One of the loneliest yet most comforting things (yes paradoxes abound in life) about being a widow are the memories that I carry. Many are mine and Terry's alone and will remain between us, or now that he is dead, will remain mine alone - me the surviving memory carrier. Those memories of the marriage that aren't public with your children or friends are the most poignant of course. These are part of the secret life of the widow. Then there is the not so secret life of the widow - those tiny and not so tiny triggers of everyday life that open that portal into a memory we shared with our spouse- and these ones are predicated on a decision to share or not. It could be a song that comes on that you danced to in a restaurant in Italy not caring who looked; a phrase the person you're with speaks that your husband also did. Or you might immediately recall how your spouse would have responded to the situation at hand, what they would have said or thought about what was going on. I have sat with a person or in a group and drifted off into this secret life many times. Some bring a smile, some a tear, some I comment on; most I now remain silent about. The person may or may not pick up on a change in atmosphere. They may say "what's wrong"? or look at you funny. I have a decision to go there or remain silent, but most times it is up to me to initiate. At three and a half years into my loss many people might not suspect I still constantly drift into this secret life, that I am with him and our secret life in many everyday moments. In the earlier months I could not control going there, everything related to him. Every minute detail. Now I can choose to go there to fully and completely; to immerse myself to him and us. At other times I am transported there against my will and when that happens it is still with a sharp intake of breath and a flood to my emotional center.
I believe in our society grief is not written or spoken about much after the first milestone- that first year after a death. I also believe that the first year is the worse and the best year (paradox I know) it is the worst because the grief is most acute and painful, it is the best because the social support is the strongest and because we feel the memories the sharpest and clearest that year. Many don't want to go there after that first year with you; perhaps they don't want to remind you of the pain, maybe they are afraid to see you cry again, most just want you to be happy and cheerful. Let's face it death is a shitty scary subject, it pokes holes in our false sense of immortality. This brings up that choice to discuss the memory or not. To let the other person into the secret life of a widow. I write this blog for other widows and widowers so that maybe they can relate and hopefully not feel so alone. In the earlier days of grieving I did not speak with or know other widows, I read a few of the books out there (and sadly there are only a few). I remember much comfort when I related to the words on the page. I felt the many complications of grief resolve for a fraction of a second, I felt the vindication I desperately craved without even know why I needed to feel that. I searched and searched for an outlet. I wrote my grief into a book I titled 1000 days without you. I found comfort in those pages, I still do even though others can't read it or find it too sad, not me. I joined a grief group two years after my loss and heard other widows talk about their experiences. It ignited so much inside me, so much that still needed healing. Secrecy breeds isolation and ignorance. So I bring some of this secret life of widows to the light of day to illuminate this human experience that isn't mine alone. I will not feel ashamed to write what I choose. I will not put a caution or warning "sad content" on the post. It is what it is.
Like this memory invoked this morning out of the blue by the word anniversary. This picture of my love was taken eight days after our last wedding anniversary together. The only one we didn't celebrate because we were mourning the death of our first grandson. It was a warm summer night, we decided to have a fire in the chiminea and sit outside and quietly share our grief. I grabbed my camera as I often did during that year to bring some semblance of closure to the events of those troubled days, to mark it somehow (I seem to need to mark memories and events then and now). In his expression I see the grief on his face, the sadness of what his beloved daughter was going through. Perhaps he was remembering other deaths he had experienced in his past, his mom his dad? I see the glow of the flames kissing his face and his rock work around him. This brought him comfort- these elements of earth and fire he so loved to talk about. I think it was this night we talked about how we'd totally missed our anniversary and that it was okay, there would be more (how could we know there wouldn't be?), we'd had plenty in the past where we did celebrate, that life was how it was right now and we were occupied, rightly so, with our daughter and her family. We shared that lost anniversary in these few verbal exchanges captured in this picture on that warm July night in 2013. So today I remember it as I peek through the window to my secret life of a widow. And I tell you it is good, it is not sad, it is healing to do.