In every relationship, each individual has a whole spectrum of roles they play. In the case of illness, the roles are very predictable. The illness dictates care receiver and caregiver. But in other relationships, where there is no illness, we just tend to fall into our roles as time goes by. It is part of a healthy relationship that we assume the roles most suited to our individual talents and skills.
When I first married Norm, we were both working full time with an hour commute each way. And, we operated an 80-acre alfalfa farm to boot. Both were full-time jobs. Add in that Norm traveled a lot for work and you get an idea that we had to operate as a highly functioning team just to get everything done. It didn’t take long for the physical work and vehicle maintenance to fall on his shoulders while the house, books, bills and taxes fell on mine. It was an arrangement that worked for the whole family.
In time, we sold the farm and eventually we both retired, pretty much. Over the years, we found our roles changing as time and age caught up to us. Eventually we even gave ourselves permission to hire people to do some of the things that became a challenge for us. A landscaping crew. A housekeeper to clean every two weeks. A pool man. A service department to keep the cars running. You get the idea.
We learned that we could not do everything. But right now, I do still have Norm in my life to help with some of the things that we must still do on our own, things like emptying the trash, feeding the pets, the laundry and making the coffee in the morning. He makes good coffee.
Over the years, we have each had our roles but now the roles are reversing, changing, growing. As age has sapped strength in us both and naturally forced him to slow down, I have found myself picking up the slack in things I have never had to do before. It’s part of the natural ebb and flow of a relationship.
I don’t know what I would do without him here. I sometimes wonder how I would manage to get everything done. And then I realize that somehow, I have always managed to do what needs to be done. We all do.
I think of my friends who have lost their soul mate and are now completely alone in an empty house or who have also become the primary caregiver for an aging parent. I have read stories of widowed fathers who quickly learn to braid hair and give makeup advice to young daughters. They all pretty much have to do everything on their own. And they manage. As can you. Despite the grief of losing the one person in the world you loved beyond reason, you will manage. You will learn to do stuff you never thought you could. You may be upset, angry, and not want to do the new things. But you have to do them. You can do them. You will find people who can do things for you. A handyman. An electrician. A talented hairdresser. A yard crew. A team to handle the things you know nothing about. Like the fathers learning how to mother daughters, you may even add new tools to your personal toolbox. Each new role you take on is another reminder of what you have lost. It is a constant reminder. But as you do handle each new challenge, you will hear a voice in your head from the other side telling you, “I knew you could do it!”