Love Alone

Today is 27 months. One of the biggest revelations I’ve had over these past 27 months is that the phrase, “I’d die for you” is actually a selfish statement. Romance and love stories paint that this concept is the ultimate show of love – the willingness to die for someone. Yet, it is actually the reverse.

The intense love that is brought on in a relationship such as marriage also brings with it a fear of living without that love. We marry someone because we don’t want to imagine a life without them. Hence, we’re willing to die for them. That willingness is born out of our selfish desire to not have to grieve them. The romance actually belongs to the survivor – the one who not only has to imagine life without the other half, but has to do life.

Understanding “Insurance”

When we find ourselves having to share that we have lost someone we deeply loved, the responses are varied. Most are not helpful, because the idea of loss is so uncomfortable.  But, some are right down hurtful. Yet, what I’ve come do understand is that most just don’t know what to say, so they say anything that comes to mind at the time. This at times may sound like a blame game. For example, I’ve heard responses, both directly to me as well as said and related to me, such as:

  • Well, my husband takes care of himself, so that probably won’t happen to him.
  • I work out and keep my weight down, so I won’t have heart problems.
  • I have kids who could give me a kidney, so I’ll be ok.
  • We had the COVID  shot, so that won’t happen to us.

I could go on, but I think this shows the essence of what I mean.  The main point that I want to express is that people really don’t mean to be hurtful when they say these things.  They don’t mean to be playing the blame game, even though it definitely feels that way at the time.  What they are doing is what I call “insurance”.  We’re all so afraid of death, or worse – being left alone by death – that we tell ourselves all kinds of things on a subconscious level.  Some people simply let these subconscious thoughts out when faced with a situation too close to home, as it were.

First, try not to take it personally.  They are simply attempting to insure that they won’t suffer the same fate.  We really can’t do that, but we want so badly to be in control of our own lives that we attempt to even control our own fate.  Most of the time, we aren’t really aware of this behavior.  So, this is definitely an occasion of speaking without thinking, or at least conscious thought. 

Second, try to give grace.  When I first heard these things, I will admit that I was irritated.  But, then I thought back to before I was here on this journey.  I probably said things that sounded just as ridiculous, simply because I didn’t  know.  People can never truly understand a stage or a journey until it happens to them.   

When we find ourselves having to share that we have lost someone we deeply loved, the responses are varied. Most are not helpful, but some are right down hurtful. What I’ve come do understand is that most just don’t know what to say, so they say anything that comes to mind at the time. This at times may sound like a blame game. For example, I’ve heard responses such as: Well, my husband takes care of himself, so that probably won’t happen to him.”

It’s Me that is Lost

I never questioned the semantics of the using the word loss when someone dies before Bob moved to Heaven. It was just what we said, “Sorry for your loss.” Yet, when a friend said this to me in the first few days (even before the funeral), I bristled back, “He’s not lost. I know exactly where he is.” That friend was gracious enough to understand my pain and just let that comment go at the time.

Yet, that prompted me to reflect on why we use that word at all. It’s not as if our loved ones wandered off. They aren’t the sock lost in the dryer.

After much reflection over these two years, I have finally realized it’s because those of us who are left behind are lost. As his wife, I lost us as a married couple, myself as a wife, etc. I had to find who I was apart from the “we” that was us. I felt so totally empty – as if he had taken at least half of me with him. Our children had to find their way in the world without their father in their young 30’s. Our grandchildren had to learn about death in such a profound way at a very young age. They too had to find their way without Papa. So, when we say, “I’m sorry for you loss,” the loss isn’t the loved one. The loss is who we were with the loved one.

Yes, I know we carry them with us, but we are now changed. And, with intense relationships, that is profound change.

Look for the Good

This was one of Daddy’s reminders. It was rather ironic, because he was a self-proclaimed realist. But, he meant that if you’re looking for someone to be kind, then you will find kindness; if you’re looking for negative, you will find negative, etc. So, as we begin this new year, I’m going to focus on finding goodness and contentment. I pray the same for you.

One Little Step at a Time

This is an old story, and the author is unknown. But, it is such a good lesson for those of us in grief to remember not to let the grief bury us. We can climb out one step at a time.

One day a farmer’s donkey fell into a well. The animal cried loudly for hours, while the farmer tried to find something to do to get him out.

Finally, the farmer decided that the donkey was old and the well was already dry and needed to be covered anyway; that it really wasn’t worth pulling the donkey out of the well. He invited all his neighbors to come help him. They each grabbed a shovel and began to throw dirt into the well.

The donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly loud. Then, to everyone’s surprise, he quieted down after a few shovelfuls of dirt. The farmer finally looked down into the well and was amazed at what he saw… with each shovelful of dirt, the donkey was doing something incredible: It was shaking off the dirt and stepping on top of the dirt.

Very soon everyone saw surprised how the donkey reached the mouth of the well, went over the edge and trotted out…Life is going to throw dirt at you, all kinds of dirt… this grief is just one of life’s bigger problems. This is certainly the biggest I’ve gone through. Yet, the trick to getting out of the hole is to shake it off and use it to step up – one little step at a time.

I Don’t Want a New Year!

When your spouse dies, the idea of a new year can be hard. The idea of the next year being your “best year ever” or “a fresh start” or “the happiest yet” is sickening and scary. I did not want 2021 to begin. It would be the first year without him in it. I felt like I was I was leaving him in the past. I was so focused on the fact I was about to enter a year in which he never lived – at least here on earth.

The new year was also a reminder of just how much time had passed since we were last physically together. I was painfully aware that January 2, 2021, would be the 73rd day without him, as I was still counting the days. The new year signified a future I didn’t want to envision… a future without him in it.

Yet, as that first year without him physically present with us rolled into 2022, I realized that I had moved on to counting months. I was making some progress, and I could see some happiness as I spent time with my children and grandchildren. And, with 2023, I have realized that I have moved to counting years (and months). I will always miss him, but I am now focusing on honoring him by carrying his love and joy with me. We never leave them behind. They are always with us!

They still exist – even in this new year – not the way we want, but they are here. Keep moving forward with them. People like to choose a word for their year. My word this year is Honor. I will intentionally honor him with moving forward. I am not moving away from him or leaving him behind. I’m carrying his love with me!See insights and adsBoost post

Oceans of Mourning

Zoe Clark-Coates reminds us that grief is an up and down journey. Just as we think we’ve mastered this, a song, a smell, a memory… rushes over us and we get knocked back. But, it’s not really a step back. Those grief rushes actually transport us forward.

In the very beginning of grief, I loved to listen to “Bob’s songs” – a collection of songs he loved that reminded him of the blessings of his life. I wondered if I’d ever listen to them without tears. That day did come. It’s like the last time you carry your child. It just happens without your realization that this is the last time. Now, I can see him singing along and treasure the memories. Just keep pressing forward.

Taking that next, right step

This poem by Elena Mikhalkova is perfect for tonight, our family’s Christmas Eve. Our tradition was set at the beginning of our marriage to move our Christmas Celebration to the 22nd and 23rd, so that we could be with our parents in our home town of Ashland, Kentucky, on the 24th and 25th.

So, as we celebrate our 3rd year without that amazing husband, father, and Papa, we’re taking yet another step. Prayers as you take those steps as well.

My grandmother once gave me a tip:

In difficult times, you move forward in small steps. Do what you have to do, but little by little. Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow. Wash the dishes. Remove the dust. Write a letter. Make a soup. You see? You are advancing step by step. Take a step and stop. Rest a little. Praise yourself. Take another step. Then another. You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more. And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.

Their love is still with us!

I love this analogy. It reminds us that the love that our loved one left us is always there – represented in our grief. Yet, we learn to move forward with it as we grow around the grief. Just as a tree doesn’t really heal a wound. It grows around it, creating the knots that we see in the tree and the lumber that comes from the tree. And, usually, the knots add more depth and beauty. While I will always miss Bob and the retirement years we had looked forward to, I am learning to savor the memories and appreciate their beauty for what they are. I hope that for you as well.

Learning

I’m learning… And, I hope my journey is helping you, especially in this holiday season.

As I’m learning to move forward, I want to be intentional in representing both of us just as I did when he was physically beside me. He wanted me to be happy, and knew me well enough to know that I would stumble with that. Yet, I remind myself that I’m honoring him with carrying his light and laughter.