Thursday, June 23, 2011

The next chapter....

There are certain phrases in my new life that irk me. One of those is how we as grievers are expected to find things such as: "closure" or "acceptance." And we are expected to follow some neat little path until we reach these things. Then we are told that we should "move on," but just as long as we don't do that too quickly or before the other people in our lives are ready.

Moving on. What does that even mean? Am I supposed to suddenly wake up one day and forget that I was married? Should I pretend that my husband never existed? I think these ideas are born out of other people's ideas of how they would react if they were in our shoes. For others, I think they are uncomfortable with us around-- we (the widowed) serve as these inconvenient reminders of our mortality. So they dismiss us and our emotions, rather than having to face their own insecurities and fears about death. Some of this does come from people who genuinely care about us, and just want us to be "better," and so they look to make sure we are progressing properly through our grief, or showing signs that they no longer need to be concerned. And of course, the moment we start to date again becomes the ultimate sign that we are now "over it." Whatever the motivation is, however, it is all misguided. There is no "moving on," and there never will be any "closure" or "acceptance." For one thing, as it was in my case, things just ended one day without any warning. There was no good-bye, no last words, or thoughts, or promises, or anything. Not even finding out what happened brought me any comfort beyond knowing that even if I had been around I could not have saved him. So no, I do not feel as if there will ever be any "closure." And furthermore, how am I ever to find a seemingly healthy young man's sudden death "acceptable"?

We do keep moving forward, though.

Grief is an interesting thing.... grieving is indeed a painful process, but it is in fact a process. It is our body's way of healing. But I believe it will always leave a lasting impact. During his life, my husband had to have both of his knees operated on -- nearly 10 years apart, but nevertheless it was the same injury. Both kneecaps had to be reattached, as he tore them off in two separate accidents. I did not know him when he injured his first knee, but helped nurse him through the second surgery and recovery. It was a slow painful process. He was bedridden for almost a month and continued to wear a leg brace beyond that. Slowly he re-learned how to walk, but he was never able to move very well again and his knees remained stiff and sore the rest of his life. No doubt they would have eventually become arthritic if he had lived longer. In addition, he had two identical, lasting scars that ran from the top of both knees to his shins. Reminders of what his body had endured. I have similar scars. The only difference is mine are invisible. They exist within me, buried deep within my heart, mind and soul. And like the physical injury that my husband sustained, mine have left me forever altered. I move, think and act a little different. I am a different person.

Nor does the grieving ever end. I am certain that I won't ever come to a point in my life where I say "well, now I am completely over the untimely death of my husband." No, it will always be with me and I continue to live with it every day.

What I have done, is try to learn about this process and to use it to help change me for the better. It is exactly because of what I have endured that I have become the person I am today. I like to think that I won't repeat my past mistakes, and that I no longer take what I have for granted. I try to always remember that anything we have today can be taken from us tomorrow. I try to live every day in gratitude for what I still have, valuing and loving the people that are still here with me, and honoring those who are gone.

This is far from easy, however. It only becomes more complicated because now I also have chosen to open myself up to someone new. This in no way means that I have suddenly become "better," nor that I no longer grieve for and miss my husband. But it certainly changes things.

I often think that it must be hard, to be in my boyfriend's place. And I am continually amazed with how kind and loving he is, and patient, and how he just accepts that I have this whole past of mine that I keep with me. When I am sad, because I am missing my husband, he does not become jealous, but rather will hold me and hug me and tell me that everything will be ok. And he listens to me as I cry and tell him what it is that I am thinking about that has reminded me of my old life. He lets me keep my husband in my heart, and has accepted that he will always share that with him. So never doubt that there are truly wonderful, and good people out there, and that there are real men left in this world. Because he is the best kind of man you could hope to find -- one that does not try to "prove" himself, but one that lives in a way that demonstrates his love and respect for me every day.

In other ways I also think that Boyfriend has gotten the better deal, or at least the better woman. I no longer find myself upset about trivial things.... those things as wives we are known to constantly nag our husbands about. Not only do I not even care about those things anymore, they don't even register in my brain anymore. I have learned, in the hardest way possible, that in the end there is absolutely only one thing that matters in this world, and that is love. So I make sure never to forget to remind him of it every time I say good-bye, because I never want a day to come where I missed my last opportunity to reaffirm my love for him. This experience has taught me how to quickly hone in on what is important in any given situation, and to sift out the extraneous. I make sure that each day leaves us feeling positive about the interaction we've had with each other, and that I've done my best to remind him how special he is and how much I value him and am grateful to him. You've no idea how easy and rewarding a relationship can be when you make this your focus. If you've not figured this out yet, I sincerely hope you do before having to learn it the hard way, as I have.

The place I find myself having the most difficulty, however, is my attempt to blend and balance the two parts of me. The part of me that was a wife, and the part of me that is now a girlfriend. I want to make sure that Boyfriend knows that he is the most important person in this present life of mine, and my future one, because he is my here & now. He needs to be put first in my life, even though he has come second. In our most intimate of relationships we all need to feel like and know that we are the most important person in the other person's eyes, so it is only right that I do so. This does not mean I forget my husband, nor does it mean that I will ever stop loving him, but I have come to terms with the fact that he is gone and will never be coming back. So I try to walk this fine line, but I always worry that I will upset someone. Mostly I worry about the extended families -- which is ridiculous if you think about it, because I find myself worried more about them than either myself or Boyfriend at times.  But I do. I worry if I show too much happiness, or move too quickly, or have too much fun, or express too many feelings about Boyfriend, then my husband's family or friends will be hurt or mad at me. Then I worry that if I accidentally talk about my husband in front of Boyfriend's family that they will think I am not ready for a relationship, or just using Boyfriend, or could wind up hurting him, and that this will upset them, just as I am trying to get to know them and them me. Then I worry that my own family will think that somehow one or more of my relationships should not be taken seriously, or that somehow one or the other "doesn't count" as much as the other. And in my life, I am surrounded by examples of long marriages.... and so by comparison feel inadequate not even making it to 3 years, even though this was not my choice. And sometimes feel pangs of jealousy that in my reality, even if the best happens, I will never have an opportunity to share a 50th anniversary like my in-laws did because I am now too old to expect I have that kind of time ahead of me. And if that is not enough, I then have all the normal worries you would expect from a new relationship. So, not too much pressure on me or anything.

I am aware that I put a lot of this on myself, and that no one (to date) has actually said anything (though, I could not tell you what they privately think about my decisions). I guess the sensitivity comes from some of the things I went through early in my grief, and my hyper-awareness of other's feelings and wanting it all to mesh somehow. I worry that there will come a time in the future where one or more facets of my life won't be able to deal with the complications anymore, and I worry about any fall-out from that.

I don't honestly know what my husband would think of all this. We never discussed our eventual deaths while he was alive..... I did not even know what his final wishes were, leaving me to fumble my way through my lame attempts to "do the right thing." In so many ways I feel like I failed completely. I feel like I not only failed him, but that I failed myself. I've done the best that I can to pick myself back up and make amends. I fear that it will never be enough. The only thing I can do, is to make sure I do not ever repeat the same mistakes in life. I do not know what happens to us when we die -- where we go, what we think or feel, or even if there is an anything out there beyond. I hope there is, but I don't think any of us knows for certain (no matter what our faith or beliefs tell us), and can't know until it is our time. I'd like to think that there is a place of unlimited love and understanding -- so that wherever he is now, he is able to be happy that I can go on and make a new life for myself. I'd want him to do the same if our places were switched. And someday -- though I pray with my everything that it is many, many, many years from now -- when I must face a second loss, or perhaps it will be my turn, I wish for there to be the same for whichever one of us is left. And that above all, we can hold on to that one thing that matters in this world..... love.

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