Wednesday, September 25, 2013

He's still dead. I'm still a widow. So now what?

Crossing over into the second year has been a sober experience.  As though I have awaken from the most dreadful nightmare, only to discover that I am still in it, because it wasn't a nightmare at all. It was real. It is real. It continues to be real. Crossing over was like reaching the finish line after a long marathon, only to realize that it was an illusion. The line doesn't exist. People walk away, but the pain doesn't end. Coming to the end of the terrible trek through griefs first year is like climbing a mountain and reaching its highest peak, only to discover that the ground is flat. The path led me nowhere I thought I was going. There is no victory, no sense of overcoming, no euphoric sense of "now that's over I can get back to my life!" Grief tricked me. It tricked me into thinking I would get what I wanted if I made it through. But there is no through. There is no reward. Because all I want is my loved one back.

He's still dead. And I'm still a widow. So now what?

This is the most uncomfortable realization... He's still dead. I'm still a widow. So now what? It changes grief from a seasonal time frame to a lifelong companion. I am no longer striving to make it through. I am breathing, and trying to cope with the complexities of grief and widowhood in the midst of regular life, beyond the "crisis". This kind of pain is new and different. It is unbearable to face. Raw pain is still present, but it lacks the cushion of shock allotted to the bereaved in that first year. It is a pain I cannot express into words. I would give anything to hide from it. I would give anything to escape the dreadful reality of widowhood. I would give anything to trade anyone else's problems in the world for this unbearable reality. I no longer care what society does or says. People don't believe its true, but it is true. There is nothing worse than this.

Widows are crazy. We are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically unstable. Actually its completely normal to "us". We all seem to understand each other. Our insanity makes perfect sense to those who have been through it. It is only crazy to those on the outside! Those who, no matter how well they mean, they cannot understand such a surge of anger over something so seemingly insignificant, or that snarky remark that seemed rude and uncalled for, or the isolation, the lack of engaging in society. Surely, all of these symptoms are uncalled for after the first year? Surely, these grievers can control themselves enough not to break such foundational social norms...

I am trying to accept this unfortunate reality. I wrestle with how to walk this difficult road and still be who I am, still honor my Savior, still be available to his call... How do I carry grief with me wherever I go and whatever I do, but not allow it to take over? Allowing anger and fear and even self pity to run its natural course, but guarding my heart and knowing when its too much...

How do I serve a couple who gaze into one another eyes as I used to gaze into my husbands? How do I minister to other children who jump up into their Daddy's arms, ignorant of that luxurious privilege, and how painful it is to be without.  How do I watch spouse's take each other for granted, people complain about "silly" problems, experience the pain in my heart that I still fully expect will kill me dead, and remain compassionate, gracious, kind, long-suffering...?

My naivety has been replaced with a sober-minded knowledge of how cruel life can be.  But perhaps this is good. Perhaps it is very good indeed.

Monday, September 2, 2013

One year.

It has been a year. A year since I last saw your smile, felt your touch, heard your laugh. It has been a year since I last felt your energy and life buzzing around me. It has been a year since I have gone to bed with you beside me and woken up to your warmth. It has been a year since I have watched you with our daughters, playing with them and parenting them in your own unique way. It has been a year since they have felt your touch, heard your voice, known the security of your strong presence.  

I have looked with dread and agony towards this day, but also with anticipation, as though some sort of closure or resolution would come in the place of confusion and loss... As though surviving the first year after catastrophic loss would provide a sense of accomplishment or strength. Instead, these are the things I find:

My family is increasingly valuable to me. I long to be near them and cherish their presence in my life. I care less and less about "family issues", personality tensions, conflicts and friction. I know they love me and I need their constancy in my life.

My children are amazing creatures. They reflect Lynn's character and qualities in so many ways, his quirkiness, his drama, his brilliance and talent.  They grieve along with me, but I realize that I grieve for what they do not know... I grieve for the things they will never know that they've missed, the things they do not realize they might have had.  I know these things, but they do not. I grieve for them.

Loneliness and loss are life companions. They are not comfortable or enjoyable in any way, but are beneficial. They reveal just one of many tensions to be managed* My daily challenge seems to lie in managing the tension between genuine sadness and genuine joy, genuine peace and raw anger, feelings of loneliness and hopelessness with hope and faith... And this is how the soul grows.*

There is no resolve or closure to loss. There is no sense of greater purpose of "big picture". There is nothing normal or acceptable about an empty chair at a dinner table that once belonged to someone dear. There was a man once. He lived and breathed. He impacted the world by his giftedness and generosity. He is gone. He will never be replaced. The world will always have the hole where he once fit. Our family will always have a hole where he once lived and breathed. Death stole away someone in my inner circle, so close to me... This will never become normal.

No one will ever know or understand the depth of my grief, in the sense that all people are unique. This is isolating. No one will touch the memories shared in intimacy between a husband and wife. No one will see my daughters and remember what it felt like to cut their umbilical chord and take them in their arms in those first few moments of life. There is no one else who will ever be able to visit those memories with me the way my husband could. There are tragedies all over the world. Many much much greater than mine. In this, we are all connected. We are broken and all grieve. But I will carry much of my own grief in isolation because it is the cry of a particular wife for her particular husband. And this, no one else can know or understand.

I miss Lynn's family. I miss our connection to the States. I wish I could grieve alongside with those who call him brother and son, nephew or cousin...

Much has transpired in my heart and soul over the last year. The tiniest room for acceptance has been opened. I receive the reality that Lynn lives joyfully in another place, that he does not miss us like we miss him, that he encourages me to go forward and go forward (in some ways) I have... I know the girls are strong. Our bond is strong. Roya is hurting, but strong. Alea grieves and shines, looking everywhere for her Prince... She can hardly remember her loving daddy.

I guess I know my life will never be the same. I have accepted the painful reality that it is all washed away in the tide of death, the waves of grief, the flow of loss... There is only this moment. My breath. The gift of family and children. These three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:13).

Today, I look ahead to Roya starting kindergarten, my last year home with Alea, continued efforts to make this new life comfortable and managable, financial planning and work from home, trusting the Holy Spirit to grow my soul to be able to cope with the many things life throws at us, the continued learning curve of how to handle everything on my own (while still relying at times on the help of family and friends!), etc. Dryers failing and damp basements, insurances and online forms... everyday things that remind me I'm alone... I have dread around our would-be-tenth anniversary, excitement around Christmas in our new home, plans for the Spring, and projects for the summer... But mostly, my mantra is "Breathe, just breathe." And to embrace the Ministry of the Mundane*, the rhythm of everyday life, the healing that takes place as we live and breathe and sit and do...

I may be done blogging. I'm not entirely sure. I do know that my soul cannot take much exposure these days. I am vulnerable and quiet, coping and reflecting and sometimes believing...

Tomorrow will reveal itself. We shall soon see.

*Lynn strongly resonated with Nancy Ortberg when she spoke in a worship leading seminar about tensions to be managed vs problems to be solved.
*A Grace Disguised, How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Jerry Sittser
*John Ortberg in The Life You've Always Wanted