Ever since Rick died, when making decisions or buying something new, I’ve thought in terms of what he would have liked or disliked. I do lots of things “in his memory,” and as the first anniversary of his death approaches, I’m slowly coming to accept that it may be time to change this way of thinking. In one more step towards adapting to my new solo life, coping with my new normal, it’s time to stop making decisions based on what he liked and start figuring out my own desires. But it’s still a struggle to accept that I’m no longer an “us.” I’m a “me.”
For instance, I hate my couch. We bought it about 15 years ago and it served its purpose, but now it’s out of shape. The cushions are sloppy-looking and hang over the edge of the frame. The fabric is also a bit worn. Before he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Rick and I both decided we needed a new one, and we went to Ikea to pick out new living room furniture together. I even have pictures from the shopping trip. We opted for a couch with matching loveseat. We decided it would make the small living room look larger if we swapped out the two recliners for one love seat, yet there’d still be the same amount of seating for guests. Then he was diagnosed and was about to start chemo, and we had more pressing concerns, so we never got around to buying it.
A few months ago, I blogged about the situation, how I had decided to go to Ikea and buy the furniture we selected together. But I still haven’t done it. I had this nagging feeling that I didn’t want to, and I realize now that there were several reasons for my delay.
For one thing, Rick and I had also talked about redoing the colors in the living room, repainting the walls in the same gray shade I had painted my office a couple of years ago. Would this couch and loveseat go with the new wall color? And another thing: I like sitting in a recliner and writing on my laptop in the evening. Rick never liked sitting in a recliner. Did I really want to give up the chair and replace it with the love seat?
So, about a month ago, I decided to make a bold move and see if there was anything I liked better than what we selected. I say “bold move” because even the idea of straying from what we had selected together gave me guilt pangs. But, I forged ahead and started looking, just to see if there was anything that appealed to me. And there was. I found something I like a lot.It’s not as bulky as what we chose, because the furniture I picked out with my larger-than-life husband always needed to be oversized. He was a huge man who always wanted to purchase something big and solid and comfy. When I looked at our original selection, I realized that it’s the same type of couch he probably would have bought before he met me, when he was living alone. But would I have chosen this when I was a single woman? No, I would have selected something a little sleeker, like the furniture I just found. It’s a mid-century modern couch, and I knew right away Rick wouldn’t have liked it. The modern style would have appealed to him, but he definitely would have objected to the narrow arms – he liked (needed) a wide couch arm to rest his beefy forearms on. He most definitely would not have wanted this couch.
So finding this couch just made me more conflicted. I wanted to get the furniture we picked out together in memory of our time together, in memory of our joint decision that day at Ikea. I was planning to get what we chose when he was still here with me. How can I get something different from that choice without sacrificing his memory? Can I really pick something out for me, only me? I feel guilty about this on several levels. Because I’m considering buying something different from what we chose together, I feel like I’m losing a piece of what we shared, what we planned for our home. I’m also taking one more of those scary steps toward a future that leaves him behind. I’m choosing something for myself in my new world. I’m making a major change in “our world.”
But as I pondered all these raw feelings, making this seemingly innocuous decision into a major dilemma (as I have honestly always been prone to do), I had a sudden thought, and I chuckled to myself through the tears, because I can distinctly hear what Rick would say to me right now. In Rick’s voice in my head, I heard: “Honey, I’m not going to sit it in. Just get whatever you want.”
Does Rick care which furniture I buy? Does he care what color the living room is? Is he really looking down on me and shaking his head vehemently over the fact that I’m buying something that appeals to me more now, as I live alone in our home? (My home?) I certainly hope that whatever our state of existence may be after death, it’s not caring about the decor in our former “living” room. I’m hoping we have more important things to contemplate in our spirit life.
And that’s when I realized how often I do this. I’m in Costco and there’s a huge metal gazebo, and I think, when the one we have now gets old, I’m going to buy this one, because Rick really liked it and always wanted to buy it. And then I think, but he’s not going to sit under it, is he?
Which car should I lease next month? Rick really liked the Equinox. These new replacement cushions on our patio furniture aren’t the same. Would Rick have liked them? This is the kind of mayonnaise Rick liked. This is the gas station he went to. He loved this author. He liked this restaurant. He never liked this type of music. He always wanted one of these….
For more than twenty years, I was part of an “us,” part of a duo, choosing my options with another person in mind. I wanted to please my husband and he wanted to please me, and we worked it out. We chose things we both liked, both enjoyed, both wanted to share in our world.
And now I’m a “me,” and I’m having a hell of a time getting used to it.
And it’s not just about deciding which items to buy “in his memory.” It’s also about coming to terms with doing something just for myself, just for me, now that he’s gone.
Last Sunday, I was cleaning up the yard, and deciding if I should buy those replacement cushions at all. I looked around at what I had accomplished and thought, wow – the yard is starting to look nice. The pool water is sparkling blue, I’ve cleaned out the area around the fountain, pulled the weeds, cut back the bushes, and cleaned up the deck areas. I think I’ll buy those replacement cushions for the lawn chairs and maybe an umbrella for the table to replace the one that broke two years ago. After months of neglect, the yard is starting to look really pretty.
Then I became sad. I mean, who cares how nice the yard is now? It’s only me here. It was different when I was fixing things up for US. I wanted to make him happy. I wanted to create a beautiful world for us – for my husband and I to share and enjoy together. And I know he did the same for me, always selecting things he knew I’d like, creating a nice space for me – the lights under the gazebo, the fountain, the flowers…when he’d finished a project, he’d take me by the hand and lead me to the yard beaming with happiness at what he’d created for our little paradise and delighted at my reaction.
How do I please just myself after living for another person all these years? How do I rectify doing things just for me?
Maybe that’s what I’ve been trying to do, tell myself it’s okay to buy the furniture if it’s what we selected together. It’s okay to buy OUR furniture, in memory of him, because it keeps him here somehow, keeps him alive. But it’s not true, and I’m fooling myself. It’s not bringing him back, and he’s never going to sit in it. No matter how often I try to do something he would have liked, he’s still gone, and I’m still living here alone.
Navigating this bridge between being an “us” and being a “me,” is a formidable task. Can I really do things just for myself?
Choosing for myself and for myself alone is painful because with every decision, I’m forced to face reality. He is gone. He isn’t coming back, so stop pretending. He won’t sit on this couch, or join me in the yard. He won’t eat the mayo or drive the car. It’s just me now. Just my likes and dislikes, just my choices. Maybe it’s time to face it: I’m here, and he’s not, and I have to get used to being a “me,” again.
And in my head, I can hear him encouraging me, telling me emphatically, “Honey, I love you, but I’m gone now. I don’t care about any of these things anymore. Do what you want, honey. Do what YOU want.”