How should I define myself to readers who do not know me? Some years ago, I would have written: I am a lawyer and mediator, been married forever to Leonard Larsen, mother of three grown children and numerous grandchildren.
My entry, in 1969, into what was then virtually an all male profession was born in significant part of an early Betty Friedan push. My luck (was it luck?) was to have married a man who admired and was not threatened by strong women, and who dreaded life with a wife trapped in an unsatisfying role, once the claims of motherhood were eased by the passage of her babes to school age. Three nights a week for four years, he came home from his University work to care for our children while I gleefully entered the adult world of night law school.
Now, three years since the death of my husband, it is that loss that first defines me, even if I seldom initiate talk of it with others. Although in most respects my identity has not changed, important shifts have taken place. With the passage of time, I can make this assessment without tears, but as I touch the keyboard and these words appear on my screen, the tightness in my throat does not relax.
A week after Len’s death, I returned to work, to the surprise and unspoken disapproval of some, but with the understanding of others who know me well. Allowing myself to be absorbed and rewarded by competence developed over so many years of professional practice (and observation of the human condition, my own and others), allowed me to sustain in the face of sorrow. When alone in the office, tears might briefly flow, but I was following my family’s spoken and unspoken mantra: when facing difficult times, breathe in and out and go to work.
Life at the office changed. No rushed mid-day trips home to check on things nor calls to our home health aide, or anxious anticipation of the latest medical test results. If called upon to work late with clients, I could do so. Without guilt, I immersed myself in and followed to conclusion whatever professional task or quandary faced me, rather than postponing, perhaps indefinitely, completion of a task to tend to another’s needs. Last minute arrangements for dinner with a friend were possible. For the first time in my life, I had no one else’s timetable to consider.
My generation, especially the women, were expected to marry by their early twenties and I did not disappoint my mother. I went from living at home directly to the college dorm and then to sharing life and space with a husband. Until his death, I never lived alone.
Surprisingly, I find I love solitude – the quiet, if I wish it to be quiet. Choice of what I do is completely my own. I love being in control of that which I can still control, and so work hard to preserve health, flexibility and strength despite the ever increasing time and energy that requires. Vanity and fear remain potent motivators. Friends and family are as important as ever, but if precious time is to be wasted, it is on my terms, most of the time.
Life at home has changed as well, some changes slow to come about, others immediate. My husband, especially after becoming house-bound, was almost always surrounded by wonderful music, a taste we developed together over the years (he the more sophisticated listener). For more than a year after his death, I could play no music in our home without feeling intense sorrow, so none was heard. Slowly that part of my life has come back into focus, and now I am almost never without lovely sounds. A soaring female voice especially brings me joy, vicariously allowing me to cry out in memory of what is no more a part of my life, while rejoicing in my great good fortune to have had a partner who made so much of my present life possible.