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Tuesday of last week was the fourth anniversary of the death of my late wife. It’s far enough now that the growing spiral of grief has begun to blur the immediate details of his last breaths and instead encompass the meaning and effects of his life. It is also – I am pretty sure this is the universal experience of widowhood – encouraged and enabled the transition from the hopeless state of what-am-am-to-do-now? to begin to assess and explore the possibilities inherent in the unknown, but certainly a few years of my own active life still ahead of me.

There seems to be an implicit line between overt grief over the death of an intimate companion of decades, and taking a breather to look around. The location of this line varies between individuals. Some survivors build small shrines in their homes – illuminated portraits and favorite objects of the deceased – and settle into widowhood. Others get rid of all artifacts and reminders as cleanly as possible. I keep a few pictures handy – on the fridge door, next to my desk, above the headboard of my bed – and a small bottle of lavender oil, her favorite scent, with which I steeped a folded paper towel layered in a pile of Post-its on my desk. It’s amazing how long the aroma stays strong. In sentimental moments, I often breathe through, close my eyes, and remember happy days and nights that, though now past, poignantly linger.

Before my wife and I met, I lived alone and cooked for myself, which required very little effort. The menu had lots of baked beans, bacon, salt pork, pea soup and venison. While working out, I easily burned as many calories as I took in. After we met, my cooking days were over. But over the past few years, I’ve taken small steps toward proficiency. My daughter-in-law is a big help with our twice-weekly Zoom calls: I can now find the sauce mix packets at the supermarket. And my omelettes, if known, would make me famous. My best, popularly called a trash omelet in trendy restaurants, I call it Would-you-like-an-egg-with-that? Still, cooking without it is a wasteland, especially with Wolf Blitzer’s “breaking news” in the background.

The big difference around home and cooking – both works of genius and his latest creations – is loneliness. However, a few months before his death, I was able to adopt the perfect puppy, who spends 24 hours a day with me when I am at home. Kiki dozes behind me as I write, in the recliner here in the office, and will soon start teasing for our daily walk in the park, where she hops into the woods happily enough for both of us. It’s hard to imagine how quiet and dark life here would be without her. Yet, something important is missing. How many times do I read or hear something and think, “Oh wait, I’ll say…oh. She can’t hear me anymore.

She loved to travel, so we did, as much as we could afford. His favorite destination was Paris, which I can do without. We celebrated our fiftieth one evening on the top deck of a riverboat, watching the lights of the Eiffel Tower flash wildly every hour. She loved Nice and Cannes, which I can definitely do without: the traffic, and the panicked French people who clenched my fist and shouted “Imbécile! It was very romantic – we almost spent a night at the expensive inn where Simone Signoret and Yves Montand once had naughty dates. But over time, our travel mishaps grew more serious and his strength began to wane; so we traveled inland: several times to the Gettysburg battlefield, where I traveled the road from Pickett’s Charge as she drove to meet me at the Union lines, but I didn’t I never managed to get there. Neither does Pickett.

Almost suddenly, it seems, all that excitement and camaraderie stopped. She had to stop driving; his passages in the kitchen became advisory; our dinners with eight or ten people were only a memory. Then she had to be in a nursing home; then she left.

In the four years that followed, I thought maybe I would live a little longer. So am I going to be an old widower with a cute little dog for the rest of my life? What about senior dating sites? At my age, I’m not a rare commodity on paper. But, although I miss my once inexhaustible source of brilliant ideas, I try to channel its strength. Granted, in all the years I’ve spent bouncing back from childhood, I’ve had to create and leave a few valuable resources untouched. This is, I think, how she would have me think. So I tried it, and, mirabile dictu, I think it works.

Willem Lange is a regular contributor to Weekend Magazine. He lives in Montpellier East.

Willem Lange is a regular contributor to Weekend Magazine. He lives in Montpellier East.