After Phil’s death I feared getting better. I didn’t want to get over it, move on, allow time to heal me, or be grateful that Phil was in a better place. Frankly, getting better sounded like forgetting, getting over it was impossible, moving on implied leaving a time when Phil was a part of my world, time as a concept wasn’t doing much for me, and I couldn’t think of a better place for Phil than in my arms. None of the things people said to me about healing or recovery were in any way comforting. In fact, they were horrifying. I will confess…I was afraid everyone around me would assume I didn’t love Phil all that much if I could recover from losing him.
So I quietly wallowed in sorrow. I found all the tender spots on my heart and poked them regularly. I covered my office in photos of Phil, using them like wallpaper. I was always on the lookout for signs, and would cry on the way home from a run if Phil didn’t visit me. I avoided expanding my world, because I didn’t want to leave behind the one Phil occupied with me. Often I wondered if I was doing this widow thing right.
What would it mean if I laughed? How could I enjoy a party? Why should I be merry? God forbid I should go on a date. In my mind all these things screamed, “Over it!”. But there were a few things I didn’t know. All the nights of crying myself to sleep, going home alone from a family gathering, grocery shopping solo, climbing into my empty bed, eating by myself in a restaurant, and finding my way in the world of single parenting have taught me that pain is actually an agent of healing. Grief drops us into the burning inferno of shattering loss, and day-by-day the fuel for the fire burns down. Each painful experience is the burning of another piece of timber, until we have lived through one more thing we thought might kill us. And it didn’t, again. Bit by painful bit, we blaze through the hurt, the anger, the loss, the fear until we find that we aren’t afraid of healing anymore. Because healing doesn’t mean forgetting. Instead true recovery from a loss as life altering as this creates embers that light our hearts…an illumination that only grows brighter with time.
And so the dreaded phrase, “Time heals all wounds,” actually does mean something. It just doesn’t mean what I thought it meant. I expected that the passing of time would facilitate healing, that each day would be a little less painful than the last. Following this logic, we might even expect to be healed by a certain date. Of course you are all laughing at me right now and telling your computer that I am crazy, because it just doesn’t work like that. And you are right, it doesn’t. But time gives us the opportunity to burn our personal grief fuel. One experience at a time the timber of grief pops and blazes, and each day we emerge from the fire. Burned perhaps, raw for sure, dazed on occasion…but walking through the smoky haze to begin again tomorrow nonetheless. At the end of each haze filled day it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about how you heal or when. There is no right way to be a widow. Instead there are just survivors who face the flames of loss armed with the shield of love, and hope for the day when the embers that remain when grief has burned its seemingly endless fuel provide the light through which they see the rest of the world.