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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 be able to make any sense of this being single stuff.  Up to this point, I had done a really good job of avoiding anything to do with death.  I felt a little foolish to be so stunned by it.  But when it came to death, I was dumbfounded. I never gave much thought to my husband and I being separated by anything, much less death. But now I had no other choice.  I had to accept the bomb that had just been dropped into my reality.  I didn’t thinkI could get through this death thing – certainly not by myself.  I wanted a do-over.

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

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