Grieving the death of a spouse is like trying to hang-on to a 50-pound yo-yo. Grief plunges you to the bottom of despair, then raises you up for a brief glimpse of life, as you knew it, only to drop you again… and again. I never dreamed surviving the death of my second husband would make breast cancer seem easy.
In the last few weeks, two of my friends have lost their husbands to a serious illness. I’ve lost two husbands to death. I know how they’re feeling.
One of my friends—she was the second wife—has found herself without the support of her late husband’s children or his siblings. I understand that, too, because James’s family left me out in the cold as well. Over the years I’ve written a lot about grieving the death of a spouse, and I’ve learned there are no rules for grieving.
Sometimes I was scary calm and then, out of nowhere, my loss was almost too great to bear. I buried my face in James’s leather chair, hoping to find some trace of his familiar smell, but there was only a hint, enough to make me cling to his chair like a life preserver.
Some people find grief classes helpful, but the one I attended scared me. The class was full of women who’d been holding on to their grief for years. They’d let themselves stay stuck in their webs of “what ifs.” They were examples of what awaited me if I did the same. Grief has it’s own timetable. As the grief facilitator said, “You can deal with it now, or deal with it later and even then, you may continue to deal with it.”
The loss of a mate forces us to redefine who we are, to find our new normal without them. It’s not an easy process, even for the most independent of people. Many people see themselves as half of a unit, unable to picture themselves as a whole person after the death of their spouse. It’s not unusual to have trouble making decisions or dealing with bills. Anything—and nothing at all—underscores our newfound widow or widowerhood.
We must force ourselves to keep going, to find that resilient thread inside us, no matter how slender. We must then use it to weave a new tapestry without our spouse.
Coming to terms with the loss of a spouse may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but forcing yourself to move forward is a way of honoring them. I started a journal about all the funny, poignant, even maddening things James had said and done. In the beginning it was my way of keeping him alive. I feared as time passed, and in my case chemo brain reigned supreme, I would lose pieces of him and our life together. Now as I read my “James Said” journal, I find a comfort I hadn’t expected. While it reminds me of things he said, it also shows me a vivid picture of a man who loved me deeply, who put God, country and family first.
Time has a way of softening the edges, and at some point you will make peace with your grief and the 50-pound yo-yo. While you may never entirely let go of the string, I promise… You will become stronger than your grief.