It’s the holiday season – the third since my husband died – and I’ll be alone. Again. I can’t help but think back to the first holiday season without him. I remember thinking, It’s almost Thanksgiving. And I’m not at all happy about it. I felt totally numb. Sad didn’t even begin to describe my emotional state. For some reason, shame and fear are what I felt the most. Grief was there, too. But it was these two brutal emotions that took center stage.
I realized that for the rest of my life, I’d wonder why I didn’t see the end coming. Others say they did, so why I didn’t, I don’t know. Our ‘normal’ wasn’t their normal, so maybe they could see things I didn’t. Or maybe I just didn’t want to see them. My husband’s passing left my heart irreparably broken. Knowing that he’d be gone forever would penetrate slowly, I suspected.
I needed to wait until I was completely alone to process what had happened. The house was full of well-meaning people, and I wasn’t able to think straight- not about anything. I had to play hostess. When they’re gone, I thought, I won’t have to worry anymore whether there’s enough toilet paper or towels in the bathroom, or enough coffee to drink or cereal to eat. I longed for that moment when I wouldn’t have to be entertaining anyone or make small talk to bridge the uncomfortable silences that occurred with growing frequency. That was the worst for me – I was trying to make others feel better instead of them consoling me. Wasn’t I the one that was hurting most and needed to be cared for?
After dropping off the last of my family members at the airport, I went back to the house. For the first time, I was alone. It felt surreal. I now owned the home my husband and I once shared. And I had to take care of it all by myself. The thought of that sent me into a frenzy. I suspected there would be more thoughts and feelings like that in my future. I was right. Everyone returned to their daily routines – I was left to find my new normal. But that is how I wanted it. I needed to be left alone. Completely alone – to focus on the matter at hand, sit quietly, sob, throw things, or do whatever I needed to do. The ache in my heart was unbearable, but the sobbing I expected, didn’t come. Not yet anyway. I was still trying to grasp the absurdity of it all.
What do I possibly have to feel shameful about? I thought. I didn’t know why I felt ashamed, but I did. It’s more common than you might think – I looked it up. It’s interesting that I would choose the term ‘shame’ instead of ‘guilt’ because I read that shame means I am wrong whereas guilt means I did something wrong. This would require further introspection, but I couldn’t think about it then. I was in a new terrain – not knowing what the hell I was doing or what to expect from anything. And it pissed me off. To make matters worse, I felt inadequate too – like something broke on my watch.
Mortality is a tough lesson – everything I believed in was being put into question. We had made plans for the holidays. Damn it, I thought. I’m not prepared to face the holidays alone. I wondered if I’d ever
Besides having to work out the ‘shame’ thing, I was scared to death. Fear had always been a part of my chemical makeup but this fright was different. For the first time since I was 21 years old, I was by myself. Coming to terms with it and the termination of my long-time partnership was going to take some time and some mad coping skills. “I will figure it all out,” I said trying to assure myself. That’s when the uncontrollable sobbing began – the start of a very long healing process.
I didn’t like spending the holidays alone that year but I got through them. It wasn’t easy, but I survived. I missed my husband terribly that year – still do. But for the first time in my life, I began to learn how to be me. And I’ve allowed new things and new people into my life. That’s a good thing. Every day, I take another step forward. And, I’m a little less scared. Now there are many good days, and some bad ones too. But I know I will survive and be just fine. And for that, I am eternally thankful.
~ Cynthia George