Re-learning Life

© Bruce Allen    August 27, 2021

I think I mentioned that my wife, Nancy Gillespie, died last Tuesday. We would have been married 46 years next month. Having watched her live with late stage pancreatic cancer for over five years, I knew how the story would end. I knew I would grieve her hard, having left a few things unsaid there late in the game. I correctly anticipated much of what is going on right now. One of the things I failed to anticipate was my sudden need to re-learn how to talk, perhaps how to think, now that she’s gone.

For the past 40 years or so, whenever I was away from work and was asked a question, I would almost always answer in the first person plural, saying “We did this, or we like that, or we went somewhere,” not thinking any thoughts that didn’t imply us, rather than just me. Lately, when asked a question, I have to hesitate, think for a second, before replying “I” something or other. It still feels like I’m cutting her out of the conversation, something I wouldn’t have considered doing before. Of course it’s dumb and stupid, but I need to re-train my brain. When discussing the girls, it’s always we.

I need to re-train my brain on how to shop for groceries. Up until recently, I was charged with shopping with the interests of both of us in mind. Naturally, this was harder with her stuff, since it ran kind of far afield at times, causing me to do a lot of backtracking at Kroger. Now, when I pick up something that’s not on the list, I don’t have to be concerned about possibly screwing up. Worse yet are trips to Costco, where I have to break the habit of wondering whether she would like some cheap fleece or shirt or anything. No more cruising women’s fashions at the Costco.

I have to train my brain to develop a system for attacking the large and growing bushel of cards and notes, each of which needs a thank-you note. WWND. I’m thinking that while I’m at it I might as well use a database package–Google Contacts–to start a real address file. If there are 250 and I can do eight a day that’s a month, which I should be able to do.

I thought it was a good sign that I was able to sit through Mass last week. Couldn’t talk, not yet, but was able to stand there for 40 minutes. I do enjoy going to 7 am which was never going to work for Nancy again. I slept through Adoration this morning, as I went in asking Jesus to help me rest, that I’m not sleeping well. He said why should I, when the only time you talk to me is when you have problems? I said You do You.

It’s the mental stuff that flits around your subconscious that is the most disturbing. I find myself waiting for her, then recalling that she’s never coming back, which makes me sad. I would like to talk to her again, see how it’s going for her, get her to help me find my passport. Not that I’m going anywhere, just because of this Real ID Thing next year. I’m trying to imagine sitting by the fire on winter evenings, not having her there to share the heat. Like Joni Mitchell sang 50 years ago, “The bed’s too big, the frying pan’s too wide…” Wondering what she’d like to hear on the piano. Wondering if it’s 5:00 somewhere. Wondering what’s the purpose of having a fire when it was always to keep HER warm.

It’s kind of funny to hear her friends tell me how much she told them she loved me, that I was her rock, that she had depended on me for years and I had never once failed her. But it seems like the things I love to do, or used to love to do–cooking, gardening, playing music, writing–she mostly tolerated, rather than enjoyed. She rarely asked me to do any of these things, unless it was routine weekday cooking. She almost never read any of my stuff, other than the one time I accidentally shared my entire Word file and she got to reading the very private journal about her journey located elsewhere on this computer and in the cloud. She always had advice about cooking and gardening. The music she could do nothing about. My writing she could ignore.

I suppose we slip into some bad habits after living together for almost 50 years. A premature death interrupts any intention of doing a few repairs. Perhaps it was just the rather natural and predictable case of our interests having grown in somewhat different directions. The foundational stuff would always be there; some of the decorating accessories clashed, a reminder that we each retained a measure of our own pre-marital selves, that we hadn’t merged personalities. Hell, we hadn’t even merged last names. Had cancer not visited us, I’m certain our marriage would have continued along its merry way. More time happy than unhappy. The thought of trying to find happiness with someone else laughable.

There are probably lots of spouses out there, trapped in loveless marriages, who wish their spouse would contract a dread disease. Neither of us was ever going to be one of them. For being 70 years old we were pretty damned happy. Glad to see each other every time we did. Kind and thoughtful. Helpful and considerate. We had moved beyond passion, to devotion. It could have gone on a long time. Praise God that our relationship was in good shape when she entered her rapid decline. She had been anointed and received last rites and absolution two days before she died; her soul was in good shape, too. In her words, all would be well.

But I’m still here. You can see straight through the hole in my soul. How on earth can these things they call “celebrations of life” be celebrations if the main celebrants are all dissolved in tears? There are a lot of us, people who are going to miss the hell out of Nancy Gillespie.

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Nanny and Q at Bethany Beach, June, 2021

12 thoughts on “Re-learning Life

  1. Oh, Bruce, I’m so sorry! Although we never met, I can feel your pain. Nancy was one of my best friends in high school. We formed a group called “The Thinkers”. It was sort of a joke – we didn’t do much thinking, mostly we ate junk food and gossiped. But it was meaningful in that we became closer because of this exclusive bond. She will no longer need to “Hang Thinker Tough”, a phrase Nancy coined, in heaven. So glad she is no longer suffering, but I will miss her terribly.

  2. Bruce,

    A beautiful exploration of the material loss of the love of your life. I say material because it is clear how closely you will hold the memories of life with Nancy in your heart and soul for all your days ahead. How fortunate you are to have much more to positively reflect upon, then the small challenges anyone who is partnered as long as you were!

    I am sending love and light for you and your family.

  3. How wonderfully written. I went to HS with Nancy, never a close friend but I was in her peripheral orbit for many years. Just the same, I’m so sorry to hear of her passing. She sounds like a wonderful person, according to those who express sorrow from her loss. God bless.

  4. Bruce I don’t know you, but did have the pleasure of meeting you once. My heart breaks for your entire family but especially for you. I feel your pain. I have found a man, my best friend, only 10 years ago. I cannot imagine living without him. We love each other, and are glad everyday to be able to spend each precious day together. You can remember Nancy’s beautiful smile and all of the wonderful memories. Her smile makes me smile. Big hugs and prayers to you! Sally Puff Courtney.

  5. Bruce, I love reading your writing of life with Nancy’s so very honest and speaks right to my heart. I pray you will continue. It teaches me. She was my beautiful friend..and now I see the husband she loved.

  6. Bruce, I know she misses you just as much. I lost my love not quite a year ago and I miss him every day. Ours was not a perfect story but it was ours and it was amazing. Our relationship was not perfect by any means but I wouldn’t have traded it for all the wealth in the world. He was the one I was destined to walk beside, through good and bad and so on. I admit there are a lot of things I would have done differently and many things I wish I would have said but thought I’d have more time to do so. He has gone on to better things than me and I will be the one with regrets… but loving him was not one of those regrets. I will hold my head high always for that. So sorry for your loss. Find strength in your love for her and the memories that remain with you.

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