A friend who became a widow about a year ago asked me if the loneliness and tears ever stopped. I always hate to have to tell the truth that so many of us discovered — that it takes three to five years to find some sort of renewed interest in life, but even then, tears still come, though not as often or for as long as they once did, and the loneliness can continue to be a problem.
It took me ten years and a major life change — moving to a new town and buying a house — before I settled into a feeling of normalcy. I do still tear up at times, but that’s all it is — a momentary tearing up without enough moisture to escape my eyes, and I do still get lonely, though again, it’s more of a blip than a barrage of feelings because after all these years (it will be eleven years in seven weeks) I am used to being alone.
I still marvel that we can get to the point of feeling any sort of normalcy because the truth is, no matter what happens in our lives, they are still gone.
I remember having lunch with a woman who asked me how I was. This had to have been about four years after Jeff died, because I was mostly doing okay, which is what I told her. I would never even have mentioned him except that she asked, which is why her subsequent lecture on how I must really get over it and move on seemed so unfair. It’s not as if I brought up the subject or even bemoaned my fate. My response was just a simple, “I’m doing okay.” She eventually changed the subject back to herself, and this is where things really got bizarre. Her husband was gone for the weekend on a fishing trip, and she spent the rest of our time together talking about how much she missed him and how lonely she was.
I could only gape at her. Her husband had been gone but a day, would be home in another day or two, and their lives would continue as before. Jeff had been gone years, and would never return. It simply did not occur to her to correlate the two situations. Somehow it was okay for her to miss her husband, but not okay for me to miss Jeff. It was as if in her mind, death had erased him, not just in the present, but in the past, so that whatever we had shared was gone, eradicated from the record of my life, and for me even to think of him was an affront.
You’d think as the years pass, our loneliness and missing them would escalate because every new day is another day piled on the heap of days we’ve already spent missing them, but the miracle of grief is that although those feelings are still there, they become subsumed into the depths of our being, and so they don’t demand as much attention.
And so our lives continue.
But for most of us, getting to that point takes years.
If you are still in the midst of the hard years, I am truly sorry, but there is hope. Most of us who manage to claw our way out of the chaos of grief do find renewal of some sort. For me, first it was dance classes, and now it’s my house and home. For so long, Jeff was my home, but now I have an actual place I can call home. It’s not the same, of course, but considering the circumstances of my life, it’s pretty amazing that I got here.
This renewal isn’t unique to me. Many of us find ourselves, ten years after the death of a spouse, life mate, soul mate, in a completely different place, sometimes geographically, sometimes mentally or emotionally, sometimes spiritually, sometimes all three.
It doesn’t in any way make it okay that they are gone, doesn’t eradicate them from our lives, but it does make it easier for us to embrace life once more, to move away from the edge of the abyss where we teetered for so long.
Meantime, in your loneliness, know that at least one person understands, at least to some extent, what you are going through.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator