It was midnight. A drugstore was open somewhere, of course, but I'd have to grab a bus or cab to get there. In my neighborhood, neither is easy to find at that hour. I decided to take matters into my own hands.

From my kitchen I fetched a bowl and a clean jelly jar. I washed my face and climbed into bed, put on the classical station, propped a picture of Gil and Mona six inches in front of me, and tried to relax.

There I was in the privacy of my own bedroom--and what sad, abundant privacy it is now, too--doubled over a picture of my dead husband and my left-behind daughter, kneading my breasts with all the subtlety of a drunken prom date. Any dignity I might still have had evaporated with the first squirt of milk into the jar.

But as I warmed to the task, something better than dignity welled up in me and took its place. Call it the pioneer spirit. Call it pride of workmanship. These breasts of mine had been innocent ornaments for 35 years, firm and forthright, gawking at their various admirers without ever knowing a higher purpose than beauty. Now they had borne the pressure and pulling of a tiny mouth and little fists for 500 days. They were soft and a little southerly now, but tougher than ever, like old leather that's been worn and oiled and worn some more. Their very suppleness allowed me to wring them out like sponges. They work, they work hard, and at night they never even request a cold beer and a little soft porn anymore. They, and I, have forgotten we could ask.

It wasn't the first time I simply buckled down to do what had to be done. But it was the first time I felt the choice of action was entirely mine. And I realized I'd made a permanent change for the better.

I will always be the kind of person who does what she must. But over these months of living with loss, I have learned a lot about what really must be done. And at the end of each day, I've found that very little falls into that category. Morning after morning, I have made a little list--sometimes only one item long--and evening after evening, I have been forced to forgive myself the procrastination and exhaustion that are part of grief. I have kept Mona safe and happy, or called someone to do it for me when I couldn't. I have eaten and slept as sanely as I could, or called a friend or wept or bathed when I couldn't. I have written appeal letters to the tax man, the hospitals, and even my few remaining, oh-so-understanding clients. I have paid the bills from savings and Social Security. I have counted my blessings that I could do this much.

And on this night, although a suitcase full of bills and dunning notices sat waiting for me downstairs, I took some real satisfaction from checking off my modest list of two: produce a few ounces of milk, and get some sleep.

Tomorrow was another day. Maybe I'd start the morning list with three items: 1. Stop at the corner store. 2. Get a six-pack and a couple of magazines. 3. Relax.

Read the next installment of "Widow's Walk," All Vows Forgiven, or choose another column here: