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The widow’s might

Make time to enjoy the ones you love, while you have the time

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The year my friend Lisa turned 46, she had a new box to check on her tax return, the one that reads “qualifying widow(er) with dependent child.”

Through the years we shared mud pies, Maybelline mascara, and maid of honor duties. Two months after the funeral, we shared a plate of Memphis barbecue. That’s when I noticed her eyes looked a little less bright. Watching your husband die can affect your vision that way, I suppose.

As the waitress filled our water glasses, we talked of 401(k)s and how her mother called three times a day.

“I almost forgot the flute payment,” she admitted. Her daughter was second-chair flute at the largest high school in the state. She was also taking AP biology and AP English, but her grades had slipped a bit that year. She had a good excuse, but the new mom/dad combo sitting across from me wasn’t sympathetic. Lisa was thinking about college and college costs, and I could tell she was going to be tough on her daughter. Then she mentioned the boyfriend.

“Boyfriend?” I looked up, confused.

“I mean, did we really rush through 23 years of meals, and I never even took the time to look at him while he ate?”

“Her boyfriend,” Lisa clarified, doing that sighing, headshaking thing she does. She twirled a fork through her potato salad, taking time to weigh her words. The mom/dad combo liked the boyfriend well enough, but really, the daughter needed to focus on taking the ACT again … Because a 30 wasn’t good enough. So, yeah, I could tell she was going to be tough.

There were moments—a crushing cascade of them—that made her that way, like on the cruise, when he first realized something wasn’t right. And when the doctor said cancer. And when she learned how to give an IV. And when they made the trip to MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. And when she got the pain patches for him at Target, and the pharmacist mentioned hospice. Before hospice. That hurt.

Tell me how she could have lived through all of that, and him not? “Tell me,” she demanded.

I could not … tell her. Instead, I told the waitress we needed more water, please.

That’s when Lisa described an epiphany of sorts that happened at another restaurant after his death. “I saw the empty chair across from me and tried to remember what he looked like when he was eating. I couldn’t conjure up anything.”

She shook her head and asked me—asked herself—a question.

“I mean, did we really rush through 23 years of meals, and I never even took the time to look at him while he ate?”

Her less-bright eyes looked outside at lunch-hour traffic while I scrambled for the right words. We moved on to in-laws. Lisa got it that she and the granddaughter are their only connection to their son. Them and his truck. Her father-in-law couldn’t help himself when she put the “for sale” sign in the window and bought the truck himself.

More than once she insisted there was nothing to complain about. She should be able to keep the house. Friends were keeping her busy. Her rock-solid faith in the truth of Romans 8:28—that because she is His, God is working all things together for good—was keeping her sane.

She had plenty to do, too, settling into the new normal. They’d already had a roof leak to deal with, and an AC problem. It took forever to get the death certificate. Locking up at night—he always took care of that.

“Having his phone turned off was the hardest thing so far,” she said, staring past me. “I tortured myself by listening to his voicemail greeting.”

We sat silent for a while. The waitress returned—again—so we left a tip and a few bites of barbecue behind. I watched Lisa drive away in the car she was learning to monitor for oil changes. Mine, with gauges I never notice, cranked as always.

Home was still 200 miles away, but I let my husband know I had something important to do when I got there. I wanted to watch him eat.

Kim Henderson

Kim is a World Journalism Institute graduate and senior writer for WORLD. During her career as a homeschool mom, she worked as a freelance writer. Kim resides in Mississippi with her family.



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