I am Unmarrying

An addendum to the epilogue of Fruits of Eden: Field Notes Napa Valley 1991-2021.

I am “unmarrying” — a term different from “widowed.” “Widowed” is a dead end. Un-marrying is a fluid process. Donald and I were married for 27 !/2 years, years we grew together, combining our households, finances, and children, then building a home and learning to work together. To that end, we discovered that we loved to travel, eat out, and that we enjoyed farming together. 

It is hard to overestimate how extensive this growing together goes. The mycelium of love stretched as our children became “our children” and then “our grandchildren” and stretched more as we aged and he developed dementia. As he became more incapacitated, the mother in me was activated. He was on my radar at all times. Where was he? Had he gotten up? What had he eaten? 

I remember the day I took our lunch into the TV room, where he loved to have our noontime meal. I was sure he had come in from his walk on the level path we had made surrounding our home to use with his walker. But he wasn’t in his chair. I went to our bedroom, and he wasn’t there either or in the bathroom. I looked out the windows along the path he traced each morning and then, panic rising, ran outside, following his route. I checked the steep path descending to the greenhouse that I had forbade him to negotiate. He wasn’t there, nor was he sitting on the stone bench by the circular driveway at the basement door. I rushed to the veranda along the western side of our home— and then, I saw him lying in the gravel, apparently resting comfortably, as if in a bed, his walker upset nearby. “I knew you would find me,” he said lightly.

The bonds of trust strengthened those last years of our marriage, bonds that loosen these months, this year, after his death. Now I am free not to worry whether I can continue to care for him at home. I can come home whenever I please or be away from the house for more than an hour. I don’t have to cook, can eat a salad for dinner, something he would never tolerate. On December 11, 2022, exactly one year after his death, I removed my wedding ring and laid it with his larger one on my dresser.  I am not going to identify myself as a widow. I am un-marrying. 

It is not simple. I live in the design of a home we dreamed of together and that he, an architect, built. He told me some years after we moved in that he based the size of the house on my dimensions. I love the house, and I love the structure of my life that our marriage afforded, a structure that is me—and he will always be a part of that. 

It was sad but simple to pack up his clothing and many of his items to give or send away, but it is not simple assimilating what has become me stimulated by him and releasing the rest. It takes time.

My friend Michael called me on March 5 of this year, Donald’s birthday, saying he knew it was a difficult day for me. I felt such gratitude for this acknowledgment. “Grief is like the air,” I told him. “You don’t see it, but it’s always around me.” 

This is what it feels like to unmarry.