Monday, October 26, 2009

Grief is universal, yet solitary

Today I was reminded again that while we feel our grief intimately and alone, and often hide it from the world, we are not alone in suffering through those feelings of loss and sadness.

I was going down the street delivering notices about our annual homeowners' association meeting to people who live on my street whom I've either never met or just met once, and rang one doorbell to find a woman whose husband had just died five days ago. They had been married 59 years. She was remarkably composed and she invited me in; she wanted to talk. I was glad to be there with her, to hear her story. She kept saying she shouldn't be "bending [my] ear," but it was good for her to talk and good for me, too, to be reminded that death is part of life, part of love, part of the human condition, and that I am not alone in losing someone I love.

She spoke so lovingly of her husband of 59 years. Think what it must be like to be alone after 59 years with a beloved companion. We shared other things in common. Both of us are military wives. Both of us had children who served their country in the armed forces. Both of us had lived in Germany, albeit at different times. And we even both use Macintosh computers. I was amazed at her composure and bravery, how she spoke of her memories and what she needs to do for her future.

She kept saying, "we," referring to herself and her husband, and then said, "I guess I have to stop saying 'we.' People won't want to keep hearing about my husband."

I said, "No, keep saying 'we.' Your life for 59 years was 'we' and that doesn't go away. That's who you are. The 'I' begins now, but your past will always include your husband." I hope she realized what I meant.

I know I can't erase Leif from my life. I will talk about him whenever I am reminded of him, whenever I remember something that fits into the conversation. I think it's the sadness and the weeping that people don't want to see, after a time. They understand it in the first few months after a death in the family, but then they just want it to be over, for you to move on. But suppressing grief is one thing, and pretending someone didn't exist and not talking about them is quite another. That's like denying their life, denying its value.

We had Leif for 33 years. It wasn't enough, but it was precious, and I am grateful for those years. In writing this blog, I spend a lot of time looking through, scanning, and repairing photos of his life, and it keeps him fresh in my mind, bringing back memories of times we seldom thought about as well as times we often told stories about. I keep him bound in my heart. I treasure the memories.

When all is said and done, what do we have from life but our family and friends and our memories. They are the true measure and riches of our lives. My life was infinitely richer because of my two sons.

And, of course, it's the loss of that richness, that treasure, that hurts so much.

This photo was taken in our quarters in Honolulu, Hawaii, in April 1984. I no longer remember why Peter W. and Leif were so tired that they sacked out on the couch together, but as usual I was there with my camera to capture this sweet picture. Leif was nine years old.

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