My husband, Ray, died on June 15, 2015, exactly 3 years, 7 months and 6 days after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Since that hot Tucson day, I have traveled up both coasts and through alternating worlds of numbness and unrelenting emotion.
There is a certain need to examine this thing called grief — something between curiosity and compulsion. I take it out and hold it in my hands, like a trinket. I turn it over, rub my fingers along its sharp contours, knowing that inside, it is as nebulous as shadows at dusk. Perhaps, I think, if I look at it closely and long enough, I will gain some understanding of its substance and be able to conquer it over time.
It is uncomfortable to examine grief in this way, as if I am a voyeur looking at the mangled car and bodies of an accident I witnessed. But not looking at it doesn’t feel right either, as if somehow, in not looking, I do dishonor to my husband. And so I concede that I am drawn to my grief as a way of being in relationship with the man I loved. But it is not the only way to remain close and I am grateful to know this as well.
I find great comfort in writing. My journal naturally takes the form of letters to Ray which I write before I go to sleep. It replaces what I miss: the whispered sharing of daily events as we lie in bed together, the give and take of dealing with life and its complexities.
At first, my need to write to Ray feels almost religious, like a ritual I shouldn’t change. I want and need to honor him, to connect to “us” in a specific way. But over time, I find that I am writing less and only do so when I have something I want to remember — like a dream I had or a bit of wisdom that has helped me. As time passes, I become aware that I have internalized our relationship; the external giving way to the internal because he is a part of me now.
I saw a baby in a stroller at a restaurant a few weeks ago. The baby was about 6 months old. I studied her beautiful face, realizing that she did not yet have words to describe her world or reality. I watched her curious eyes as she looked at her surroundings: the people walking by, the waitress asking for an order, the plates of food being set on the table. She took in so many images without seeming to mind and yet, I knew that her ability to understand what was happening was limited.
My grief is only 7 months old and like a baby, I don’t have the words or ability yet to fully navigate or understand the world around me. But with each passing month, I can see that I am acquiring new skills to survive in a landscape that has been forever altered by my loss.
A friend, who lost her husband years ago, wrote a card to me after Ray died. The words, which helped her in her grief, gave me perspective and a sense of optimism.
“There will always be a big hole in your life but at some point, you will stop falling into it.”
I know I am not falling anymore. I am slowing inching my way through my grief, peering into the hole but no longer finding myself at the bottom of the pit. Deep down I know that it is essential to examine my grief in order to accept it. And in doing so, I am certain that both grief and I will change.