About Me

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.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Moving Beyond Grief: The Final Hurdle

Yes folks, it's true. When you finally feel as though you've recovered from losing your spouse, you might just have one last hurdle to jump.

You can tell yourself that you feel better, that you're no longer drowning in grief, in fact, you just might feel, like I do, more fully aware of life's gifts than ever before, but still, at the base of it all lies your dead husband, the one whose death sucked all the air from your body and left you flapping in the wind like a dry husk. He's always there, always there. He's always dead. He's always never coming back.

I don't know how long it's been for you since your spouse died. For me it's been five and a half years. What I want to say is: "I feel better now."  Or "I don't wake up everyday feeling like crap anymore." Or "Some days I don't think sad thoughts about Ken at all anymore." Or "I'm thrilled to be alive and to see what happens next." Or "Fear has finally left the building."

It's really amazing when you get to this point, but it's kind of hard to fully embrace it sometimes. I'm wondering if this is the final hurdle to completely overcoming the loss of your spouse -- when you can admit you're OK without him or her, you've made it, you're happy again, life is good --and you don't feel guilty about it anymore. I'm not sure I'm there yet, but I'm closing in on it. Perhaps another sign of vaulting over the final hurdle is when you can say "I feel happy again" and you don't feel like you have to add something like: "but, of course, I'll miss him forever and it will always be terrible that he died."

I'm wondering if when we allow ourselves to fully grieve, to take the time it takes you as an individual to do what you need to do to process your loss, perhaps then it is easier to cross the final hurdle. Can you picture yourself leaping over it, arms raised high in a victory leap? I can see myself there now, or almost nearly there.

I fell so many times along the way. I was filled with fear, anxiety and pain. I was envious, sad, jealous, bitter, confused and misguided. I wrote about it. I talked about it. I got help. I figured out how I needed to live through it.

I couldn't envision reaching this final hurdle five and a half years ago. I thought I would never want to be in a place where I could be happy without Ken. In fact, I believed that getting to this point would be impossibly difficult and impossibly sad and horribly dismissive of Ken's life and what he meant to me. I also felt, way back then, that I didn't want to experience and feel and process all the grief that his death would bring my way. I knew it would take a long time, and I wasn't sure I wanted to spend years doing it.

But now, years of grieving later, I get it. Grieving fully brings your life back to you. That's why you do it no matter how long it takes. Eventually, you see the last hurdle approaching. Then you get ready to jump.


What does it feel like to imagine being at a place where you are happy again? Take 5 minutes to write about it. If you can't even imagine it, write about that.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Different Kind of Happiness

Driving down the half-mile, single-lane, dirt road with Lac Des Iles sparkling blue on one side and the  Laurentian forest shimmering green on the other, I couldn't help but feel wistful. Here we were arriving at the lake house built by Ken's great-grandfather, where Ken and his brothers spent time every summer, where Ken's mother spent her summers, Ken's grandmother and so on. And now we were traveling the winding country roads in rural Quebec toward this special place, but without Ken for the seventh year running.

Returning brought on a sense of longing for what is gone, for something lost that cannot return; a lingering, used up sadness. That's the way I'd been feeling leading up to this trip, to this place, one of my favorites of anywhere I've been in the world with its pure, cool, silky lake, its quiet, its enduring tradition. Why wouldn't I feel wistful heading toward a place that held such joy for Ken, a place I wouldn't have known without him?

But then, in just a day or two,  the beauty of it got a hold of me: the clear, black lake, the sweet air, the loons crying and the visitors arriving by canoe or breaststroke.  Ken said that memories of the  Lake could bring him happiness during his arduous stem cell transplant.

I realized in this heavenly place that I didn't want to feel wistful about my life anymore. I didn't want to keep longing for what could never be: the life I had with Ken.  In fact, as the days of this vacation went by, I felt very happy, perhaps happier than I've felt in years. Even my laugh had taken on a new, heartier sound.

I've shed another layer of sorrow and taken on a new dimension of joy, that comes from surviving loss and being grateful for what simply is. It could be so easy for me to dwell in the state of wistfulness indefinitely, but I don't want to anymore. Instead, I think I've found a different kind of happiness.

This different happiness doesn't have anything definite attached to it. It isn't predicated on any particular outcome or end goal. It contains no certainty about what comes next. And it isn't counting on everything going just right, or perfectly, or without a hitch. I don't even believe in that kind of happiness anymore.

Today I'm happy just to have a greater understanding of my own essential nature, and to follow it where it takes me. I'm happy to be open to experience and to be open-minded about what it means to work, to love, to serve and to grow.

When I lost Ken, I lost my fairytale, my happy ending, our nuclear family, but to my surprise, eventually,  I found a different kind of happiness that might just be fueled by uncertainty, surprise, the unexpected and the unknown. It took a while to get here, about 50 years. I'd like to stay for a while.