I got that question again yesterday - "What do you do with your day/time?" from someone failing to see that my days aren't really ones that I spend leisurely. Before widowhood, I was not a complainer, especially about parenthood or work. There may have been times when I had a trying day and might have been a bit mopey. But I never griped about or wished away my chores or duties. Since widowhood, I feel as though most of my days are spent just trying to get through the grind and make it into bed and I feel so drained, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. The best way I can describe it is like living with a low-grade fever that never goes away. The fatigue is constant, dull and aching but not enough to warrant a visit to the hospital. You learn to live with it.
I have never discussed this before but I think it bears some recognition. For those of us caring for our ill spouses, there were the years before their deaths that wrecked havoc with our lives. By this I mean that the three years of my husband's illness left me fatigued and weary even before I got smacked into the sphere of widowhood. People coping with severe illness of their loved ones are already existing in a surreal life, even years before having to deal with death, loss and grief. There are hospitalizations, numerous medical visits, medical treatments and so on. The family has to manage the illness along with continuing to live in the "regular" world. Life goes on without you and around you while you continue to care for kids, buy groceries, work and deal with a major illness.
Looking back, the hardest aspect of all of this was the surreal world of the hospital. And someone with a serious illness spends much time there with it transitioning to full time at the end. I found hospitals to be their own, separate worlds. There is a different time and feel to them. As soon as you enter one, the outside world is gone. In those last three wearying months when my husband was hospitalized full-time, I spent my days at the hospital. There I was dealing with life and death decisions, sometimes without warning. Thoughts about severe static on the the landline phone, needing to call a repairman and the laundry backing up ceased to exist while conferring with the medical staff. I would be existing in this strange new world of hospital life that would evaporate as soon as I left the building and grounds. Then I was back in the real world full of traffic jams and groceries to buy.
Three years of trying to balance two completely different worlds while parenting two grade school boys, maintaining a part-time job effectively and be there for my husband as a partner, friend and wife. I was already fatigued and drained when my husband died with no vacation or break before stepping off the cliff and crashing into widowhood land. And then there is the tiredness that has come with only parenting and being on my own, lonely, sad and afraid. Can't leave out the grief work involved and the utter exhaustion it entails.
So in reply to the query of what do I do with my free time all day, here is a brief picture of my life the last week or so. After getting two reluctant and slow-moving teens out the door and driving them to school, I've come home to grocery shop, then gone cold calling to apply at nursing homes. I've gone to some career counseling appointments, gotten my son track shoes and shorts, done a whole lot of miscellaneous running around for my son in the talent competition including a costume rental, taken my oldest to the doctor and dermatologist, the youngest to the doctor, gone to Walmart for prescriptions, made dinners every night, cleaned, picked up after two pretty sloppy boys, done laundry, filled the gas tank, gone to a couple school functions, registered the boys for summer baseball and umpire training, bickered at length in person and on the phone with the bed store that sold me my fouton which broke a few weeks after installation and they have rufursed to repair, dealt with the hassle of a leaking bathroom shower and the rigamaroll of its repair, assisted the boys with homework and studying, gone through and organized financial paperwork for taxes (am still considering filing bankruptcy), and dug through all my old receipts to locate the one for the fouton.
There have been a few off-times of watching television and blogging. A little reading before bed if I'm not too tired. Some reading while waiting at dr. appts., no knitting or exercise, both of which would probably do me a great deal of good. I try to blog after I've put in dinner and am waiting for it to cook so I don't spend time on it during the day when there is already too much to do.
Maybe on paper what I've done the past week doesn't look that time consuming or challenging. But all I can say is that by the end of each day I am bone tired. Perhaps it has to do with the underlying and built up fatigue of my husband's illness for so many years along with the mental exhaustion that occurs because I have had to handle everything on my own with no one by my side to share the load or help me with making decisions. Lets add a pinch of lonliness and dash of anxiety but we'll hold the physical and emotional comfort and support that comes from being in a nurturing partnership.
Part of me may have hesitated in really going out whole hog in seeking work because I am fearful of what my life will become when I do start working a regular job. I'm already out of time and tired. Things are just going to become more challenging to plan and handle!
It is all based on perspective. If you've never had to parent on your own I don't think it is possible to really comprehend the extent of the experience. I am just so tired, even on a good day when I've been rested (but I still suffer from many nights of not sleeping well). So I suppose I move, think, act and do on a slower basis than others. I'm just not quick on the draw anymore, my reflexes have slowed down. I can blame being tired but also I suppose I am less optimistic and cheerful overall. I do try to remain hopeful and upbeat but deep down there is a downtrodden piece of my soul within that I'm not sure will ever be erridicated.
What has been the point of these words? To convey the extent of my experience - it is bigger than what might be initially seen or imagined. It goes down pretty deep with many layers, some holdouts from the past.
In addition to the actual physical tasks that need to be accomplished on a daily basis such as getting groceries and filling the gas tank, there are the ones that people can't see and probably don't even know exist - the mental juggling that comes from planning in advance, anticipiating complications, figuring out contingency options and handling the problems that come up, in part from being widowed and an only parent! Try that on for size. Then handling the job of two as one, another reality that takes some new skills and practice to accomplish. There is tremendous mental exhaustion to accompany the physical fatigue. To be the sole worrier about your childrens' welfare, as well as being the sole provider and then the only one caring for the family residence and handling EVERYTHING is not an easy load to shoulder.
To those who question and criticize what I accomplish, handle and do with my "free" days and time, what I want to say if give me a freaking break.
I am grateful:
1. That January and February have passed.
2. That I don't have to anticipate bad, snowy weather for another 7-8 months.
3. That I did receive flowers this month - the rose bouquet from my son's winning the competition - I suppose getting flowers any way you can counts - although I didn't win the vase in the raffle at the antique shop.
4. For a bed to sleep in.
5. For leftovers on the nights it is too busy to cook.