Thursday, May 15, 2008

One Journey

I find it extremely helpful to read stories from other widow/ers, for a number of reasons. One, it gives us hope for a brighter tomorrow. Two, it lets us know that we are not alone, that there are many, many fellow travelers on this road. And three, we can learn how others experience their loss in their own unique way, and we might take away something that can help us in our own grief work.

I read a great post on WidowNet on the 18th of April, and I caught up with the author recently to ask to repost her story. I'll let her introduce herself:

I'm Pam Arterburn, an English teacher living in Southern California, and my husband died in his sleep early in 2005. He had not been ill. We'd been together since I was thirteen and he was fifteen. I live with my two kids, 25 and 15, and still take writing classes at UCLA and am working on some memoir pieces and poetry.

Pam shares a number of helpful tips, and she has a real gift for inspiring others who have lost a spouse. Here's her post:

One Journey — from Day Two to Three Years Down the Road

The day after you lose your spouse is the first day of life on a strange, new planet. It looks like the old one -- same house, same car, same dog. But like the old Twilight Zones, it's not the same. The self you were with him or her, the person you only became when the two of you were together, is gone. You are left with only yourself. The thought of having to live this weird existence mingled with so much sadness and strangeness is unthinkable. Then you wonder -- how long will it take until I feel "normal" again? And what is "normal" going to be like? I remember thinking at first that there is NO WAY I could spend two or more YEARS grieving this loss! I'd surely jump off a cliff!

Well, it has been three years now since I lost my husband — three days before our 30th anniversary. We got married young, so I was 48.

For those of you whose losses are more recent, I will just share with you what these three years have been like for me.

The first three months are hazy. It was like being in a tiny boat on a foggy sea with no visibility in any direction and no oars. Just floating in a grey fog. -- Don't expect anything of yourself in this phase. Getting up and making breakfast is a major accomplishment. Be proud that you can stand up and carry on a conversation!!

My boss at work set me up with a blind date at three months -- turned out to be a former co-worker. Thus began a strange period of dating. Immediately, even though I'd tried for years, I dropped 30 pounds. I just yearned for human contact like a person lost in the desert needs water. But since I hadn't dated anyone other than my
husband since I was a teenager, it was like a second adolescence. Emotionally, I was about 15 years old. I had to learn how to be in a relationship again -- and how to push bad people away when it was time. Yes, I was taken advantage of. I was even lied to. Know what? I don't regret it at all.

Nobody can decide for you what's right or wrong when you are grieving. You'll get so much advice that your head will spin! Those people mean well, but they do not walk in your shoes. Only YOU can decide how to make it past the worst loss of your life.

My friends said I was dating to postpone grieving, that I wasn't facing the situation. Ok -- so what! It bought me some time. For goodness sakes, I was LIVING the "situation"! I needed that time.

If you need to be alone, it's OK! It took so much energy out of me to talk to my friends for a while. I pulled away because I couldn't handle having to rehash how I was coping ten times over. To explain how I was handling things made me see that I wasn't doing so well at it. I did not want to re-hash my life every time the phone rang -- I could barely stand to live it.

So I stopped answering that phone for a while. My friends were worried and nagged me to talk. But I could not help it. Sometimes, talking just isn't what you need. You're re-working your entire existence, and it's so complicated. If you need to spend the evening staring at the stars and wondering what's in store for you, that's what you should do.

I went back to college for a year, took writing courses at UCLA and became a student again. It was expensive and required zillions of hours in the car. But it changed me, forced me back into the world and made me look inside. Writing helped me cope. I met new friends and felt alive again. Once again, I began to feel moments of joy, of hope, of life winning over that dark pool of doubt.

This is the story of the first two years following my husband's death. But I did tell you it's been three years.

The third year has been better, like I can see a horizon line now -- the vista in front of me looks more familiar. I'm doing better at work, but I still miss days because I just can't do it. The happy times last longer. I don't sink so low.

Overall, I am glad to be alive, and you know what? Looking back, I can see that I was brave. There have been adventures, stories to laugh about, silly things I did along the way. But the journey out of grief, from where some of you are standing right now, is not going to be as bad or hard as you're afraid it will be. Just do it your own way, and don't be afraid to make mistakes.

I still make mistakes all the time, and I'm not proud of everything about my life. But it's kind of amazing that life will endure, and you will too.

I wish you all an amazing journey.

With love and so much hope for you,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And she does not even say anything about the fact she has been dating the same guy for almost 3 of those griefing years, i just read this and im that guy, tell's you alot about the person you have been dating for that long and that im nothing but a stepping stone for her grief