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Love Story, Atlanta Magazine by Mickey Goodman

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Love Story, Atlanta Magazine, by Mickey Goodman.  Pictured- Mickey and Phil Goodman on their wedding day “A 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 odd code.”

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 grandchildren, dessert.

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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President, Southeast Chapter, The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)
Copyright © Mickey Goodman, Freelance Writer. All rights reserved.

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