My wife died September of 1997, and as I had the wreckage of my life scattered around me, I knew the “year of firsts” was soon ahead of me. The first Thanksgiving and Christmas as half a couple was weeks away. How in the world was I going to survive that?
I think the natural inclination is to try to ignore, to shield yourself, to insulate yourself from the world, try and avoid all that pain, all those memories, but a daily barrage of reminders from retailers about the upcoming celebrations made that impossible. The arrival of Christmas cards addressed to both of us was a particularly painful reminder.
One of the first things those dealing with loss need to remember is that crying is absolutely normal and necessary. Not only is it therapeutic, it’s a good way to release stress and anxiety. Too many people, particularly men, try to avoid or hide this part of the healing process. Let it out, let it happen, let the tears flow. It is healthy.
Survival for me came from being with friends and family, and in some cases complete strangers. People naturally want to help and support, and this is the time when you accept their emotional gifts without reservation. You need it; you deserve it.
Instead of a traditional Christmas tree that year, a friend suggested a “memory tree” on a living room table. Instead of ornaments, we wrote memories on small pieces of paper and hung them. It was very comforting to see that little tree sitting proudly in the corner covered in notes.
One morning after breakfast, I was lingering with coffee in a restaurant next to an older couple. While I was deep in thought, the woman touched my arm and said, “You look very sad, can we help?” Some wonderful healing started that day with those 30 minutes of sharing.
Remember, you are on a journey that may seem endless at times. Everyone heals at their own pace, and surviving the list of “firsts” is but one little part of that journey.
I’m not sure that the pain of your loss every truly goes away, but rather, I think you learn to deal with it, how to put a fence around it, and as you do, the happy memories start to replace the pain.
I find that I think of my wife daily, but it generally is with a smile as I remember the happy times and funny things we shared. Those memories are yours to keep forever.
Chuck Owen is a Sylvania, Ohio, resident and has been a hospice volunteer at ProMedica Ebeid Hospice Residence since 2013. This is his second blog in a 4-part series on loss and grief.