These are some introductory lessons I have learned since my husband's death. There will be many more lessons to learn, I know, because I am a novice widow.
No well-meaning words can take the pain away. Words have always been my friends, but I now realize that they only wash over grief; they cannot take it away. That persistent grief comes back in strong and unexpected ways. I am so grateful for the people who reach out; I understand why others hesitate. I appreciate a warm hug or the squeeze of a hand; that human contact reaches me in ways that words cannot.
So, the first lesson I learned as a widow leads to an apology. I am so sorry for the times that I did not know what to say to people who had lost loved ones. I know that there were times when I did not say anything when I should have. There were other times when I offered a platitude like "he's in a better place" or "time heals all wounds." Now I know better.
My husband is not coming back. More than a month -- that's the time that it took for the sad reality to sink in. His loss is not a cruel dream; it is an absolute.
When I return home, sometimes I expect to see his Jeep. Secretly, I hope that maybe he got home early and started dinner for me. But the house is always empty, and the stove is cold. Making food and sharing it with the family was a way we used to show love. Joe will never make Sunday morning pancakes again. So, I eat, but the food does not taste the same without someone to share it.
I need to be part of the world, so I must reach out. It is hard, but it is necessary. Friends, family and acquaintances are busy because they are grappling with their own problems; their distance does not stem from a lack of compassion or kindness.
When they ask about my weekend, they do not realize that it is a question that pains me. Weekends are not what they used to be.
The good news is that there are people who are willing to help. There are bereavement groups sponsored by hospitals and places of workshop. Pastors, chaplains, grief counselors and caring volunteers are there to help those in need. Find a place where you feel welcome … a place where you can speak if you want and just listen if that is all you are able to do. Have hope that you find healing and grace in the necessary journey of grief, which each of us must travel.
Our loved ones do not want us to cling to sorrow or give up on life. Joe desperately wanted to live, and he made a herculean effort to survive. He did it for us. My husband would want our family to be happy.
If I learned anything about Joe over the course of our marriage, it is that he would want our lives to be filled with friends, family and hope for the future. By the same token, I want to remember him in happier times when he was a strong and vibrant man who could enjoy life.
Recently, I read that it is good for widowed people to think about their spouses happy in the next life. As a Christian, I imagine Joe in heaven, free of his suffering. I envision him reveling in all the wisdom and joy that heaven brings; he is doing what he loved to do on earth.
Fixing things was one of his favorite activities. Often, I wonder what he can fix in heaven because it is perfect; my children said that maybe he is sending his light and prayers to someone on earth who is in need of fixing -- maybe one of us.
I can do what needs to be done. I never realized all the things that Joe did to keep our house running. Now I am the one who must pay the bills and pull the weeds. There are many of both.
Sometimes I worry that others will notice that the house doesn't look as well kept as it used to; the corners do not shine as they once did.
But I know that Joe would smile if he saw our daughter cutting down a fallen, storm-damaged tree with power tools; he would be proud to see our son hauling away those heavy branches so his mom did not have to drag them. Joe would be pleased that our children gently laid mulch over soil in the garden that he loved so much.
We are doing the best that we can, and that is all that he would ask from us.
THE LAST KISS SERIES
■ Patty & Corey: The Heartbreak.
■ Diana & Joe: A widow's advice: Embrace bereavement, don't avoid it A Straight From the Source story.
■ Janice & Joe A story of someday A Straight From the Source story
■ Janice & Joe Five lessons I've learned so far A Straight From the Source story
■ Patty & Corey: The Love Story.
■ Patricia & Tim: A widow cherishes the memories of her warrior A Straight From the Source story
■ Last Kiss: Bill & Marian: A love that lives in dreams A Straight From the Source story
■ Embracing a widower's grief: I reread her letters, I played her favorite songs A Straight From the Source story
■ A Buffalo Grove widower's cry: Just Let Me Talk A Straight From the Source story
■ Patty & Corey: A widow wishes she had asked for one more kiss.
■ Patty & Corey: A widow's mission to sustain her husband's barbershop.
■ Donald & Helen: A widower's essay becomes his daughter's short film A Straight From the Source story
■ Susan & Guy: A widow's guide to dealing with the loss of a spouse A Straight From the Source story
For more on the series, please click here.