By Mie Elmhirst —
Dear fellow widow:
What was really wonderful about your husband? What were those qualities that brought out the best in you? What was it about your union that really worked? What was it that made you say, way back when, “This is the man for me”?
After my husband died, it took me awhile to remember the early stages of our relationship. This is because cancer showed up two months before we were married, and most of the 10 years of our marriage were snatched up by surgeries, chemotherapies, and other painful treatments.
His buoyant personality did not change as he navigated these various treatments. He remained always positive and hopeful. My personality, however, was not so lovely. I became ultra-serious, and mildly-to-not-so-mildly, neurotic. I was scared of losing him, so scared that I could not talk about it. I compensated by trying to make life perfect. But — this is a topic for later!
With the help of photos, many beautiful love letters, and my daughter’s remarkable memory, I was able to recall those early years. I was surprised to remember a time when he actually had hair! And I remember when we climbed mountains, we could go for hours not speaking, simply enjoying the smells of the damp earth and wet leaves, the sound of the wind whistling in the trees, and the breathtaking views.
I remember how we loved the fact that the two of us were together, alone in the woods, in the quiet, doing what we loved the most. I remember, 8 years later, how he smelled. I remember the way that he put those little stays that I thought were so weird in the collars of his dress shirts, and how he got on his knees every night to thank God for the day. And I remember waving him off to work in the morning thinking what a handsome man he really was.
Yes, I can remember some really good times. Spend some time remembering those time for yourself. It is important to do this.
And then remember the not-so-good times as well. What was difficult about your relationship? What were the challenges? What drove you crazy? What was it that made you look at other marriages and wonder if they had the same issues?
My biggest challenge was myself. When Mike got sick, I took on the role of emotional caregiver. He did not ask me to do this. How I had been raised, our societal values, my lack of self-esteem and my fear of losing him conspired to thrust me into this role.
As emotional caregiver, I put his needs above mine for the whole of our marriage. I did this so successfully that it seemed at times that he also forgot I had any needs at all. I am not blaming; I am simply stating what was.
So, just in case you think that I have sanctified my husband, think again. Mike was no angel. For one thing, he had a way of poking fun that made me crazy. And he could not understand my sensitivity. This was a frequent topic of heated conversation. Yes, we had our challenges, both because of who he was, and because of who I was.
Why is it necessary to look back, especially if it is painful to do so? Am I suggesting this simply for the sake of airing dirty laundry? Why must we who are left behind acknowledge anything that wasn’t positive?
There are many reasons – but the most important are the following: We must understand our challenges, our tendencies, so that when we are again in relationship, we will be ready respond to our new situations rather than react to them because of old unhealed wounds. If we don’t acknowledge the truth about the past we will be owned by it — and then, bound to repeat it.
If there is pain that we don’t acknowledge, it affects us. Just because it is not addressed doesn’t mean it isn’t there, festering. I am pretty sure that I have found my new special someone. As I type those words I feel excited, scared and happy. But most of all I feel very secure in the fact that I have done the work.
This new relationship is not just a fix-it. I am not in it in order to chase away loneliness. It is not a Band-Aid for pain. It is healthy and it is the product of a good amount of self-exploration. I have had to learn to ask for help. I have had to learn to speak up. I now can say things like, “No, that won’t work for me,” or “When you said such-and-such, I felt badly.” Or, “Will you take Anneke and I out for dinner Friday? It has been a really hard week.”
To move forward, we need to stay in reality. To look at the whole picture, rather than just the convenient, easy, fun part. If we are grounded in the whole truth, we are then available to share our lives with a special someone, if that is what we want.
Closure happens when we are at peace with the good memories and the not-so-good. Closure is when we are willing to acknowledge the whole picture; that he was a very real human being, a mixed bag, and that he was capable of making us happier than we thought we had a right to be, and he was also capable of disappointing and hurting us. Closure happens after we have done the work, and usually when we are not looking. It is that very quiet moment when we are finally at peace with what was and are capable of looking ahead with a sense of anticipation. We are then free to love once again.
Mie Elmhirst is founder of the website, www.widowsbreathe.com.Tags: grief, hope