new normal

Confusion (or…the New Normal)

My years as a married woman continue to fade into the past and I’ve become accustomed to being single again. I no longer expect Rick to be here when I get home. I can’t count on him for the numerous things I used to: cooking for me, lifting heavy objects, cuddling, dancing. He’s no longer here to listen while I  bitch about something, or express my fears, or my hopes, or my dreams. And then, when I finally sputter to silence, to put his arms around me and say something that makes sense, that calms my fears, or simply makes me realize that I’m not alone in this world.

Nope. It’s all changed now. Now I AM alone in this world.

When Rick first died, I missed everything about him – his presence, his voice, his smile, his love, his companionship, his laughter. After a while, I got used to being here alone, but I was never okay with it. I didn’t like it. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want it. I wanted to stomp my feet and shout to the world that this wasn’t fair! I want my man back! I found the one person I wanted to spend my life with after all those years of searching and he was taken from me. How could this be? How could I even continue to function in a world without him?

Then, the acceptance came (sort of). I mean, what could I do about it? Nothing. So I filled time with lots and lots of activities and plans and ideas. I basically found distraction from my grief wherever I could, if I could.

And now, more than two years later, all those distraction have led to this – my life today. I’m used to this life now. I’ve settled into it and I’m comfortable with it. I’ll never NOT want my old life back, because I shared it with Rick and he was everything to me. But it’s all changed now. That was then; this is now.

So, Sunday afternoon, as I was driving the long trek back from my son’s house, mulling over what to do with the rest of my day, it hit me once again…absolutely anything I want! I could nap or read or go out to dinner. I could call a friend or go to a movie. I could write or work on a home improvement project. I could do a puzzle or take a bath, or go for a long drive. I could do ANYTHING I want without consulting anyone else. I thought, hey, I enjoy this! I ENJOY my life!

I have total freedom to do anything I want, when I want, where I want, and with whom I want. This is the first time in my entire 60-plus years that I’ve had this freedom of choice. I’m not a child with parents telling me what to do, or a young single mother with a son counting on me to be there for him, to feed him, to care for him. I’m not a student and employee and mother all in one, trying to organize my day around all my chores and responsibilities. I’m not a married woman with a man to care for or love or support.

I’m just me. I don’t need anyone else for my sustenance, or financial support, or…anything.

And I realized something in that moment: I like it!

I think most people (including me) assumed when I returned to the dating scene, it was to find my next husband. Why wouldn’t I? Man – and woman – were not meant to be alone. But as time has gone on, I’ve begun to realize I’m not ready for a long-term relationship. I think it hit me just about the time a man I had been talking to for awhile on a dating app said that he wanted to pursue a long-term relationship – with me. And a bolt of lightning hit, and I thought, I DON’T, not with him, not with anyone.

I like this freedom. I like playing the field. I like choosing what I want to do spur of the moment and not owing anyone an explanation. As impossible as it seems to formerly “married me,” and – more recently – “widow me,” I like being “single me.” And I decided right then and there, that I will remain single the rest of my life. I will maintain my freedom of choice. I will live out my life doing it MY way.

And then, feeling satisfied with this decision – after this huge AHA! Moment – I returned home and tried to lift a dehumidifier out of the back of my car. And it was heavy. I pictured Rick coming out and hoisting it out with no effort and sitting it on the table nearby for me. And my mind started to wander again…to Rick lifting things for me and driving me places, and dropping me off at the door so my hair wouldn’t get wet on a rainy day. Rick bringing me home little gifts or texting to ask me if I needed him to pick up anything for me while he was out. Rick calling me out to the deck after I got home from work, and me discovering he was grilling our dinner and had created several  hors d’oeuvres that were waiting on a table set with cloth napkins and candlelight for a special evening on the deck.

I thought of Rick texting to ask me if I was okay. Rick waking me up in the morning when I had used up all the 5-minute snooze alarms. I pictured Rick getting me a pop when I was sitting with my feet up. I pictured him pulling me close in his sleep when I joined him in bed so he could snuggle up against me. I pictured him pulling me into his arms when a song we liked came on in the kitchen and starting to sway with me in a slow dance. I pictured a million scenes with a man who loved me, a man who cared about my health and safety and sanity.

And at that point, I remembered all the benefits of being half of a couple, of being someone’s partner and lover. I think these are all things I’ve been struggling NOT to remember. But I began to remember all the reasons to pursue another relationship, the benefits of having one person to love and cherish.

Hmm… maybe I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. Maybe I don’t really want to be single for the rest of my life. What about a compromise? What if I play the field for a year or two and see what develops. Maybe having experienced a wonderful marriage with a man who loved me makes the idea of having that again a possibility, but I also like my life the way it is.

Maybe I’m one very confused woman.

Is this a widow thing? To be excited about having finally achieved a life after your husband’s death, yet to still crave the type of life that you once enjoyed with him?

I told all this to my therapist this morning. I asked her how I could be so sure I want one thing one minute and then desire the polar opposite the next. How can I crave independence and “freedom,” then want to be part of a couple two minutes later? As usual, she put a good spin on it.

She said, you don’t NEED anyone anymore and that’s a wonderful feeling. You don’t need someone to love you so you can love yourself. You don’t need a man to help you financially or “take care of you” or give you children. You have a good life and you’re independent. That’s a good place to be. But that could change. You may fall in love and want to be with someone again. That would be nice, too. The choice is all yours.

And that reminded me of that elusive goal I’ve been striving to achieve for years: to live in the moment.

And looking at it that way, I feel less confused about all these different outlooks, about how unsure I seem to be of who I am and what I want from one moment to the next. It’s all good. I’ll enjoy the life I have today, and I’ll see what happens tomorrow. The truth is, that’s all any of us can do.

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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