HOW TO PREPARE FOR WIDOWED
You couldn’t see it.
It was just past your tiger’s eye—that golden fragment outside of your iris.
You couldn’t prepare.
Your life on the cusp from couple to family. You’d bought a house you were scraping and fixing. You were teaching at two community colleges. You glowed with the love of your beloved. This honey of a man who loved the stars and poetry and you. You glowed with the love of your fish boy swimming in your belly, in his private pond.
You would never pick this: widowed at 28. Pregnant too.
So, you didn’t prepare.
How could you?
If you had prepared?
You’d pack stacks of yellow legal writing pads. Pens, lots of pens. Costco sized Kleenex. Cigarettes that you quit when you got pregnant. Gin and tonic that you cross off your list. M&Ms: peanut ones because bodies need protein.
You’d pack the metal tear-catcher from an antique shop. Pack a mourning armband because you want to bring those back. Pack those tiny cards you wanted to make and hand out, the ones that say: No. There’s nothing you can do for me. Because you’ll get tired of not having an answer to: “What can I do?” One day you’ll remember to say: “toast. Will you please make me toast?”
Pack buckets of coffee, a familiar smell and taste from your Before life. Pack your Ouija board if you can find it. Pack your favorite St. Mary’s sweatshirt—the red one faded to almost pink, stretched by your stretching belly. Pack your beloved’s hat to wear in the rain. Pack your Baby Ben alarm clock with its jerky secondhand so you can see, time is moving. Pack your laptop or typewriter: the electric Smith Corolla your parents gave you when you left for college and didn’t look back.
Pack your family’s love.
Your family you pushed away when you were forging your life, separate from them. Your parents/stepparents. Your sisters and brother-in-law. They’ll show up in the middle of a snow-white night.
Open the door.
Pack your favorite blanket. The one you’ve had since you were a girl with its faded yellow flowers more butter colored than sunflower. A pillow too. For all the parts you’ll sleep through.
There will be moons and suns of sleeping.
Pack your crying places.
Your wingback chair you’ll drag to the living room window to not watch the world as you sob thunder tears. The shower, your crying box you’ll call it, where you wail where you think no one can hear you and everyone can. Your waterbed where you’ll flop and gush monsoon tears until your ear scoops fill until they overfill.
Pack your voice.
The voice you’ll need to ask your sister to get you groceries because all you do is cry in the Safeway parking lot and not go in. The voice you’ll need when your fish boy is born and you tell him you love him bigger than the Milky Way. The voice you’ll need when rage scorches all your edges. The voice you’ll need to say the same words in a loop. Why me. Why Kent. Why now. The voice you’ll need when you reach: Why not me?
Pack your broken heart.
No matter how shredded. No matter how squashed. In time you’ll learn to stitch it with lightning, to stitch it with love.
The yellow legal writing pads and pens? Toss in a few more. Later you’ll say writing saved you. Later you’ll say you saved yourself writing.
Pack the stack of books your sister handed you, her acorn-colored eyes on you, her words: “I hope there’s something for you here.” Thumb through When Bad Things Happen to Good People, A Grief Observed, The Year of Magical Thinking. Search for yourself in the shadows of the print.
You’re a reader. You’ll read your way through.
Oh, you’ll have to feel your way through too.
So, pack the therapist’s phone number your son’s pediatrician gave you. You know the one. She runs a young widows’ group (all women under 40 with kids) that you don’t want to be a part of, that you must be a part of. This group where you’ll find your feet again. Where you’ll find your heart you were so sure was broken. Where you’ll see it never was broken. Beating, not beaten.
Hear it whisper:
I’m right here. It’s his death, not yours.
Listen to your heart. Its call. Let it guide you through the belly of grief. Let it be siren song, singing you home, singing you back to you.
Anne Gudger is an essay/memoir writer who writes hard and loves harder. Previous work can be found at The Rumpus, PANK, Atticus Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Bending Genres, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere.