Jean Paul Sartre wrote:
“We are our choices.”
I don’t agree with what he wrote. If it were true, would I choose to be a widow? Would I choose to lose a loved one? I don’t think so. In fact no one would!
Sunday was Father’s Day. Another stressful day for us, the fifth one without him. It’s painful even after all these years, four years and seven months to be exact.
I wanted so much to write something that day but I couldn’t. On a day like Sunday my emotions ran too high. We had promised to grow old together. And whenever I think of the future, of facing old age alone, I shudder. I am weighed down by the present too, thinking of the life ahead, of the life I can never have, our life together.
After all these years it still feels like it was yesterday and sometimes it hurts even more. You have this life with a wonderful partner, you have your beautiful family, you are looking forward to a great future and working hard to achieve it, make it possible, and boom, tragedy strikes.
You’re confused. You don’t know what to do or say. There is no manual that prepares you for widowhood, that teaches you how to continue. Suddenly you find yourself alone and in charge of not only your life but your loved ones’ too, the lives of your children who have also lost their dad.
You put on a brave mask and go through your daily routine as if nothing has changed. But at night, alone, you cry yourself to sleep. You cry for your loss, but mostly for his loss, thinking of all the things he won’t see, of all the occasions he will miss, like birthdays, Father’s Days, Christmas and graduation to name only a few. You cry for the way his life and his dreams were cut short. You cry because a future without him is too overwhelming and the present too painful.
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard wrote:
“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you will never have.”
You go back in your mind, you travel down memory lane, you remember every single day and all the good times you had together. You think that maybe you could have had a better and happier life if you hadn’t been too busy working and earning a living and providing for your family.
You think for a while of the opportunities you have missed because you were busy doing this or that. And all the while you forget yourself. You forget your needs. You forget who you are and your primary goal becomes to take care of others.
“Take the time to take care of yourself. If you become ill, it may be the body’s way of saying “slow down,”” writes Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She then continues and says: “Cry whenever and wherever you want.”
These last two years all I have been trying to do is slow down and literally catch my breath. Last week I had an important appointment and was sitting in the room waiting for my name to be called. All of a sudden I felt so overwhelmed by the entire process, the wait, the people in the room, the reason I was there that I felt like crying. I so wanted to leave everything and go home that day. But I didn’t. For the first time in my life I did what I had never done before, I cried in that room full of strangers. I turned my face towards the wall I was sitting by and cried. Silently of course.
Thinking back on that day, I have to admit it took lots of courage for me to let go, especially since I am very good at hiding my feelings. Afterwards when I felt calmer I took out my notebook and my pen from my purse and I started writing.
Writing is my companion in a world where I stand alone. It has always been. I carry so many memories, feelings, hopes, dreams, untold stories and unanswered questions that are wanting to get out. It’s my way of saying that I am here, still breathing, still trying to make sense of the world, of my world, and that part of my life that I no longer have and that was taken from me.
“Now more than ever be gentle with yourself and protect yourself. Don’t do more than you want and don’t do anything that does not serve your soul.” writes Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
Julia Cameron too advises to be gentle with ourselves.
Maybe I was too angry at the beginning, too lost, too confused and worried about my future, our future, that I forgot to take care of myself. I ignored all the signs my body was telling me. Maybe I jumped right back and didn’t give myself time to rest.
Maybe I listened to other voices instead of listening to my inner voice telling me on most days to hide in my room, to stay in bed and do nothing but cry. Instead I did things I didn’t want to at the time. I did things that didn’t feel right for me to do and yet I did it all to show my loved ones I was okay while in reality I wasn’t.
A year after my husband’s death I told a friend that it’s time for me to do something about my late husband’s artwork, go through his paintings and store them properly. She warned me to be careful. She said your emotions will affect your physical well being, your health. And working with his paintings might be emotionally painful. “You are not ready and you are still vulnerable,” she said. I wish I had listened to her.
It seems when we hide our grief and put off our pain, it doesn’t go away, but it nests inside somewhere and worsens and intensifies in countless ways. And when the body’s resistance is lowered and the defenses weakened, severe stress activates and triggers all that is hidden inside.
It’s easy to think now about what I could have done or should not have done then. As Søren Aabye Kierkegaard writes:
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.”