Charging Through Those Have-To’s

woman riding horse statue
Photo by Malc Finch on

I asked my mother once how she did it all. She worked full-time, took care of a sick husband, raised seven kids and went on with life.  This amazed me, still amazes me. Her answer was brief.  She answered, “I do it because I have to.”  For my twenty-something self looking at life full of opportunities and choices, this didn’t make sense.  You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, my then fairly naive self told my brain. As I got older, married and had kids of my own, it made more sense. Life sometimes strips you of choices. And now, as a widow, I get it. I really get the “because I have to” part of life.

This week, some of Peter’s benefits are finally being released. It feels as if a certain insurance company loves to dole out requirements in pieces. I almost picture a Boris and Natasha type characters, laughing when I hang up with them because they know, the next time they’re going to say, “oh, and you need this too”.   I’m kidding of course. I don’t really think the customer service people are out to screw me. Although…nevermind. No, no, they’re not.. But after so many phone calls, so many discussion with lawyers, friends, my kids, and a financial advisor, I am finally getting his benefits. A victory for me since he was the winner of the salary bread. So yay me.  I worked my way through the web of bureaucratic confusion. I did it. And I did it because I had to.

(Two side notes: one, my deepest gratitude goes out to my DuPage County Rep, Sheila Rutlidge for helping me with obtaining Peter’s final death certificate….finally. That was one of the biggest sticks in the wheel of stopping the releasing process. One text message and twelve hours later, I got it. I asked. She pulled through. The American system does work. Oh, and by the way, you don’t want to mess with this Poli Sci major in widowhood mode. Just saying. And two, just because someone has a financial advisor, don’t assume wealth. Assume help with finances, or in my case, how to get the benefits.)

Sunday night, I read an email from my friend Laura, another widow, telling me she had to change her air filters.  Ah, one of the things I never even thought of doing. I texted my neighbor and friend, Andy, asking about air filters. He offered to come down and check for me. Which was kind and generous and so Andy. But, I decided to figure it out on my own. And I did. I changed the house’s air filter. Now, I didn’t have to do this. I wanted to do it because  a). I’m stubborn and b). I needed to know and the only way I could learn was by doing it. And I did. I know. A little bit of a victory there.

I had mice in my house last week. Yes, you can shiver here. I believe they came from an overgrown yard next door, a property that is rented. So, guess what I do? Besides calling an exterminator – I can only catch and release so many times – I called the property owner. I explained the situation, even adding in Peter’s death. She was very nice to me. They are very nice people. She said honestly did not know it got that bad, and I believe her. I have no reason not to. They were also once neighbors of ours, really good neighbors. When I told herPeter died, she cried. Genuinely cried. She explained she thought Peter was one of the kindest people she ever has known. Her emotions and words touched me.  I cried, and blubbered out “you’re right, he was”. Anyway, three hours later, the grass was cut, weeded and extra garbage thrown out from the property.  I need to thank her. Anyway,  I have washed and cleaned out all my cabinets. Thanks to everything I did, the mice are gone. And, well, I did it. I did it because  I had to. I mean, come on, I can’t be living with mice. Although some of them were darling litter buggers.

Yesterday, I set up a donation to Outreach Community Ministries to take Peter’s car. It’s a 2003 SUV, with plenty of miles on it and it leaks oil. Every 1,000 miles or so, the oil needs to be added. I didn’t want to take care of two cars and Outreach is one of my favorite organizations, was one of Peter’s favorite. They do a lot for kids, especially older kids and teens who may be at risk. This was a slam dunk, only I had to put oil in it so I popped the hood. Oh sure, I stared at the engine a long time, as if it were an abstract painting. It took me a while to figure out what cap I needed to take off and fill. And when I decided, I took a deep breath, said a prayer to Peter, and poured. I did it. For a few minutes, I was a mechanic. Me! A person who can’t tell the difference between a Honda sedan and a Toyota one. I did it because I had to. In order to get it off my property and into the hands of a great organization, I had to. And I did.

I have faced many more situations I just had to do – a broken lawnmower, yard that needed weeding, bushes needed trimming, paperwork needed to be filled out, accounts needed to be closed and the list goes on and on. It’s a long list too. And, it has been scary as the hell I’m living in. It’s been lonely and frustration and anger-provoking. My blood pressured rose. My heart raced. My appetite left me and my sleep, disturbed. It’s hard for me to face all of this head-on, by myself. while grieving. But I had to, so I did.

I do get proud of my victories, each and everyone of them. I don’t rejoice too long because I know another battle will be charging from around the corner. But I’ll fight again because I have to. My mother taught me so much, but this lesson may be one of her greatest – you do what you have to do. I’ve been having to do a lot since Peter died. I just have.