Months ago I listened to and read the words of several people who were working through their grief. And it scared me to death. They had all experienced the loss of a spouse. They all said the first year was hell. They all said that the second and/or third year was harder still. And I remember thinking, “If that’s true, I’ll be dead. I don’t think I can handle hurting more than I do right now.”
They gave various reasons: One was that during the first year they were in shock; numb. As the shock wore off, the pain was felt. A couple of people said that because they were so focused on the well-beings of their children, they didn’t get to their own feelings until much later. Others didn’t have a reason. It just hurt more.
Maybe part of the reason is once the shock wears off, once the group of supporters have largely gone back to their own lives, once the sympathy cards stop coming, once the paperwork and legal work and packing away is done, once the children are settled and you think that just maybe they are going to be alright, there remains only the disturbing, sad and unnerving reality that there are great sections of your days and nights that feel utterly and painfully meaningless.
Losing someone or something you love leaves a void. Not just a symbolic or metaphorical void. An actual void.
Part of it is physical. The person no longer fills the space around you. Their chair is empty. Their side of the bed is not slept in. They do not stand beside you at church, or take your hand as you go for a walk. They are never at the other end of the phone or taking a nap on the couch. The space is empty. And I find myself walking around those spaces, aware of their emptiness, their lack of him.
Part of the void is emotional. Not only have I lost the one person I confided in, the one I shared my concerns, joys and thoughts with, I have lost the chance to have him continue to share his life with me. I am no longer his sounding board, his confidante. I have lost one of my most meaningful roles. And those things took up space. They took up time. And that time now sits empty.
As the children heal, as they regain their physical independence, the voids become more and more obvious. There are no date nights, no after-dinner talks, afternoon phone calls, or pillow talk. There is just me. Me and that awful, empty space.
I suspect that part of the healing process will be the ability to find something meaningful to fill those voids. Something to put energy into. Something to delight in, to find joy in. I suspect it will have to be something that creates a sense of accomplishment, of purpose. I can’t imagine what it could be. And there are many moments where I find myself trying to will something to appear from inside of me, something that I can do or create. But right now there is nothing. There is no music, no creativity. There is little passion and less energy. Which is probably to be expected. But at times it unnerves me and makes me wonder about my future.
There are moments where my mind wanders off and I begin to picture myself years down the road. Where once I imagined Myron and I travelling, being grandparents, or exploring new interests, I now wonder if I’ll be a crazy old lady who lives alone with her cats and parakeets, clipping coupons and calling talk shows to complain about the government and the price of milk. Or will I be the odd soul that has no-one around to tell her that her skirt is on backwards and that her shoes don’t match. Will my children move away to different parts of the world, leaving no-one to help me muddle through the new technological gadgets, leaving me messages on the hologram-answering machine they sent me for Christmas but that I don’t know how to turn on? Or will I be the old soul who keeps telemarketers on the line for hours, telling them about my bunions and back pain, as they are the only ones who ever call? I assume, with great hope, that there are other options, and yet I wonder.
Last year I was at Costco and passed a very elderly couple making their way to the parking lot. He had a walker and shuffled along slowly, his wife holding his arm, helping him keep his balance. The were so sweet. White hair, grandma and grandpa sweaters, stooped shoulders and peaceful faces. I went home and said to Myron, “I just passed us forty years from now!” It was kind of a shock, realizing in that moment that one day that would be us. Myron was six years older than I, and I took great pleasure in assuring him not to worry, that when the day came I’d make sure his scooter was revved up and his diaper clean. He didn’t find it as amusing as I did and always retorted that there was no way I’d outlive him, he was in way better shape.
I miss that picture, that image of us shuffling down the sidewalk, our skin wrinkled and hair grey. Or gone. Myron would have been one of those old guys who always had a cheerful hello, who would have loved to stop and chat, talk up the waitress or the kid on the bike, who would enjoy saying, “When I was your age….” He would have spent time at the ballpark cheering on his grandkids, talked me into sitting on his lap and giving him a kiss, wanting to tell me yet again how the Canucks could do better if they’d just listen to his advice. He would have been a great old guy.
Those voids are not easy. And there are many of them. I have nothing meaningful or fulfilling yet to fill them with. Sometimes I use them to hide. Sometimes I use them to cry. Sometimes I use them to write on this computer or think of something I could teach my kids when school time comes in the morning. Some times it is a dvd that fills the space and sometimes it is a few moments talking with God. I’ve used my treadmill to fill it, and make my children and their friends move my furniture around. I don‘t know what I‘ll end up filling them with. Hopefully not cats. Or telemarketers. (No offence to either of them.) Hopefully I will eventually find what and where I am suppose to be. Because as much as it pains me, my story isn’t over yet. So something has to fill those pages.