If you want to read about some of the many horrible decisions you have to make when your spouse dies unexpectedly, expand the spoiler text below. If not, skip on ahead to the funny stuff. Well, I think it’s funny, anyway.
The first thing you’re told is not to make any big decisions. It’s funny, really, because immediately upon your loved one’s death, you are confronted with a non-stop barrage of decisions. The first one: it’s somewhere between midnight and 1 am. Your husband has just died and you have been sitting in the room with his dead body waiting for your husband’s mother to arrive. She doesn’t know yet that her son has died, just that he’s in the ICU. They ask if you want them to clean up his body before his mother arrives – that’s a no-brainer.
Oh, wait, no. The first one was when the surgeon says in hushed tones that it would be possible to prolong your husband’s life by injecting him with more drugs, but that it will just prolong the inevitable, and he’s not going to wake up. You know the right answer. It just hurts to say it out loud.
In the lobby, you are asked to choose a funeral home. No rush – they just need to know in the next hour or two so that they can refrigerate him before …. they trail off. You, completely numb, say something witty about refrigeration. Then the coroner calls and, while you’re holding an office phone whose spiral cold drapes across the counter, asks you to provide your dead husband’s medical history. You must decide what is relevant, what to disclose, in a wide open lobby where anyone could hear, though no one but medical staff is near.
You must decide what to do when his mother arrives, how long to let her grieve alone with her son’s body before entering to grieve with her, when to call the funeral home you’ve chosen in a grim version of eeny miny moe. With your mother in law, you must discuss when his father, who is almost 80 and has just had surgery, can arrive so that you can decide whether or not you must embalm your husband.
You must decide whether to bury or cremate and whether to have a viewing – topics he’d never discussed, or if he did, must have said, “Well, I won’t care – I’ll be dead!” At least, you hope that’s what he said – or did you say that? – and that he didn’t have some specific wish that you didn’t remember because it wasn’t going to be important for several decades.
You must write an obituary – a thousand decisions in itself. You must decide who to contact first, using what method, and search out people in his various online and “real life” communities, because if your friend had died, you wouldn’t want to find out months later through some circuitous route. But as hard as you try, you know you’ll miss some of them.
You must choose flowers and programs and music and food and photos and so many other things, and you must choose them on the fitful hour or two of sleep that you manage for a few nights before you finally take the time to call your doctor and request a prescription. You’ve been seeing the same doctor for years, and you know she’ll be crushed on your behalf.
You must choose how much time and energy to allot to each person who wishes to comfort you or who themselves needs comfort. People ask you what you want to eat. Where you want each item that has been cluttering the living area because you and your husband lived like college bachelors and decorated with Amazon boxes. If you want coffee. If you want anything from the store. If you want anything.
And knowing that they mean well, you say you don’t want anything, when what you mean is “What I want is my husband back, but no one has that power and you sure as hell don’t, so just stop asking me, please!”
Eric died Friday night just before midnight. By midday Tuesday, I announced that I was done with decisions. No more. It had been the ultimate control freak exposure therapy. Just today, I called to reschedule a dental appointment. I said to just set a time and date for me. She asked, which is better, morning or afternoon? And I did it – I pulled out the grieving widow card. “Look, my husband just died – just pick something and tell me, okay?”
But hey. None of that is the funny story I meant to tell. Sorry about that.
My aunt and uncle packed up their Suburban and their dog and were at my house about ten hours after I called them. The next day, the three of us went to the mall to pick out some clothes for Eric’s memorial. I had nothing suitable, as a hoodie and slip-on Merrells seemed a little off, even to me. (My own wardrobe may or may not have been a driving factor in asking people not to wear funereal clothes.) I had been busy every single moment since Eric’s death, and it was desperately important to me that I have a chain (necklace) on which to wear Eric’s wedding ring. I was also sure it had to be gold. And the mall is half an hour from our house, and I really didn’t have time to drive there twice. I was desperate.
Note what I said before about hoodies and Merrells. I don’t wear makeup or jewelry or generally anything whose sole function is to look nice. I will happily spend hundreds of dollars on a single piece of Arc’teryx outerwear, but I buy multiples of the same model of jeans from LL Bean, and I wear them every day. My hoodies and tees bear logos from web comics and the local climbing gym. If I am going to wear any jewelry other than my wedding ring, it will be once every month or so, and it will be an almost invisible necklace with a pendant.
So. There were three or four jewelry stores right in a cluster, all of which were already full up with customers. One eventually told us they didn’t have anything suitable – rather, they were all huge, blinged-out chains that were just not what I’d pictured.
We then moved on to a store that only sold gold. Even their “silver” was white gold. They were also all busy with customers. At some point I emerged from my fog just long enough to notice that most of the customers … all of the customers … well, I hate to generalize, but they were men buying large chains for themselves, dressed in a way that spoke to a certain lifestyle that might not be 100% about legal activities. But whatever. They seemed like nice dudes. Anyway, when it came to my turn, nothing seemed to be quite right. All the chains were too long, too big, too much bling. The very nice sales lady and my aunt both told me that what I had in mind was simply too light-weight for such a heavy ring. Eric’s ring is huge. Like, my ring is a size 7, and his can fit fully around my ring with room to spare. And it’s commensurately wider. After I had rejected various traditional chains, the nice sales lady pulled out a Gucci chain. I didn’t fully process what she meant – literally a necklace made out of the Gucci logo. I tried it on. Maybe? My aunt said it looked pretty good. I asked my uncle, known for not pulling punches. “Honestly? It’s gaudy.” He was right.
So then we went back to the very first chain I’d been shown. This was a “figaro” design, and quite lovely in its own way. That is, if you’re into chains that are jewelry unto themselves. It was much less blinged-out than the others, though it still outshone my husband’s ring. I was desperate both to have a chain for the memorial, and to never have to set foot in a mall again. I had too many things to do in too little time, and I’d had maybe six hours of sleep in the last 48 hours. So I bought the necklace, which totaled over $1k after taxes. It didn’t really look like what I’d pictured, but surely I could get used to it, right? And it seemed like it would draw attention to itself rather than the ring, but what choice did I have, right? And it sure didn’t seem like “me,” but I had to get used to change, right?
That evening, I took the chain off and set it on the bathroom counter, where I definitely wouldn’t forget it in the morning.
The next morning, I saw the chain and felt only horror. What on earth had I been thinking? Was it even possible to return this thing? What had I done? I looked in my jewelry box, and I found the perfect silver chain – plain and just a little tarnished. On it, his gold ring takes proper precedence. Instead of a huge chain, I’m going to use the rock climbing philosophy and wear two silver chains. Spread the load and have a backup. Makes sense to me.
The good news is that they have a seven day return policy, and were incredibly sweet about the whole thing. The good news is also that it was a costly decision that I could reverse with a minimum of fuss and a full refund. So all in all, this was a fairly painless lesson to drive home the point – avoid making decisions as much as possible. There was also a silver (gold?) lining, in that I was able to entertain my friends at what I kept calling the … pre-party? reception? … the event we had for out of towners before the actual memorial service.
Next step: figure out the inheritance process and all of Eric’s financial accounts. Fortunately, there will be no decisions required there whatsoever. Right?