By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Thank you to everyone who responded to my post about the passing of my husband, Alan. It has been a trying few weeks, but your notes and good wishes made a bad situation just a bit brighter. I do not plan to dwell on this subject, and I promise that in my next blog I will return to writing about fun subjects like why we have national donut day or rant about what is going to happen to the Rose Bowl now that the Pac 12 is the Pac 4. But today I want to share some thoughts about my experience that might be of help to you.
As regular readers of this blog know, last fall my friend Pat Miles Zimmerman and I published a book that built on her experience after her husband died. Over the two years that it took to complete the book I listened to the widows’ experiences and read the advice from professionals in an interested, but perhaps detached, way. After all, I was not a widow. I did learn some tips from the chapters on legal and financial issues, but being the Type A that I am, I already had my affairs in order, had a great estate attorney and a trusted financial advisor of 20 years. The other chapters, dealing with more emotional issues I read with interest, but could not relate to them. Now, all of the sadness and sentiment of being widowed has hit me full force, and it is a gut-wrenching experience. So, here is some advice, that I strongly encourage you to consider.
First, what we leave behind for our surviving spouse can greatly influence the grieving process. Because I had everything in order, in the few days Alan and I had after his diagnosis we were able to spend them talking about our life together, our family, and what he wanted for my future. I did not have to scurry to collect passwords, bank account information or try to understand our investment strategies. This has been invaluable. I have read that losing a spouse is the worst kind of grief because it affects every single thing you do from the moment you wake up to the time you go to sleep. It has been much harder than I anticipated, but at least I am afforded the luxury of simply missing him. I cannot imagine that hurt being exacerbated by stress over not knowing how to pay bills or how to access his iPhone. I urge everyone to get your affairs in order ahead of a crisis – it will pay great dividends in your emotional well-being and to some extent, help in the grieving process. Last week one of Alan’s closest friends prepared a binder for his wife that contains all of the pertinent information she will need when he passes. He told her, “This is for Alan.” It touched me that Alan’s spirit left behind such a thoughtful, and practical, gesture.
Second, the legacy we leave behind is greatly influenced by how we treat everyone with whom we come into contact. I have been overwhelmed by the beautiful cards and letters that friends have sent me, some relating stories about Alan and how they met him. But I have been particularly touched by the employees at our club that have reached out to me expressing their sorrow at his passing. They all said the same thing: he was always nice to them. As one of the staff said, “I will miss him. He was a good man.” His niceness extended to others who worked with us. Two days after Alan died our air conditioner experienced a problem. Ken, our regular A/C technician came to fix it and asked me where Alan was. When he learned of his death, Ken got tears in his eyes and gave me a big hug. He said, “He was always so good to me – made sure that I had water when it was hot and lent a hand when I needed it.” It makes me happy that the legacy of being good to people is also part of what Alan left behind.
Finally, maybe it pays to leave something a little quirky behind just to make your loved one smile. I have gradually been going through Alan’s things, distributing sentimental items to the family, particularly his two sets of golf clubs which our two grandsons now possess. I know that would make him very happy. But he also left behind some curious items, among them 13 (!) new golf gloves, most still in the original packaging. All I can imagine is that with all of his trips to the PGA Superstore he occasionally felt the need to purchase something, so he settled on golf gloves. I had to laugh when I found them, and now our son-in-law won’t have to buy golf gloves for many years to come. I loved that Alan is still making me laugh, even after he’s gone.
Again, thank you for reaching out and all of your nice comments. I know that I will eventually create a new normal. I believe that life can still be beautiful, even when there’s broken parts.