My husband has better genes than I do. Not much cancer to speak of in his line, two very healthy parents. My people, though hearty fighters, are more of a mixed bag, with their share of maladies. They tend to live shorter lives, however fun and full. There are wakes with jokes and drinks.
I’m not that 40-something with a sprinkling of socked-away, singleton Florida grandmas who outlived their spouses by entire lifetimes—who spent more years as widows than wives. And I’m relieved to suspect I won’t meet a similar kind of multi-decade, carpeted-condo fate because, well, I’ll be very dead.
I’m relieved to know I’ll bite the dust long before my husband will, but this leaves me with the complicated question of what will happen to him after I’m gone. I don’t want him to be lonely and alone, but I can’t imagine him with another woman, either.
It was in a graveyard that we found a solution.
My husband and I like to visit cemeteries. We’re both writers and storytellers, and the drama of all of those lives having been lived compels us to return. The narratives seem endless—so much mystery, love, and loss.
Recently, as we stood teary-eyed over a family plot that revealed a particularly wrenching history, I promised my husband that if he married anyone after I’m dead, I would haunt him. I believe I said specifically, “Babe, if you get lonely and decide to pair off with some widow in capris, I will haunt your ass.” To which he responded, laughing yet deadly serious, “Oh, I know. I KNOW you will.” It seemed to make him proud.
He then began—bless him—to poetically tell me why he’s never loved anyone but me and never would (bet your ass), that he could not imagine life without me (why even try, it’s going to be terrible), and that I needn’t preplan my haunting because he’d wither away alone after I passed (sad image, but wither he must). Looking off into the middle distance for hammy effect, and channeling the farm boy Westley speaking of Buttercup, he said, “I shall never love again.”
I was thrilled. “Cool,” I said. “Because otherwise I’ll rattle my goddamn chains next to you for eternity and just generally fuck things up.”
Let me be clear: I’m ashamed to admit the threatened sadistic haunting of my beloved husband should he take up with a lady he meets in a bereavement group. I imagine him at lots of counseling sessions, drinking coffee and eating plain donuts. (He doesn’t have to stay in shape anymore because his hot wife has passed, you see, and his sex drive is an ash heap.)
I’m aware that this reveals major deficiencies in my character. I know my parents would be horrified by my selfish, narcissistic threat. I KNOW I’m supposed to want him to be partnered up with someone who will love him and keep him company. I’ve learned all of this Zen compassion stuff from movies and literature and Catholic school.
But the truth in that moment, standing over those ancient stones, was that it nearly killed me to imagine him holding hands under the blankets as he fell asleep, as we do every night, with another woman. For example, I have dry skin. What if, as he slides his hand into Martha’s from the bereavement group for the first time, he realizes, “Jesus Christ, I was holding hands with a lobster claw for 40 years, and now look at Martha and me with our incredibly soft, intertwined hands! Things work out for the best. It was Renee’s … time.” Obviously the haunting would become essential.
On the rest of the walk, we worked on how he might fill his days and nights after my headstone is in place. Escorts? Arts & Crafts in the senior center? Painting seashells? Group tours floating down the Danube and other important rivers? What we settled on was much more inspired: We would pick the friend of mine that he could marry. That way, I’d know exactly what I could expect to see from my vantage in the afterlife.
We ran through a list of names.
Oh, her, she’ll make him go camping all the time.
Or her? She’ll work four jobs, be very patient with him, cook eight meals a day and he will ultimately become very fat.
How about her? She’ll want to move to Barcelona or something and that’s not the right call for our kids.
Oh, her! She’ll take in foster children with him and they’ll travel around with a crew of special-needs adults and make my life seem empty and small by comparison. Fuck that! Cross her off.
This process appealed to my controlling nature and also the unavoidable fact that none of my dear friends would tarnish my legacy because they’d know firsthand how awesome I was as a living person. I was relieved.
My husband was relieved too, as I have many attractive friends. Two in particular, who happen to have the big, spaceless, Hollywood white teeth that he fetishizes, kept coming up. That’ll do, babe, thanks. I know the teeth sisters are on the list.
In the end, my top choice was a friend I love madly. I picked her because we are cosmically close and she knows both of us deeply. She’s one of my husband’s all-time favorite people. And she already loves him, which means she understands me completely. If her spouse gets hit by the same crosstown bus as I do someday, I green-light my husband dashing off to begin his partnership with her. It seems very right. And even if I rattle my chains and mess with them a little bit, she’ll be happy to see me. She’ll get it.
Here lies Renee Dale, they can cut into my stone. Wife, mother, friend. She haunts because she loves.
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