Grief is one of those things you can’t really explain to someone who hasn’t gone through it. Even those of us who’ve experienced extreme grief of losing a spouse can’t know the emotional roller coaster the widow(er) next to us is on. There are different tear-triggers; different coping mechanisms; different paths to follow.
But (I think) one common thing with most widow(er)s is that—eventually—we learn to cope with the loss and face the fact that we have a future waiting for us. (Happy or otherwise.)
A few weeks after Paul died, a “seasoned veteran” of widowhood shared an analogy with me where she compared losing your spouse with having your arm amputated.
I know! It sounds so strange, but here’s the general idea:
When you lose an arm, all of the sudden you can’t function the way you once did. Your first goal is to overcome the real, physical pain and that may take some time. But then you start to realise that you have to re-learn how to eat. You have to re-learn how to tie your shoes. And you have to re-learn how to shower and drive and make a bed and shake hands and carry groceries and a million other things. All the while, you’re trying to cope with the emotional pain of the loss.
Whilst you’re re-learning these skills, you might have someone there to help you or you might have to wear slip-on shoes for a while. Maybe your bed doesn’t get made and maybe you have to take the bus everywhere. But, eventually, you learn new ways to complete these tasks. They may never be as easy and the sheets on your bed may never be perfectly straight again, but at least you’re making the bed again.
But through it all, you never forget that you’ve lost your arm. You don’t wake up one day and think that you were born with one arm. And even if you get a fantastic prosthetic arm that you love so much and that you never want to be without again, you never forget that you once had a flesh-and-bone arm.
And then, many amputees experience a phenomenon called phantom limb where they can feel a sensation of their limb still being attached and moving with the body (painfully or otherwise). But that, too, is something that may ease over time.
Of course, it wasn’t my arm that was amputated, but rather my husband. And he was amputated right at my heart. The emotional pain is greater some days than others now, and it’s often accompanied by physical pain. And I didn’t need to re-learn how to tie my shoes or drive a car. Instead I had to re-learn how to breathe and laugh and smile—in addition to a million other lessons. And some days, I have to take refresher courses on these lessons because it can be hard to retain the knowledge!
I’ll let you in on a little secret though: To help me remember to breathe and laugh and smile, I have little notes posted around the house and my office. No, really I do! And most days, they help. Most days…