My life partner of decades passed away three weeks ago. And what I’ve discovered in those difficult weeks is how much I didn’t know about the man I spent the bulk of my adult life with. No, I haven’t discovered that he kept a second family in Ohio or anything along that magnitude. But what I did discover surprised me.
1) He intentionally made turning on a TV in our house harder than it needs to be.
For real. My husband Vic was the master of the remotes. The black one for on/off. Gray one for volume. Blackish-gray one for channel changing. Or at least that’s what I think they do. Throw in a few remotes that used to control a DVR and the little basket that houses them overflows.
Only he knew which remote did what. In a million years of marriage, he never thought it necessary to label them. Nor did I. But it wasn’t until he died that I figured out why: He liked that I needed him ― and I liked it too. When I wanted to watch something on TV, I would have to call him into the room and ask for his help. He’d come in, do it and give me a peck on the cheek or a gentle bop on the head with the remote. It always made me smile.
Being needed ― and appreciated ― is one of the things that keeps a marriage alive. And since my husband’s death, I have learned that we have a universal remote that does it all.
2) His corniness was sweetness just wrapped in different packaging.
Traditionally on the night before my birthday, Vic would wait for me to go to sleep and then scurry around the house stashing little happy birthday notes in strange places for me to discover the next day. He would stick them in my shoes, inside the coffee pot, and even inside the plastic bin we use to store the dogs’ food (that one was signed by the dogs.) One year, he taped a note inside my English Muffin that luckily I spotted before it went into the toaster.
Some years, he concocted an elaborate Note Hunt, using riddles as hints to lead me to the next note. He knew my morning routine precisely and taped the first note to the toilet paper.
Vic never gave me a birthday gift per se ― and I was fine with that. The thought and effort he put into the annual notes was gift enough.
Marriage is a commitment to not just another person, but also to the idea of hanging in there through thick and thin, good and bad. My husband was a big goofy guy, an imperfect teddy bear with an occasional growl. I got scrawled notes for my birthday instead of little blue Tiffany boxes and I cherish every one of them.
3) He was a better dad than I ever knew.
Sure he went to every practice and game for every team sport either of our kids ever played. And yes, he always drove half the team home, stopping for pizzas or In-N-Out burgers or both. And of course he always carried in his trunk spare shin guards and soccer socks in multiple colors with him ― just in case. When a violin was forgotten at home, he drove it to the music class and kept his promise to “not tell Mommy.” When there was a big test coming up, he was the parent who always stayed up till midnight the night before to quiz the kids.
But he did something else. To the very end, he was blind to their flaws. He loved us all too much to ever see anything wrong. In his eyes, our children were never at fault and I was the wife he was meant to marry. With love as unconditional as his, our kids are strong and solid people. They have experienced losing their Dad to a terrible illness and have emerged as kind, compassionate human beings. Our daughter is changing her college major to nursing.
4) His disorganization had an upside.
Not a hoarder, exactly, but Vic was definitely a pack-rat. And thank God for that. As a result of his inability to throw anything away, I am now basking in the warmth of memories spurred by what I have found in his clothing pockets. Yesterday I came upon a hotel card from a London trip we took at least 10 years ago. I also found our ticket stubs from visiting the Space Needle in Seattle, mixed in with a few old grocery store receipts and long-expired coupons for Subway. In a box in our foyer closet, I found a car key that went missing last April and the program for our daughter’s 8th grade graduation. She is now a college freshman.
Amid the chaos of our daily lives, I would reach the clutter breaking point and stealthily toss things out when I thought he wasn’t looking. Now, each item I find feels like a cherished gem. I do wonder though why those loose almonds I found in pants he hasn’t worn in years never got moldy.
5) His car trunk could be declared a hazmat site.
My husband’s beat-up old SUV was his man cave. He used it to take the dogs to a muddy park or sandy beach every day. It was also used to transport soccer players with stinky socks and as a storage bin for half-eaten school lunches with the occasional forgotten bag of oranges rolling around until they fully rotted. His trunk was where things went to die.
How did I not know this about his car trunk? Easy. I chose not to look.
Choosing not to look may be a new widow’s best survival mechanism. When you don’t look, you can’t see what’s missing. But since today is my birthday and I had no notes to find, my heart most certainly knows what’s missing, and that it’s him.