Five years ago my life ended.
In that same absent heartbeat, my new, alien life began.
No, I didn’t have a near-death experience, but without warning, Death got in my face, reached into my being, and ripped away my other half — my soulmate.
To say that it hurt … words don’t exist that convey the suffering of that severance. I didn’t think I could endure the agony.
I wouldn’t — couldn’t — consider ending my life to end the pain; I had three daughters who needed me. But there were times the idea was hard to squelch. More often, I daydreamed of going to sleep and never waking up.
Waking up — in that split-second flash of remembering he was dead — felt horrific, far worse than the sleepless tossing and turning that preceded it. Brief, eventual dips into nightly, exhaustion-induced, nightmare-ridden naps were never “restful.” Even within those nightmares I somehow knew that waking would bring a fresh slap in the face of the worst reality I’d ever faced: my husband was dead.
Life — as I knew it — was over. (The well-intended, misguided souls who “consoled” me that “life goes on” were wrong.)
Yet, relentlessly, without him, one unwanted sunrise after another, I “woke up and wished that I was dead, with an aching in my head . . . I thought of you and where you’d gone, and the world spins madly on.“*
I found myself drawn to communities of the widowed, and I connected more deeply with friends who’d lost children and other dear ones. In such company, the words which so frustratingly failed us when speaking with the non-bereaved weren’t necessary. Among fellow mourners, each grieving their own unique bereavement, all were fluent in the language of heart loss.
Back then, I struggled to get through a full day. The thought of enduring that degree of pain — at that intensity — for the rest of my lifetime . . . Ugh. (As I sit typing these words, even the memory of those awful months makes me shudder from shoulder to knee.)
I asked my fellow widows and widowers who seemed to have rebuilt their shattered lives, who seemed to know how to make it from one day to the next, “How long did it take? How long before you felt like yourself again? Before you felt you could cope again?”
Their responses gave me nibbles to ponder (I wasn’t yet up to food for thought), hope in future, and reasons to fight — for my own newly alien life. Their answers surprised, encouraged, and confounded me:
- I’ll let you know if I ever feel like myself again.
- The second year was harder than the first. I started getting my act together during the third.
- I did what I had to do because there was no one else to do it, but I still don’t feel like myself.
- It takes as long as it takes. Don’t listen to anybody who hasn’t walked in your shoes. There’s no set time for anything.
- By five years I’d pulled my new self together. Give yourself time.
Five years? I thought. No way will it take me FIVE YEARS. No way I can last that long through this. No way.
From time to time since then, I’ve tried to take an objective look at where I am now compared to where I was before widowhood and where I was during the earliest months and years of widowhood. Along the way from Back Then to each new Right Now, at every self-evaluation I could see signs of progress — and of my own personal failure to thrive.
Overall, my progress has grown and my failures (for the most part) have shrunk from one stage to the next. But I always thought, It’s okay that I’m not “there” yet. I will be before five years. I am NOT gonna take that long to be okay again.
But now . . .
It has been five years.
And I am well. Not the same, but well enough. (At least, well enough for now.)
And, most of the time, I am happy again. (At least, happy enough for now.)
Among the widows and widowers I first met, someone (I wish I remember who, but too many memories from then are widow-fog obscured) shared the video clip, “Thought of You” by animator Ryan Woodward**, created the same year my husband died. The artist left the meaning open so viewers can relate their own circumstances to the story it tells. To me (and to many others who’ve lost loved ones) the animation, music, and lyrics together come close — very close — to conveying the feeling of new bereavement (which words alone can’t approach).
(Happy angelversary in your better place, my dear.)