Losing the love of my life to pancreatic cancer was one of the most difficult and profound experiences I’ve ever had. It changed everything and I had to accept the changes. I learned that life is change. I learned deeply what might seem obvious, but I had only known it on a superficial level before. Accepting change that I really didn’t want and wasn’t ready for created both deep love and deep fear in me. Love and Fear. Life is ultimately Love and Fear. My love strengthened and deepened, not only for my husband during those dark times, but also for myself. I learned how to become my own best friend. I found ways of soothing myself. One of these was to write poetry.
My husband Terry and I had been together for almost three decades and we were very close. He was hospitalised for almost four months after his diagnosis, and then he finally came home to die. During long hours sitting beside his hospital bed, I wrote poetry. It was the only thing that focussed my mind, giving me some relief. I continued writing poetry after he died. One day I wrote ‘I am Grief in a Skin.’
I am grief in a skin,
Doing ordinary things:
Brushing my hair,
This time it is the silence
That brings me to my knees,
Sobbing at the empty spaces
You have left me in;
I am not big enough to fill them.
I wait for a purpose to show itself,
To give my life meaning,
But I am not ready for a purpose.
My skin barely contains me;
It is worn thin and tired.
I want to be with you –
Why else am I here?
A Wind from the East, page 169.
I didn’t know who I was on my own, or what I would become, or how I could live without my dearest love. But gradually I moved away from deep despair and emptiness. Every day I would consciously choose to feel better, while allowing my deep grief its natural expression. The poem shows the allowing of grief. I let myself sob whenever I needed to, and I spoke to Terry as if he were still with me. I even got angry with him a couple of times. But then I would soothe myself with thoughts of appreciation about the good things that were still in my life. I would appreciate the beauty of a sunrise as I slipped early from bed, unable to sleep, or I would take time to appreciate soft colours at dusk with a glass of wine in the garden, with my dog Poppy at my feet. Just sitting with Poppy could soothe me. My daily ritual of morning tea with incense and affirmations was steadying and sometimes uplifting. Meditation and affirmations became quiet habits that soothed my mind and emotions, keeping me pointed toward the Light.
I had begun writing letters to Terry when he was dying and he could no longer have conversations with me. We had always talked about everything together and I missed our discussions and shared observations. He would never be able to read the letters, but they helped me express my thoughts and emotions. I continued writing to him after his physical death. The letters were the spark of inspiration for A Wind from the East.
It may seem an unlikely analogy, but grief shares similarities with colds and flu in that it can be a gift, opening a person to an expansion they would not have gained in any other way. Colds and flu can be a gift for greater health, according to Dr. Ben Kim, Experience Your Best Health: http://drbenkim.com. He says: … rather than take conventional drugs to suppress uncomfortable symptoms, it’s better for your health to allow the cold or flu to run its course while you get plenty of physical and emotional rest.
Grief too is uncomfortable, but it’s better for your emotional health to allow it’s expression while simultaneously looking after your own physical and emotional needs. You may be feeling reclusive and low in energy, which is perfectly natural. Be kind to yourself and rest as much as possible. Say ‘No’ to things you really don’t want to do until you’re ready.
Dr Kim also says In the big scheme of things, a cold or flu is a natural event that can allow your body to purge itself of old and damaged cells that, in the absence of viral infection, would normally take much longer to identify, destroy, and eliminate. … the common cold is nature’s way of keeping you healthy over the long term.
I feel grief is nature’s way of keeping us emotionally healthy over the long term. If you feel like screaming out loud, close all the doors and windows and yell into a pillow so you don’t alarm the neighbours. Go to an empty beach and send your anguished cries into the wind and out to sea. Maybe don’t try this when you’re driving! Park the car in a safe, quiet spot and let rip. I was lucky to have an empty house on acreage. You’ll feel better with the relief that follows a cathartic crying, venting session. It’s a purging of emotions that are better out than held in, causing distress to the mind and body.
Finally, I don’t believe there is a time frame for grief. If people say you should be ‘over it’ by now, don’t let it get to you. They may have your best interests at heart, but you are the one who will know when you can remember your loved one with joy and appreciation without dissolving into tears. Time really is a great healer and you will get to a point when you realise with gratitude more than with grief that you had that loved-one in your life. At the same time, you may be caught off-guard for years by a sudden song, or a smell, or a sunbeam that will bring a memory to make you cry. It’s natural. It’s good. You have loved and been loved. Grief is intensely personal and as different for each person as there are people and circumstances and cultural differences and beliefs.
Be your own best friend.
‘A Wind from the East’ is available from: http://www.wendydartnall.com/book