Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

Mrs. Fix-It

Monday, May 13, 2013
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At long last spring has arrived, and with it Chicago’s construction season. Not just on bridges and roadways either. The onset of warmer weather generally means that something big has broken at Jane’s house and needs expensive repair. This year it’s the central air conditioning. The year before last, it was a new roof and deck. But it was that first spring after my husband died when my house became a bona fide construction zone. Much of my home’s exterior needed to be ripped off and rebuilt. We’re talking major wood and stucco reconstruction, which was hell to live with. My husband had been dead for six months, and my house was falling apart. I felt completely and utterly broken.

To be quite honest, I never wanted to buy this house, or any house for that matter. For years I’d been the content renter of a one bedroom loft, just down the block from the money pit I call home. When something needed fixing in those days, I made a quick phone call. The maintenance man, a bit of a drunk, always got the job done while I was off at work. I changed my own light bulbs and washed the windows, but that was the extent of my abilities. If the faucet leaked, I made a phone call. Same deal if I saw a mouse or a saggy spot on the ceiling. I guess I never learned how to take care of a house, nor was I the least bit interested. Not much changed in this regard after I married Mr. Fix-It.

I came into my marriage, and into this house, with my own pristine set of tools that my father had gifted me some years before. My husband liked to play with my tools instead of his own, maybe because they’d never been used. Anyway, once married I gladly handed over my girly toolkit and lived blissfully unaware of anything repair-related. It was all rainbows and sunshine until he died. Without warning. Without saying goodbye. Without showing me how to replace the furnace filters.

Obviously, there are far worse things about being widowed than not having your man around to mow the lawn and hang the new blinds you just bought. With the help of my grief counselor and circles of support, I did what I could to work through the emotional pain and trauma. It was slow going, and no doubt the hardest work I’ve ever done. Over the past four years, I’ve put a lot of the pieces back together. I’ve learned how to integrate the loss into my life. I’m able to be present with the grief when it comes, without clinging to it or pushing it away or letting it take over.

What I’m not able to do is fix things around the house. And that drives me batshit crazy. Sure, I had plenty of assistance that first year from friends and relatives and whatnot. But as Laura described in “Call Me if You Need Anything,” the much needed help dwindled as the years passed. Maybe I’m just too proud to ask. I don’t know.

As it happens, I’m now as familiar with the layout of Home Depot as I once was with the Nordstrom mall. In the last couple of months, I’ve replaced three broken smoke detectors, unclogged two drains and rid the kitchen of about a thousand ants. Still, when something needs fixing, a part of me feels a little bit broken. As if I’m totally incompetent. After all, I’m afraid to use the drill. I don’t know anything about plumbing. And I’m still unable to replace those hard-to-reach furnace filters. But on the inside – in my heart, my humanity – I think I’ve come a long way. I’ve actually rebuilt something. And in that sense, I’ve earned the right to call myself Mrs. Fix-It.


Jane, you are incredible, and one of the most capable people I know. You have come a long way. Proud of you!!!

I just read your delightful, witty story of "Mrs. Fix-It. I wish you did not live so far away ~ To know you through GROWW was wonderful, but I would love to meet you face to face. I am very proud of you.

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