“Grief is the process of letting go of a dream.” This is one of my favorite definitions of grief, because I find it to be so true. When you lose anything or anyone, so many dreams die as well, and sometimes letting go of the dreams is one of the hardest aspects.
For those who are widowed, the beloved spouse is gone. Yet we mourn over more than just the absence of the person. We have lost our vision, our carefully crafted plans, our identity, and our view of the world. It can be a very lonely place.
My husband was killed in a car accident. I remember a phone call with a good friend about 6 weeks after John died. I told her my tomorrows had vanished, that in the instant when those two cars collided, my entire future was wiped out. My companion was wiser than me. She replied, “No, Amy. Your future was not wiped out. John’s was, at least his future on this earth. You still have a future. It will just be a lot different future than what you had planned.” I didn’t want to admit it, but she was right.
So much of who we are and what we hope for is tied up in this other person. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, or whether you were married 5 months or 50 years. It doesn’t matter whether your marriage was ideal or a struggle. When your spouse dies, you have to let go of your vision and identity. You have to recreate your dreams. You have to build a future very different than what you had planned. That is no easy task, and it does not happen overnight.
First, you cry – a lot. You wail over the loss, not only the loss of what you did have but also of what you were going to have. You get angry, you protest, you refuse to accept, you try to prove its unfairness in hopes that the situation will be rectified, and you keep asking “Why?” Slowly, you realize there is nothing you can do to recover the person or the dreams. You face the reality and the permanence of the death. Your choice now is either to live in the past or to build a new future. You start asking “What now?”
Bit by bit, you allow yourself to try new things, and to test out your freedom. You begin to make new friends, to plan trips or take classes or start a project or plant a garden or paint a room. Eventually you find yourself getting excited about an upcoming occasion or looking forward to the next day. The feeling is not continuous, but oh does it feel good when it is there!
You never forget your spouse, the love you shared, and the dreams you created together. You never stop missing that person, or wondering what life would be like if they were still here. But in increments sometimes too tiny to notice, you begin to heal.
Originally published in Huffington Post, August, 2016