September 08, 2006


Starting over

ONE of the toughest challenges men and women in relationships go through is coping or starting over when their spouse has passed away.

After years of what has become routine to you—going to bed with your newly showered wife beside you and waking up with her knee or elbow sticking to your side—it becomes a jarring experience when all of a sudden you find yourself alone in bed. There’s an empty space beside you, with her side permanently sunken and conformed to her shape. And instead of a soft silky arm or a warm breast to caress, your hand rests on the cold bedsheet.

Jeremy tells me when his wife passed away after a long illness, at least he had his two kids to attend to and keep his mind off his grief. Truly, children can save one from insanity and keep you focused on moving forward. There was no time for him to wallow in self-pity no matter how many times he wanted to surrender to the loneliness.

In the beginning, it was pretty tough even working around everyone’s schedules, including his. It was a good thing he had his sisters to count on to lend a hand in keeping his house in order. They brought the kids to school, picked them up, and stayed to cook dinner until Jeremy got home. They also pitched in to do the grocery, arranged what bills needed to be paid first, what school supplies the kids needed, etc.

But Jeremy says he knew he couldn’t depend on his sisters forever. They were both single and had their own lives to lead. And while their mom also helped out by staying with the kids or letting them come home to her house, Jeremy didn’t want to abuse her kindness. He was lucky that as a manager in the trading company he worked in, he was able to rework his schedule to fit his children’s.

It wasn’t going to be easy to run the household and put a new structure after eight years of a familiar routine basically set up by his wife Jane. Fortunately, technology was on his side. With cell phones and the Internet, it was easy for him to keep in touch with his staff and the company’s clients even while he was at home or attending a PTA meeting.

“I had to grapple pa with the extra duty of overseeing their assignments. Jane used to do all that, and she was really patient with them because she used to be a nursery teacher. No problem ’pag math but when it came to English composition, patay, I would call my sister [a writer] na.”

After tucking in the kids for the night, Jeremy still had to work on the stuff he brought home from the office. He confesses that, sometimes, he’s just so tired that he wants to give up and go to sleep. Thank God for coffee.

Then like a knife that would stab his heart, certain memories of Jane would just enter his consciousness. “Out of the blue. I’d be checking all the orders and then I’d remember her dressed in this blue and pink bathing suit that she wore when we went to Boracay. It was a year before she died. It was their staff outing and she brought me along. Ang sexy niya.

It starts with one memory, he says, then a whole tide would wash over him and he’d feel that dull pain gnawing at his insides. “Naiyak talaga ako,” he tells me quietly, as he remembers one particular night. Not far behind would be the feelings of guilt that he couldn’t take care of Jane very well, and then self-pity would kick in. Even when he was dead-tired from work and attending to his kids, Jeremy says sometimes he would just lay awake staring at the ceiling until he would hear the birds chirping outside the windowsill. “I was numb at first eh. Pero after a month, two, three months, wala na. It really hit me na she was gone.”

Jeremy says it took him a whole year before he could actually gather Jane’s things together and donate them to charity. His sisters wanted to do it for him but he realized that he had to look at Jane’s stuff again—sort through her clothes, her perfumes, her kikay things—if he wanted to move forward. He brought his kids to help, telling them they could take one thing that belonged to their mom to keep for themselves. “It was hard but we all needed to do that. All the while we were sorting her stuff nga, parang there was this internal dialogue going on in my head if it was the right thing to do or not.”

Somehow, he says, they managed to get through the ordeal without anyone breaking down. Jeremy says his kids are really tough, “something they got from Jane siguro. Kasi even throughout her illness, ang tibay n’ya.

It’s been three years since Jane’s death and the entire family has settled into its new routine. Jeremy has gotten a day maid to help out in the household chores. He is home by 6 pm in time for dinner with the kids. He monitors and helps in their homework but still calls his sister—for the English lessons. And he is dating again.

He says the funniest thing that happened after Jane passed away was his friends and his sisters jockeying to fix him up with this woman or that. Also, at his office the single women seem to have found an excuse to talk to him all the time. “Ewan ko ha, that’s what my friends told me. Kasi I didn’t really notice naman. But one would say, ‘O ayan na naman si…, magpapa-check ng inventory kunwari. I-date mo na kasi!’” It’s nice to hear such Jeremy’s hearty laugh. And he marvels, “Ang daming single women pala!

But Jeremy isn’t in a hurry to get married again, even if his friends tell him he should. He’s still young, that’s true, but he says right now he’s just enjoying the company of other women—that is, when his schedule permits. He says his kids are still the top priority, while going out with his barkada or dating remains at the bottom of the agenda.

He confesses that he still can’t help but compare his dates to Jane, which he knows is really unfair. This is but natural and quite understandable, I tell him. Besides, no woman in her right mind should even presume taking Jane’s place. But at least Jeremy has opened himself up to the experience of meeting other women, which is really a big step itself. He really can’t do much except take one day at a time and just enjoy the moment.

(Published in the Business Mirror, Sept. 8, 2006. My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday.)

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