Cancer Diary: Iconize, Minimize, or...? Moving On in Little Ways


When Carl first died, a friend sent me a little book, wonderful in its pragmatism and understanding of the immediate-after-death emotions and psyche. That book pointed out that widows (or widowers) have a tendency to turn the former spouse into an icon. (Well, some of them do, anyway, and that, according to the little booklet, makes it difficult to move on or even to maintain a normal range of sanity. I realize that I was doing just that -- not wanting to change anything in the house or how anything. I also put a picture in every room. Reading that booklet, I realized that I was indeed iconizing Carl.

In an opposite manner, some people, perhaps many people, completely change their life and lifestyles after the death of a spouse. This was clearly expected of me. I cannot begin to count the number of real estate agents who contacted me for the first weeks and months after Carl died, offering to sell the house for me. I guess that would be a form of minimization. I had no desire to sell the house. This was the house that Carl built. It was the place where we had planned to spend our retirement. Carl died before we could begin a full-fledged retirement; that does not mean that I cannot spend my retirement here for the both of us. For now, though, I continue to work, and our mentally challenged son continues to challenge me with his daily living needs.

So, I decided to move on in little ways -- leave some things and change some things. Small changes. I kept the house, being reminded daily of all the design and upgrades Carl had done in each and every room. So, I left the picture from the memorial on the entrance table, our equivalent of a mantle -- visible from every angle in the living room. Icon? Maybe. But only one.

Then, I made changes, little ones with significance in every room. In the living room, I added on a stand the invitation to the 40th day post-death rosary recited by our prayer group, along with the Franciscan crown rosary that we used. I subtracted the decorations on the coffee table and added a writing basket that quickly turned into a sleeping basket for a new cat. (Yes, our 18-year0old cat, Murjan, died right after Carl, and several months later we agreed to give a home to a one-eyed cat rescued from the street. A subtract and add change,)

In the kitchen-dining area, I added purple-and-yellow artificial flowers that looked like the real ones sent in sympathy by my siblings. 

The TV room saw an added desk from Carl's downstairs office and a monitor that the kids can use when the visit. It no longer looks quite the same; it has a more utilitarian look to it. 

In the master bath, I took away the specially tied red towel Carl used to help pull himself up. I replaced it with pink and white towels. A new feel; differing colors give differing ambiances. Carl's toiletries are still there but are being used up methodically. I am too pragmatic to trash them. I moved the scale from the bedroom to the bathroom -- a new location not only for the object but also for the activity. A different feel to the start of the day.

The master bedroom, the most intimate place in the house, got changed considerably. The double bed was replaced with a single bed, with a different orientation (against the wall, opening up the room). A way to forget. On the walls that had remained bare for years, I hung a couple dozen pictures -- Carl's artistic photographs from his earlier years when he was a professional photographer (trained, in part, by one of Ansel Adam's assistants -- those were the days of apprentice-learning, not school-learning). 

My son's bedroom has not changed at all. No reason to make changes.

As for Carl's downstairs office, now there is a considerable change. I made it available to a young lade with three young kids who helps out with my son in exchange for rent. She has brought life to the house -- and that really is a big change, one that balances out holding onto the house, a big no-change decision.

So, some big swaps and overall not much change. A balance of something small taken away, something equivalent but different added in. Something big taken away, something big left alone. 

A year has passed. I believe we have done a good job of balancing change with stability. We have moved on in little ways, and that suits us.

Blog editor's note: As a memorial to Carl Don Leaver, co-founder of MSI Press LLC, and simply because it is truly needed, MSI Press is now hosting a web page, Carl's Cancer Compendium, as a one-stop starting point for all things cancer, to make it easier for those with cancer to find answers to questions that can otherwise take hours to track down on the Internet and/or from professionals. The web page is in its infancy but expected to expand into robustness. To that end, it is expanded and updated weekly. As part of this effort, each week, on Monday, this blog will carry an informative, cancer-related story -- and be open to guest posts: Cancer Diary.     

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