Love Story, Atlanta Magazine
by Mickey Goodman
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life well-lived doesn’t end any more than music ends…
It echoes through time with whispers of beauty and grace.
If we listen, we can hear the encore with our hearts,
For the song plays on,
Just as love lives on.” – Unknown
My husband Phil kept his cassette player within arms reach during
his unending hospital stays. Classical music sustained him through
surgeries, radiation and chemotherapies. When he losthis
final battle to cancer, National Public Radio broadcast the news
of his death and a CNN banner scrolled across the bottom of television
sets across the country. The man who never thought he accomplished
much would have been stunned.
He also wouldhave been confounded by the scores
of people who came to say farewell. There were former colleagues
from GPTV and Peach State Public radio where he was the founder
and director, Ham radio buddies, friends from every phase of our
lives, the now adult kids who used to hang out on our den, neighbors
new and old.
Some just hugged me, others wiped away tears of their own. Words
were unnecessary. Their presence said it all. There are books,
pamphlets and web sites devoted to practical matters that must
be dealt with following the death of a spouse – advice on
attorneys, wills, insurance policies, retirement,Social
Security, bank accounts,ad nauseum. There
is no advice on dealing with people who crush your spirit like
the friend from my teaching days who had also lost her husband.
When she approached, I expected a life preserver. Instead, she
tossed me an anchor. “You’ll have to join my group,” she
said. “We call ourselves the Merry Widows.”
Once our family and friends returned to their normal lives, the
flowers wilted andthank you notes were mailed,
I was left in silence. Without my love and best friend, our house
groaned, shadows jumped through the windows,asudden
glare from the deck’s motion lights spelled terror. Ahouse
once filled with love and laughter – even during the difficult
years when cancer ruled our lives – became a tomb of memories.
I often think it’s the little things I miss most. I long
to see Phil’s eyes light up when I walk into a room. I miss
his quick wit and off-beat sense of humor, his ability to think
clearly in the midst of chaos, the man who never met a household
project he couldn’t fix.
Even in this 21 st century, I’ve lost half of who I’ve
been for the last 42 years. I miss everything about coupledom --
quiet dinners together, evenings out with friends, a hand to hold,
a warm body at my side during difficult nights, a sturdy shoulder
to cry on. I still light a candle nightly to connect tenuously
with my love. I’ve had brushes with the five stages of grief
but we’re not intimate yet. “Sorrow, anger and depression” --
are all consuming. “Acceptance” is an oxymoron.
People told me there would be black days. They didn’t tell
me that navigating life without Phil would be like paddling a canoe
in the midst of a tsunami. Waves keep sucking me out to an angry
sea. A sentimental piece of music on the radio sends me reeling.
A glimpse of an aging couple holding hands brings quick tears.
Just checking the little square “widow” box on a standardized
form is cause for depression. No one warned me I would lose my
brain and my decision-making abilities along with my lock box key
and checkbook register.
There are things you never know until you’re picking up
the pieces of a broken life. I never suspected that close couple-friends
would stop calling or that anyone would suggest that I’d
be more “comfortable” if I joined an all-women’s
book club. It never entered by psyche that an acquaintance’s
husband would sidle up to me, wink and say, “If you ever
get lonesome all alone at night, just call me on my cell phone – any
time.” I was too numb to feel anger so soon after Phil’s
death but I can barely contain my rage if I run into either of
the couple now.
No one rang a warning bell that my home would conspire against
me too. Phil’s voice disappeared fromour
answering machine before I had an opportunity to save the tape
-- a mystery that haunts me still. The bulbs in the hall ceiling
fixtures failed in unison. Who knew you had to remove eight screws
in order to replace them? The washing machine gasped its last in
the middle of a full load of sheets – an incident that normally
would have elicited expletives. Instead, it turned catastrophic
when I was forced to purchase major appliances without Phil’s
input. The poor salesman didn’t know what to do as I dissolved
into audible sobs. I didn’t know what to do with myself either.
Slowly emerging from a semi-catatonic state, I began the notification
process advised by the experts. Social Security was first. With
the speed of an American eagle they sucked out the current month’s
payment from our checking account. Apparently, there is no pro-ration –even
if the death happens at 11:59 p.m. on the 31 st of the month.
Another disconcerting call was to the State Merit System to discuss
Phil’s retirement and health insurance benefits. Unlike Social
Security, the system didn’t reach a long arm intomy
checking account. Instead, they withheld future funds too long
for comfort. Even worse, my health care benefits were suspended
for more than a month while they converted their records to reflect
my new status. They dubbed the time a “nuisance period.” I
would have given it a very different name had I required hospitalization.
By the end of the first round of calls, I felt totally disenfranchised.
Was I worth less now that I was no longer half of a twosome? How
much more prepared I might have been had we researched the various
bureaucratic regulations and kept a notebook showing the location
of all the important documents – bank accounts, original life
insurance policies, mortgage information.
Instead of a major annoyance, a change in my cell phone plan became
a blessing in disguise. Because it was in Phil’s name, the
mega-company not only denied my request to drop our second phone,
they dropped me. “So sorry. Regardless the circumstances,
you’ll have to reapply,” the representative told me.
Angrily, I tried to sign on with another provider. Once again --
despite an impeccable credit record -- I was refused service. This
time it was because my Social Security number revealed “an
I gritted my teeth and contacted Social Security again. That “odd
code” became the biggest debacle of all. Along with coding
Phil’s account “deceased,” the clerk had inadvertently
killed me off. Once again funds were withdrawn from my checking
account. It took three months for the Feds to declare me among
of the living and return the missing money. Duringthose
first horrific months, I often wished they were correct.
“You quickly learn who your friends are in good times and
bad,” a friend said recently. No one ever told me how many
would soar with the angels to ease my way. Our neighborhood dinner
club took over the open house that followed Phil’s funeral.
They brought mountains of food, (wo)manned the house while we were
gone and cleaned up afterward -- leaving enough meals inmy
freezer for weeks to come. Writer friends took over my assignments.
My next-door neighbor checked on me daily and still calls frequently.
Phil’s buddies have initiated me into their Monday lunch
bunch. My children were (and are) my sustenance, my seven young
On the first anniversary of Phil’s death, our family gathered
to plant a memorial triangle of trees in front of the house. Across
from my mother’s Japanese maple we planted one for my dad.
Phil’s tree stands at the peak, much as he stood at the apex
of my life. Each time I pass by, I can hear strains of the music
he loved and the song of his life echoes in my heart.
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