Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

Complicated Gratitude

Date: 
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Posted By: 
Jeannine Love

Halloween was the third anniversary of Aric’s death. Between the transition to shorter days, the marking of the anniversary of his death, and the move into the holiday season, I always find myself a bit more introspective about the shifting nature of my grief during this time of the year. And, as I move into the fourth year of widowhood, I’m realizing that “widow” is slowly eroding from my sense of self-identity.

Whereas there was a time for me when the widowed identity was all-consuming, these days the label just doesn’t seem to fit quite right—once it seemed so huge, and now I find that it feels far too small to fit myself into. In the immediate aftermath of Aric’s death the label “widow” gave me odd comfort, despite the pain it signified. It gave me an explanation to hand others to justify my disconnection and sporadic meltdowns, a place to ground myself as reality spun around me, and—most importantly—a signification of enduring connection to Aric.

I needed that identification and guarantee of continued connection early on, but these days I no longer need this label to do this work for me. These days I no longer hesitate to talk about my “late partner”—I know I can talk openly about Aric with a smile rather than melting into tears. I no longer find myself needing to actively seek out the camaraderie of other widowed folks (although I dearly cherish the widowed friends I have made). I feel no compulsion to read widowed memoirs the way I once did, seeking to find some reflection of myself in them (there was a period of time where reading widowed memoirs was like a second job).

I recognize I am no less a widow now than I was the day Aric died—this is a state of being that is permanent, and I embrace that reality. But, what that state of being looks like, how it is experienced is fluid and dynamic. For me, the emphasis is no longer on being a widow, but on experiencing and learning from widowhood as an ongoing process. This process is unique to each of us who walk through it and it shapes each of us differently.

At this point in my own process, the very recognition of my being a widow is something that seems to be receding from focus. It is always there—I am and always will be a widow—but the emotional weight of this reality only forces itself to the surface for active reflection on occasions like the anniversary of Aric’s death, and then quickly dissipates again. In contrast, the more subtle nature of simply walking through, and learning from, the process of widowhood is ongoing.

Thus, although I no longer hold widow as central to my understanding of self, learning to walk my own path of grief in widowhood continues to significantly impact who I am. And, unexpectedly, over the past three years, it has yielded profound emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth. And, recognizing this growth brings with it a sense of gratitude for my widowhood—for the potential within the process.

This, I think understandably, creates a deep sense of emotional dissonance. It is, quite frankly, a profoundly uncomfortable place to find myself in as I let go of focusing on the loss reflected in being widowed and embrace instead what I have gained through the process of widowhood. What does it mean to no longer focus on being a widow? How can I feel gratitude for the very process that has been made possible by the death of someone I love, whose life I cherished?

This seems to be a deep paradox, and necessitates being able to hold two contrary understandings of reality simultaneously: grief and gratitude. I have learned so much over the past three years. The process of widowhood has been extraordinarily difficult but it has also pushed me to grow in ways I never imagined, and likely would not have been possible for me without walking through my grief. This does not minimize my continuing grief that Aric is no longer here in physical form to walk this path with me—but it is a recognition that if he were here, the path itself would not exist.

How do I hold this contrast together in a coherent and rational picture? The truth is that I don’t have to, and logic is not something that applies here. I only need to open myself to the feeling, the emotional knowledge, that my life has been deeply enriched both by loving and being loved by Aric and by the process of widowhood that is uniquely part of being his widow. He is forever an indelible part of my being in this ever-unfolding process, and for that, I am grateful.

Comments

Jeannine, beautifully written and insightful.

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