Listening to the Voice of Reason

Last week, I was sitting home alone, working on the projects Rick used to take care of for our business. This was after a long day at my technical writing job and I felt a little sorry for myself, because I had to add the jobs he did for our web business plus his chores around the house to my already full schedule. Instead of just coming home from work and vegging out in front of the TV, or after going to dinner with a friend, I have to put in another few hours of work most evenings.

But it’s not awful, so I really shouldn’t complain. I enjoy working on websites, and I’ve worked two jobs most of my adult life. It keeps me busy, and I feel guilty complaining about it when I compare it to the difficult life of some widows, especially those with young children, or those who lost half an income and can’t survive financially. So I’m thankful for the extra income and that I enjoy my day job and that – after reducing the client load by nearly half – I can easily keep up with the half of our business I retained. I guess I just wish he was still here to share the load with me and it makes me appreciate all he did in our marriage.

And then my mind started to wander… Is he still here? Can Rick see me now, sitting alone in our quiet house? Is he somewhere nearby, watching over me? And if he is, what does he think about my life now? What would he say to me if he could?

Sometimes out of the blue, I hear his voice in my head, which is not too crazy, given that I heard his opinion on everything for two decades. It happened again last week, as I was making the 40-minute drive to visit my grandsons. It was a nice afternoon drive. I was feeling fine. Spring is just around the corner and I can’t wait for the warmer temps. I was listening to random music on the radio and a song by OAR came on: “Miss You All the Time.”

I know that you were only passing through
In a moment you were lighting up the room
There will never be another like you…

Sometimes when I first listen to the lyrics of a song that I’ve only slightly heard as background noise before now, the words really hit me and – bam! – when I heard these words, I went from contentment to tears in 2.5 seconds. This one was a no brainer. Every word was about missing a person who died. So, I listened and I started to cry, but then, something odd happened. I heard Rick’s voice in my head say,

“Okay, Ger, knock it off. It’s been long enough. Just stop now.”


Was that him? Or was that exactly what I knew he would say if he were here right now? Either way, he was right. I knew I was at the stage where I had the power to choose whether to let the sadness wash over me or change the radio station and turn my thoughts back to life again.

I couldn’t always do that. There were times in the year after he died, when I had no choice but to succumb to the powerful waves of sadness that washed over me. I had to work through those feelings, because they were so strong. If I was in public, I’d have to flee the room. Driving, I’d pull over somewhere until I was cried out. But this was a random sad song and after all this time, I’m in a much better place emotionally now. I’ve been feeling pretty good about life lately. I’ve been feeling more alive, so this time, I made the choice to listen to that voice in my head and NOT go there. I switched the station and I dried my tears. I put the sadness behind me and I went to play Jedi lightsaber games with my grandsons.

I think this indicates that I’ve really hit a turning point. Just this morning, it hit me how alive I’m starting to feel again. Alive like I used to feel at other stages of my life. When I was in college and a single-mother in my mid-thirties, life was an adventure. Oh, it was tough and often overwhelming – working, going to school, coaching tee ball, volunteering at church. Trying to keep all the balls juggling took all my strength and organizational skills. But it was also exciting – new things to look forward to every day. It was enjoyable watching my son grow and excel at school and have fun with his friends. New experiences happened for me nearly daily at my job working with elementary kids and in my classes at U of M. Presentations and papers were always due, and near the end of my college days, I began winning writing awards – and cash prizes that went with them. I had a million irons in the fire, and each new day brought with it joy and surprises – and fun!

And then I graduated and started my career and met a man, and a new kind of excitement began. The thrill of falling in love, the plans and the wedding and the honeymoon in California, followed by a business trip/second half of a honeymoon in Amsterdam. Years of fun and travel all over the country and a long vacation in Europe. Living our telecommuter marriage for the first three years, hopping on flights every Friday after work, then again on Sunday evening to spend our precious weekends together – or finding time to travel together on his job assignments. Finally living together and renovating houses and the enjoyment of the planning and choosing fixtures and furniture. Working our butts off, and then basking in the glow of the beautiful results of our labors. Starting a business and the excitement of gaining new clients, designing new websites, joining the community business alliance and being involved in their events. Living with a man who loved adventure and would try anything new. Enjoying parties with our blended families and gatherings with our friends.

Life was good. Life was full. Life was busy, and life was fun.

And then suddenly, it wasn’t.

And all that seems like so long ago. It’s been a year and a half since he died (more than two years since he was diagnosed with cancer), but I feel like I’ve been sad and living alone here forever. A life that had always been fun and filled with joy was suddenly replaced by a fog of fear that my husband would die, then grief when he did, and apathy afterwards. It was effort to push myself forward when nothing motivated me. It seems like forever that I’ve been searching for meaning in my life again, grasping at anything that makes me feel slightly better than awful.

But lately, little things are triggering joy again: a sense that life can be more than just striving for contentment, that life can be fun, filled with anticipation at what unexpected good things could unfold. Yes, little things in my life are triggering hope and anticipation where before the only triggers I experience brought grief.

A good kind of trigger? I had forgotten there was such a thing.

As the numbness continues to wear off, as life starts to become “real” again, as I regain hope and anticipation, when I look back on the past two years, the contrast is startling. I realize how dead I’ve been feeling until now.

So, yes, those feelings of anticipation and the sense that I want to start living my life again are exciting, and mirror how I felt for most of my adult life. I was always the eternal optimist; I truly believed that tomorrow would be a better day. That philosophy worked for me throughout my entire life, but it nearly died with Rick. And now that I’m beginning to regain the joy of being alive, I’ve added a newfound wisdom to my old sense of what life was about.

For years, I’ve heard the platitudes about life being short, about living in the moment, about making the most of the time we have, but now I feel this sentiment with an urgency I’ve never felt. I’ve been made more aware than ever that life is too damn short, that with one diagnosis can come pain and sadness and suffering and loss. Nothing is promised.

Now that Rick – a man who lived life to the fullest – is gone, I am ever so grateful that he lived as fully as he did in the time he had here on earth. I’m thankful we took the trips. I’m thankful he took the early retirement and that he had free time to ride his bicycle and listen to his books every single day. I’m thankful that he remembered to enjoy the simple pleasures. I’m thankful we had the sunsets together and the nights on our deck and the dances and the kisses and the long drives and the long talks and the naps and LIFE.

Yes, I’m so very thankful that Rick had a full and fantastic life, because it ended too soon.

And now that months and months of coping with his illness and the despondency caused by his death have caused me to miss a couple years of my own life, I feel an urgency to get living again. I’ve lost precious time and life is indeed too short. And after hearing his voice so plainly in my head, telling me, “…It’s been long enough. Just stop now,” I wonder if he IS watching, if he’s been frustrated that I’m wasting precious time, time he would love to have back now. I wonder if he’s been longing to shake me and wake me from my zombie-like existence of the past year.

If he really could talk to me now, would he tell me to quit crying and get living? I think he would. And I think I will.

About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at

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