When people lose a leg, they either choose to use a wheelchair or learn to walk again through rehabilitation; a process, requiring time combined with hard work, learning how to compensate for a loss. Losing a spouse is just such a loss, not physically, but mentally. Because we walked together for so long, I didn’t know how to walk on my own. I walk for a couple of reasons: to get somewhere or enjoy the outdoors; one a purpose, the other to find joy. Not walking means I have no purpose or joy, therefore I need to find at least one purpose and also know that I deserve joy, things that I must believe are obtainable, waiting for me to get up and start putting one foot in front of the other, rather than wasting away while time slowly brings them to me. Life is a gift, so in and of itself it’s a purpose and a joy. Love has purpose, so loving is a purpose and there is joy in being loved. There’s so many more awaiting discovery, so rather than letting atrophy set in, choose to find and take hold of both, learning to walk on my own.
There were many times when I was paralyzed with sadness; didn’t want to eat, move, think, or even cry. Just wanting to lay down, curl into a ball, thankful that breathing was involuntary. I wish I could have made myself a cocoon, maybe turning into a butterfly or at least a moth. Was it specific events or life in general that made me want to barely exist? It was tragic enough that my husband died. For me to want to barely exist just heaps on more tragedy. It took asking myself over and over, why are you doing this, and searching my foggy brain, looking for any reason at all to get up. I finally made a list of those reasons and keep it handy, no longer needing to think but just read what I wrote, over and over until it sinks in. I have to take advantage of clear brain days, creating life ropes to grab onto when I start to teeter, slide, or sink. Lists of all things positive, some places to get away for an hour, and mantras, like, it is enough. Choosing to pull myself up, swing myself over, or hold on, with these lifesaving ropes.
We didn’t talk about how his death would impact me. More importantly we didn’t write down a plan. Two plans actually, since my needs would differ from his. These plans would have been changed as our lives changed since each life event would result in a different scenario. The plan would have included reasons why, so the plan wouldn’t be questioned when put into place. Stay or move? If move, where? Keep working or retire? Can I afford to retire? If so, what’s the plan, if not, stay with my job or find another? Should I go away for a while? If yes, where and for how long? Who’s going to do the big jobs around the house? Do I know how to use the tractor to plow and mow? If I was a stay-at-home mom, what’s the plan for my children’s care if I had to find a job? Important decisions to be made before, while I was capable, when I could think clearly, not after when each choice was a struggle, just wanting to avoid. All I would have had to do was follow the plan, taking chosen steps, making steady progress towards where I need to be.
“Keep moving, moving, moving . . . keep those doggies moving, Rawhide . . . Don’t try to understand ‘em . . . !” (Rawhide TV Western 1958) This is the perfect theme song for the keep moving method of avoidance. Going back to work was just the beginning of moving and not understanding for me. Weekends, I’d visit friends, if none were coming to me, and I’d go for more than avoiding staying home alone. You probably think, I went to talk about his death and its impact. Nope, it was to NOT talk about it. We could talk about anything else, but not that. Why? Because I wanted to appear strong and brave – yup, same reason as tears avoidance. We didn’t realized that avoiding the “elephant in the room”, was not only not helping, but hurting all of us, by suppressing the freedom found in release. This isn’t a stay calm and collected method either; it’s tell the truth, don’t sugar coat anything, get angry, cry, swear, whatever it takes to get that elephant off your chest or at least start shrinking her (or him) down to size. Stop moving can’t hurt you more than you’ve already been hurt, so choose to stop moving and start the flow of understanding.
The first thing I thought of regarding taking forward steps is tears. You’ve just got to cry until you can’t cry anymore and cry the next day and every day, as much as you want, whenever you want. His death hurt so bad and yet I was determined to hold back the tears. Why? Because I wanted to appear strong and brave. For who? For my friends and family. That only made them want to appear strong and brave too, allowing our combined determination to build a dam big enough to hold back grief, but not strong enough to not leak, requiring lots of patches until grief’s pressure lessened. What’s the alternative? Cry and appear weak, afraid, confused, hurt, and angry? Heaven forbid if I expressed what I was really feeling. Would that honest behavior have made others, acting brave, uncomfortable? I hope they would have been relieved to let their tears flow, showing their true feelings. There would be freedom in that, all of us together, expressing the sadness we share in the form of tears. I say, ladies, buy waterproof mascara, guys, a big handkerchief, and walk away if you have to, but don’t hold back the tears.
Everyone says, give yourself time, which is fine, but what should I do with that time? There are many books on the stages of grief, but I’m not aware of any guidance on how to let reality back in, other than it takes time. I went back to work full-time within three weeks of my husband’s death, doing everything possible to avoid reality; that which grief steals, that which I need back. Getting mine back, using the slow, steady, barely detectable leak method (avoidance), required about 5 years. Some would say it takes as long as it takes, but looking back I would say 5 years is too long to hurt deeply over something that cannot be changed. Time did ease the grief because at some point I realized it had lessened, but not exactly sure how that happened. Time isn’t really the healer; it’s the forward steps, no matter their size, towards acceptance and necessary change. Steps that can just happen now and then over time, or steps that are chosen. Naming and explaining grief is not enough to conquer all that grief is and does. It’s taking the forward steps; steps I’ll look back at and share.
There’s a tendency for people to want to be like other people; clothes, hairstyles, glasses, agreeing on when not to wear white. It’s natural to want to fit it, but being unique, having your own style, or wanting more than just the same is an exciting alternative. I have 5 sisters, with 17 years between the oldest and youngest. When we were young, the age difference was huge, but after marriage and kids, not so much. Raised by the same parents, you’d think we’d be very much alike, but that’s not the case. We seem to be the most alike in the things we don’t like about ourselves – forward laying hair, weak stomach muscles. But in what matters, we each found our own way, becoming unique individuals who just happen to share a few traits, but were able to uncover the wonderful things that make us different.
Snowflakes/Unique (Fort Collins, CO)
- Snowflakes land in our hair and on our jackets.
- I’ve never seen any like these before.
- Intricate shapes. Extraordinary detail.
- Someone snaps a photo to save the memory.
- We are captured but not the snowflakes. They melted too fast.
- Six sisters, each unique, just like these flakes of snow.
You don’t need to understand to love. You don’t need to accept to love. You don’t need to agree to love. You don’t need to like to love. You don’t need desire to love. Happiness or sadness doesn’t alter love. Physical separation can’t separate love. You don’t have to be loved to love. Intimacy isn’t love. Love is more than a feeling. Love is first an option, then a decision. Love is something you choose to either do or don’t do. I thought of a trip I took down the Hudson during spring high water as I thought of how to picture love; seeing love as the whitewater raft. You choose to get in knowing what kind of water lies ahead. There’s calm water, and crazy water set on sending you flying. Whether you conquer the rapids depends on your will to stay in the boat. The paddle needs both hands but you can dig your feet under your seat; unbelievably uncomfortable but it works! After getting dumped, it’s hard, but not impossible, to get back in without a little help. In, out, back in; you not only survive the trip but enjoy the exhilaration, doing it again and again.
Valentine’s Day – yuck! So we need a specific day to show our significant other we love them by buying them flowers, or even better, jewelry, taking them out to dinner, indulging them with chocolate, or maybe just giving them a card. If it was really so important it would be a certain Sunday in February so you’d have the whole day, like Mother’s Day. Moms certainly deserve a whole day of love and appreciation each year, but apparently our loved ones, not so much. You might think my lack of excitement for Valentine’s Day is because I don’t have a significant other in my life, but that’s not true. It’s always been my least favorite appointed “special” day. It’s because I’ve experienced some Valentine Days; days when my husband would give me a gift out of the blue – even if it was just a peppermint patty – my favorite candy. He thought of me, on his own, without any encouragement to do so. More than that, thinking of me prompted him to do something nice for me. To be thought of, to be given even the smallest gift for no reason, such a wonderful demonstration of love!
I’m reminded of the times my husband and I fought over and over about the same things. Why did we repeat the same hurtful, destructive behavior again and again over the same issues? If the issues had been resolved the first time, they wouldn’t have risen again. We resolved some issues, like the messy toothpaste tube, but many others were repeat offenders. Did we not want to solve them? Did we even try? Marriages end because of irreconcilable differences, but why not ours? We put up with the hurt in the aftermath, instead of calling arguing what it is; unacceptable behavior, undermining the foundation of our marriage, but by not enough to call it quits. We would argue, say hurtful things, not speak to each other, sleep in separate beds until the pain receded, then say I’m sorry, and continue on as if it was over. Resolution can’t happen during the argument because we’re not listening during the yelling, hurting, and separation. The apology isn’t the resolution either; it only says now is the time to resolve, but we don’t, choosing to put it behind us instead, giving it time to catch up and bite us in the butt.