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.
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.
Last April I stepped into a SNL photo booth at a work fundraising gala, and when the photographer said “Show me your fun side,” I let go. For one of the few times in the nine months since my husband had died, I let go of sadness. I let go of overthinking; I let go of panic and anxiety. I actually felt joy and fun. I breathed deeply. But when the photo was developed and I saw the picture of myself looking so free and happy, I was hamstrung by guilt and shame that someone who had experienced such a recent loss looked so happy and carefree. What kind of person was I anyway?
So I tucked the picture away. Continue reading