Is it OK to say this? I think I'm done grieving the loss of my husband.
Oh boy. I'm not sure about this. Just writing the words makes me feel uneasy.
It's been five years since Ken died. In these five years I have dwelled upon his death, worked hard to understand its effect on me and on my children, gone to hours of therapy, attended grief groups, written extensively about Ken, cancer, death and widowhood, renewed my self and spirit through friendship, yoga and exercise, felt sorry for myself, experienced deep pain, sadness and loneliness, and adapted to life as a single woman and single parent. I used dating as a strategy to push away the pain of losing my husband only to find that in being rudely dumped by one guy I finally got it: my wonderful husband was actually gone and never coming back; there would be no repeat of the incredible piece of good fortune that was our meeting and our marriage. (It took about three and a half years to REALLY get that my terrific marriage was over, Ken was gone, and my life had to essentially restart in foreign territory.)
I once read that it takes a "significant life event" to make profound change occur once you've reached adulthood. Well, Ken's death was that event and I am now changed forever. I feel like a different person, a better person, a more content person, a more sober person. The contentment comes, ironically, from truly understanding that one day I will die and this wonderful life and all it holds will be gone. And so, I cherish it more and worry a whole lot less. I am not the same Jill I was before. I have lost a great deal. And yet, I think that I am through grieving. For now, that is. Because my "significant life event" has taught me that there is life on the one hand and loss on the other. Those hands are clasped together. You can't live without loss, you can only decide how to live well despite it.
Yet, I feel bad thinking that I'm done with grief, like I'm not supposed to ever be done. It's a fix I'm in. If I were still mourning Ken's loss and living in the middle of grief 20 years after his death certainly I would be stuck...I wouldn't have successfully managed to accept his death and to go on with my own life. But to believe that I have reached a place where I am no longer grieving? What does that mean?
Here's what it means to me:
I have accepted Ken's death and made a decision to live as well and as joyfully as I can anyway.
I can now think about Ken with primary emotions other than just despair or sadness or hopelessness or guilt or regret. Mingled in there now in equal measure are happiness, contentment, gratitude, joy, peace, and strength.
It will always be painful that Ken died. There will continue to be many moments that make me cry for the infinite absence, the hole, the lost future, the what-could-have-beens.
When someone dies, a common refrain the widow hears goes as follows: "Your memories will sustain you" or "He'll live on in your thoughts." I once wrote soon after Ken died that the thought of living on memories is like driving on fumes. But today, five years later, I'm starting to understand what it means to be sustained by memory. I will turn 50 years old this year. More than half my life is past. There is so much precious material to be mined in those years now gone. I can see that now.
Once again, I can see a future that excites me instead of one that feels hostile, unknown and foreign. When Ken was sick and I feared he would die and leave me alone, I was filled with fear and dread so severe I couldn't live with it without turning to medication. After he died, my world felt as though it had crumbled. I actually had a dream in which the floor of my kitchen developed an enormous crater in the middle of it -- my foundation was disintegrating.
I have rebuilt in these five years a completely different structure that may have more doors and windows. I feel more open to possibility, more willing to embrace change, more able to be just who I am without apologizing for myself, more inclined to see what's out in the world, even if it's unexpected. Loss has informed me: there is no one way to safety. There isn't safety. There's just experience, good, bad, neutral. When you live, when you're not dead, what you get is to experience. I compare myself to Ken who can't experience anything anymore: not love, not loss, not pain, not pleasure. I'd rather be alive to take it all on.
Yes, I think I'm done grieving for now. I never thought I'd get here. It was the hardest work I've ever done, but I'm glad I did it. I gave it my all.
There, I said it.
- Jill Schacter
- My wonderful husband died when I was 44 years old. Being widowed this young happens to less than 3% of married people. Writing through this loss one word at time helps me understand what I've lost and helps me continue to grow. It is how I have gradually recovered from such a severe loss. Research shows that you can benefit from taking just 15 minutes a day to write out your deepest feelings as a way of healing. On the right side of this blog, you'll see a tag for Exercises to Try. If you need some help knowing how to use writing to help heal yourself, I suggest you start there.