A New Day -

Some reflections on being a widow.

When, during the reception at the Fort Myers Officer's Club last week, I looked across the room to where our grandson was sitting I felt tears in my eyes and a quick catch in my throat.  I recognized a bit of Jim.

Our grandson Dan wore Jim's dancing shoes - which I had given to him along with Jim's tux - to the burial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetary.  I loved the sweetness of that and felt how fitting it was that Jim could walk along with us on that day.

So far I have been trodding along the path women have walked for generations. I move through what I figure are the opening stages of widowhood. First the shock of the loss, which even though Jim's death was not a surprise, is overwhelming. You barely catch your breath next day when you are suddenly recast as Perle Mesta. There are a million details to take care of in planning the events surrounding someone's death.  From meeting with the funeral home - (a low on my scale) - to informing everyone, planning the services, swallowing hard a million times a day, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork and so on and so on. Where, when and who will do what. It takes a lot of time and energy. Bottom line I felt grateful it kept me so very busy.

In my case I had to do it twice. Once two weeks after Jim's death and the other five months later when he was scheduled for an Arlington military burial. Arlington was absolutely worth the wait. Actually I had no choice. Our daughter was buried there in 1964 and she had been holding the spot for 47 years.

It was good to have his urn at home with me all that time. The first Mass and Reception was public and we were grateful that many friends came to console us and to celebrate Jim. The second Mass and reception I chose to have as a private gathering.  The guest list included a few out of town family and people who knew us well - long-time and close friends. The people who came were the same ones who had walked with us the last weeks of Jim's life and that felt just right.

The down side of the long wait is that the final good-bye was a difficult wrench. Leaving our house for the last time was tough. Later the beautiful solemnity and grace of the Mass and the Honors Ceremony softened the rip and comforted us.

Why am I writing about this? Just to share the experience in case it can help anyone else. To lay out the choices. Short and sweet or drawn out and sharp. At the close of the day - its the same. Good-bye. Nothing changes that.

But I am a strong believer that making the ceremony - not matter what kind - personal to you is not just a gift to your  loved one it is important for healing.

What helped me and my family was that, at every turn, we made it our own. I advise folks to do that - although taking the time to make choices can be draining and tiring - in the end - it feels personal and right. I thought of this as my last gift to Jim and wanted it to feel as personal for me, him and the family as possible. From the music to the Pall covering his urn which I made, to the beautiful box for his urn which was made by master craftsman, Jack Abgott. Before Jim left our house each one of our immediate family tucked an envelope with a private personal message into the box with his urn and I wrapped the urn in one of my fabric at works - a golden yellow piece he and I had taken to an exhibit in Italy on a wonderful trip in 2001.

No matter what you do - the day after is the same. Quiet and achingly alone.

August 1 was Jim's burial.

August 2 was the first day of my life without his presence - in some way.

Now I have to figure that out. Jim and I were together 56 and a half years. I have no concept of what a life without him in it will be.

But the truth is - I have no choice but to work it out. Somehow.

A dear friend, once a widow herself, sent me this poem which she said was a comfort to her.

Perhaps someone will read it who also will find it comforting.

As for me -

I have deeply appreciated all the comfort and support people have sent first to Jim and me for that long time and then to me. Thank you. Your words have meant more than I can say and have been a great comfort.

The Thing Is
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat 
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

You have all be very kind and understanding to listen to my writing about our life. 
I will keep writing - because I like to - 
but I have no idea how that will go - -
More will be revealed.


Anonymous said...

Powerful. These glimpses into your journey help inform our own lives in so many precious ways. I am grateful to receive your words. Thank you for sharing. - Ronda Barrett

Granny Sue said...

This was painful to read, and yet it is one of the best pieces I have ever read. Your title is revealing--a new day. There is significance in that; newness, a day fresh-washed, a beginning. Not one you wanted but one that is yours to make. Wishing you well on this next step.