Several years ago I had a neighbor, whom I didn’t know very well. We would meet some mornings in our apartment building’s elevator. We were generally rushing to our jobs, but we were always very cordial to each other. She was an attractive young woman who dressed very stylishly. Her style was very conservative, classic and stylish and she always looked neat and prim. I liked her style, and we would compliment each other on our shoes, bags, outfits and so on, a lot of superficial, feel good morning blah, blah blah. She had a husband and one little son and from what I could see they were a nice little family. One day I noticed that her husband had lost weight. It didn’t seem unusual because we all were on the endless gym, run around the reservoir, diet hamster wheel in pursuit of health and fitness. Then, one day, someone mentioned to me that he had died. He’d battled cancer and now he was gone. This guy couldn’t have been any more than in his late 30’s, early 40s. After that, I would see the woman, my elevator friend, and she always looked pale, fragile and drawn, the new widow. She would stand in the corner of the elevator and it appeared as if she wanted to disappear into the wall. I didn’t know what to say to her really, but one day I told her I was sorry. She said thank you and she never spoke to me again after that.
The years went by and one day I saw she had a friend. He looked like a British rocker with one earring, spiky hair, very cool, funky and hip; the exact opposite of her conservatively styled now deceased husband. He was also of a different race, she being Asian and him Caucasian. The woman’s appearance had also changed, she now had spikey hair; no longer neat and prim, now her clothes were hip, current and very downtown chic. When I saw her I thought, “Wow, that lady has gone crazy since her husband passed away. I mean she must’ve had a bit of a breakdown.” I just didn’t get it. I figured that her husband must be rolling over in his grave. I really didn’t know what that meant either, but it seemed an appropriate reactive thought. Eventually, I no longer saw her in the elevator, as she had moved away, off to a new life away from the old.
When I look back on that woman, having gone through what I’ve gone through since the death of my own husband, I realize now how little I understood about losing a loved one and grief. I didn’t understand what one goes through nor did I really care. Losing a spouse had nothing to do with my life so how would I know or be interested in what a widow or widower goes through. After all, all the important men in my life were still alive at that point so, therefore, that whole scene was the farthest thing from my reality.
Losing a spouse is a transformative experience for the one who is left, and the changes that one goes through are an integral part of the grief journey. Some people remain fixed, frozen in time not able to move forward or evolve. Others, falsely believe that if they move on they will lose the essence of their deceased spouse, they will forget him or her or they will “betray” them. Others discover that another part of them emerges, seeking new experiences as well as searching for a new identity. As time goes on, they rediscover themselves minus their spouse. It’s all a part of the grieving journey, should one decide to embark on it.
There are many facets to human beings. Sometimes we’re not given an opportunity to explore all of who we are within our lifetime. After losing a life partner, one might have a desire to try a new hobby or travel to exotic far off places, search out new and different social connections, or go back to school. The death of a spouse, after the pain has started to subside, actually can inspire one to think about who they will be next, what they want to do next. The possibilities are limitless if we open ourselves up to the chance to reach for that unbearable lightness of being whomever we want to be, no holds barred. Rather than wallowing in one’s grief for the rest of life, one must realize that there is an opportunity to transform one’s life and have a new beginning. This is what my neighbor did, I’m sure.
It can be a little tricky if someone who has lost a spouse begins to make drastic changes in their lives.Well-meaning family, particularly in laws, and friends may not understand what their loved one is doing or going through. I would suggest that they keep a watchful eye, but to not interfere. When people grieve the first stage is the numb stage, and after they’ve moved through the tunnel it is as if they are awakening from a deep slumber.They have been sleeping wide awake. When they reawaken they begin the task of rediscovering themselves. They are trying to make his or her way into their new world, bravely. The bereaved are, after all, still here “on the ground where it can be tough sometimes “, and after having gone through losing a spouse, they have a right to explore all possibilities for restarting life anew. This will take time, and those around should not set time limits on their loved one’s transformation after grief.
When my husband died, I redid our home to suit my own taste. To my surprise my own tastes were changing so I was able to make mistakes until I got it right. It was all a part of my personal evolution. I looked at my life and began to create a new one as I discarded the things that were no longer me, the old me. Everything became colored by my recent loss.I developed new preferences and tastes and discarded old ideas that were no longer me, the new me. I became closer to some friends and more distant from others as my life took on a new shape. Some people remember you as you once were but, I soon discovered I needed people to see me as the new person I was becoming. Every change was a progression as I shed the skin of Yvonne as Chuck’s wife, and became me , Yvonne OMO (On My OWN).
There shouldn’t be an expected code of behavior for the bereaved. They should be allowed to express themselves free from the criticism of others who expect the familiar. In fact those around should expect the unexpected. I am sure I am no longer anyone I ever was and I’m thrilled not to be, as I’m contented to be who I am now. The life-changing experience of losing my husband gave me an opportunity to be reborn. That same thing, I suspect, is what happened to my elevator friend. I understand everything now, and so much more.
When you are grieving you’re sleepwalking, but if one grieves consciously, he or she will begin to see the positive effects that a spouse’s passing can bring.There will be an opportunity to know more, to grow and to change, as one’s life should never be one of just passing through. I know that this is a different and new way of thinking about how a loss can be turned into something positive for those who are mourning. It is the opportunity for one to have a new beginning, finding yourself, your new self, being brave as you emerge anew. One can be transformed into a rock star or a rock; it’s a choice you’ve been given. Consider it a gift and a legacy from the one you’ve loved and lost. My advice is to always choose life.