This summer I hiked through Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon with a group of awesome ladies. The hikes were challenging at times, but a goal I had set for myself and achieved. Another example that life is still good.
It does if you want it to.
That’s how my friend, who has been a widow three years longer than I have been, responded to my question, “Does life get any better?”
Her response was a game changer for me this year in how I’m approaching life as I move forward. Honestly, what I expected to hear from her was something like, “Well, there are days that are easier than others; life will never be the same, as you know. You will have ups and downs.” All logical and true responses. But her directness about what I can control has been the best counsel I’ve received since my husband died.
Life gets better if you want it to. And I get to choose.
Her response reminds me that my thoughts drive my feelings. Here’s what that doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that I pretend that I’m not grieving–that I push down my emotions and slap on a smile. If I don’t acknowledge grief, it hounds me until I do–until I have that good cry or sit with that funky, angry mood. I lost a person, a love, a life that was very important to me. Grief is a part of my life now. But I don’t have to get stuck in it or be controlled by it. Facing it straight on is the best way to go through it.
I saw her necklace from across the room; the silver, heart-shaped pendant had a large picture on it–much bigger than you’d see in a locket. I walked closer so that I could make out the picture. It was worn by a frail, elderly woman, considerably thin, neatly dressed although her clothes looked too big for her frame. I introduced myself and told her I had admired her necklace from across the room. She brought her hand up to it and held it out.
“It’s a picture of me and my husband,” she said. “I lost him earlier this year. Wearing this makes me feel close to him.”
When I asked her how long she and her husband had been married, she told me they’d been married 71 years.
“I was 15 and he was 21 and about to leave for the service,” she said.
Go get your coffee cup and settle in. We need to talk. Or actually I need to talk. I’ve been thinking about how to start this conversation with you for a while, but my head has been in a fog, trying to figure out, “What now?”
Maybe you can listen. Maybe it will help me.
My husband committed suicide almost two years ago; my heart is broken and sometimes it feels as if all of my words are stuck in my throat. My fingers on most days just hover over the keyboard; not sure what to write–an added injury to a writer. The few pages I have written in my journal look like Rorschach tests from all the tears swirled in with ink. I know the importance of staying emotionally up-to-date with myself and with others. I know to talk out the pain and be real with people about how I’m doing. I’m so grateful for the people who sit and listen without trying to prompt me to see the silver lining (and I’m a person who perpetually, and obnoxiously, so I’ve been told, looks for the silver lining). I’m grateful for people who refrain from telling me that my husband is no longer suffering from debilitating depression and that he is in a better place. His place was here. With us. With me. We were his place.
About a decade or so ago I started keeping a gratitude journal after author Sarah Ban Breathnach introduced many of us to the concept of listing on paper the day’s blessings. This was a way to hold focus on the goodness in our lives–the things that bring a sense of relevance and peace.
This practice is one that is helping to guide me through the murky waters of grief since losing my husband. As the shock wore off, I loosely set a goal to write at least one thing at the end of the day and I’m certain it is one of the buoys that has kept me afloat. It has been the reminder to look for something, anything, that is positive, that feeds me, that keeps my mind from getting stuck in the pain and fear that comes with losing a love. Some of the notes in the early weeks following his death were as simple as: I’m grateful for potato soup, the beautiful vegetables at the farmers market, work to do. Continue reading