Shedding light on the widow’s might

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, June 27, 2013

    My friend, Lisa, will have a new box to check on her tax returns next April – the one that reads “qualifying widow(er) with dependent child.” She is 46.

     Through the years we shared mud pies, Maybelline mascara, maid of honor duties. Today, two months after the funeral, we’re sharing a plate of Memphis barbecue. I notice her eyes look a little less bright. Watching your husband die can affect your vision that way. 

     As the waitress fills our water glasses, we talk of 401Ks and how her mother calls three times a day. There are new responsibilities.

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     “I almost forgot the flute payment,” she admits. Her daughter is second chair at the second largest high school in Mississippi. The daughter’s grades, however, slipped a bit last year. She had a good excuse, but the new mom/dad combo sitting across from me isn’t sympathetic. She’s thinking about college, and college costs. I can tell she’s going to be tough.

     There were moments that made her that way, like when she got the pain patches for him at Target, and the pharmacist mentioned hospice. Before he was on hospice. It hurt.

     Then there was the trip to M.D. Anderson and the long trip back. Most recently, it was what she describes as an epiphany of sorts that happened at another restaurant.

     “I saw the empty chair across from me and tried to remember what he looked like when was eating. I couldn’t conjure up anything.”

     She shakes her head and asks me – herself – a question.

     “I mean, did we really rush through 23 years of meals, and I never even took the time to look at him while he ate?”

     Her less-bright eyes gaze long at the lunch-hour traffic outside. I scramble for the right words. We move on to in-laws.

     She gets it that she and the granddaughter are their only connection to their son. Them and his truck. Seems her father-in-law couldn’t help himself when she put the “For Sale” sign in the window.

     More than once she insists there’s nothing to complain about. She’ll be able keep the house. Friends are keeping her busy. Her rock-solid faith in the truth of Romans 8:28 – that because she is His, God is working all things together for good – is keeping her sane.

     And she’s insistent about something else, too.

     “I really want to get the message out that more research is needed. Right now, to sit in a doctor’s office and hear the words ‘pancreatic cancer,’ it’s just a death sentence.”

     True. The five-year survival rate after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is a startling six percent. Julie Fleshman, president of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, predicts it will become the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States by 2020.

     The good news is that during the past eight years, more than $91 million has been allocated to fund research, and, according to reports published last week, more scientists than ever before are working to improve patient outcomes.

     That’s bittersweet for Lisa and the more than 37,000 others who will lose their spouses to the disease this year.

     But there’s plenty to do as she settles into the new normal. She’s already had a roof leak to deal with, and an AC problem, too. It took forever to get the death certificate. Locking up at night – he always took care of that.

     And what about the attic full of computer parts?

     “I think that’s why having his phone turned off was the hardest thing so far,” she relates, recalling his penchant for the latest technology. “I tortured myself by listening to his voice mail greeting.”

     We sit silent a while. The waitress returns – again – so we leave a tip and a few bites of barbecue behind. I watch Lisa drive away in the car she’s learning to monitor for oil changes.

     Mine, with gauges I never look at, cranks as always. There are miles to go between here and home, and there is something I must do tonight.

     I plan to watch my husband eat.

    Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at