Archive for June, 2008

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

June 3 has come and gone for 2008. It’s just another day, but for me it would have been my 30th wedding anniversary.

The prior week I noticed that memories of my husband and memories of our life together on the farm were surfacing quite frequently.

I have been extremely busy recently and it took me a couple days to realize what was going on. Yes, I was remembering. And yes, my anniversary was coming up.

It has always been interesting to me how memories can be so vivid. It’s as if you truly are transported in time.

Several years ago I became aware of how I can allow myself to fully experience the memory and also be fully present in the moment.

The memories which had previously immersed me in the past for days or even weeks, actually now became a part of the overall rich tapestry which was June 3, 2008.

The memories surfaced in specific moments in time. I noticed them. I cherished them. I was grateful for them. And then I allowed myself to flow into the next moment.

Grief and memory have become part of the circle of life that for me becomes richer and more complete as I simply allow my thoughts and feelings to be, without resistance or attempting to hold them tightly.

The memories flow, as do other thoughts and feelings. June 3, 2008 was a rich and full day, in part because of my memories from that day thirty years ago.

I had a choice to let the memories flow or to grasp them tightly. I chose to let them flow. They are part of me but they do not consume my life.

I believe grief and memories can truly enrich our lives. The hardest part is accepting what is, right now.

Becoming a Widow
Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

In the early morning hours of September 1ST 2005, sleeping restlessly, I became aware of a warm red light filling the darkness of my bedroom. As I sensed the pulsing illumination, I listened intently for an accompanying noise. Still on the edge of sleep, I realized the glow in the room was coming from my husband’s alarm clock. I thought it was strange that there was no sound—the volume was obviously turned down. Why wasn’t he getting up, I wondered? For him to let the alarm go on for so long was unusual, and I started to worry that he would be late for work.

Then I remembered. Panic began to rise in my chest; quickly I calmed myself with the thought that I had surely been dreaming. In this disturbing dream my husband Phil was dead—many family members were at our home, the kids had all been told, friends had arrived to comfort us, tears had poured out uncontrollably, and somewhere in the back of my mind I could hear myself screaming. Yes, it must have been a dream. Still, I was afraid to open my eyes. What if he really was dead? Lying there, I imagined that if I stayed very still with eyes squeezed tightly shut, the horror of this dream would fade away with the beginning of the new day.

In the background of my rationalizations the light of the alarm continued to flash, each rhythmic glow a dare to verify my untested theory. Reluctantly, I slid my hand across to Phil’s side of the bed. To this day I can still feel the cool, crisp sheet in the place where his warm body should have been. The reality of his absence gripped my heart, as the unbelievable memories of the night before came flooding back. Tears flowed again as I repeatedly reached for him, eyes still defiantly closed, wishing desperately to wake up from what was rapidly becoming a nightmare. That morning I would begin my first day as a widow.

As time marched on and the initial shock of Phil’s death began to fade, I found being a widow to be both demanding and disconcerting. Not only was I abruptly left without a partner, but I felt the weight of unspoken expectations at every turn. All of a sudden every decision was mine to make at a time when I could hardly remember my name. As my whole being twisted in agony at the thought of life without my husband, the practical pull of daily life continued to demand my attention. Thrust into a fishbowl of well-meaning, sympathetic company, I wavered between the alarming temptation to allow the rising tidal wave of grief to consume me and the equally pressing need to prove that I would not crumble under the weight of despair. The tug-of-war between the desire to drown and the instinct to swim was exhausting. Suddenly my mind was paralyzed by previously inconsequential choices.

Overwhelmed and inexplicably unable to make decisions, I lost the self-confidence on which I had always relied. The moment I lost Phil, I was transformed from a poised, goal-oriented, content woman into a remote, indecisive, despondent ghost. I didn’t recognize myself, I didn’t recognize my life, and I saw no course that would lead me back to the person I used to be. Not only was I lost, but I didn’t care that I was lost. Anguish, fear, confusion and apathy became my constant companions.

Reading about the “stages of grief” frustrated me, because the broad concepts of denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance were not reflective of my daily experiences. The information I sought about being a widow was more personal – I didn’t want to know if other widows had been in denial; I wanted to know if they had worn their husband’s clothes. The bargaining phase did not interest me, but I yearned to find out what widows did with their husbands’ wedding rings. Being angry about losing your life companion was logical, but where was the logic in believing your dead husband could walk through the door any day? Depression threatened to consume me daily, while hope escaped me. Acceptance was a state I couldn’t even consider, so how could I aspire to it? Maddeningly, the “stages of grief” presented a road map that was deceptively linear. Each time I entered what I thought was a new stage I would quickly find myself backtracking and re-visiting an old one. Grief began to seem like an endless maze. I wanted reassurance that I wasn’t going to be lost in this labyrinth forever—I wanted to meet some survivors.

Suddenly I was certain that other widows were the source of the elusive answers about widowhood that plagued me. If I could find women who survived this loss and were willing to talk about it, the compilation of their stories would be the kind of comfort and reassurance I craved. Led by my desire to find out exactly how other women lived through the crushing loss of a husband, I traveled the country spending over one hundred hours speaking to women about their day-to-day life as widows.

The women I met while preparing to write this book changed my life. They told me their stories with courage and honesty. Each one of them allowed me into their sorrow without hesitation, unknowingly urging me to recognize that letting go of my sadness would not mean letting go of Phil. Welcomed into their homes, I met, through stories, pictures and personal treasures, the men they lost. The warmth and love evident in their remembrances demonstrated that it was possible to carry my husband within me, even as I began creating a new life for myself.

Slowly, it became obvious that there is no recipe for living through the loss of someone you love. I learned that grief is as individual as it is universal, and that healing happens one day at a time. Most of all, the intense despair these widows survived and the gratifying lives they lead now taught me to hope: hope for the day when I recognize myself again, hope that I can lead a life of purpose, and hope that love is not only a gift of the past.

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Sometimes life seems to become a giant “to do” list. It’s just about getting done and checking things off the list. We forget about the journey and focus solely on the end result. Then we experience frustration or annoyance over any delays in reaching the projected end result.

The same thing can happen when we are grieving. Life can become about making it to the end of the day. Life can become about getting back home, pulling the blinds and curling up on the couch.

The goal of life can become hiding from life. There is no awareness of the process. There is no living in the moment. There is impatience and frustration and resignation.

When we lose awareness of the present moment life can feel very scary. Grief is pulling us back toward what has been in the past. The future becomes an overwhelming obstacle filled with fear and uncertainty.

Time to pay attention to now. What is happening right now? What are you experiencing right now? When you are driving, is there enough space between your car and the car in front of you? If you are at home on your couch, how does it feel to be sitting there? Are you comfortable? Is there a book you want to read? Would you rather be outside taking a walk?

Now you are back in the present moment. Now you are responding to what is, right now. You are back on the journey of your life. You can be grieving. You can be walking. You can be reading.

Grief is filled with multifaceted and sometimes confusing feelings. Our job is not to hide from them. Our job is to be in the moment with whatever we are feeling.