Reacting to Loss and Grief
By Elaine Williams © 2008

There are many unique and varied reactions to grief and loss.

We may all react differently and yet the end result, many times, is the same. There is a sense of a gaping hole in our chest, a deep emptiness that at first nothing can fill.
I've run the gamut of emotions myself. When my husband first died I felt in a frenzy to change things, to clean the house, empty closets, to refinish the living room floor. Did any of it make sense? At the time, each action seemed the logical thing to do.
I've always been a very active person, but during this time period I must have seemed like a crazy woman to my kids. I wouldn't allow myself a spare moment to sit down and just do nothing. If I did, then I would have to think. In looking back, now, I realize the last thing I wanted to do was examine the deep loss in my life.

Contrarily, even though I was in this frenzy of doing this and that, I also experienced a general apathy in my daily living. Each day ran into the next-the same blah feeling. On many occasions, I couldn't wait for the day to end so I could climb into bed and be finished with that day.

My life coasted along, as if I were driving down a road with no final destination in sight. The ride is shaded and sunny, but it just keeps going. Many occasions I was fixated on my rear view mirror instead of noticing what might lie ahead.

I had no interests other than taking care of the most immediate matters, and then just blanking out. My thoughts felt dull and worn. I had never thought of myself as a boring, uninteresting person, but grief certainly sucked the very life and essence out of me. I was a living, walking automation and that's the way I wanted it in the beginning. I didn't want to feel or think too much, but merely to remain cushioned in my little cocoon of nothingness.

This worked for a while, but eventually, the pins and needles start and you begin to live again. That's just how life is. And we all need to live, to survive, to have something other than one dull moment follow the other. Eventually, the dullness recedes a little at a time.

One day you really do awaken to find there is once more joy in your heart, and life seems brighter. The way to move through grief is all our own. There is no prescribed time limit on healing; but there is healing.

Starting Anew at Fifty
By Elaine Williams ©2008

I lost my husband and best friend of 22 years when he was 59 and I was 47. We have three boys and I'd always thought we'd be together forever, however long that was, or at least another twenty years. I felt blindsided when I lost him to cancer after 11 months of illness. I had a terrible time living with the loss, but it didn't actually hit me until six months or so after he died. On our first anniversary, I felt like I slammed into a wall going forty miles an hour and I hadn't put on my seatbelt.

It took me about 4 years to get to the point where I felt happy in my own life, which no longer resembled the life we had shared together. My period of grieving moved me through many lifestyle changes, many times fearful, but ultimately all of them good. Of one thing I am certain, everyone's grief experience is unique.

There was a lot of stress in my life during this period. Not only was I dealing with my own emotions, but the ramifications of my boys' confusion, loss and grief. Their emotional and physical wellbeing was always my first priority. However, there were many late nights I cringed when the telephone rang. As I reached to answer it, my heart pounded double-time in my chest and I wondered what new catastrophe would have to be addressed. My children moved through their grief as I offered loving support, knowing they needed to deal with the loss of their father in their own way, just as I did.

As my life evolved, grew and blossomed, I became someone different than I could ever have imagined. When Joseph was gone several years, I wrote a diary to myself as part of my healing process.

I wrote it over a period of time, and knew that other widows needed to read it, if only to be reassured there is hope even in the face of devastating loss. My story is very personal-emotions exposed and fear pushed out to the light.

I began dating after one year, and this was accompanied by guilt and the ultimate realization that I started too early. Dating again after 27 years felt foreign and my early experiences gave me something of a shock. We all grieve in our own way, but for me, the option to remain alone did not feel viable. At first I worried I may be betraying my husband's memory, but gradually I realized that opening myself to a new love doesn't diminish what I had with my first love.

I am a person who thrives on human relationships and loving someone, so while I hold dear the life we had shared, I also look forward to a loving partner to enhance my otherwise wonderful, full life.

The Best Years of My Life
By Elaine Williams ©2008

Recently I was asked to describe the best years of my life. Being a widow of 4 years and mother, there are many different times I considered to be the best years of my life. When I was younger, I remember summers going on seemingly forever. What wonderful times, playing tag or touch football until dark with the neighborhood kids, staying out until you had to come inside to take a bath and jump into bed. Then another warm, balmy day to play-endless, wonderfully carefree summer days.

The next wonderful part was my marriage and subsequent birth of my three boys. Each moment of their births, respectively, is etched indelibly upon my memory. My oldest arrived two weeks early. A friend of my husband's said, "Oh, you'll go another week." I was determined it wouldn't be so, since I had labor pains all day. He arrived that night, 37 minutes after entering the hospital. He came out quiet, face blue, because the cord was wrapped twice around his neck. My husband, who was in the delivery room with each of our boys, didn't let out that bit of information until many years later. My oldest was dark haired and perfect, a little miniature human being. Always active and a handful, but a wonderful, compassionate person who turned 23 this year.

My middle son arrived screaming, as if he could hardly wait to enter the world. He arrived right on time, barely waiting for the doctor to get changed into scrubs before he made his quick appearance. He was the head banger. If he fell, he always managed to hit his head. Since his speedy arrival, he's been laid back ever since and has a wonderful, dry sense of humor. That was a memorable 21 years ago.

My youngest son was a real surprise when I discovered myself pregnant at 35. I knew one fall day that our family was not yet complete until he arrived. With his labor I had mild back pain, so off we drove to the hospital. Within ten minutes of the hospital I asked my husband for his watch. The erratic labor pain had suddenly gone to every two minutes. We were whisked into the delivery room with only twenty minutes to spare. He arrived screaming his lungs out, eager to see what was going on. I'll never forget the moment my husband looked at me and said, "You make beautiful babies." That beautiful baby is now 15.

The best years and memories are scattered so delightfully throughout my life, but they all involve my family. At times the images arrive in vivid, fresh detail, as if I'm looking at a photo album.

When my husband became ill and died, there was a long time I didn't think I'd ever be able to say "the best years of my life" again. My life went on hold and I felt stuck, emotions running from lonely and confused to isolated. I tried to understand my life circumstances, but many days I felt as if I was drifting around like a tumbleweed. I seemed to lose all purpose and passion in my life.

In a gradual process, the darkness lifted away. It wasn't always a straightforward thing, and some days I fell back to the old hurt, other days there was no noticeable movement, but at times the smallest step forward felt better than none at all.

Now, four years later, I realize there are many days yet that I will be able to look back and say, "These are some of the best years of my life. "I have become so much more empowered from the experiences I have been given. This may seem a strange way to look upon life's stresses, but I've learned to take away something good out of each "sad" experience.

I now find it exciting, knowing there is so much before me, and many of the best years of my life are yet to come.

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A Journey Well Taken:
Life After Loss by Elaine Williams