Posts Tagged ‘widow’

How Death Changes Us

I hadn’t seen her in awhile, many months, and much has happened since that time. A warm smile and a sweet embrace followed.  Then the words, “How are you?”  These were sincere words.  A question from another widow.  Then the firing of questions back and forth between us, trying to get in as much as we could as we knew the time was short – the meeting was about to be called back to session.

This widow is older than I. Her children are now adults and grandchildren stumble at her feet.  My children are in elementary school.  She is now retired but still quite active working in so many other unpaid ways.  I am in a paying career at the moment.  Her late husband was told of his illness shortly before mine died, and her husband died just a few weeks later.  My husband’s illness lasted years.

The opposites that this widow and I shared were direct, but, at the same time, we had so much in common. I knew her.  She knew me.  The knowingness that comes with the transition to this new phase of our lives.

As I was contemplating these two sides of the coin that we shared, I heard her ask “Are you the same Erica?” Of course too much had happened over those seven plus years of struggling to regain my late husband’s life only for it to end in heartache.  She knew the answer, but was looking for a bit more.  I gave her the glance of knowing exactly what she meant and where she was headed.  Then without skipping a beat, she continued “I am not.  How can we be?  But you know what surprises me the most?”  I waited.  I really wasn’t sure what she was going to say.  I was intrigued and wanted to know – I have so much respect for her, and she has so much more experience than I do in her wisdom and walk in faith.  Would our answer be the same or on opposite sides of the coin?

With the twinkle I have come to see often in her eyes, she said, “What surprises me the most is that I have changed and I am happy about that.  I have changed for the better.”

With all the sadness, with the loneliness, with the heartache that can come in waves, so too comes the good. The knowledge that we will see our late husbands again in heaven and that they are great where they are now, free of pain and doing all sorts of things I can only dream about.  The hope that goodness can grow out of sadness.  The renewed people we have become.  The new perspectives we have.  The appreciation for gifts and life and new people that enter our lives.  The joy that can become with honoring and remembering our late husbands always but also carving out a new path for the rest of our journey here.

How my friend is “better” she couldn’t clarify for me. The meeting was being called back to order.  But I can guess.  The better when we realize we cannot control the events that may happen in our lives, but the freedom we gain when we control how we view those events and how we will approach the rest of our years here.   As for me and my family, we will continue to be “better” and grow “stronger” every month and we will continue to love and welcome new people into our lives.  This is important as relationships make life better.  Relationships make me better – they help to heal, they help to grow, they help me become a better mom, they help me become the person God intends for me to be.

What Had Death Done To Me?

What has death done to me?  This was a question posed by another widow who wrote an article about change and moving forward several months ago.  This question was buried in the middle of that article, but it popped from the screen and seemed to etch itself in my brain from that moment on.  I thought about how I would answer that question.  Became overwhelmed and unsure.  So I did what made sense – I pushed it to the back of my mind only for it to resurface again a few days later.  This pattern continued for weeks until I finally decided to try to articulate what death has done to me.

It is so complex and hits on so many levels that trying to succinctly state something seems disingenuous.  It is almost like if I summarize in a paragraph what Jim’s death has done to me that I would somehow be dishonoring my husband.  But still when I am honest and I consider the pattern that I see in much of my attitude since his death, I recognize that much of what has happened to me is ironic.  As a result of Jim’s death I find myself being more open, more out there in terms of connecting with friends, expressing my thoughts, not wanting to dwell on the trite but to be open and honest.  Many people have the opposite occurrence.  They become more reserved and sometimes even closed.  For me, things (events, happenings, people) are more raw now.  They hit at a different level which is hard to communicate.  There is a boldness in how I approach things that is different from what it was before.  And the openness to it all is apparent.

This open quality is not something my oldest friends or family would say has been with my for the long haul.  In fact, I believe I was very much the opposite.  A private person by nature and happy to be open with loved ones, but it took time to reach this point when first connecting with someone.  When Jim started getting very ill years ago, we wanted to help educate other people about Lyme disease.  As Jim’s voice left him physically, I took on the charge.  It was not within my comfort zone, but I did it because it felt like the right thing to do.  Upon Jim’s death, another floodgate opened – this one even further.  Now I find that I tend to answer a person’s question fully and honestly.  I don’t stop short.  I am wide open most of the time.

As I have come to appreciate this new view of life that I seem to have acquired, it brings a smile to my face.  You see when Jim and I got married 16 years ago one of our favorite songs, one that we played all the time and sang at the top of our lungs and danced to in the late hours of the night, was “Wide Open Spaces” by the Dixie Chicks.  The song deals with wanting freedom and wanting a new life and wanting to become the person you were meant to be.  So in a strange way, there is a circle that seems to have been completed.   The rawness and the boldness of the future unknown.  To be open to it regardless of where I have been in the past and to be fully immersed in the now.

 

(below:  Valentine of Milan Mourning Her Husband, the Duke of Orleans,
by Fleury-Francois)

The Widow’s Dream

It finally happened – the dream that all the widow books said would come.  The presence that others told me about that happens after a spouse dies.  It has been just over 2 months since Jim passed away.  As he was dying, I asked him to send me a sign letting me know he was alright and he delivered the next day.  I haven’t had that connection since.  Until the other night.  I don’t typically remember my dreams and I was so grateful that this one woke me, made me pause, and forced me to give thanks that Jim is well, hanging out with Jesus and doing things physically he hasn’t been able to do in years.  I focus on those things.  They are what make the sadness, pain, and more sadness bearable.

The dream wasn’t much, but the reminder was grand.  Jim was in a bed.  It was a recollection of the night he passed, except it wasn’t his bed and it wasn’t his bedroom.  Still, I knew he was dying and I was physically lying next to him in the bed.  Then the life passed out of him.  Again, a recollection of what was.  He was present in this space, although he was physically struggling and far off in a way too, and then he was not in his body anymore.  The body was only a shell of the essence of Jim.  That was so evident in real life.  My first experience with something so intimate as a life passing before my eyes and that same experience happened in the dream.

Then in the dream, there was the pause.  This was the recollection of reality too.  In real life I remember staring at Jim hard, trying to process what had happened even though I knew what had happened and then crying out “Lazarus, get up”  – I urged Jim to defy all odds and for his eyes to pop open and his body to revive itself.  For Jim to return.  This of course did not happen in real life, but I sat next to Jim’s body and his bed for quite some time, hoping that it would.

In my dream, this same scene played out, minus the words.  There was Jim’s body and my living presence looking at him and then making slow-motion movements walking around the room, trying to process what had happened.  In the dream, there was that pause.  The confusion.  And, then Jim sat up in the bed and then Jim stood up next to the bed.  I looked at him.  He looked at me.  We smiled at one another.  I knew.  He knew.  He was moving on.  He was about to walk out of that room.  Two things struck me: Jim smiled and Jim walked – two things that didn’t happen much, if at all, during his last months here.

And then in the dream, Jim walked.  He was still in the room when I woke up.  He was still smiling at me when my eyes opened into this reality.  I paused, reflecting on the gift just given to me.  I reflected on what I already knew, but what was graciously given to me in a dream: a reminder that Jim is well.  Jim is walking, smiling, and whole again.

And then, just in case I didn’t get it, after I got out of the bed and headed into the bathroom to get ready for the day, I paused at a bureau.  As I opened the doors, a photo fell off the top shelf and hit my feet.  It was a frame divided into 3 parts: one with Jim and our daughter, one photo with Jim and our son, and one photo with Jim and me.  Jim is there with each one of us and that in and of itself is worth celebrating.

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