Lockdown, it seems, has given everyone time to think and to plan. This has been the case for me, especially in the latter weeks where my early lockdown routines have wilted away, a bit of tedium has set in, and, to be honest, loneliness has started to creep in. Some big life decisions are on the horizon and, for the first time in a very long time, the responsibility for these decisions rests upon my shoulders.
This is a post in two parts. Firstly a look back at “smaller decisions” in the past and then a little look at how I feel now facing life decisions on my own.
Small Decisions Might Be Bigger Than They Look
After the death of my wife in November 2019 I was able to make small decisions, that had no real impact but which had caused many evenings of discussions between us. These things included, what picture to put on that wall, what rug to get, what curtains or blinds to get, and so on. These decisions were hard as they were, at the end of the day, all about personal preference and taste and my wife and I had different personal preferences and tastes.
Many a weekend morning or afternoon, or weekday evening, were spent looking at artwork or rugs online, trying to find something we both liked and that we could then match to the other things that were needed. These small and, looking back, petty decisions caused a lot of friction and angst. As we had different tastes when asked for my honest opinion about things my wife liked then I was seen to be ruining the things she liked. If I agreed with her, but she knew I didn’t like certain things, she would feel I was just saying that to please her (true…happy wife, happy life). If I said, I was happy to have whatever she wanted then I was accused of not caring and not being involved. I think this happens to us blokes everywhere, for a lot of things. But it isn’t that straightforward.
Decisions are not the Same Size for Everyone
Of course, at the time, I was still going to work, ferrying the children around to school or activities, doing the shopping, going out to band practice, and so on. My life was partly in the house and partly out of the house. Whilst my wife was unwell she was in the house, a lot, and often on her own. The internal decor, or the objects in the house, had far greater importance and significance to her. I was well aware of this fact then. The size and importance of these decisions, such as what artwork to get, were different for us both. To me, they weren’t really important (I tend to not notice things after walking by them three times) and trivial. To my wife, they were very important decisions and caused a lot of stress. These decisions would literally shape her world.
I genuinely didn’t really care what picture we had. OK, I had the odd caveat, I didn’t want a picture of just flowers for example. But for me, not caring was frustrating for my wife as these decisions were very important to her. Of course, I knew these decisions were important and I gave my time and energy into looking at lots of things and discussing them. However, the difference in personal significance and consequence was hard to really adjust to. For both of us.
We had bought a couple of pictures for the lounge but neither had really been suitable once in situ. One we returned and one was placed in a different location upstairs. In the end, we bought and painted a cheap mirror which worked well. However, there remained another bare wall. We managed to choose the pattern on the blinds for various parts of the house. Sadly, my wife was seriously ill, when they eventually turned up. Whilst she saw the landing window blinds up, I’m not sure she got to see the much-agonised over lounge blinds actually in person. This was hard to swallow.
After Christmas, I chose a picture I liked and a rug and just got them. It felt good to me, to get something in. To sort of finish the journey. The choices of both were not difficult. I was only pleasing myself after all and, as I’ve established, I didn’t care hugely. I liked them and there was a large slice of “that’ll do”. I am very happy with my choices. But the decisions about a rug and a piece of artwork are really of little consequence and, therefore, easy to make on my own. Easier to make on my own in fact. The troubles I face now are the big decisions.
Making Big Decisions on My Own
Since before the passing of my wife, the subject of moving house has cropped up quite a lot. When we moved into our house, about 15 years ago, we had no experience of having a family or the seemingly endless amount of stuff that having a family seems to attract. Our house seemed huge, and wonderful, compared to what we had previously. Now, with three boys growing ever bigger, the house seems to be growing smaller. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many families with smaller houses, and often with more people in them than what we have. I appreciate what we have and that our problems are first-world problems but still, in my world, my twins are getting bigger and are currently sharing a room with a bunk bed. They like and want different things around them. My eldest is now a teenager and is in a small room only about 7-8ft square. The layout of the house doesn’t really seem to suit our style of living. The end result is that moving house is currently under serious consideration. But the where’s, why’s and when’s are all complicated. These are all things that, in a loving and stable relationship, would be discussed throughout the weeks and months preceding the events themselves. You get to talk them through.
October this year also sees the deadline for secondary school applications. Whilst I thought this was pretty much decided some time ago (a joint decision from my wife and me) if we move house to somewhere not local to here then all that would have to change. My eldest has talked about wanting to move schools (I may talk about that another time) so should that happen? That would impact which school his brothers go to. What if one of the twins does well in the 11plus exams and the other doesn’t … or they both do? Should they go to a different school to the one we planned?
Even the decision as to when to send them back to school seems difficult. (I think it is too soon, but there we go).
I talk to friends and family every day and discuss these things. Of course, most people have opinions about what to do and advice to give. I ask for it so it is fine. However, everyone views someone else’s problems and decisions differently than if they would if they were facing them for themselves. As with the lounge painting, the importance of the decision is very different based on the impact it will have on them. Logical thoughts come out freely when there is no personal consequence to themselves.
There is a fear of taking on the burden of responsibility on my own shoulders, in case something goes wrong. I tell others who have big decisions to make that it will all be OK, whatever choices are made. I truly believe it for most general life story-arc decisions – if what we chose to do doesn’t work out then we keep adapting until things are actually OK. The end result is a good one, even if it takes a bit longer to get there. The trouble is that adapting to the resultant situation(s) also feels harder on one’s own.
When it comes to making my own big decision, especially when it does affect other people such as my children, it is scary to make these choices solo. I’m not sure I like it very much.