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Throughout the 27 years I was together with my wife either dating or married, we worked on setting out targets.  The targets were generally near term but we had a few longer term plans.  Many of our longer term plans were about things we were going to do together when we retired in about 7 to 9 years from now.  Trips to national parks and other countries, visiting family and generally being free to do what we wanted when we wanted.  Joining a few charities and the like.  When my wife got sick, we stuck to these plans, holding them out as the hope of what we could still achieve if we could just win the battle against cancer.  Long term plans are always a bit fuzzy, and I consider them to be the dirt paths that lay out ahead of me, as I get closer they often get paved before me as I can actually solidify the next steps.  I still have many paths that are unpaved and laid out in front of me.  

Just before my wife went into the hospital for the last time, I was accepted into a very limited leadership program at work.  I told my wife about it and she was far more excited about it than I was at the time.  Not that I wasn't interested, just more that I tend to sort of take these things rather calmly.  The program required traveling 4 times during the next 10 months, which is part of where my excitement was pulled back.  Here I had a very sick wife, and I was thinking of traveling 4 times in the next year.  She of course was like, if I am well enough I can come with you and hang out in our hotel until you are done each day.  If not, then we will figure it out.  2 weeks after this my wife took a bit of a turn and it was clear that travel wasn't going to be in her near future.  So without telling me she contacted a friend and made arrangements for the next 10 months for the friend to stay with her when I traveled.  2 weeks after that she was gone, and had not told me of the arrangements.  I was clearly out of my head right after her death and my first thought was to pull out of the program.  There was still time for someone to be substituted in for me.  The day before I went back to the office, my wife's office held a memorial for my wife, on her birthday.  Her friend, who worked with her for many years, walked up to me and said, 'So Christine had asked me to come stay with her during your leadership program, she was so proud you had gotten into it.'

Besides wanting to fall on my face right there and forget the world, I knew at that moment my wife had laid the pavement for my next 10 months.  I would do this program because she had made clear through her actions that she wanted me to.  So for 10 months I pretty much had a plan.  Steps that I had to take, work I had to do.  I filled in the gaps during the program taking care of logistics that come from the death of your person.  Funeral, Burial, Headstone, financial issues....You know all that stuff that kept you busy when you really needed something to vent on and keep you busy.  Calling the same bank 5 times to get the names on your account fixed when a small part of you still enjoyed seeing the other name on the account. 

As I got to the month for the last meeting of my program, I started noticing the emotion pushing up on me.  At first I figured that since my wife had really taken her turn at the end of September, that was what it was all about.  But then when I really reflected it was clear that wasn't it.  The emotion I was feeling was more about being lost than of loss.  My compass and my paved paths are now gone.  I am untethered and not really sure what is next.  Many of the unpaved paths that were out in front of me are now gone, because without my wife they make no sense.  There are things that require at least 2 people that I simply can't do alone.  So for the last couple weeks I have been sort of depressed in trying to figure which way do I turn next.  What is my next path? 

While at first this was very depressing and off putting, leaving me with a desire to do nothing, which I actually followed for 4 days and just sat at home doing next to nothing, I have shaken that feeling and I started to get back to putting my house in order.  I donated a 30 gallon bag of clothing, nothing special that I wanted to keep but things that other people could certainly use.  I started purging things from my livingroom and will soon start to tackle the kitchen.  My initial path is to make my world presentable enough that I can invite people to come stay with me and show them around the area.  A lot of this is about packing away things I had pulled out to look at that were my wife's.  Boxes and bags of items that I have out to look through, or so I said, but now they are spread all over the house taking up space where people would need to be if they were visiting.  Now I know part of what made me do this was to fill spaces that she would occupy, looking at the empty space was more painful than looking at a pile of clutter sitting in the space.  But now, I am getting beyond that and want to have people over.  So I now must either throw them back into boxes and hide them, or purge what I will no longer want and clean up.  

This path though only lasts for a short period, and what I am trying to think through is where do I go from here.  Do I sell my house and move somewhere closer to family? Do I keep the house and buy another house?  Do I just stay here and wait until I am ready for retirement?  These questions are hard to answer at the moment.  I also don't have a target for what to do when I retire.  Before I knew what we would do with at least a few years of our retirement, and now it just isn't as interesting to me anymore.  Part of the joy of our plans was taking pictures of my wife in new places and the look on her face seeing new things, so now I have to find a new reason to do things.   

So while I have reached then end of my pavement, I am starting to dip a toe into a few paths the could set the foundation for the next road.  I don't know yet what I will do, but the depression I had at thinking that I had reached the end of the road my wife set before me, is mostly over.  Now it is up to me to set new targets and to become self motivated to get there.  I have to give myself a why, and luckily I have the flexibility to actually determine my targets and hop off my current path if I want to. 

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Comment by Miss Em (Emma) on October 10, 2018 at 3:51pm

Hi Tony, I can relate to so much of this. We were a little longer off retirement, but we were about 5 years off our kids being grown. We had talked about being itinerant for a while. Working odd jobs while we travelled. We talked about travelling the world as well. No set plans, but dreams and goals. Perhaps not paved roads, but certainly well developed ones. When he died suddenly, it was like I had come off the road and was careering off into the unknown in the dark. Then the path sort of smoothed out, but I still cant see far. My medium goals are to get all the kids through school and out functioning as adults. But then what. Part of me is becoming cautiously excited that I have so many possibilities but most of me is still lost in the dark on an unknown road. So I figure I will stay on the path. Get the kids sorted and hope by then I will have found a sign post or two.

Thanks for the wonderful imagery of the roads.

Comment by Pegasus on October 10, 2018 at 2:43pm

So much of what you wrote I've done or thought about doing.  I've also got boxes and bags of my husband's papers filling up 60% of my bedroom.  Two weeks ago I pulled out some of it and spent the entire day in front of the shredder.  There's so much in there that I can't even tell that I threw away anything.  I got discouraged because there's so much to go through and toss and the date I'd chosen for my husband's memorial was very close so I just closed the door and haven't gone back in. 

I'm also going through "where do I go from here" and have had the same thoughts you have.  My first thought was to sell and move.  Family is here so I'd be moving away from them.  I wanted to move because I've never liked living in this state and have always wanted to go back to where I grew up.  My second thought was to keep this house because family is here and buy a second home where I grew up and divide my time between the two.  I'm already retired so that's not a factor for me.  My developmentally delayed son lives with me so I have to consider his needs and desires as well as mine.  Right now I'm leaning toward keeping this house and buying a mobile home near where I grew up.  

My husband and I were lucky to have had 51 years together.  We didn't hit all our targets but we still had a good life.  For us, we had little time to prepare either.  He got sick in May and was gone in July.  After a week in the hospital, doctors gave him 10 days to live.  He lasted 46 days. 

I applaud your staying with the 10 month leadership program and I admire your ability to recognize and sort out your feelings so you can start planning for the future.  You said one of your emotions was more about "being lost than of loss."  That's exactly where I am right now.  You're way ahead of me in figuring out that you have to give yourself a "why" but I guess that'll come.

I wish you luck with deciding what your new targets will be and I admire your willingness to step off your current path.  I've been thinking a bit about that myself in the form of a cruise.  It'll be my first ever time on a cruise ship.....something to think about and look forward to.  

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