial grief I thought of Chris’ blog. If anyone is interested, http://shutterbugtami.blogspot.com/
Grief sucks, but grief also sometimes moves us to take action. Chris, I have some questions for you if ever you have time.
I am so glad you are still writing this blog. Your honesty and ability to delicately write what you feel is so beautiful Chris! I lost my fiance 14 years ago. I still call him my fiance. My Husband respects the anniversaries that I still acknowledge. They go from being painful to bittersweet to sweet because its a day to honor that person and embrace the beautiful love you had. Your’s was a beautiful love dear man. Any woman that comes into your life in the future who is worthy of being there will honor Maggie too. Everything that you had together deserves an “ours” as you heal those words will gradually change on their own. Anything that feels forced is your sign that it is too soon for that. Don’t be in a hurry you will shortchange the depth of the love you felt for her. Follow your heart and be selfish with your needs. You have earned that right for the selflessness you have shown. Its okay to not be okay and you take as long as you need to be okay. Instead of saying my late wife perhaps you can refer to her as your Angel. Its ours is still ours. Its my Angels and mine or refer to her as My Maggie. Oh and Lori is your sister. Blesings and Love to you!!!
What a beautiful post, and by that I mean not only is the love with which you speak about Maggie infectious, but your struggle to learn the lingo of this new life is so well stated. My name is Michele Neff Hernandez and I am the editor and creator of the Widow’s Voice blog. I’d love to speak to you about possibly sharing your experience and your perspective with our community. You’ll find us at widowsvoice-sslf.blogspot.com. In any case, thanks for sharing your struggle with the names and titles that unwittingly come to define our lives.
I was thinking of you and Maggie this morning and decided to check the blog to see how you are. I’m so glad I did. Just like Maggie always did, you reminded me of what is truly important in life and instantly helped me to find focus and let go of all the day-to-day insignificant problems in my life. Thank you for taking the time to write — your words are beautiful. I do understand how strange it feels to categorize a relationship that no longer exists in this world. Ten years later, I still fumble over my words when talking about my ‘late’ dad–after all, he’s still my dad and always will be. The English language fails us; there isn’t really a simple and loving way to address a lost loved one in conversation. I vote we come up a new word or phrase!
I also understand, although my circumstances are way different. Divorced him 16 years ago, in part hoping he would “hit bottom” and stop drinking. Eight years later, he died due to complications of his alcoholism and diabetes. Yesterday, I was stumped trying to figure out how to say that “we” bought “our/my” house 20 years ago. And trying to figure out how to refer to him in this reply . . . Well — I loved him, I love him, he was the love of my life. Truly can’t imagine allowing someone else close enough to hurt me that much again.
Chris, as you know, I have suffered and am suffering each and evey day the loss of the man I love and married. Your post and the replies following have been a comfort to me. Alzheimer’s and dementia is a wicked disease, and also painful to watch as your loved one slowly leaves you. Thank you for putting so much of my feelings into words for me. I do share in some small way how you must be feeling. All my love and prayers are with all of you who are painfully recovering from your loss. God Bless each of you.
Beautifully expressed, Mom-
Semanitcs be damned. She is still your wife and it is still “our” anniversary. Why? Becasue she is still with you and always will be. Her physcial presence is gone but her spirit remains with you and with all of us.
“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter”