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Big Day, Little Voice

 

 

It is best to read the weather forecast before we pray for rain.

  • Mark Twain

I assure you that grieving has it’s own weather. There are days where grief is cold, very cold, almost as if you’ve forgotten it[1], and days its sets records for intense heat. There are fair days, cloudy days, stormy days, and very, very unfair days.

Yesterday was one such day.

It was the Friday of the first week of the month. I had just spent three full working days crunching data in my day job to feed the information machine that pays me to do just that. In other words, I had fed beans to bean counters all week, and when I left work their bellies were full.

Ironically, mine was not, so I was heading for the super market.

My head was dancing with many partners as I drove. I had options upon options as to how I would fill my off-hours[2], but nothing too exciting mind you; my preferred choice was still sleeping in on Saturday[3]. In any case, I was a happy guy.

And imagine my added happiness when I discovered canned ravioli, my main life sustenance since my wife passed, marked down to 10 for $10. This was the same price I paid for cat food! It was the end of the week, I was a smart shopper, and life was good…until that little voice in the back of my head said to me, “you’ve missed something.”

I checked and rechecked the short shopping list I walked in with. Nope, dog treats, cat food, and canned ravioli all present and accounted for. “Silly little voice,” I thought, “you’re wrong this time.”

It disagreed. [4]

While starting the car a few minutes later, the thought I had been warned about finally broke through. “Tomorrow is October 4th,” it said, “your wedding anniversary, the first wedding anniversary without her.”

While anniversaries have ambushed married men for millennia, this one provoked very deep and confused feelings inside me.

“Is tomorrow really an anniversary if she is not here?”

“Don’t you need two people for a wedding anniversary?”

“My God, I miss her, is she ok?”

I had already started “preparations” for the looming holiday season without her, but I was not ready for this.[5]

From that moment on I wasn’t alive, I was just going through the motions. I do not know if I could not or would not embrace the reality of the moment, but I was content to let it all fall away until I was ready to deal with it, as I did when she died.

It was from this emotional distance I opened the cards friends had left at my house wishing me support on this day. I felt mild appreciation for their concern, but I could not feel anything more. My heart was too broken.

For the rest of the evening it felt as if I was ignoring someone sitting very close to me. This presence shadowed me from room to room and witnessed me pouring drink after drink. The alcohol didn’t numb my soul nor evict my silent stalker. [6] It was here to stay until I was ready to face it.

This morning, the actual anniversary day, I awoke still not speaking to my unwelcome guest. I did errands around the house and watched college football to distract myself, but the little voice that warned me yesterday was back with a new message, “You have unfinished business.”

So, in response I spent today writing, trying unsuccessfully to process how I feel, until another thought broke through. [7]

In mid-September of this year I was honored to attend the gala for Hinds Hospice, the hospice that so dearly honored my wife by their loving care for her. I haven’t told too many people about this, but as the evening winded down and I sat alone at my table, I deeply considered all the people “like me” I had just met.

While we had so much in common forged by life-changing loss, we were all distinct individuals; there was no common way to describe us. Some had been husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, or sons. Now we were called “survivors”, “widows”, “widowers”, or “beneficiaries” by the outside world.

Our unspoken term for each other was “family.”

And my family was trying to teach me something by their example. While they welcomed me, I still felt like a stranger until I realized what they had discovered that I had not – joy. Perhaps it’s a joy bubbling up from a faith that their loved one is in a better place, or that their suffering is over, or even more likely, they understand life as the precious opportunity it is to care for others.

Reluctantly, I had earned my place at the family table, but while still sitting at the party table I decided then and there to enthusiastically embrace what they were trying to teach me without words.

And that was the moment I let Carole go.

I told her I still loved her so much, but I didn’t want to weigh her down with my grief, I wanted her and I to share the same joy we always had. I committed to her that I would go forward in joy.

It is a tall order to expect grief and joy to live in the same space, but I am here to tell you it can. Yes, our anniversary stung me, but I have decided to just keep counting them as if she were here because she still is.

And while I’ve never been accused of being an intelligent man, even I can figure this out:

Unlike the weather, you can change grief, maybe not completely, but you can force warmth into the coldest of places. It takes guts, but grief is not in total control. Prepare yourself for the worst, but use equal energy creating joy where you can. I know it sounds silly, but after the first massive wave of grief breaks over you, you can start to push it back. How else could my newfound family walk around with such joy?

I decided that today’s updated forecast calls for feelings of love, a remarkable contentment, and lots of sun for the foreseeable future.

And something else I figured out all by myself…you know the little voice inside me that I won’t blow off so quickly anymore?

It’s hers.

 

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[1] It will never be so cold as to completely forget. Grief does not freeze.

[2] Please read that sentence with the absolute sarcasm I intended when I wrote it. I had nothing to do but wait for Monday to come around again, as usual.

[3] Strangers knocking on my door trying to sell me crap destroyed that ever so humble plan, and then my dogs placed themselves on high alert for the rest of the morning. They warned me at the slam of every car door, every pedestrian walking past, and the presence of every squirrel west of the Mississippi, of which there are more than a few.

[4] I don’t want to get into a long discussion about the number of voices in my head or how disrespectfully they speak to me, but let’s just say the response I got was, “like hell I am.”

[5] So far the preparations have been nothing more than acknowledging holidays are coming and hoping they won’t tear me apart.

[6] Luckily for me, my company was quiet and a light drinker.

[7] You cannot blame the thoughts in my head for being tardy, they have a lot of concrete to get through to make it out.

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