The abnormal burden of ‘normal’ errands

I never used to give normal errands much thought.

You know the ones I mean: vehicle maintenance and repairs, groceries, prescriptions, salt for the water softening system, taking the recycling to the bins at the town office, going to the transfer station, registering vehicles, paying taxes, veterinarian appointments, getting dog food, picking up parts or materials for repairs, dealing with utilities and repairmen and snow plowing and septic tank maintenance and wood pellets and the list just goes on and on.

My husband Jim and I would share the errands, and I never truly felt their burden. We often were on different shifts when we both worked, and the errands flowed easily between the two of us. When Jim retired, the bulk of them fell on his shoulders.

But when Jim died of pancreatic cancer in 2010, I felt the weight of those errands as they shifted to my shoulders. They seemed overwhelming frankly. Nothing could be left out. It all had to be done, in addition to maintenance tasks around the house and yard, and my full-time job, without which I couldn’t do any of it.

And through it all, I was grieving and trying to keep one foot moving in front of the other, pushing myself toward my unplanned future.

Friends and family offered their assistance, and occasionally I would take one of them up on their offer, but they had their own lives with their own errands to do. I would not burden them with mine if I could accomplish the task otherwise.

The good thing about human beings is that we learn to adapt. My adaptation was to make short lists of errands or tasks that needed the most immediate attention and cross them off as I managed to do each one.


I would finish the whole short list — no more than two or three items — then write a new short list and start the process again, allowing myself a few hours in between to revel at my ability to get things done.

I often do Post It notes of tasks that must be done on a given day because otherwise I would forget. I attribute that flaw to brain overload. I tape the notes to my purse, steering wheel, bathroom mirror, computer screen; wherever I know I will have to look at some point during my day.

Somehow bouncing from Post It note to Post It note helps me get the jobs done and I don’t have time to feel overwhelmed by the larger picture.

The trickiest errands are those that need to be done during the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. spread of normal business hours. But I have become very efficient at lunchtime and often can get one or two quick things done in addition to letting my dogs out for a potty break and to stretch their legs.

I plot my course so that I have the quickest routes to my destinations without backtracking, and have a strategy for getting in and out quickly and efficiently. It works most of the time.

It seems like I’m always scheming up a strategy to maximize my efficiency, whether it’s for errands, medical appointments, or simply because I am returning home from a road trip and in my fatigue want to do what has to be done with the least effort possible.

When coming home from a road trip, I think about what I need to lug inside from my vehicle, and in what order I will take items in; and how I will deal with the dogs, at what stage in my unloading process I will deal with them, and what their needs will be once they are unloaded.

By the time my vehicle stops, I have a plan to execute.

Jim used to help me unpack my vehicle from road trips or deal with the dogs for me. Burdens shared were less burdensome.

I also am lucky that my work schedule can be flexible. I can work wherever I have wifi available so if I am waiting for something to be done — such as a repair or maintenance on a vehicle — I simply log in wherever I am and work while I wait. I also can work from home while I wait on a service or repair person.

Or add an hour at the beginning or end of my day if time is taken up at the veterinarian’s office with one of my four Brittany dogs.

There are weeks, such as several recent ones, when this business of doing errands has felt a bit like a Russian roulette dance.

Springtime is a busy time of the year. Vehicle registrations and inspections are due. The dogs’ wellness examinations, heartworm testing and vaccinations are due. The camper needs to be opened up and whatever repairs necessary from winter’s torments need to be done.

There are so many important details.

Not to mention the restarting of mowing and yard maintenance, a plethora of dog events being held before the heat of the summer is upon us, and family and friend graduations, weddings, and other special occasions.

It feels like I’m never off the road, never unpacked, and never caught up with errands. There are never enough hours in any day, or enough energy, to get things all done.

I’m sure this condition is not unique to widowhood, but I know I feel the burden much more acutely than I once did. It could be because I am not getting younger; but it could be that each time I am faced with an errand of normal living, I am reminded the responsibility for getting it done is now mine alone.

The twinge of loneliness that realization triggers is fleeting, but there all the same.


Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.