Although the summer has been long and hot by our local standards, apparently it will not last forever. Already I can see the maple leaves getting tinges of brown and yellow. When I walk out any door of my house in the morning, I have to brush cobwebs away. I do feel a certain regret that I may have ruined the spider’s day. I imagine the spider sighing, and beginning again. If spiders sigh.
I sigh a lot, and I am beginning again. My husband died last year, and this year is all about starting over. The web of my life was torn down, you might say, and now I’m sighing, and grieving, and starting over. His name was Rick and he was a good guy, he was the best, and I miss him terribly. We were married for a long time, and while I’m certain he sometimes found me as irritating as I sometimes found him because that is married life, we were best friends and he was my most ardent advocate. I took care of him through five long years of illness, so when he was gone I suddenly had lost my purpose, my work, and my friend.
Fortunately we are wired to be stunned with shock when someone we love dies. There is a numbness and disbelief – this isn’t really happening, is it? – that carries us through the first days and weeks. The numbness does wear off, gradually, as you come to accept your loss.
I did not know if I was sad or depressed those first months. In retrospect, a little of both. Thinking about it helped me sort out the difference between sadness and depression. Sadness is an active emotion caused by some event, like, say, the death of a spouse. Depression is like having a decaying dead animal on a string around your neck, and you don’t know how long you will have to wear it, or why it got there in the first place.
In talking with other widows, we agree that this grieving process sucks, and oh, it sucks for a long time, persisting long after the initial sympathy and kindness fade and life goes on. The dreams, the grief bursts (like a cloudburst but of emotion), the stupid things well-meaning people say to you, the sudden punches to the gut that you don’t see coming. The night before I left on a trip for California, I realized I couldn’t call Rick from the road like I always did. Pow. All the little milestones, like the day of the month on which he died coming around again. He died on the 29th, so I tell myself that in February I’ll only be reminded every four years.
I ran across this quote from Dietrich Bonheoffer the other day: “Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through.” (thanks and a tip o’ the hat to Terry Hershey for passing this along)
Yep. So that’s what we do. We hold out. We see it through.
I have good friends who have been a support and a blessing through these early months. I have my faith, and that sustains me. I have come to a greater appreciation of people who show up. I have picked up my guitar again, and I am singing and writing. These are the things which have supported me throughout my life, and they do not fail me now.
I have felt Rick’s love in my heart.
Occasionally some legal document will arrive in the mail that tells me another piece of the official paperwork that has to be done and recorded when someone dies has been completed. The last one came a few weeks ago. I read it and said, “Well, Rick, I guess now you’re really dead.”
He doesn’t talk back to me, but occasionally funny things happen. Last week I found a piece of dialysis equipment on the floor on his side of the bed. The dialysis machine has been gone these eight months, and I thought I had cleaned up on that side of the bed thoroughly, under the bed, under the nightstand, around the mattress. So where was that piece of plastic hiding all this time, and how did it leap out into the middle of the floor? I don’t know, but seeing it made me feel like Rick was saying hello, and I am learning to be easy on myself about perceptions that might seem a little woo-woo to some people.
It’s a great adventure, going on alone after your partner has passed. It can be done, I’ve learned. It’s not something I would have chosen, given the option, but there was no choice, so I’m building a new life. I’m holding out, and seeing it through. That’s what we do.