“There are some things you forget as a widow. Your car keys. Appointments. Your mind. Paying your electric bill.
That happened to me once, you know. Well, all of that has happened, but forgetting to pay my electric bill happened. In the dead of winter. In Idaho.
I don’t remember exactly what I was doing, but I do remember when the lights went off. And the TV. And the blow dryer. And the heater. Because, while I love a good snowstorm, I like them a whole lot better when it’s not the same temperature inside that it is outside. I also remember hearing the dogs bark before the whole house went dark, which means I’m pretty sure they heard the electric man creeping around my house to pull the wires. Some attack shih-tzus they turned out to be.
Anyway, I stumbled around the house for a second, trying to figure out what happened, then instinctively wandered to the front windows, opened the blinds, and looked out. I was sure I would see the whole neighborhood dark, you know – because it couldn’t possibly just be my house. I mean, no way. I had a $1500 credit on my electric bill after my husband died so there was no way that had run out, right? Well, yeah. It did. And it dawned on me when I peered across the road and saw my neighbor’s Christmas display up and running, complete with a waiving snowman and tiny robotic carolers singing, ‘Joy to the World,’ while my blow-up Santa lay lifeless taking its last breaths in the front yard, signaling for the whole world there was obviously no joy coming from my house.
I called the power company while running my hands through my half dry hair, shaking off the icicles that were quickly forming. The operator answered on the tenth ring. She said I didn’t pay my bill. I laughed. Impossible, I thought. She read me my history. I haven’t paid in three months? That can’t be. Well, it could be. Because it was.
‘So, can you just send the technician back?’
‘After you pay,’ she snarked.
‘Well, of course. Let me grab my credit card.’ I read her the numbers. ‘So, can you send him back?’
‘Sure, between 2 and 5.’
‘That’s in six hours.’
‘That’s right.’ I’m pretty sure I heard her smile.
‘He’s literally right down the street.’ I looked
‘We turn power back on at the end of the day,’ she proclaimed proudly.
‘It’s freezing. And, I can still see his truck.’ I begged as I looked out the blinds, still annoyed with the way-too-happy Christmas display in the neighbor’s yard and the stray cat that was now bundling up my Santa into a bed to take a long winter’s nap.
‘You didn’t pay your bill for three months.’ No need to rub it in, electric company lady.
I didn’t want to explain to her that I was a widow. I didn’t want to have to tell her how my husband took care of everything and I had this credit on my account for a year and never gave it a second thought, and that two years later I still don’t even really know when to pay the bills. So, I did the next best thing. I lied.
‘I have a baby up in here,’ I blurted out.
‘A baby?’ She asked.
‘Yes.’ I tried to sound convincing, but it came out more like a question than a statement.
‘How old?’ I envisioned her sitting at her switchboard with a beehive hairdo smoking a cigarette with a three-inch ash, squinting her eyes trying to catch me in my lie.
‘Sixteen…’ I paused.
‘Sixteenyearsold,’ I whispered and said it as fast as I could hoping she wouldn’t actually hear what I said.
‘Ma’am, are you saying sixteen months old?’
‘Sixteen months…192 months…what’s the difference?’ I scoffed.
‘Like, fifteen years?’ Her voice dripped with sarcasm.
‘She’s still a baby, and she’s cold.’ And so am I. And so are my dogs.
‘I’m sure she will be fine.’
Fine? She will be fine? She’s not fine. Her dad is dead, and I forgot to pay the electric bill. She’s never going to be ‘fine’ again. Sure, sometimes she’s going to be ok. And other times, she’s going to be sad and frustrated and on occasion – cold, when I screw it all up.
And, I’m going to screw it all up.
Because widowhood is still new to me. And being fatherless is still new to her. Even three years later, we are still trying to navigate all the things we didn’t know before. Three years later, we are still trying to figure out how to be ‘fine’ and how to stay warm. Three years later, we are still sometimes just going through the motions, and sometimes we are finding a whole new path. And sometimes, that path is rocky and cold and sometimes it’s chaotic and beautiful.
Because, there is beautiful chaos in this, even when it seems like there’s not. I know that’s hard to believe, especially if you’re in the beginning stages of grief. I know it seems like it will never get better or easier or feel any different, but it will. There are some days when the electricity will be on, and some days when it won’t be, but there’s always going to be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and warmth when it seems like the coldest day. You just have to keep hanging on, never give up, and remember to pay your bills. I promise, one way or another, it’s going to be ok. Just look at me, my lights are back on.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her book “Grief Life” is available in print and kindle. You can find more of her books here, and her podcast here. Connect with Diana on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.
Read more powerful stories from Diana:
‘Please don’t cry,’ I mumbled. ‘It’s a tree. It’s just a tree.’ And then it happened, full blown tears.’: Mom realizes teenage daughter’s meltdown was triggered by loss of father, ‘No matter how many presents I buy, nothing can heal her pain’
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