Last night I had a profound dream. I was wearing my wedding ring, something I hadn't done for quite a while because my husband of twenty eight years passed away almost six years ago. For some inexplicable reason, I had to keep holding on to the ring, even though this once beautiful piece of jewelry was falling apart. I remember arriving at the jewelers. How I got there I have no idea, but when I showed him the ring, the gold looked tarnished; also, it was worn so thin that it was crumbling before my eyes. The ring had the appearance of sand, like that which is panned by gold miners. The diamond in the center slipped out of its fittings. It tumbled so gently on the table that it hardly whispered a sound.
One look at the jewelers face and I knew that my beautiful ring was beyond repair. Instead of reacting like I normally would, namely to break down into tears, I carefully picked up the diamond, put it in my purse, and heard myself say, “Well, I guess it is really over now, it is finally over.”
I am not a woman who takes things lightly, especially the death of a loved one. My husband, Bob, was one in a long succession of people whom I have lost. In the sixteen years that I nursed him, I mistakenly thought that I had already grieved as much as humanly possible. Little did I know what awaited me.
They say there are five stages of grief; they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I believe that this is true, however, I do not believe that you pass through these stages in the sequence given as if navigating your way to a particular destination. On any given day I passed through any number of stages in random order.
In the beginning I thought about my deceased husband every minute of every day. My grief was all consuming. I couldn't believe that my body could hold so many tears. I maneuvered my way through the days, numb to everyone and everything around me. I performed my tasks mechanically. I forced myself to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes, small acts such as brushing my hair and putting on makeup, seemed so futile, because after all, there was no one I needed to please any more. Or so it seemed to me then.
A After a while I began to notice that I didn't have to tell myself to get up in the morning. Then, for the first time, I went through my whole working day without thinking about Bob's absence. But then, late in the evening, I felt guilty for not thinking about him for the entire day, and the sad dance began again. My feelings were like a yo-yo, and for a very long time I felt as if this was the way it would always be. I was doomed to a life of depression, this was it; this was my life, now and forever.
Up and down the roller coaster I rode, until one day I realized that I made it through an entire week feeling quite normal, or how I thought normal would feel. I even wore perfume for the first time in years. In the beginning, every time the twenty-third of the month came by, I would remember that was the day Bob died. Then, remarkably, one month the twenty-third came and went unnoticed.
Only after that day was over did I stop and look at the date on the calendar. Often, when I would dream about him, Bob would leave me all over again, and I would wake in the middle of the night screaming, crying or both. It was only after five years that I felt I could go on, even when one of those stages of grief briefly re-visited me.
Friends have told me of their personal experiences with loss due to divorce. They have shared the anguish and the pain that they endured before, during and after the final papers were signed. Some have been able to carry on an amicable relationship with their ex-partner, saying that they make much better friends than marriage partners. They seem genuinely happy with their new lives, and their children seem to have adjusted to the divorce much better than if their parents were not on good terms.
For most however, this is not the scenario that plays out. There is bitterness, on-going legal battles and stress, and a tremendous amount of guilt felt by both partners, because in their minds they have failed in so many ways. Near as I can tell, the grief of going through a divorce is much the same as losing someone to death. Sometimes I think it is worse, because in death you usually lose someone through no fault of your own. In divorce, I have been told that a part of you always feels guilt and/or the need to blame the other.
I now understand my dream much more clearly. I will always love my husband, but it is a tremendous relief to finally be able to put that lovely ring away, knowing that my life will go on, that my grief will not consume me forever. I have no way of knowing if I will love again, but I do know that I am finally free to make that choice. I don’t think we ever completely stop grieving for someone whom we have loved, but because we risked loving and losing, our capability to love deepens significantly.
Addendum: It has now been almost ten years since my husband's passing. I am happy to report that life does indeed go on. I met and eventually married a wonderful man in June, 2010. Sometimes it still feels strange that I am married again, but I am happy and completely satisfied with my new life.
I read somewhere that loss brings us to our knees. I have experienced that to be true, but also that a faith that our constantly changing fortunes ultimately works for the best, and trust in our unique life force can ultimately raise us up again.