Grief by Calendar

September 10, 2012

I have lots of plans today. Not all of them so much fun. Some financial record keeping. The refrigerator needs a clean-out before I go get any more groceries, of which I’m down to tuna and peanut butter. I do look forward delving into the finishing details of program development for Storybooks for Healing online, but that has to wait.

Yet, here I am completely distracted because I can’t control the calendar! I can’t schedule my grief. Believe me, I try! (Best to feel in the moment, anyway)

Since I last wrote officially so much has transpired. I have been busier than ever, and happily so, but that doesn’t mean the grief disappears. In a funny, that is odd, way, I have had more difficulty since passing the milestone six months since Dave died. This is hard for me to articulate because this is so much more feeling than intellectual. I feel the loss, the missing, the emptiness. I have more time to notice because Dave isn’t here to fill the time with me.

I pushed to meet my deadline to open the new Navigating Grief website. (Welcome!) I have had laser focus. I still do have focus and direction and things to do, but I can relax my pace. I have more time. I know I can’t work 24/7 nor do I need or want to. I understand that shoving the grief aside for work will do no one any good. Especially when work and grief, and grief and work are inextricably entwined! At least I get to consider my musings work without guilt!

Don’t we all wish we had more time? Now I do have more “free” time and I don’t know how to fill it. Those moments one thinks… oh, I’d read more, or be artistic and creative somehow. I’d get a new hobby, complete a project, garden. I’d catch up with friends, take a walk. It’s all so romantic, in my mind at least. The reality is that my eyes bounce when I read, I’m tired, walking wears me out, background sounds in a restaurant make me batty. I don’t know how to play anymore. OK, I exaggerate a bit. Unfortunately, not by much. I am not as tired as in previous months. My eyes only bounce sometimes. They are much better since the surgery. Double vision when watching TV is still an indicator of overdoing it. The point is that the time I spent with Dave is unfilled time now. I can do anything I want to do with that time, but I am not sure how to fill it. It’s why the widow’s world is worse in the evenings and weekends.

I wonder when I got so old?! I can’t be! Is it grief, or health or really simply another month passing by?

The Anniversary

Oh, the calendar. That is what brings me here. Tomorrow, as the country, and perhaps some of the world, remembers and mourns the tragedy that is known as 9/11, I face the first passing of my wedding anniversary without Dave. In some ways this isn’t a big deal and not a moment for pity, at least to me. 9/11 usurped this date more than a decade ago.

But it is a moment that begins the season of firsts for the family holidays. It begins for me with our anniversary, followed in two days with Dave’s birthday. The pattern of the start to a new school year has been entrenched in our routine for many years. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day… Predictable.

In some ways it does feel big, but only because it was a significant date for Dave and me. It’s a day that I alone must feel.

The New Role

As time passes I am in a new role. I am the widow, the representative of Dave to the outside world. It’s a strange notion to me. He was Dave. I was Joan. Together we were married. (Of note: was Joan? I am Joan still!)

A few weeks ago I attended one short session of the college’s academic Summer Institute named in Dave’s honor and a conversation held about teaching history at Evergreen. It was bittersweet. I had wondered on those rare occasions when the widow of a political or high profile person steps in fill a term, how she could be qualified to do so. I get it. As I sat there I realized how much a part of Dave is me and how easily I could channel his thinking and philosophy, too. (Not that I did. I was there to listen) All the conversations we had about teaching, education, Evergreen, his love for history are combined with my own experiences to be truly melded as one. As I had stepped onto the campus, it was eerily quiet of people but noisy in the ghosts of voices past. I was surely bringing his spirit along with me and that felt good. I am glad I showed up. It wasn’t easy.

Years ago now, when I worked in an office as Communications Director I edited a monthly newsletter for the members. My co-workers often, some of them regularly, contributed articles. When it was deadline time, I could feel the avoidance of those who felt guilty over not having submitted their work, either by not looking at me or by walking around me all together. Sometimes, I would get the outright preemptive strike of “I’m working on it,” said in passing through the office as a response to hello.  I hated that I only represented what they hadn’t done as soon as they saw me.  I was associated totally with the newsletter, which was just one portion of my job.

Now I wonder, how much do I represent Dave and the fact that he is gone? It can’t be helped. For many people I have been his wife, his other half so to speak, and now I am his widow, the link to his absence. I don’t mean to suggest I’ve been treated negatively by this way, I only want to acknowledge that I understand it. Clearly I am not Dave, but the association is strong. The identity is part of my own not only to me, but to those who know him as well. I too know that when I am with his older kids, they also represent what I cannot offer to them and that they too represent their father and things that can never be again.

The “sisters,” Dave’s daughters, and I got together recently to create some finished pieces of jewelry out of hand-blown glass beads created with his ashes. It was very enjoyable, cathartic, important and again, bittersweet. It is the reminder that Dave is missing and we gather to create a bond that fills in the gap. Yet we can only try to fill the hole. And it has to be filled with new roles and memories separate from his being.

The Winter of Grief

My sense of loss is deeper with the passing days. I can only surmise that I am wandering through the required “Winter” of grief and transition.  It is bare and cold and dry. I am not depressed, nor even terribly sad as can easily occur in Winter. I am simply cognizant of the stillness and the withdrawal to do this part on my own. To name it, “this part” is creating and developing my solo identity. It is the acceptance of widow in part of my definition. I suppose it could be single or something else; it isn’t married. They are new feelings in a new stage of identity for me. (These thoughts are spurned from my reading of Seasons of Change:Using Nature’s Wisdom to Grow through Life’s Inevitable Ups and Downs by Carol McClelland. She does a really, beautiful in depth analogy with nature and seasons in relation to transitions of life.)

In some ways I wonder how much grief I have still, if grief is to be defined as the reaction and process to true acceptance of loss. I know Dave is gone; he is not coming back. I see how he really is a true part of me after all these years. I am in “knowing” – my personal intuitive signal of being in the right place in the right time. There is no resistance on my behalf. I’ve had years to rectify this loss from all the illnesses.

I realized just how much I carry Dave within as I sat listening to his colleagues speak of their work as educators in many terms he would approve and appreciate (and add a few nuggets no doubt). I could feel all the years I have known him as I looked around at the varying ages of discovery from this group of his colleagues. Yes, Dave is a part of me and for some I may represent him as a loss, but for me I hold on to all of the gain.

I am not finished (with reflecting nor crying) but my grief itself is well diminished. However, this transition through loss is still ongoing as is life itself. Grief, transitions… yes, just labeling words for the same of a similar time period. (I dare say that every transition may include the loss of something) Yet for me, it is not so important if I am or am not grieving. That’s the intellectual exercise. I want to know that Spring for this journey, the renewal of my solo self is near on the horizon.

Although we head into Autumn on the calendar, perhaps Spring may be here sooner than I first thought.


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