It’s my birthday today. The fifth birthday I’ve had since my husband died. And like all birthdays and holidays since my husband died, it has left me feeling slightly out of sorts.
However, it feels different than past birthdays too. It doesn’t feel quite so sad or angry as it has in years past. When thinking of our situation, I often tell myself “it is what it is,” but this year it actually feels like I can say that without a twinge of bitterness underscoring the words. Sure, I wish my husband were here to celebrate the day, but I’m feeling ok that he’s not.
Coming out of grief
It occurs to me that we’ve turn a corner on our grief. Emerged from the suffocating blackness and if we’re not quite into the sunlight, we’ve at least hit an overcast sky that is brighter than the dark we’ve left behind.
I say we because I like to think that the kids and I are in this together, on the same journey. But that’s probably not quite right. We will all bear the scars of the past eight years, and they are still feeling fresh for some of us. While the screaming matches with one child seem to have ended, another has started pulling out his hair and biting his nails down to the quick.
So maybe I shouldn’t make it sound like we are all on the same path. Some of us are staggering out of the tunnel first and blinking at the sky while waiting for everyone else to catch up.
Time of lamentation is done
“Is there any sorrow like my sorrow?”
We say this verse from Lamentations during the Stations of the Cross every year. It has been a favorite mantra of mine for the past five years, followed closely by the Psalm “At nightfall weeping enters in, but with dawn comes rejoicing.” That latter verse felt aspirational though – there was no dawn coming that I could see – while the one from Lamentations felt like my life.
Sounds a bit overdramatic, eh? It was, but that’s what grief does. It takes small things and inflates them to overwhelming consequence. It’s what leaves you sobbing irrationally about keys locked in a car or flashing anger because someone’s email reply didn’t sound perky enough. Grief weighs you down and crowds out your vision so you can’t see anything except your own hurt.
It’s so cliché, but time really does heal so many things. That’s true even when you don’t want to be healed. During the first year after my husband’s death, the grief was all-consuming. I always say that every day that I managed to get out of bed and get the kids out the door was a victory. People use words like suffocating to describe grief because it is so accurate. It puts lead in your feet, it muddles your mind and blurs your vision.
Despite its debilitating effects, I wanted my grief. I couldn’t imagine it leaving. To stop grieving would be to betray my husband. To leave him in the past. To forget him.
And yet, the grief did begin to leave. It morphed into anger. Not just any anger, but a blind rage at everything and anyone. Compassion and empathy? Nope. Not part of my lexicon then. It didn’t matter what someone else was going through; my experience trumped theirs (Is there any sorrow like my sorrow?).
I didn’t like who I was then, but after a year of shaking my fist at God, that feeling too subsided. It evolved into nearly three years of bitterness and self-pity, mixed in with some guilt that maybe I wasn’t missing my husband as much as I was missing his help around the house and with the kids. Single parenthood is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
And then, suddenly, it disappeared. I stopped feeling angry about the people I thought would help but didn’t. I started feeling content. The deep loneliness I had felt – which likely was more due to wanting a distraction than any real desire for companionship – left. I stopped comparing my grief to other people’s grief.
Time heals all things.
Grief may be gone, sadness lingers
This isn’t the first time I have felt like I was in the clear when it came to my grief. I have, on occasion, felt like I turned a corner only to find a little ways down the road that I turned back. However, since I haven’t written here since April, I’m hopeful that this time, I am leaving the worst of grief behind for good.
That’s not to say everything is hunky-dory all the time. I still find myself feeling weepy at random times. A few months ago, I spent the first 10 minutes of my son’s First Communion Mass sobbing quietly in the pew and trying to pull myself together. The realization that my husband was not only missing this Mass but had also been home sick for our middle son’s First Communion washed over me like a wave and then wouldn’t recede.
Band concerts, graduation ceremonies and certain songs on the radio all seem to trigger bouts of melancholy, but they no longer linger. There is so much my husband is missing, and I grieve that he is not here with us to experience it and that we have been deprived of his presence. (Saying he is with us in spirit doesn’t really help either.) I’m not sure that low hum of sadness will ever leave my life fully.
What’s next for the blog
So that leaves me with the question of what to do with this blog. I originally thought I would create the site as a resource for widows, but it ended up being personal therapy for me. Now that the need for personal therapy seems to be largely over, I’ve considered deleting it. I’ve actually never gone back to read my old posts, and I can only imagine how cringe-worthy some of them are.
Still, more than 100 people find their way here every day, and I regularly hear from folks who say the posts resonate with them. I’m a firm believer that we, as a society, overshare on the things that aren’t important and then keep secret those parts of us that really matter. I wish we were more open about those crucial topics so others wouldn’t feel as alone. For now, I think I’ll leave the blog up as is.
Going forward, I would still like to turn the site into a resource for widows, particularly new ones who are navigating the murky waters of running a household by themselves while stumbling through the darkness of grief. However, that will require my life to slow down so I can devote some time to the project.
I’m sure I will be back to write more in the future, but I’m not sure when. In the meantime, thank you for walking this journey with me.