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"Of course I have to write now because writing is what I do, what I have always done. It's important to my mental well being, and I also believe that God is teaching me much in this experience and that, later, I will be able to offer comfort to others who will have to face the same thing I'm facing now, but perhaps without the kind of support I am now getting from countless friends and acquaintances."
- Barbara (January 27, 2005 newsletter)
Barb & Harry in Poland, 1976
© 2005 by Barbara Brabec
ABOVE: My dear cat, Charlee, exploring the office blinds.
BELOW: My fluffy-tailed helper is off duty, zonked out on my secretarial chair.
© 2005 by Barbara Brabec
Crying is Part of Healing
"The shortest verse in the New Testament is 'Jesus Wept.' So did Abraham, so did Moses, so did David, so did Mohammed, so did Buddha, and so does everyone who ever loved someone and had that loved one taken away from them. Those who bottle the grief up inside are doomed to have the grief burst out another way. Tears of grief are nature's way of reducing the tension caused by a loss. If we don't use the natural way, we may have to deal with the unnatural, which can be ominous indeed."
- from How to Cope with being Widowedby William J. Diehm
(Click here for a larger picture and how-to tips on making a similar memory box for yourself or a loved one.)
God Saves Your Tears
Did you know that your tears are so precious to God that He saves them in a bottle?
number my wanderings;
An explanatory note about this verse in The MacArthur Study Bible reads: "David asked God to keep a remembrance of all his sufferings, so that God would eventually vindicate him."
Since Harry died, I have received several notes of condolence from other widows. In talking with them on the phone or by e-mail, Iíve learned that we are all handling grief differently, each in our own individual way. If you are currently grieving the loss of your spouse, or know someone who is, perhaps this personal experience report will offer encouragement, hope, and new perspective. Other grieving hearts will also find helpful guidance in this report.
The message I received from Jan, a new widow with three children still at home, was especially touching. "It's been over five months since Phil passed away," she wrote. "My life with three kids is busy as ever, and I'm finally beginning to work at my weaving and spinning again, but the grief and guilt still hit hard nearly every day. How can I be happy, or excited about something, when he is gone and never coming back? I still cry nearly every day. Such a huge part of my life is gone. As you said, no one to talk to, hug, share with, and it hits you over and over that it will be that way the rest of your life."
To Jan and other widows who feel the same way, I would say this: Itís a mistake to think your life as you know it now is always going to be just as it is at the moment. Although some of us will surely end up alone for the rest of our lives, there are worse things than living alone. More important, however, is that we should not presume to know the mind of God or his plans for the rest of our lives merely because we donít have a clue about this ourselves. Although most new widows (myself included) cannot imagine life with another man, I have two good friends, both of whom were married for a long time and who felt the same way when they lost their spouses. But God sent new mates to both of them a couple of years later, and they found themselves in love all over again. Both told me they could not explain the intense feelings of love they felt for their new husbands, who were totally different from their first husbands, but who were perfectly suited to them nonetheless. In short, never underestimate the heartís capacity for love! As Pascal once said, "The heart has its reasons which reason knows not of."
At a time when I was exhausted from taking care of Harry, one of these new widows described her feelings like this: "All you and I can see now is a long dreary road stretching before us, with sameness of hardship and grief. The fallacy of that is that there are some 'turnoffs' that God may have us take. And we can't see around those bends. There may be joy and brightness and relief there. I can't say that my heart embraces this idea right now, but it is a glimmer for my mind to consider. I am doing okay, not weeping and sad around others, inflicting gloom on them. But I feel I'll never be HAPPY again. I'll find things to do and try to line up with God's plan for the rest of my life, but the joy is gone. It may be that it never returns, and if so, the Lord knows that I will still function and cling to him."
Obviously, my friend's joy has returned and she is once again married to a wonderful man and happy beyond belief. So we must remember always to have faith in God, and know that He has not forgotten us. We must remain open to the possibilities that lie ahead, and in the meantime, laugh whenever we can, and do things that give us joy.
I took my own advice by adopting a cat, something I had wanted to do for years, but something Harry didn't want me to do at that time. Yet when his end was near, Harry said I should get a cat when he was gone because he wanted me to be happy in spite of him not being there with me. That's what love is all about. We must remember that our husbands are still with us in spirit, and they want us to be happy again, and so does God. As my friends keep telling me—and I'm still forcing myself to remember—we must not feel guilty now or in the future when life gives us a reason to laugh and be joyful again.
Trying Not to Remember
In my first widowís report, I spoke about how important it was for me to hear Harryís voice after he was gone and to gather all his favorite things in the room that used to be his office. But not all widows respond to loss the way I have done. Some have told me they could not bear to touch their husbandís clothes or other possessions for as long as a year afterwards. Others have indicated they could not listen to audio tapes or view videotapes of their husband because they just "werenít ready yet." One woman who always played the piano for her husband couldnít bring herself to play for a year after he died.
Clearly, widows grieve in different ways, and when we find ourselves in a position to counsel a widow in the future—or anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one—we must remember that what works for one grieving heart may not work for another. And itís not just widows who have a problem here. A woman who lost her mother a year go told me she couldnít bear to think of her mom because it hurt too much. "When I think of the good times I cry," she wrote. "So I donít think of the good times because it is very difficult for me."
I can certainly understand this womanís feelings. However, I believe she and many widows are making a big mistake in trying to avoid thinking about their lost loved one just because it hurts to do so. Iím no psychologist, but decades of just plain living have taught me that we can never solve an emotional problem or escape its consequences by running away from it. You have to meet it head-on and deal with it or it will haunt you for the rest of your life. (See confirming quote from William J. Diehm's book, left.)
The Healing Power of Tears.In the first month after Harry died, I went through our entire photo collection and pulled out the most memory-packed photos I could find of both him alone and the two of us together—ones where we were obviously happy, arms around one another, in different places at different times of life. Yes, it did hurt to remember, and I cried puddles of tears as I framed these pictures and the many small personal items of Harry's in a glass-encased "memory box" (see left). I hung it on the wall above his chest of drawers (and his urn) where I could look at it whenever I needed to feel his presence in my life. And a funny thing happened as a result.
Each day as I studied the contents of this box and recalled new memories associated with each photo or nostalgic item in it, I cried again, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. It wasnít long, however, before I began to ask myself if I was crying for all that Iíd lost forever, or shedding tears of gratitude for having had a great marriage and the love of such a dear man for so many years. All this is to say that it's a mistake to avoid remembering the good times because it hurts to do so, for these are the very memories you can stuff into that big hole in your heart. The fuller it gets, the less you will cry. Above all, donít try to "be brave" by holding back tears when youíre hurting so much inside. Crying is a healthy thing to do because each tear you shed will bring some of your grief to the outside where you can better deal with it. According to the Bible, God saves all our tears in a bottle (see left).
Laughing Pain Away. I kept remembering something Harry always said, that "we two are ONE." Not just two people whose lives had intersected, but literally ONE in spirit. Thus, even though Harry is gone, his spirit still lives in my heart. In many ways, he has never left me, and never will. I can now look at this wonderful memory box without shedding a tear. In fact, as I show it to friends, I often recall a funny "Harry story" that makes us laugh. And thatís just the way Harry would have wanted it because one of his main goals in life was to make others laugh.
For example, the picture at the top of this page brings to mind this funny "Harry story" from 1976: While on a business trip abroad, Harry and I toured a magnificent palace outside the city of Warsaw. To protect the beautiful marble and inlaid floors, all of us in the tour group were required to put scuffs on over our shoes, which made walking hazardous because the floors were as slick as ice. Although most of us were fearful of falling and were shuffling along stiff-legged, Harry quickly developed his own method of maneuvering. He was leading the group as we started down one particularly long hall. Donning a big grin, he placed his hands behind his back in Hans Brinker fashion and merrily began to skate to a rhythm that was unmistakably that of the "Skater's Waltz." No one needed an interpreter to understand his message, and within moments the whole tour group was laughing and much more relaxed. I was the only one in the group who knew that Harryís back pain that day was intense. But as he did throughout his many pain-filled years of life, Harry never let pain keep him from laughing or trying to brighten someone elseís day—most particularly mine.
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