By Michele Neff Hernandez —
The death of someone instrumental in our lives instantly changes our view of the world. Ordinary things are suddenly fraught with meaning, and insignificant moments become unexpectedly precious. After my husband Phil’s death I remember thinking that grief swooped in and stole my rose-colored glasses, leaving me with a pair of dark shades instead. I was quite certain that rose was no longer my color.
This darker world view made every life celebration bittersweet…or sometimes just plain bitter. Movies became minefields, attending weddings became tortuous, walking down the street beside hand-holding couples made me feel nauseous, and stopping for lunch alone during my workday often reduced me to tears.
While gray was the dominant color in my life, I generally felt either sad or numb, with not much in between. Sometimes when a bit of color would filter through the haze (a flash of genuine happiness for example), I felt almost burned. My instinct became turning away from the sun and pulling my new shades down over my eyes to keep the world in a comfortable state of darkness.
I can’t tell you exactly when my shades started allowing the penetration of light, but they did. One day, I genuinely smiled. Another day, I laughed so hard that my sides hurt. Every now and then I could walk down the street without counting the couples I passed.
I even went to a wedding and found myself caught up in the love of the moment instead of listening to the voice in my head detailing the ways that death may these two part. When I realized that I had made it through a wedding without the bitter taste of disappointment in my mouth, I knew that the gloom was finally lifting.
Death has changed the way I look at every single thing in my life. Lately, I have been thinking of life as a camera. We don’t always get to select the lens, but we can adjust the focus. I can’t change the fact that Phil died, but I can choose to focus on how lucky I was to love him. I will never sit through a film that includes losing a loved one without a pang of sorrow, but I can choose to employ that compassion in my everyday life.
When I see very old couples assisting each other out of a car, I still wonder, “Why not us?”…but I can choose to think, “Good for you.” Sometimes getting the focus right is still not easy. When a wave of grief comes from somewhere unexpected, I am often temporarily unable to adjust my focus, but I am learning that finding the right focus takes practice. And each day gives me a new opportunity to pick up my camera.
Michele Neff Hernandez is the founder, and executive director of the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation. SSLF is a non-profit organization committed to providing resources and support to people grieving the loss of a loved one. In addition to her work with the foundation, Michele inspires people as a motivational speaker and freelance writer. Through speaking to service groups, faith communities, Universities and hosting community seminars she has shared her thoughts on loss and hope with a variety of audiences. She is the creator of the Web site www.widowsbond.com and the Widow Match program. Since the death of her husband in 2005, she has made reaching out to other widows her personal mission. Ms. Hernandez’s various projects have been featured in the Ventura County Star, the Simi Valley Acorn, and the Riverside County Record. She is a contributing author to several websites and is chronicling the interviews she has done with widows across the country in a book called, The Healing Power of the Widow’s Bond. Currently she is planning a national widowhood conference scheduled for the summer of 2009.Tags: grief, hope