Monthly Archives: February 2021

Abundant Hope

I am filled with optimism. I sit here with my computer on my lap and a cat looking plaintively at me, hoping for my lap for himself. Such pleading in those green eyes, he makes me laugh. “Not this time,” I say to Frankie, as he finally gives up and settles against me on the couch.

            I am light, I am benevolent, I am joyful. It feels like going back to church again, where the congregation fills the pews, and chatter rolls around the sanctuary before the service begins. We will see that this year, I am sure of it.

            As I go out to the grocery store, I smile at people from behind my mask. I think they can tell because my eyes crinkle up. I learned that from a woman in Harris Teeter one day. Our buggies were headed for a low-speed collision, which was fortunately averted.  I didn’t want her to think I was upset, so I said, “I’m smiling.”

            She said, “I know, I can see it in your eyes,” and her eyes crinkled up too. There are a lot of crinkly eyes at Harris Teeter on Thursdays. We seniors all shop there for our 5% discount. How nice it would be if we could solve all our disputes with crinkly eyes.

            So why am I so optimistic? It feels like a new day dawning, with the changes in Washington. It feels like someone has gone out and hosed down the streets, and then swept them clean. I feel washed clean, too. We are seeing a return to decency and caring for others.

            I believe we have a special opportunity this year to change the atmosphere we live in from hate to love, even if only in our own circles. I have a friend who has told me that he no longer watches or listens to the news or reads about politics. It was making him angry, and he doesn’t want to be that person. We have been at odds for years because we are on opposite poles. I applauded his decision and told him I feel the same way. 

            I have seen people who act out of love, and that is what I am hoping for, for me and for others. I know that behaving in a loving way feels so much better than acting hatefully, because I have experienced this love for myself, and I believe we were meant to live this way. Love is powerful, and a person can act lovingly even when the feeling is not there. The feeling can come later, and can take a long time, but the action sustains the love.

            Now that we are ensconced in 2021, we can all shake our heads in disbelief with what this country and the world endured in 2020. For me, suffering grief and isolation at the same time, I had to manufacture hope. I knew I just had to survive, and I did.

            I am optimistic about my life because I have survived a year without my husband, Jerry, and there is no place to go but up. I rise up a bit more each month as I learn more about myself and my aspirations for the future. There are no timetables for anything, I realize, so I am easy on myself as I consider future home repairs and responsibilities. I can look out at my backyard, now all winter-dead, and picture how it will look when it is green and blooming.

            Right now, it is easy to be kind to others. My heart is happy and grateful. However, I am realistic enough to know that my hopeful feeling probably won’t last. I have always known that I am a bit of a dreamer. But loving others, and praying for them, and being my best self that I can be to them, is not impossible. I pray daily for God’s help, that he will give me the grace to continue to strive for that.

John 13:34  “I give you a new commandant, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Living Through Grief

Losing a beloved spouse is like being sliced open, with a piece of you taken out forever. Not only will you never get that piece back, but you are unavoidably changed from that time on. You still look like yourself, you may keep the same habits, but you are different.

            I have lost two husbands, fifty years apart. The first time I was 24, so young I was still unformed. I had a lot to learn, while taking care of a young daughter at the same time. The pain was intense, and I buried myself in books, which took me to a place where I could escape. Gradually, I was able to live a normal life, and to discover joy again, as the person I was becoming, on my own. I never wanted to remain single, but it took me ten years to find Jerry, a man who complemented me, and who loved me as I loved him. We had almost forty years together.

            Now I am mature, I know what I want out of life, and I feel content with the person I have become and am still becoming. It was not even a shock, as it was with my first husband, Jim, when Jerry died, from Acute Myeloid Leukemia. We had been battling Jerry’s two cancers, off and on, for 15 years, but our times together were almost all good. He was always active, and had great vitality.

            My two experiences of grief were very different. As a young person, it was devastating. My husband, Jim, completed several years in the Army, including a tour of duty in Vietnam flying medevac helicopters, from which he came home unscathed. After the service, he took a temporary job as a lumberjack for his dad’s lumber company in Pennsylvania. He had applied to several law schools and was waiting to hear if he had been accepted. One day he went to work cutting trees in the woods and never came home. A tree fell on him, killing him instantly. He was 28.

            I was in shock and had no idea what to do. I was fortunate enough to be able to live with my parents for a few months. I kept this image of a tunnel; if I could only make it through, there would be life and light on the other side. I clung to that, because I just knew the pain would get better. My brother-in-law, who lost his father when he was a teen, also assured me that time would help me heal, and I kept that message close to me.

            About nine months after I lost my first husband, I moved 500 miles away, with my two-year-old, to attend graduate school. By then, I felt strong enough to pursue a life for her and me, although I knew it would be hard.

            After losing Jerry, I suffered again, missing my special, unique man who was smart, caring, had many friends and was so full of life.  I have been very lonely without him. But this time I have noticed a strange phenomenon. I have felt vulnerable, which is normal, but I have also felt like I am experiencing the whole world for the first time, and really enjoying everything, like a wide-eyed innocent. I am reminded of advice which is given to new widows: don’t move or make any big decisions in the first year. Now I know why they say it! I keep running into people who just delight me, people I had never met or people I knew only slightly. I am enjoying the feeling of being opened up, letting down my defenses.

            I am also not afraid; I have this optimism that everything will be fine. There will be challenges, probably some mishaps, but I will be able to weather them. I will soon be entering my second year of widowhood, and I expect it to be full of exciting new experiences.

            I should note that this past year of grief has coincided with the covid-19 pandemic. How much of my experiences and attitude could be attributed to that, I wonder? For example, when I meet someone I really like, I can’t decide if I am really delighted with the person or just the opportunity to actually get out of the house and talk to someone! I feel so grateful that a new year is upon us; it just has to be better, which means my life will be fuller, and I will no longer need to be so isolated.

            Although I knew about grief, I did not know it would be so different the second time around. Perhaps I was more prepared than I realize, but probably it was just the gift of years of living, and not being blindsided. I feel like my grieving has been easier this time, and I am thankful for that. I have survived, and I am ready for tomorrow, whatever it brings.