I’ve been thinking that for the first time in my life that I can remember, I don’t have the answers and I’m not sure where to look for them, as I’m not even really sure what the questions are … Far from the days when I was certain of life’s purpose and how one “should” fulfill it, according to a Catholic upbringing that fed my perfectionist personality and desire for tradition and rules, I now sit in my pew at church wondering what it’s all about, what I’m doing there, why I’m there in that particular place. It isn’t anyone’s fault; I’m not expecting something I’m not getting, I’m not waiting for the people there to make anything better or for the church to give me something else. I’m not the person who doesn’t feel “welcome”.
I’m just not the person I used to be and I no longer fit into the grooves I fit into before. I can’t even squeeze myself into them because some of them are no longer desirable to me and some of them are just no longer there. I live in a twilight zone of sorts, because while time moves on all around a grieving person and life appears to continue, the brain doesn’t compute everything it has to process when life changes suddenly. One day at a time isn’t a cliche, it really does become the only way to manage the daunting task of learning to live with the loss of a spouse. Getting through from morning to night with a sense of purpose, a feeling of productivity, enough relaxing to recoup energy but not so much that the mind begins to focus less on tasks and more on pain, is a challenge.
There are days that I’m happy to go out and run errands and smile and joke around with others I meet, and there are days that I just hope to get out of my car for the mail without actually seeing anyone. I find it much easier to answer a question of “what have you been up to?” than I do the general “how are you doing?” even though I detect a note of sincere concern. There’s no easy answer to that question because I probably couldn’t tell the truth without crying – it’s so much less challenging to chat about the projects and crafts that fill my days.
But one of the biggest challenges for me is sitting through Mass on Sunday. I work hard to keep myself busy most days and plan things so I don’t have too much thinking time, but for this hour on Sunday I’m in a reflective space, doing and listening to things that sharply remind me of the empty seat beside me. I spend my hour immersed in memories of many years of family worship, music that stirs emotions and brings about feelings I’ve worked hard to suppress in public, and trying to keep myself “together” as I watch other couples sharing fun and special moments I no longer have. I am made there distinctly aware of my new state in life as a widow and I find it strange that of all places, church is the hardest for me to be.
I know that the depth of the pain of loss is directly related to the depth of the love that was shared. People learn to live without their beloved, day by day, taking small steps at first and then bigger ones, but the way a broken heart hurts and aches for what has been torn from it won’t ever go away. I’ve seen it in the teary eyes and heard it in the choked up voice of a woman widowed seven years, now happily remarried and living an active life, while relating to me a story of her own loss as a show of support for me in mine. I’ve seen it in an almost ninety year old woman widowed ten years previous, who was active, happy and lively visiting my office, but upon hearing some music, melted into a chair sobbing at the memory of dancing with her husband, and could hardly even speak. I rubbed her arm trying to comfort her, telling her that I knew I didn’t understand but that I was very sorry for her and that it was OK for her to cry.
And now, sadly, I do understand. I am her. I have connections with women I hardly know, but we relate to each other on an emotional plane that no one wants to be familiar with, and where words are rarely necessary because it seems that pain is communicated from one heart to another just as clearly as love is.
My view has changed – there are some things that no longer shine as brightly as they did before, others that seem much more clear, and still others that I never even saw but now seem so obvious. I couldn’t explain it even if I tried. Some day I hope to attend Mass without crying. Some day I hope to hear music and have only happy memories. But sometimes we don’t get to pick our view, we just have to look at what’s in front of us and hope that eventually we’ll see something that enlightens us, or at least lightens our load. I guess the main thing is to make sure I keep my eyes open.