During a recent conversation about discovering the gifts that grief work can sometimes offer, I was inspired by something my widowed friend said. “Some people say ‘oh, you’ve lost your husband.’ And of course they’re right. But that’s not the whole story.”
She went on to say that acknowledging only the death of her husband neglected the very essence of the life she shared with the man she missed so dearly. “It doesn’t take into account his life, his gifts and talents, his faith, his likes and dislikes, or how he loved his family,” she lamented.
After contemplating this wondrous bit of wisdom — from a newly bereaved and deeply wounded widow — I found that she was right on target. Those of us who have lost a loved one know that their death is not the beginning — or the end — of our story.
There is no doubt that our loved one’s death changes us forever — we must begin to write a new and different type of chapter for our ongoing story. But as we grieve our loss we discover that facing our future requires affirming the foundation of past memories that we built over time with our loved one. We grieve in hopes of discovering healthy and appropriate ways to create a “new normal” where the memory of our loved one finds it’s rightful place.
My friend’s lament was founded on her belief that others did not know the story of her life with her husband prior to his death. Their life story, like many, was a record of eloquent accounts of love and laughter, pain and sorrow, challenges and triumphs. Earlier chapters included meaningful dialogue between the couple as well as parenthetical quips on the joy of parenting and faith-challenging health issues.
Each story of loss begins with the richness of life. That which gives body to our characters and creates our plot is the stuff of memories that sustains us in our loss.
As I review my own grief “story’” that continues to evolve from that fateful day in fall of 1990 when my own husband Trent was killed in an accident, I find that my life story is now written in chapters that I categorize as “before Trent’s death” and “after Trent’s death.” Silly as that may sound it makes logical sense to those who have suffered a life-changing event.
Before my husband died I was a wife and stay-at-home mother of two. I enjoyed my family life as well as my participation in community life. I gathered with friends during the daylight as we witnessed our children’s growth together and embraced my role as wife after work hours when Trent could be home with his family.
Following his sudden death I penned a dark chapter of loss and confusion. My identity as wife was rewritten as I discovered that my role in life had changed. My stay-at-home status eventually translated to full time work outside the home and my social support shifted with my grief.
As I look back on those early days after Trent’s death I can now see that the grief itself wrote my story for many months as I did the hard work it called for. Those chapters are still painful to review, but now after 22 years, I can look back and see the gifts that have immerged from between the lines of the grief that encompassed me after Trent died.
One such gift that I have accepted is that each life story is ongoing, with its twists and subplots, and that loss is only part of the saga. My friend was right — our loss is not the whole story. No, the memories we hold dear in our hearts are the life accounts we can revisit whenever the need arises. They are the content that sustains us in our grief. But as we find hope and new purpose in life after our loved one’s death, we continue to compose our own poetry. We are each the author of the rest of our own unique story. The future we face as we mourn our loss holds the blank and ready pages on which we will write the legacy of our beloved dead. Let’s make it a heartwarming page-turner.
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