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.