We lower our sails; a while we rest
From the unending, endless quest.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Widowhood is repetition. It is confronting the same grief over and over until it wears you down. Like water dripping on a rock, eventually turning it into rubble. How you survive depends on how strong your rock is and how fast your tears are eroding it.
Some days, my rock is strong. As big and bold as Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Some days my rock is barely a pebble that isn’t even big enough to kick down the sidewalk.
My rock grows and shrinks dependent on the moment.
Today I am being worn down by the constant reminders of the absence of my husband. I feel my tears on my cheek without really recognizing that I am crying. I can hear them drop onto my strength, my will, my ability to overcome, one by one.
My rock is sandstone today. Unable to withstand much pressure before crumbling.
I think what really wears me down is the repetitiveness. The same thoughts running through my head, the same burning ache inside me, the same feeling of despair and isolation, the same fear of the future. It is exhausting, living through this never ending cycle. I wake up to it, I fall into a restless sleep because of it. Day after day, a rerun of this gambit of emotions that is slowly taking over my life.
I get involved with something and am able to, just for a moment, push past the pain and the grief and experience some sort of life. Then something I see, or hear, or even think about slaps me in the face with the knowledge that though I was once whole, I am now broken, a mere shadow of what I was.
I try and fake it, but I know, and those around me know that I am faking it. But I politely pretend not to know that they know and they politely pretend not to know and all are content because none of us have ever been taught or had experience in this. The pretense is safe, neutral ground,
We are socially awkward in death. We have no frame of reference. How do I react when I am just so tired I can’t think, but someone does something extremely caring for me? Do I force a smile that we both know I’m not feeling? Deep down there is gratitude and love for what they did, but I have no energy with which to dredge it up to the forefront.
How does my friend act when I am at my lowest? Are they supposed to just stand by until I need them? Are they supposed to confront my grief and try to help me resolve it? Are they supposed to ignore it and go on as if nothing is wrong?
And in each instance, how am I supposed to react? I need guidelines, I need rules and some semblance of order, I need a map to help me wander through this jumble of chaos I find myself in. I need instructions to pass to friends and family so that they know the illusive etiquette of death.
I remember seeing a piece of driftwood being tossed about in the waves at the beach one day. As I watched I realized that there is nothing joyous and beautiful in it. It made me feel as if the wood was desperately trying to get to land and the sea was playing with it, keeping it from safety. I remember I wanted to get that piece of wood so I didn’t have to watch its struggle anymore.
I feel like that today. Being swept back and forth in my grief. Unable to come up for air. Wanting the waves of grief to just stop for a moment so that I can catch my breath. So that I can get to dry land.
I find myself without energy to even cry anymore. My eyes are swollen, painful and red, my chest hurts from the deep sobs, my head pounding in time with my heart beat and yet, I don’t think I’ve tapped into even the slightest amount of grief that I hold within. But I am too tired to cry anymore today.
I am even too tired to give up.
So, even though my rock is small and weak right now, it is still a rock. I have no more tears left so my rock is safe from diminishing even further.
Instead, I will crawl within myself and lie in the memories of who I was when my husband was with me. I will find solace and comfort, because there, within, I do know the rules, I do have a guide because there within I have a piece of my husband.
What will happen tomorrow? I don’t know.
I guess it will all depend on what size my rock is.
“A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday but never remembers her age.” – Robert Frost
Today is my birthday.
Normally a happy occasion for most and I have received dozens of well wishes and birthday blessings from friends and family all over, which I greatly love and am truly thankful for.
But there is one glaring absence that I can’t seem to push past.
It also doesn’t help that even the weather is depressing with drizzle and cold.
You see, birthdays were my husband’s joy. He loved them. Whether it was his own or someone else’s. Until I met him, I never really celebrated mine. If wasn’t for Facebook or junk mail from various stores I shop at, I wouldn’t even know it was my birthday until I saw it posted. He would always laugh because when he woke up and wished me a happy birthday, I'd give him a blank look because I had forgotten.
Birthdays just weren’t a big thing in my family. In fact, we thought my sister was born on the wrong day for years because someone first got the date incorrect. It wasn’t until she needed a passport and we pulled her birth certificate out that we realized it.
But my husband loved them. He threw my first birthday party for me. For my 50th he sent all the way to LA to get a Duffy birthday cake for me. He would start the day off with a hug and a gleam in his eye, hand me a present that he had gotten months before and then create a wonderful dinner for me. He would fill the day with little treats and sing Happy Birthday whenever I saw him, which was quite constant since we both worked in the same office.
And that’s what I’m missing so terribly today. Not the presents or the treat, not the well-wishing, not the dinner. I’m missing his boyish grin, his smile, his enthusiasm, his delight, his corniness. I can’t seem to think about anything else.
Normally, I would go riding today as it is a training day and we are in the middle of the show season. I would get birthday hugs and wishes from my ranch family and my husband would be teased about spoiling me today. He would just grin and tell everyone how old I was and that he should probably trade me in for a newer model.
But I just can’t make myself do that.
Not that I don’t love my ranch family and I know that they would do anything to make me feel better, but today is one of those days where I just don’t think I can push through. I don’t think I can overcome the sadness and loneliness.
I can't be cheerful today. Because it’s not a celebration for me. Sure, I’m another year older, but right now it is not a happy event. It is making me focus on, not only this birthday, but the birthdays to come. The birthdays that will never again contain my husband.
I will never again hear him tease me about how much older I am and how he married an old woman, about how I robbed the cradle (he’s four years younger than me). I will never again hear him go on and on about AARP and social security and walkers and counting my grey hair.
I will never again get that one special hug where he holds me tight and whispers in my ear, “Happy Birthday, My Angel. I love you.”
I will never again feel that wonderful contentment of growing older with the only person I want to grow old with.
And that is why today is not a special day for me.
Maybe next year or the year after.
But not today.
If I could have one birthday wish come true, I would be selfish. I wouldn’t wish for world peace or the end of poverty. I wouldn’t wish for the end of hunger or war. I wouldn’t wish for people to get well and the economy to improve for all.
No, I would wish for one thing and one thing only.
I would wish to look up and see my husband’s face, filled with love and joy and excitement and know that it was all for me, because it is my birthday. My special day.
But not today.
A sad soul can kill quicker than a germ – John Steinbeck
Depression affects approximately 14.8 million adults in America, or about 6.7 percent of the population. Depression can cause physical illness, mental and emotional instability. It can end a relationship, a marriage and even a life. Depression is debilitating and fighting it is a constant 24 hour battle.
Drugs can help in the fight, but usually the best cure for depression is to eliminate the reason for the depression or at least redirect the situation that is causing it.
Unfortunately, as a widow, that cause is staring me in the face day and night and cannot be removed or redirected. It is not a tangible thing, it is a huge gap, an empty hole, a lack of presence.
Amputees often speak of being able to feel their missing limb. The medical profession calls it phantom pain. Amputees say that they are often surprised when they look down and see an arm or a leg gone. It’s as if the body and mind cannot accept the loss. So as long as they don’t look, everything is as it should be.
That’s how it is with me. Although, instead of an arm or a leg, I am missing the other half of me. Being a part of a loving couple for so long has expanded my since of self to include my husband. Even when he was in the other room or gone on an errand, there was a tangible tether tying us together. Not binding or constricting, but an almost physical representation of our love and commitment for each other.
But our tether was severed by his death. I feel like the end that was attached to him is now flailing wildly, frantically in the darkness. It’s not so much that I feel a phantom pain but instead I feel a great absence. And that never stops.
Even when I am in the middle of something, I still feel it. Surrounded by friends and family, I still feel it. Amidst laughter and gaiety and distractions, I still feel it.
It is slowly chipping away at me, much like water dripping on a rock. Over the course of time, the water creates a hole and continuously expands it until eventually there is nothing left of the rock.
Every day, I feel like I am a little bit less, a little bit more wounded, a little bit more empty.
I go through the motions. I do my job, I take care of the four footed furry brigade, I ride my horse, I go out with family, I read my books, watch my TV shows, talk with friends and family and even laugh, yet, none of it really touches me.
I feel cocooned. Wrapped in a never ending litany that is crying over and over how much I want my husband back. Even when concentrating on something else, I can still hear it in the corner of my mind, whimpering, begging, pleading for someone to make this not true. It never ends, it is never quiet, it is becoming a part of me and slowly eroding who I was and molding me into someone I don’t want to be: a widow.
I want and need a reset button.
I admit that I am on happy pills. I admit that I need those happy pills. Because I need to function, I need to involve myself into and accomplish daily tasks. I do not have the luxury of being able to devote myself exclusively to mourning.
I can’t because life intrudes. Bills arrive in my mailbox that need to be paid, four footed furry things need to be cared for, clothes need to be washed, groceries bought, and a dozen other little things that need to be done each day. Things that I need to put in the front of the line. So instead, my grief is put on hold until the late evenings.
In this day and age, seems like everything needs to be scheduled…including mourning.
So all day long, I stuff my feelings of solitude, of loneliness, of excruciating emotional pain into a little box deep inside, only daring to allow a small bit of it loose at night when I have the time to confront it, take care of it, deal with it. I daren’t open the box completely because I am terrified that I will not survive the onslaught. That I will become so engulfed that all reason and sanity will be lost forever.
But that box can only hold so much so there is leakage that erodes my soul. The medical community defines it as depression. My mind and body define it as devastation and it constantly eats at me.
Each evening, I release the pressure valve. Just enough to relieve some of the symptoms because no amount will ever relieve the cause. I cry, I hug one of the furry brigade, I scream, I rant and rave, I beg and plead, I curl up in pain, until I am exhausted and feel that some of the pressure has been removed.
During the day, when the pressure builds too much, I do other things. I post onto my husband’s Facebook page. Just little things about what happened that day, or pictures that say how much I love and miss him. When I really need to cry on his shoulder, I send him private messages.
That seems a little bizarre to do so, but it actually helps. A dear friend of mine lost her son and she does the same. She said that it helps her and I believe it. Probably because we are conditioned to speaking with people via social media. People who live long distances away and some who’ve we’ve never met in person but still became friends. So in some way, my mind is justifying this, convincing myself that my husband is just out of reach, but still here and reading his posts. His lack of response is merely a defective keyboard. Maybe it’s not healthy but I don’t really care.
I wear his wedding ring around my neck, along with a little cross with some of his ashes. When it gets too much I clutch at them like a lifeline. It helps me stabilize, helps me retain my bearings and equilibrium when I am unsteady. It relieves just enough pressure for me to move on for a bit until it builds up again.
It’s hard to rationalize this whole situation. I have no basis of comparison. No life experience to draw on. Listening and reading of other’s accounts are mere shadows to the reality. Even as vivid of an imagination as I have cannot comprehend the magnitude of widowhood.
It is an ever present, overwhelming, nightmare that haunts my day and night hours. One, in which that little voice keeps begging 24 hours a day to wake up from.
It continues day after day after day with no end in sight. A continuous monotony of empty days. An everlasting manipulation of my emotional state that must be constantly monitored so as to prevent falling too far into the abyss.
A constant tug-of-war between what is real and what is desired. My mind spinning from one to the other, trying to make sense, to figure out a pattern in which I can dive into and gain stability. But although my mind can justify things seen and heard by matrixing them into something familiar, this is beyond its capabilities.
Widowhood is not something that can be neatly categorized into little psychiatric slots. It is not something that can be cured with medication. Unlike depression, it cannot be contained, maintained and understood.
It can only be endured, as we continue onward, a mere shadow of what we once were.
Beth is an ordinary woman who has found herself to be in an un-ordinary situation. She wanted to chronicle the journey of widowhood for others who happen to find themselves on the same path. The good and the bad.