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Unresolved Grief-the Death of a Spouse
October 1st is the anniversary of my husband’s death-he died in 2005. When it comes to death time is irrelevant. Time slows down, speeds up, or stops all together, and there is no rhyme or reason to the pattern.
It’s interesting how the body cells remember the trauma of the loss of a loved one in ways that the mind does not. I’m only aware that there is a melancholy that shows up in my mood during this time of year, which I attribute to the approach of fall and the coming of winter’s darker side.
Then, in moments of quiet, I recall the sequence of events that led up to the final moment: the unbearable indigestion he experienced in May, the checkup and diagnosis of the tumor in June, the frantic search for expert medical care in July, the beginning of chemotherapy in August and the surrender to death’s approach in September.
Following the funeral hoopla I was immobilized by grief, grateful I was staying with my youngest daughter and her family. No longer interested in nursing, I spent my days caring for my grandson, who had just turned two that cold, November in Michigan. It was six months before I ventured back into the world of taking-care-of-others.
As a nurse, I offer support to depressed patients hospitalized with anniversary death issues or unresolved grief. Even before I experienced this myself I understood and was empathic to their experience. I was in my twenties when my brother died in a car accident and watched my mother cry for her grown child. She carried that sorrow with her to her own death.
Now, as I ‘forget’ each season, and move from summer’s joy to anticipatory anxiety or melancholy, my daughter gently reminds me of my loss. And, once it is named it is no longer an anchor pulling me down. It moves out of the subconscious realm of: ‘something is wrong’ and into a place of clarity: ‘oh yes, this is the time when the emotions were put on hold in order to care for my husband during his transition from this world’. I am reminded and I am able to process it and let it go.
I recently was in conversation with a co-worker who was heading north for a visit. It was the anniversary of her husband’s death, (October 2nd), and she told me she had to put flowers on his grave. We shared a common thread.
I am no longer within proximity to place flowers on my husband’s grave. I hold him in my thoughts and in my heart. It is enough for me to spend time in quiet, remembering the good times we shared.
I recall when I first came to this tiny, rural town in North Carolina. Following my travel assignment in Oakland, California, it was the complete opposite of the hustle and bustle of the East Bay area. No nightlife and no swinging hotspots. In the middle of nowhere this 4500 populated town was the perfect place to heal my heart.
I found the library at the local community college to be an embracing haven to write. Providing unlimited computer time and staff support I enrolled in online writing courses. The following was one of the first assignments-writing about what is on your bookshelf.
My eyes fall on a photo so dear to my heart. It is an old photo of a much younger Denise sitting on my husband’s lap. A frozen still shot of a happy couple. My long, brown hair is cascading down my shoulders and his strong arms embrace me with love and support. His chipmunk cheeks puff into fleshy mounds with his beaming smile, pressing them up and into the orbital cavities and making it difficult to detect his sensitive, brown eyes.
Airport pickups were the best, as our reunion would start with spotting each other through the crowd and end in a huge bear hug-him lifting me off my feet, his jovial voice saying in his deep baritone, “who loves you, baby?” He was a large man and he would often mention how he loved my ‘petiteness’, as he wrapped his arms around me.
I loved his strong arms. And, years later, when the cancer came to him, I silently mourned the muscle atrophy that robbed him of his strength. They could barely hold him up as he used first the walker, to transfer from one position to another, then to a wheelchair, and finally becoming bedridden.
We had remarried by that time-one week before his death. The marriage ceremony was a mere formality for we had remained loving friends committed in ways we had been unable to achieve as a married couple. The deepening of our relationship bypassed time, distance, and commitments in other relationships.
It surpassed terminal illness and death.