As human beings, we go through many stages. We are born helpless and depend on others to help us grow and develop and become worthwhile young adults. Even then, we depend on others to help us grow and develop into mature adults who do worthwhile things.
I think the journey through widowhood is much the same. In the infancy stage, I found myself totally reliant on other people for my most basic needs. People told me when to eat and to sleep. Family and friends and coworkers made sure I had what I needed to get through each day until I began to notice those things myself and take care of them.
When I first started writing about my widowhood journey in the blog “When Life Gives You Curves” for Bangor Daily News, I had so much hurt and raw pain yet to deal with before I could even begin to move ahead. I was in grief counseling for the first five years after my husband Jim’s death from pancreatic cancer, and even though I had “graduated” from that process, I still had work to do.
I wrote about my very personal experiences because I felt in my heart it was important to let others “like me” — widows and widowers — know they were not alone; that their reactions that made them feel so isolated from family, friends and co-workers were natural and really not unique, even though their personal experiences were their own.
It became a ministry of sorts too, as I made it clear my faith in God was — and is — an important part of my strength and my healing. I would be in a lot worse shape without my faith as an anchor.
As I became stronger and gained self-confidence, I felt like the adolescent or young adult just emerging into the “real” world. I thought I had control of everything but didn’t really have control of anything. Things just didn’t upset me in the same way any more. That was all. I was healing.
I would bungle along, thinking everything was cool, and I would fall into an emotional ditch and sink a ways into the mud before I could regain my feet. Those same family and friends who were there right after Jim’s death were standing at the ditch edge, ready to wipe the mud off my face so I could see where I was going, and push me back onto the path that is my life.
That stage seemed to last quite a while too.
But lately, I have been thinking I have reached a more mature stage of my grief. I don’t seem to have the same mindless and emotionally raw attachments to my husband’s possessions. Some of them have clearly become mine, and my emotions are more stable in general.
Memories have become much more important, and I realize I don’t need physical triggers in the form of “stuff” to pull them out of my heart to enjoy and gain a smile. Smiling over fond memories is becoming easier.
Life as a widow, however, is not. There are challenges every day that just slap me in the face because I face them alone. When Jim was alive, everyday chores and tasks were easy because they were shared. Now they are all mine, and I truly feel the weight of them some days.
When Jim died, I needed a Plan B to help me find direction in my life. But it turns out, Plan B is just a beginning. There’s a Plan C and a Plan D and so on. And we only have to be open to life’s endless possibilities to find them.
I thought my grief journey would be more lineal, like growing up from infancy to adulthood, but it isn’t. The path not only has curves, but it also is not very defined. It’s like shifting sand, grains constantly moving and gliding with wind and water, and settling in a smooth blanket in front of me until the next disturbance.
I know there will be ups and downs ahead of me, and that I may veer off my own chosen path from time to time, but it’s OK. The sand smoothed out in front of me is a blank slate, and I am eager for the challenge.
Come walk with me on this journey. Let’s find the path together, see where it goes and discover what we can about ourselves and each other along the way.