It Must Have Been Moonglow

It Must Have Been Moonglow

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by Phyllis Greene
     
 

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In December 1998, after fifty-six years of marriage, Phyllis Greene went from being part of the lifelong unit of "Phyllis and Bob" to being just plain Phyllis.

To deal with her feelings, she began keeping a journal. Unable to find books with a personal perspective on widowhood, she realized her own reflections could speak to the thousands of women… See more details below

Overview

In December 1998, after fifty-six years of marriage, Phyllis Greene went from being part of the lifelong unit of "Phyllis and Bob" to being just plain Phyllis.

To deal with her feelings, she began keeping a journal. Unable to find books with a personal perspective on widowhood, she realized her own reflections could speak to the thousands of women like her, each one with very different yet very similar day-to-day experiences. It Must Have Been Moonglow chronicles the emotional roller coaster of her first years alone in a collection of brief essays, like diary entries, that capture the sadness, the humor, and the triumphs all widows encounter.

She writes about the challenges presented by a quiet, empty house and how best to fill the hours. "Your heart may feel like stone, but your mind needs to keep going,"she says. With wit and insight, she muses about the logistics of an evening out with a group of single, older women, none of whom drive very well; about handling the check when going to dinner with a couple; about marketing for one; and about the miracle of friendships on the Internet and the blessings of family.

It Must Have Been Moonglow is an intimate, candid, and engaging memoir, not about grief but about inspiration and strength.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When she was in her 80s, Greene's husband of 56 years, Bob, died. These plainspoken and unassuming ruminations on her first two years without him are based on a journal she began three weeks after his death. Greene does not claim to have any perspective on widowhood other than the purely personal; she writes of her memoir, "[i]t is helping me even as I hope it helps those who might read it." She shares how she coped with sleepless nights, making decisions by herself, traveling alone and simply missing Bob's companionship, covering specifics like being a single party guest and deciding what to do with Bob's antique gun (she sold it). Energetic and optimistic, Greene eventually found solace in friends, family and volunteer work. "Your heart may feel like stone," she writes, "but your mind needs to keep going." She also discovered the pleasure of using a computer and joining an online book discussion group. Shortly after Bob died, Greene's heart condition worsened, forcing her to get a pacemaker. She describes muddling through that frightening experience with the help of her brother and children, but without the husband who had been the most important person in her life. (On sale Sept. 25) Forecast: Given that elderly, widowed women outnumber widowed men by three to two, according to the author, this book is commercially promising. Middle-class widows with grown children (Greene has three) who had long, happy marriages will be her primary readers; a six-city author tour should help her reach them. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A new widow shares her thoughts on matters large and small as she gradually adapts to being single after a lifetime as half of a couple. When Greene (mother of columnist Bob Greene) was widowed in 1998, after 56 years of marriage, she found few books that spoke in any personal way to her own situation. The present work is designed to fill that gap and is based on a journal she kept during the first two years after her husband's death. While she touches on spiritual matters, the comfort provided by children, and the trauma of encountering unexpected reminders of one's loss-a song ("Moonglow," for example), a photograph, a TV rerun-she steers free of false sentiment and would-be wisdom. Practical issues of living alone are the principal concerns: paying one's share at a restaurant, driving at night, getting the car washed or its oil changed. Perhaps less ordinary chores, but for Greene real challenges, were canceling an unwanted cell phone and disposing of a handgun. A major concern, and one that will resonate with many women, has been taking care of the house, which means not just performing the chores her husband once handled, but making the decisions he had always made. When first widowed, Greene found that her clearest memories of her husband were always of the last, bad times; in the final chapter, written some two years later, the good memories have come back and she has regained her strength and self-reliance. A measure of that recovery is the new computer room she is busy creating in her home, a room of her own, a place for her writing and for chatting with new cyberfriends. For the woman who has recently joined the bereft sisterhood, reading Greene's book is akin to having someoneto share a sigh and a knowing smile with.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781588360687
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/18/2001
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
0 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Just Another Widow


This afternoon, Mt. Carmel Hospice called for my six-month "checkup." How am I doing? they wanted to know. "Well," I said. "I am doing well." Am I telling the truth, I wondered; what is "well"? What sorrowing widow can ever really do well, I think. What standard does hospice use? With all their experience, they must have some definition of good and bad, well and unwell, heartsick and heartbroken. Of one thing I am sure: What is well one day is sick at heart the next, what is laughter one hour may be tears the next. In an effort to chart my own road to acceptance (I think it is there, somewhere ahead), I began to keep a journal on December 31, three weeks after my husband's death. Now as I look back, I wonder if I have walked a mile or one hundred, if I am out in front or lagging way behind, is there a "norm," and might it help me, and others who may read this, to share my journey as I go? I would welcome the company.

Circles on the Third Floor

I avoided widowhood for fifty-six years. Bob and I tried really hard to make it longer than that, and he could have given up or given out any of the last ten, but he didn't. When he finally couldn't walk, or even move by himself; when I had to feed him and clean him; when he half-dreamed his own funeral and the "plaque" they would read, and the "people from Cleveland" who would come; when we could assure him that all the circles on the third floor were clean (although we have no third floor), then he and I and our internist knew it was finally time. The death certificate says the causes were cardiac arrest, arteriosclerotic heart disease, diabetes mellitus Type I. What it was was that everything just deteriorated, ravaged by diabetes and age and the fact that his father, too, had died at eighty-three. So, in December 1998, I joined that unhappy band of women that has been growing like a geriatric sorority, and I became just another widow.

Looking back, all the way back to my teen years, I find so many different Phyllises as the years passed. I can see her, and almost feel her, but it is hard to get the true picture of what she was like as she moved forward (she hopes forward) through the physical changes and the cultural changes and the scientific and medical changes, through the feminist movement and the political upheavals. The one constant: for the last fifty-six years she has been Bob's wife.

All marriages have moments of great joy and great pain, the relationship changes over every decade, every day, and who I am now, who any of us are at the end of a marriage compared to who we were at the beginning is hard, even impossible, to get a handle on. I was a war bride, and while my husband was overseas I worked at a good and stimulating job as a fashion advertising copywriter for a department store. It was all new for me. I think there was a career, out in that exciting world, that we now call PR or media relations or marketing. But in 1945 I wanted none of that. I wanted a home in the suburbs and I wanted a baby. And then another and then another. We fit the statistical pattern perfectly: the house, the mortgage, the backyard barbecue, and my Major home from the war. A normal life, a conventional storybook, until suddenly it's time to write the last chapter.

What we always said to one another, especially as we came down the final stretch, was that we had had a helluva ride. This memory of our life that we ran over and over in our minds and conversations in the last year or two was the nourishment that gave us the strength to accept that it couldn't go on forever.

His Tan Poplin Suit and Red Stripe Tie

It is Paul Harvey who says "And now for the rest of the story," which is a good lead for breaking news. My story, actually, has no "rest," it just goes on and on. The rest of the story will evolve day by day, as long as I live.

I go through the necessary motions. I laugh some. I do shed some tears. I am learning to accept that this is the way it is, that there is almost nothing I can do except keep the faith, and walk through the storm with my head held high, and whistle while I work, and speak only soft answers to turn away wrath-and check my Bartlett's Book of Quotations for more clichés. For every widow there is a timetable, and "recovery" comes to each one on a different schedule and in a different way.

Just as recovering alcoholics are never free from the desire for a drink, so, too, am I, a recovering griever, never free of my desire for the life I had before. There just aren't any twelve steps that help. Nevertheless, with determination and reliance on the love and goodwill of friends and family, there are tolerable days and a window still on life's joys.

It seems incredible that months have passed and it is the bad memories of the last year of my marriage that are still so much clearer in my mind than the good memories of those many years that came before.

When I can reclaim those years, when the children were young and we lived in our lovely, traditional home, where we ate breakfast in a sunny breakfast room and ate dinner together every night, when Bob came home from work each evening to find his family awaiting his arrival, then I will know I am at least moving down that recovery road.

There is one picture in my mind of Bob that I return to over and over again. We are going out to dinner; his mother is here visiting us. We have driven to the top of the little hill and out of the driveway. Bob notices that he has forgotten to turn the pool sweep off, and so he goes down to turn the switch. As he comes back up the hill, in his tan poplin suit and his repp stripe tie and his blue button-down shirt, tan and healthy, with his great smile, I know that once and forever God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, my never-changing mantra.

When I say "Bob," and that is the picture that flashes into my mind and heart, then, perhaps, I can say that I am recovered.

Dear Diary

For me, the written word is the quintessential medium. From grocery lists to condolence messages to letters to friends or to the children at camp or for birthdays, it's the most effective way to express myself. Over the years, each time that Bob got sick, I would write a few words in the evening to remind me of how the day had gone. Each time he was in the hospital, I would come home and write. What was for me a tension release became, also, my medical log. By the time I had a computer, I had actual files of illnesses and operations, even one called Hive History, reporting when and how that chronic itch kept recurring. Bob got sick-really sick-the day after Labor Day, went to the hospital for tests and came home a bedridden, kidney-failing, medically complex, probably incurable, accepting good sport of a man. He died on December 12 after three horrible months that left us all heartbroken and devastated.

In the days after Bob's death, I gave no thought to writing anything other than thank-you notes for condolences. I was so busy, greeting visitors and talking to lawyers, talking to accountants, talking to the VA, being sure that we had someone to shovel snow. The mundane things were taking a lot of time.

As much as I enjoy writing, I would never have kept a daily journal after Bob died if I hadn't received my granddaughter Maggie's beautiful Christmas gift, a hardbacked journal, spiral-wire bound so that the lined pages lie flat for writing. On the cover there is the title One Day at a Time and a drawing of a lovely-looking older woman, in a big black hat, kneeling in her garden, tenderly holding a small plant in her hand, a not-so-subtle suggestion that she is probably a widow. The hat is the giveaway, that and the unmistakable sad expression. I got the message: Plant your small thoughts and they might help you heal and grow.

At first I thought it was a unique experience for me to find solace in writing my nightly entries. Once the tips-for-healing began arriving in the hospice mailings, it dawned on me that these journal jottings might be a comfort for others. Most of the published books I found about widowhood did not really speak to me; there were not many from a purely personal perspective. Thus, this book is just the journal, magnified. It is helping me even as I hope it helps those who might read it. We tackle our sorrow alone, but if we open ourselves with sympathy and empathy, it is a much less lonely road.

What started as a very private project began to take shape in my mind as something I could share, something for many of us, paddling away in the same small, sad boat.

Merchandise on State Street

Not that long ago, we, a couple, did what the funeral industry calls "preplanning." It required a weird combination of realism and common sense with a kind of denial that what we were doing was ever really going to be of any use. Die? Us? Of course we would-someday, someday-just not in our foreseeable future.

In November and December 1997 there was a promotion to plan and prepay your funeral, advertised by the Schoedinger Funeral organization, which has, for the last hundred years, buried almost everyone we know. If it didn't seem exactly a lark to go ahead and make these arrangements, it was not a depressing thing to do. In fact, everyone seemed to be doing it, saying at dinner get-togethers that they had been downtown to the State Street chapel to talk to Dave or Jay, the Schoedingers currently in charge. I had served on boards and committees with both of them, and Bob was a good friend and fellow Rotarian of the retired senior Schoedinger, John.

The rationale for doing this was to save our children some onerous decision making when they would be grieving. So down to State Street we went, and we filled out all the forms and even chose the "merchandise" (merchandise!): the casket, the urn, the cremation box. As we wandered around the second floor of the chapel, we thought it best not even to think of the implications, but just to get it done. And we did.

We chose a cemetery plot, too, and ordered headstones. And then it was all put in a file for what we hoped would be a long, long time. One year later, I pulled out the file for Bob, and his plan became operational.

We had assumed, I think, that there was a tax, as well as an emotional, advantage to all of this. There was, of course, neither. When it came time to list funeral expenses to be paid by the estate, we couldn't include the prepayment because it would have to be offset by the asset of owning the plan! If the prepayment was supposed to be a hedge against inflation, that didn't work for Bob, although it may for me. It came to be something that just was. Like the death itself.

I go to the cemetery now and am not sure I like the plot we chose, one of many that have belonged to my family for years. I know I do not like the headstone that bears both of our names. Somehow that macabre fact escaped me in the planning, but we have one grave, therefore one stone. At least my death date hasn't the inscription "19-," because 2001 is already here and, all things being equal, to have inscribed the wrong century for my death would have been bad planning indeed.

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