My Husband's Death Diminished Me

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Peter and Laurie in better times

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

– John Donne 1624

Seventeenth-century British author John Donne wrote the remarkable poem No Man Is An Island, telling us that no one is self-sufficient and to exist, we must depend on one another to help us live fully throughout our lives. Donne tells us that a human being living alone is tantamount to being in isolation on a deserted island where he or she cannot possibly thrive. Tom Hanks talking to Wilson just to find companionship in Cast Away is an example of how much human beings are social animals and cannot thrive in isolation. Tom Hanks beloved volleyball becomes his buddy, just to get him through the intense loneliness of the long days of being in isolation from other human beings.

When Peter died three years ago, I was tossed on an island, flailing and alone not knowing how to find my way back to civilization. I was surely “diminished” by Peter’s death and had to find my way forward. I needed to find the joy in my heart in order to begin to live again. My heart was summarily emptied out of all good feelings and needed to be refilled with self-compassion. I needed to accept the guidance and support from my family and friends to get through the pain of isolation.

At first, grief fell onto my island of isolation like a thick, dense, heavy fog. I begged for some relief, some lifting of the clouds so I could see sunlight again. Then one day, with the help of friends and family, I began to see some colors again instead of the ever-pervasive gray mist. Little by little, I began to see light in the eyes of my grandchildren, a wonderful dinner, or a funny movie. I began to visualize my progress and I knew that I had begun to build my bridge of strength to get me off the island and back to the continent of fulfilled living again.

The other day I worked with my therapist on guided imagery. I breathed deeply and imagined a very small island with only one palm tree where I could barely stand. All of a sudden, a handsome man in a sailboat appeared to guide me away from this pathetic excuse of an island. He looked familiar, and he was kind and handsome, yes, with a great head of hair, and I hopped right onto his boat to take me away from my sad piece of land. Then it hit me. It was my sweet husband Peter! He was navigating and guiding me, telling me that he would always be in my heart and I wouldn’t be alone. I sobbed uncontrollably but felt happy in some sort of weird way that I was indeed not alone. I finally got the message that Peter would always be there as my guide making me a better person.

The last part of the poem reflects our current world which is falling apart. We must be “involved in mankind.” We must fight against isolationism. We must help others in order to help ourselves become better people. Despite the current administration’s policy, “no man is an island unto himself.” We must help others who are in need. We are all interconnected to one other. No one should stand alone. To exist for yourself is pointless. We must make an all-out effort to be better people by feeling related to some greater purpose in life. By helping others, we become “involved in mankind,” and therefore vital contributors to the world order.

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