I’m assuming most widows are inaugurated into their role without much experience. Perhaps some healthy woman in their eighties have outlived a few husbands, but the majority of us approach this territory without the manual.
I have been no stranger to trauma. I have a beautiful adult son with severe autism and have experienced twenty-four years of his random acts of insanity including, but not limited to public urination, uncontrollable screaming (which needless to say is not well accepted in airports), and his new favorite, knocking over recycling bins and putting them on his head.
There is never a better time to not care what people think then when devastation hits, but there are protocols that even I, in my rebellious way, needed to follow.
Death is an approved devastating event. I was amazed and delighted with the people who came to my aid, and I was also slightly shocked as I had never felt that support before. Joey’s autism diagnosis…no support, divorce….no support, bankruptcy….nada, death…..BINGO, “We’re here for you!”
It was the first time in my life where I felt like I could do, say, or even eat whatever I wanted and people would just pat my back and hand me a cookie.
It was like having some type of diplomat status socially and legally. Running my business became easier.
“I’m sorry, Mam, I can’t help you”
“But my husband just died,” I would cry.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, let me see what I can do for you.”
Hmm, I could learn to like this, but I did assume there was an expiration date on the free pass and as easy as the sympathy made my life, I was not comfortable in the victim role.
What I liked was laughter so I found every way to surround myself with the most hysterical people I knew. I flew to them, invited them to my home, and went out to dinner with them.
It took a couple of weeks, but I remember the release of my first laughter. It was so welcomed and unexpected. I had to clean John’s office desk as there was patient information that needed to be filed and dealt with. Neither patients, nor the staff, nor I could walk by his office without breaking down. It was a very dim reminder of the brilliance behind those glass doors. One could always see him working, typing, reading, generally being brilliant, and his office was a concentration of the man we loved. However, I had an obligation to staff and patients to find out what was spread out and active. I entered the room and was holding it together as best I could. I started making stacks to distribute to the appropriate people and then….and then…I came across his reading glasses. I sobbed. Intense, giant tears, and loud crying.
After about five minutes, I lightly pulled myself together and held up the glasses inspecting them with a bit of confusion…..Oh, oops, those were MY glasses! At which point I laughed hysterically.
The expectation for someone who has lost a loved one is to be solemn, and laughter is often considered bad taste. People felt that I needed to work through the pain in order to get it out of the way; that there was this finite amount of tears that must flow before I could move on.
I learned over the months that followed to simply not deny myself whatever emotion I wanted to feel. However appropriate my tears or laughter were socially, it remained personal to me. There was no wrong emotion.
A friend told me about the spiral of grief. I loved the image. This beautiful vortex spiral that begins in the middle of the pain. Day by day I moved further away from the intensity and like a spiral, there were very high moments followed by extremely low dips, but I was always moving away from the dismal beginning and soaring outward until it no longer stared me in the face.
Accepting the inconsistency moved me faster towards the laughter I craved, but I couldn’t have gotten there if I had insisted on labeling myself as the victim. No matter how easy the widow classification made my life, it also kept me from moving forward. The number of tears I cried was inconsequential. I didn’t need to justify my peaks or valleys. The waves of emotions became the pulse of my life and while it is true that deep breath is calming, laughter is transforming. I honor it all.