I am moving through what I think of as the year of the terrible firsts.
The first wedding anniversary without him; the first holidays; the first family celebration; birthdays, his, mine, our children’s.
And I move, inexorably, to the marking of the first anniversary of his death.
In many ways, these months have been filled with surprises.
Who would have thought that I would miss caregiving? But I do. Apparently, it is addictive. I miss being needed, being useful, having someone to look after. When I am sure that I am emotionally stable enough to be a dependable volunteer, I will fill that need that way. But in the meantime, my days are without purpose. I am rootless. As a caregiver, I didn’t go to the theater because I didn’t want to be that long away from a telephone: Now I could go to the theater every day, and I haven’t been once.
Who would have thought that silence could be so noisy? Coming home to the empty, much too quiet apartment is painful. Observing other widows and widowers I see a tendency to be anywhere but home, to just keep moving, to take a trip, a cruise, busying themselves it seems to me, with busy-ness. I can only assume that being constantly on the move must, if not ease, delay, the pain of absence.
That might be a solution but I don’t have the energy for it and I am so restless that, although I might think I want to go somewhere else, when I get there, I don’t want to be there either.Everything is an effort. The seven years actually spent caregiving have taken their toll. I am exhausted. Add to that the deep sadness, the new responsibilities, the decisions that must be made, changes, real or contemplated – what energy I have is quickly used. I might make plans, but I soon run out of steam.
Who would have thought that one could hoard tears? But I think that is what I am doing. Yes, I cried at the time between death and funeral and for a few weeks after that. But since then, despite being sometimes overwhelmed with grief, the tears do not come. They are inside, beating against my skin. I wonder, do I hold them back, fearful that if I let them out, my memory of my husband will dissipate with them?
I acknowledge that I am holding on, fiercely, to my mourning. I don’t want to “get over it”. I am not sure what people mean when they use that phrase. Is my husband’s death like a hurdle, a fence, that I must climb over? Get over what? Loving my husband? Missing him? The other common advice involves “moving on”. Again, what does that mean? Where, what condition, what state, do I move to? If I move on, do I leave behind what went before?
The truth is that I don’t want to get over it. Indeed, I think a psychiatrist, or psychologist would look at the absence of tears over the past eleven months and conclude that I am putting off mourning, holding on to my husband by refusing to weep for him. In a way, the unshed tears hold him close, make it possible for me to deny the reality of his death. Not do I want to move on. Not if that means forgetting. The thought that I might forget my husband, forget our years together, is appalling. Getting over it, moving on, these sound like disloyalty to my husband, a kind of infidelity.
Kind friends tell me that he would want me to” move on”. Perhaps. But I didn’t always do what he wanted me to do when he was alive. Not sure that I want to now.
More than that, I think that if I am to heal, I need to walk right into the middle of this pain, to accept it, understand it, learn to live with it. I take great comfort in this quote from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross:
“The reality is you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same again. Nor should you be, nor should you want to be.”