This may not be the exact quote, but it’s more or less what I remember from May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude. “… so perhaps the work is the arrow, flying from the writer towards what she will become…”
Though I was wrong about outsmarting grief, I was right about what I wrote in the poem. Ned was, of course, still dead, and was going to stay that way, except in memory and dreams. And that was how I had to learn how to not be married to him.
But that was a different task than discovering, or inventing, what my new, not-married-to-him life would be.
For this is the truth that every widow faces: the life we had is gone.
That is the essential fact of widowhood, especially early widowhood (and “early” is an individual time-frame, depending in part on how long you were married, how old you were at the time of your spouse’s death, and how good the marriage was; for me, and I hate to say this, “early” was at least three or four years; I only became fully recognizable to myself after seven years had passed).
But. This essential fact cannot be changed, no matter how much therapy or hospice work we do, no matter what funds or programs we create, or buildings we build, in his or her name. No matter how beautiful the memorial is.
Bumping up against our powerlessness to change this, time after time, reminder after reminder, is what makes early-stage widowhood so peculiarly excruciating. It’s not just the intensity of the pain, or the inability to create a different outcome; it’s the sheer monotony of coming up against this over and over again.
But knowing how to not be married is only the first part of our task. Next comes. gradually, finding, or discovering, or inventing, our new life. What are we, instead?
For awhile, of course, this is untenable. Of course the new life that we may have has not yet been revealed. When grief is in full spate, there is nothing we can do, seemingly, to speed that new life’s revelation. It feels as if we can neither go backwards or forwards.
Indeed, for awhile, many of us think that a new life in the future with any hint of happiness may not even exist for us. And even if it did, the disloyalty of such a thought! In early-stage grief, to imagine a happy life without the beloved, for whom we ache and long with every cell, is appalling. It repels us. Even if such a life was out there, we think (not that it is) — even if it was, we would not want it.
We want our old life back.
The one choice we cannot have.
In most of these Widowhood Wednesdays so far, I have been speaking about early-stage grief, for that, to anyone experiencing it, is an emergency hemorrhage, and I want so deeply to help other widows in this state, and those who are their friends, to stop the bleeding.
But that is only part of the widow’s journey.
In the coming weeks and months, I hope to begin devoting some posts to addressing these later stages. More from David Richo, the Buddhist-Jungian therapist I quoted a few weeks back: “Saying yes to reality – to the things we cannot change – is like choosing to turn around and sit in the saddle in the direction the horse is going… We can craft a sane and authentic life by saying yes to life just as it is.”
Craft a sane and authentic life? When insanity and unreality rule the too-long days and nights? Please!
Yet: I want to hold up this hope to you if you are an early-stage widow, as others did for me.
But for now, I want to repeat some things I and many others have said:
There is no time-table for grief.
The only way through grief is to experience it. (“Mourning,” says Richo, “is what yes looks like when we face the conditions of existence with feeling.” Though who, in the throes of grief, would ever call it a “yes”!)
Grief cannot be outsmarted, for it possesses its own intelligence. Seemingly cruel, it is in some ways an honest friend, a terrible and loyal companion, certainly the price we are asked to pay for having loved, and pure in a manner which makes it unlike any other emotion.
And, when grief wants to be felt, it will find a way to make you feel it.