Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

The Chapters of Our Lives

Date: 
Monday, November 3, 2014
Posted By: 
Jeannine Love

Friday marked two years since Aric’s death. As most of you know, in widowed circles, many would say that Friday was Aric’s “angelversary.” In the past two years I’ve been struck by all of the specialized terms like that floating around in the widowed online groups – there’s a whole widowed world of jargon out there! I’ll be honest though, while they may give others comfort, terms like angelversary make me bristle a bit. In the case of angelversary, mine is a rejection of what I see as an attempt to make death more palatable. It’s the anniversary of Aric’s death. I prefer to leave it at that. Let’s not try to sanitize it or make it pretty, okay?

But, honestly, I have far more patience for angelversaries than I do with another ubiquitous, sanitizing, term in the widowed world: “chapter two.” Supposedly, when a widowed individual gets remarried they are said to have found their chapter two. As with angelversaries, this idea of a chapter one and chapter two is an attempt to oversimplify and make moving forward with a new partner more palatable. It sanitizes the concept of remarriage. However, whereas “angelversary” insults my adult sensibilities, the idea of a “chapter two” insults my feminist sensibilities.

Although our lives are defined by our relationship with the world around us—and particularly the people in our lives—they are not defined by our spousal partnerships alone. It is important to recognize that these are critically important relationships in our lives and shape who we are and how we see ourselves. Their centrality is part of what makes being widowed a special kind of pain, but these relationships, while intricately shaping who we are, are not solely what define our lives—they are not the totality of our stories.

Yes, in many ways, I think of my life in pre-Aric, with-Aric, and post-Aric’s-death terms – but this does not translate into some version of my life with Aric as a “chapter one” and my life with some potential future partner as a “chapter two.” What happens to all the life I lived before Aric and the life I am living now? Just interludes before and between my real “chapters”? Even in defining my life around my relationship with Aric above, there are already three chapters!

The reality is that our lives are much more complex than this allows for. And the oversimplification minimizes the richness of all facets of our lives, as well as the critical grief work we do after the death of a spouse. I do like the idea of chapters because the concept indicates that there is some cohesion between the various elements of our lives, but if we were to truly break a life into chapters there would be many more with far more nuance.

For instance, I’d have an early chapter detailing how, at the age of three, I first tottered across the lawn of my family’s new home and made my first friend on my own. There’d be a later transition in chapters between elementary school, where I was surrounded by friends, to middle school, where I suddenly and mysteriously (to me) became a social pariah. Another chapter would focus on learning to cope with grief and depression for the first time after suddenly losing a very dear friend my senior year in high school. But even these events could not be neatly contained in individual chapters.

And, yes, there would be a chapter in which Aric and I became a couple. But as with the events above, our relationship could never be encompassed by one chapter. There are so many experiences rolled into our relationship, so many ups and downs and lessons learned. Thus, it is not only problematic to think that life might be chunked into chapters based on spousal partners, but that those relationships themselves might be so minimized.

These complex chapters that make up life would also not simply be straightforward chronological narrative, but there would be multiple chapters covering overlapping components of our lives, and moving back and forth in time. The impact of events in various chapters ripple throughout life, impacting multiple chapters in all directions—our lives are much more like magical realism novels than like biographies.

And, this writing and rewriting is an ongoing process that continues in the chapters being written post-loss. And, as these chapters are written previous chapters continue to resurface, future chapters hint at their possibilities.

For me, my own post-loss chapters feel most true when divided cleanly into years. During the first year post-loss, I lived within a thick cloud of grief. During that time it was incredible that I made it out of bed most days. I had difficulty comprehending what had happened, and I felt that there was a black hole in the midst of my existence against which I had to continually struggle to avoid falling in and losing myself completely. That chapter was my “grieving year”—when all effort was focused on simply making it through each day and struggling to find any coping mechanism that might make that possible.

Once I made it through that horrible year-of-firsts, I felt a palpable shift. That black hole had not disappeared, but I had walked further away from it, had gained a bit of resilience, and I had begun a new chapter. The second year post-loss, the chapter I have just finished, I now think of as my “healing year.” During the past year I have worked to continue moving through grief in a way that allowed me to find my voice, to nurse the fresh wounds of grief and the old wounds of a long difficult stretch of caregiving. This process focused on nursing my emotional and physical body to better health. It has been a year of careful introspection and questioning. It has included crises of spirituality, of personality, of personal and professional direction. And it has allowed me to focus on recentering, on reevaluating, on renegotiating who I am and who I want to be in this world.

And, now, I see myself walking into yet another chapter. As I embark on year three post-loss, I think of the year ahead as my “growing year.” It is a time to take the careful introspection of the past year and cultivate it, exploring new avenues in my life. The black hole from my grieving year is not gone, but its force is far less potent—its daily pull is a background shadow, only gaining strength on certain days. The introspection of my healing year is ongoing. I have not found answers and don’t expect to, but the intensity of the process in my last chapter has given me firmer footing to move forward into the next chapter.

What this next chapter might include I can only imagine. The possibilities are endless, the world around me brimming with potentiality. And, sure, among those possibilities of this particular chapter or some future chapter, may be what others refer to as a “chapter two,” but I will never refer to him as such. I’ve already had far more than two chapters in this lifetime.

Comments

Great insight - thought provoking. Thanks for sharing.

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