Archive for May, 2008

When the Lord Closes a Door
Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

My friend Michelle came into my life in November of 2005. Around that time, grieving my husband had become my full-time job—I did everything else part-time. Two months after Phil’s death my life was settling into a pattern of managing widowhood, and single parenthood, one challenge at a time. My friends and family still kept an eye on me, but at the end of every day my most reliable companion was grief. Until early November when I got a call from my sister, Debi, asking for my help. My brother-in-law’s cousin had lost her husband to cancer the week before, and Debi wondered if I would write her a note. She thought I might know, better than anyone else, what to say to her.

The interesting thing was I didn’t feel like I knew anything about being a widow—except that it was thrust upon me, and it wasn’t optional. Sitting at my desk thinking of what to write, I finally settled on the truth—I was so sorry she lost her husband and the months ahead wouldn’t be easy, but I was available to talk anytime she wanted. That short message began a relationship that has changed my life.

Within weeks, the two of us felt an unmistakable kinship created by our loss experiences. We discussed all the things that we hated about widowhood—sometimes in pretty colorful language. It didn’t take long to figure out that speaking to each other could be done in half sentences—the other friend could always fill in the blanks. Some days we needed to cry, other days we needed to laugh, but with each passing day we discovered that we needed each other. Many mornings I woke up, with swollen eyes from an evening of wailing, and ran to my computer to see if I had mail. Her words became my lifeline, or perhaps more accurately, my hope line.

Miraculously, we took turns having break downs; we also took turns carrying the imaginary candle of hope. Each of us believed in the possibility of healing, but neither of us was sure how to go about it. Many days we weren’t sure we even wanted to try. What we didn’t realize at the time was that we were helping each other heal with our every interaction. Our spirits were slowly rebuilt with each tearful conversation, with the quiet acknowledgement of each other’s pain, with the certainty of a pat on the back for a forward step taken, and with the intuitive phone calls that came when the voice on the answering machine didn’t sound quite right.

Michelle was the only person who understood that I wanted to die, but that I would never kill myself. I could tell her that I missed being a wife, but I had no desire to have another husband. One day she would agree with me that neither of us would ever re-marry, and the next day we could jointly agree to the exact opposite course of action. The most telling part of our mutual understanding was that we verbally agreed that given the chance, we would immediately trade our wonderful friendship in for the opportunity to have our husbands back—without hesitation and without any hard feelings! The illogical, roller coaster of grief was much easier to ride with a partner who was willing to either clutch my arm during the frightening drops or encourage me to throw my hands in the air—depending on the day. Somehow Michelle always knew what kind of day it was.

Reflecting on the phrase, “When the Lord closes a door he always opens a window,” I realize that my friendship with Michelle is a window that opened for me after the death of my husband slammed shut a door, with unnerving finality. Through the window of our friendship I am able to see the good that still exists in my life and in the world. The frame of our friendship window was forged by the fire of grief and reinforced by the power of shared experience. Our window is draped in mutual love and unwavering support. Unless you have lived the loss experience you might not notice that our friendship window has a unique style of glass—it allows us to view the world as it could be if we dare to believe in the power of hope. The deafening crack of the door that death closed for me reverberates in my heart and in my daily experience, but when the noise threatens to alter my life view—I just look out the window.

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

My wedding anniversary is June 3. The first couple of anniversaries after my husband’s death were extremely difficult. There seemed no helpful way to get through this day. I would even start feeling sad and uncomfortable several days prior.

During the fifth year, my old dog began having health problems. she was 13. She looked really good for her age, but I had to acknowledge that 13 was on the older end of the life spectrum for Black Labs.

I was in the process of starting a business and felt very torn about whether to stay home with her or pursue my new career.

Rabi (pronounced Robbie) had been through a lot with me. She sat on the floor with me amidst piles of books while I wrote my Master’s Thesis. She had been our “trail guide” when my husband and I went on horseback riding vacations. She snuggled with me many times during my husband’s final months, tears falling on her soft fur as we comforted each other.

As my husband’s death grew more imminent, he continually asked me where Rabi was. He knew how important she was to me and how much more important she would become when he was physically gone.

The night he transitioned, Rabi really knew. And she also knew of my increased need to be close to her. She and I became constant companions.

Rabi was the one constant in my life through all the overwhelming changes which occurred after my husband died.

Rabi died on June 3, on what would have been my twenty-sixth wedding anniversary. How could this be? It felt so very cruel. She was really my last connection with the physical life my husband and I shared on our farm. And now she too was gone.

My husband was gone. Rabi was gone.

The next winter as I took a walk in the snow, I looked down and saw a perfectly shaped heart made of snow. It looked like it had somehow formed out of a chunk of snow that had flipped off my boots. I ran back to the house to grab my camera.

Of all the places for me to walk, here I was, gazing at a heart in the snow. Somehow my heart felt more peaceful. Somehow in this moment I was able to feel that the Universe had given me a message about the fragile and yet enduring power of love.

Soon the sun’s intensity melted the snow enough to transform the shape of the heart in the snow. It melted into air and water. It melted into the vastness of the Universe.

I will never forget that day. I will never forget the heart in the snow. But I hold it gently in my memory, as I now hold other days more gently in my memory.