When the young woman behind the counter at the florist asked me what I wanted written on the banner that would be placed across the blanket of orchids on my husband’s coffin, I started crying one of those silent cries, smothered and restrained. Speechless, I gently took the pen out of her hand, turned the order pad around to face me and wrote the words on the sheet myself as tears fell on my fingers.
Widowhood has introduced me to many types of crying. The cry that doesn’t choke your words, but simply seeps out of your eyes. The scream cry that rockets out of your diaphragm. The uncontrollable snot-snorting sob that chokes your words and erupts in coughing. The muffled cry when you’re trying to hold back the tears, eventually your sinuses disobey and a headache explodes in your skull. The cry that sends shock waves, crumpling your body. The gut-wrenching, gaping-mouth, face-contorting, ugly cry. Irrepressible. Uncontrollable. You don’t get to choose your cry.
Shortly after Robert died, I found myself offering up my late husband’s comments in situations, as if I were resurrecting Robert and bringing him into the conversation. I’d feel beholden to verbalize what Robert might have said or felt. Sometimes I would attribute it to him. If a Nicole Kidman movie came up, I might mention: “Robert couldn’t stand her, he always said: ‘She’s a big nothing.’” One of the by-products of marriage is being able to anticipate what your partner would say. It’s the same with parents, I know what button to push to get my mother to tell the Volkswagon Beetle story, just as I knew that a mention of Frank Sinatra was sure to elicit from my Dad: “He had a certain style, but Dean Martin had a better voice.”
Other times I’d speak Robert’s sentiment as if it were my own. Do surviving spouses begin to take on their loved one’s personalities and quirks, pick up their verbal tics? When I walked into JetBlue’s new terminal at JFK Airport a few months after Robert died, I teared up. Robert would have loved it. He was an aviation buff – despite his fear of flying – and we practically grew up with the then-new airline. Looking at the bustling terminal teaming with travelers, it all looked shiny and happy and new and I felt like I was seeing it through Robert’s eyes, feeling his excitement, his comfort level. If he were there he would have said – ‘It reminds me of Orlando and Las Vegas airports’ – two of our most frequent vacation destinations.
But he wasn’t there to say it. We tend to fill in the gaps of what our loved one would say because over the years we found comfort – OK, perhaps annoyance – in the predictability of knowing someone so well. Being so close you can finish their sentences, anticipate their thoughts. Do you find yourself speaking for your partner, using his favorite phrases, seeing the world through his eyes?