After we lose a spouse,the silence in our homes is deafening.We are used to the familiar sounds of our loved ones and, after they have slipped away,we must now get used to the din of nothingness which inhabits the space where they were once alive in all their glory.
That’s how it was for me after my husband Chuck died. I could no longer hear his voice, his laugh.The noiseless TV sat still, no longer the constant backdrop to our lives. That period, in the beginning, was one of the most difficult periods of my grief journey. Getting used to the absence of his presence in our home, in my life, and in my heart, was excruciatingly painful.I realized, during the early days of my grieving how close we had been, so much so, that I felt as though I’d lost a limb, and was now crippled with sorrow.As I wrote in my book,Brave in a New World, I felt as though I had been flung into a dark tunnel,with an ability to exist in the outer world, my day to day life, while facing another inner reality, adrift in a sea of darkness.
Oftentimes my mind would drift as I struggled to maintain my sanity in this new and dreary world. I had to remember to do everything consciously:notice where I was putting my keys, pay attention to whether I brushed my teeth so as not to forget and end up doing it again or making sure I didn’t pay the same bill twice. Simple tasks became difficult, and I became very forgetful of people’s names, events, and where I put things.When someone would ask me if I remembered something and my answer was no,they would occasionally insist that I must recall a person, place or thing.I would feel anger and frustration and I wanted to scream out that my husband had died and I was just trying to remember who I was.I was having a hard time staying on top of the small tasks so I could get through each and every new day.In order to go to church on Sunday, I had to prepare a day ahead. If I didn’t,I might get confused as to what to wear or misplace my church envelope,which would delay my getting to service on time,making me so frustrated I would give up altogether.I never lashed out, but instead slowly distanced myself from those who just didn’t “get it”.
Even as I continued to move forward through the Firsts: Chuck’s birthday, our anniversary, Father’s Day, Christmas, I struggled to push on. I didn’t want each occasion to hinder my progress as I feared becoming frozen in place,interrupting my hard work toward recovery and reawakening.Oh how I yearned to be free, free of the pain, the hurt, the day to day battle to remain lucid, aware and conscious. I endured these struggles each and everyday which, at first, seemed to have no end in sight.
I continued on like that for months, years really,and then one summer day,I decided to write a book. I wanted to let everyone know what to expect when they lose a spouse.I felt that they should know that the feelings they’d be experiencing were going to seem scary,deep and unexpected. I wanted to talk about the experience of grieving because no one ever tells you what it’s like.Maybe because it’s almost indescribable,so I put it all into words.Meanwhile,we talk about everything else,but why is the topic of grieving so off limits, taboo in the twenty first century?
I wanted to affirm those who silently grieve and let them know that they are not alone.For some, it’s an experience that can and does last forever. Some widows and widowers die within a short period after their spouse, because,for them,to live life without their husband or wife is not an option. After the actor Christopher Reeves’ death,his wife Dana would pass away two years later.It’s so important that we check on our loved ones who grieve so that they can remain vital,maintaining the will to live and not grow the desire to die.For those of us who wish to get on with our lives it’s important to understand that grieving and the pain that ensues is normal and to be expected.
Eventually I did see a glimmer of light at the end of that tunnel. Initially it was very small, just a pinhole,but eventually it grew.Soon I recognized that light as hope, hope in the dark. This was my signal, a sign, that as I drew myself up out of the pit of despair and became open to my new future without Chuck, I would be supported in that effort by God,the Universe and all of humanity. All that I needed became available, at my disposal until I finally could see a twinkling light beckoning me into my new beginning.