Thursday, December 4, 2014
A Monument of Memory
“Sitting on the floor, I'd replay the past in my head. Funny, that's all I did, day after day after day for half a year, and I never tired of it. What I'd been through seemed so vast, with so many facets. Vast, but real, very real, which was why the experience persisted in towering before me, like a monument lit up at night. And the thing was, it was a monument to me.”
― Haruki Murakami
My friend and fellow widow Margaret finds the most apt and thoughtful quotes, and my words today are based on some of these. She posted the one above recently and I found myself thinking about it for days, because that’s what I did, almost exactly for six months. That first half a year I basically sat here and recreated my life with Mike. I tried to relive everything I could remember and berated myself for any moment I had forgotten. I worshiped the monument, the treasure of a life that was now gone. The heartache seemed endless, and vast.
“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”
― C.S. Lewis
People who have not experienced loss of a close loved one usually can’t quite understand why we are so unable to function for so long. I now know that I live in a society which is largely uninformed about the process of grief. We don’t wear our Victorian black anymore, so we are not immediately recognized as the suddenly incomplete versions of our previous selves; we are not afforded that year+ of mourning with the grace and understanding of that bygone era. We don’t fling ourselves on funeral pyres, so we are expected to march on firmly with our own lives - as if this death of our beloveds did not also mean death of the lives we thought we would have. As if we actually knew which way to walk…as if we weren’t fumbling around for months and years, discombobulated, confused, in a world bereft of our anchors.
“You can not die of grief, though it feels as if you can. A heart does not actually break, though sometimes your chest aches as if it is breaking. Grief dims with time. It is the way of things. There comes a day when you smile again, and you feel like a traitor. How dare I feel happy. How dare I be glad in a world where (he) is no more. And then you cry fresh tears, because you do not miss him as much as you once did, and giving up your grief is another kind of death.”
― Laurell K. Hamilton
Yes, I thought again. Because after awhile there started to be days I did smile. And I did feel like a traitor. How dare I. I again berated myself for wanting to live again; I even experienced backlash from a few people who weren’t ready to see me smile yet either. And then I did cry fresh tears…not because I didn’t miss him as much, because I did, but maybe because I found I didn’t need him as much as I thought I did to find that smile again…and that thought hurt just as much. I have not given up my grief - that is impossible, I think - I believe this quote rather means we begin to feel our grief differently as the world quietly lets itself in again. No matter how we might resist, it happens - we continue to miss them but we slowly begin to live again, though the time table is different for everyone. We move, we go to work, we talk to friends, we create art, we watch TV, we take care of our kids, we have the car repaired…all the things life requires, and many of the things we desire, we begin to do again. And that feeling of grief rearranges itself in our hearts, whether we like it or not, as some sort of survival instinct, amidst the confused feelings of bewilderment and betrayal.
"Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you'll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you'll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room."
Nothing will ever be the same again without Mike. Without my magic man. And some days, of course, I lose the fight, as I will continue to do for a very long time, if not forever. I collapse into tears, quietly, and usually alone. I don’t really tell many people about these moments anymore. They just happen, and I get through them. But as time goes by, I get up faster and faster. At the end of the day I am beginning to reluctantly accept this is my life now. I berate myself again: I have no choice. Get up and take care of yourself, dammit. Do something worthwhile.
"Find a way to live. Get out of your house. Travel. Sit at the beach and watch the ocean. Talk to your husband. Be around people. Know that you are going to be ok. Life is hard, even harder for a widow, but we can find a life that is happy, even if it isn't the life we wanted. Don't let the sadness win. Don't let the doctors put you on all kinds of medications. You are not crazy. You are grieving.
The above is a quote from another fellow widow, one of Margaret’s friends. She speaks simple yet profound words of support and guidance. They may be very difficult to digest especially in the first few months of a loss - (and I can’t attest one way or another about medications because I’m not a doctor) but I think her point is that it’s important to know our profound misery at losing our spouses is part of a normal - albeit horrible - process. And that it’s ok to be open to another sort of happiness too, one which might require time and effort to discover. It’s not fair: it just is.
In my opinion, this last quote is not meant to be flippant, or spurious, nor dismissive to the treasured memories of our former lives. I believe Mr. Whitman simply expressed a wisdom far greater than one I now possess. One day, I hope I can find a way to be at peace with this simple thought - because eventually the monument of memory will fade and chip no matter how many books I write or how long I prostrate myself. That realization actually hurts a real physical hurt - but in the end, no matter what else, I will know that I got to be with the one I love. And I will cherish that knowledge close to my heart however long I may live.
"We were together. I forget the rest."
PS Thank you to Margaret for walking beside me. I wouldn’t be here without her, and my other dear widowed friends in our terrible club. Because - we get it. #teamwidowed