My dear friend joined a club that has no waiting list, the dues are excessive and, in fact, no one wants to sign on. Those who were forced to join did so kicking and screaming. I call it the club of the “left behind.”
My friend became a widow last March. When I speak to her, which is often, my heart constricts. Her pain is palpable, at least to me. I can almost tell what she is going to say at a particular moment. No, I am not a soothsayer; however, I am a seasoned member of this club. Being widowed twice qualifies me as “Widow Emeritus.”
In the early stages of grief, sufferers cannot believe that they will never see, hear, or touch their loved one again. A friend said that he waited for his wife to come home from work, intellectually knowing she would never walk through that door again; yet his heart could not grasp it.
I remember feeling that I was set adrift in a leaky boat during a storm. Looking back, the life I knew was becoming a dim dot on the horizon; looking ahead I could see nothing but rough seas. At times I thought I would drown in the waves of grief and sorrow, but I didn’t.
Because I’ve had a lot of practice with this widow thing, I feel confident in saying “This too shall pass.” Well, I never heard it said, “This shall not pass.” I repeatedly tell my friend: “This will get better, not today, not tomorrow, and perhaps not next year.” Remember those dues I was talking about? They must be paid.
There are numerous books about the grieving process: There are five stages to grief and most times we vacillate between denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Acceptance is more or less the less the permanent stage.
My personal journey through grief took me through it all. However, until I reached acceptance, anger was the most prominent emotion, especially the second time around. There is a song lyric that goes, “Love is lovelier the second time around.” One would think that the second time I was widowed would be easier.
Not. on. your. life. To paraphrase the aforementioned lyrics “Grief is more dreadful the second time around.”
I have an outgoing personality, but during my grieving times most folks found me unapproachable. I was sharp, sarcastic and quick tempered—and I wondered why everyone stopped calling!
There are folks who get stuck; a friend describes it by being stuck in neutral. I felt that I was strapped into a runaway roller coaster of emotions: Dizzying nauseating dips and curves and steep ups and downs. But again, this does pass — if you let it.
Letting go of the past is the key. Human nature is such that sometimes when in the throes of grief all we can remember is the times we were short, impatient or angry at our spouse or partner. Unless you are not human, most of us have gotten angry at our loved ones — even if we didn’t express it. We may have gotten so frustrated and downright enraged that we wanted to jump ship.
And that’s okay — until they die, that is. Guilt rears its head around this time — and guilt is normal. We are human beings with human frailties having a human experience.
The problem with guilt is sometimes it lingers long past its use by date. To those who have been spared from joining this club, it’s hard to grasp this notion: Some won’t let go because they need to prove to themselves and others that they were a good spouse or partner. They cannot forgive themselves for being less than perfect. They think that by holding on to guilt they still are connected to their loved one. And they are – in an unhealthy way. Again, the dues are high!
But they are dead (no pun intended) wrong! Love is eternal. I still feel love for my husbands and always will. Like Humpty Dumpty I fell off the wall twice and broke in a million pieces, but there came a time when the loneliness became worse than the grief.
It was a New Year’s Eve some years ago when I left a group of friends before the clock struck midnight. I drove to my sacred spot and stared out over the water. I asked for strength to let it go — not the love I felt, but the angst and the regrets. When midnight arrived, I made a self-promise. I vowed to rebuild my life out of the ashes of my former life.
Little by little that big gaping hole that was my heart began to mend. Sure there are cracks. But it’s those very cracks that allowed love to flow through, again.
Here is some unsolicited advice to all those who are widowed: It’s a terrifying ride, but when it is time to put on the brakes, you will know it. The controls are in your hands. Really! Grieve in whatever way you need; get it out, scream it out and then let time pass.
You will never be the same. I’m not. Your life will look different and eventually different becomes the new norm. The best way to honor your loved one is to live on. Your book of life is not over, the final chapters are yet to be written. Who knows what or who will appear in your next chapter? Take it from me: I was very pleasantly surprised and now feel blessed, yes blessed, to know love again.
My dear friend: Not today, not tomorrow, but someday you will turn that page and start writing a new chapter in your book of life. Perhaps this is not the life you had planned. Neither was mine. But one day you will find your peace and may be surprised that you feel empowered and happy, yes happy. You will realize that you went through the fires of the worst of the worst and emerged somewhat scorched and battered, but still standing—maybe better than before, despite it all.
Take heart, Grace Ann!
Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in ‘retirement’ — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.
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