“Hi. My name is Barbara. My favorite philosopher is Garfield. My favorite Muppet is the Swedish Chef”.
“Really? Mine too!”
Thus began the great adventure of my life, a little under thirty one years ago, at a camp just twelve miles away from the spot where we would eventually build our home. We were going around the room at a church retreat introducing ourselves by sharing two things about us with the group. The cute blonde with the big glasses and irresistible smile came out with that. Done.
Henceforth, I became know as the guy who made advances on retreats. Guilty as charged, and totally without regret.
I burst out in semi-hysterical laughter one evening earlier this week as the memory came back to me while I was walking along a street in yes, Sweden. I suspect she would have found actual Swedish cooking a bit of a problem, since they are heavily into fish, and she was allergic to anything that came from the water.
A business trip landed me here for the hundred day anniversary of her passing, a date I hope to soon stop counting things relative to. Nevertheless, it represents something of a milestone. While I was away, the youngest finally moved in with her sister, resuming the plans that she put on hold while we recovered in the immediate aftermath. I’ll return home to that empty nest we had been looking forward to, but not the happy one we had hoped for.
I took a brief trip away three weeks after she died, but this has been the first time I’ve been away from home since then. I’ve been working from home, so I haven’t had the experience of returning to the empty house at the end of the day. It will be interesting to see how that goes.
Somehow I thought that being so far away would limit the number of things that reminded me of her on that constant basis. I’ve been nearly constantly in the home we built together, so of course there are lots of memories there. But here, 3600 miles away, the reminders are still constant. When you spend thirty years with someone, she becomes a part of every memory. The bathroom in the hotel room reminds me of the really nice ones in the Sofitel, our favorite place to stay in New York. The decor, which actually works well here, reminds me of the Shoreham, which was one of our least favorite stays in the city. The whole city feels kind of like the Village. She would have liked it a lot here.
It occurred to me that lunches and dinners on this trip have been the first time I’ve been in a social situation with people who not only never knew her, they didn’t even know I was widowed. There was a little stumbling, but never the meltdown I feared- well at least not with people around. When things in conversation came up that made me think of a story or a reference to her, I brought them to the discussion. She was nothing if not an infinite source of stories, and good ones at that.
I always used the past tense when talking about her, but only referred to her as my “late wife” once. I’m not even sure where that term came from. I was actually surprised when I said it. After trying it on, I think it’s going to be eliminated from my vocabulary. The important thing isn’t that she is dead now, it’s that she was very much alive.
This was a good trip from a business perspective, but that laughing fit on a strange street in a strange city was definitely the high point of my week. I did say that if I was going on this grief journey I might as well make an adventure of it. So Sweden? Why the hell not.