Updated: May 19, 2022
Our wedding was a wondrous celebration, a joie de verve; a culmination of the growth of our love for each other and the anticipation of sharing it with the people who mattered the most to us. Everyone was in high spirits as we gathered on Memorial Day weekend to commit ourselves to a future that was yet to unfold, that we would create together by the joining of our lives and souls.
A treasured wedding gift that we received was thoughtfully compiled by a cousin and his wife. He crafted a poem to capture the spirit of our union, and his wife lovingly toiled to create a needlework of his words, then custom-framed it for a one-of-a-kind keepsake. The decorative needlepoint design included our names and our wedding date, followed by this script:
The road is bright before us,
As hand in hand we start;
United in love forever,
One mind, One soul, One heart.
This precious gift was a lovely summation of the sentiment of our mutual feelings for one another, along with the eager optimism of our future together. I occasionally pull it out of a storage closet as Memorial Day approaches, and as I reread this expression of Love, with its dramatically extended needlepoint loops on the capital letters, it still moves me to this day. My heartstrings get strummed like a harp, with softly flowing notes of beauty that resonate an invisible energy. But now, having been widowed at mid-life, the tones seem different, lowered to a level of bittersweetness due to the absence of my beloved spouse. It has been several years since he passed, but the tender feelings that arise with each occasional reading are still vulnerable now, tinged with the soft pain of loss. Gone is the burning optimism that once made my spirit soar, replaced by a familiar twinge of sorrow in my heart that is hard to describe but deeply felt. Missing is that comfort in my spirit that I shared with my husband, in person.
Loss has been my greatest teacher. Grief can return unexpectedly, without warning. Being susceptible to its jolts and whims, it can be a struggle to deal with the impact of emotions that can erupt with the slightest provocation. Its essence makes itself known to the heart, being more a spiritual and mental sorrow. An intangible essence that makes it hard to grasp and control - but no less real than physical pain.
Grief makes me fragile, and prone to missing my loved ones more during certain times of the year. I find myself getting pulled back into the past as the calendar circles back around to the dates that hold special meaning, that were special to us, our union, etched in my memory. As the years progress, more losses accumulate as family members, friends, and others pass on due to aging, disease, or special circumstances. Now it seems that there isn't a month on the calendar that isn't a recurring reminder of loss. But the long Memorial Day weekend is the big one for me, and it starts a domino effect of reminders of loss that topple into each other. The month of May used to be my favorite month, and I still appreciate the warmth that it brings along with the glorious growth and accompanying bursts of beauty. But now a myriad of reminders of loss fill my May calendar - Mother's Day, college graduations, and the extra long holiday weekend when we were married. June quickly follows with Father's Day, and my deceased spouse's birthday, both of which I now memorialize at the cemetery. My parents passed in July and August. My husband died in September, the World Trade Centers collapsed on 9/11 ... on and on, the reminders continue.
I have learned to anticipate potential feelings of grief that will crop up. and make plans to memorialize certain dates with a ritual to honor my loved ones. I visit the cemetery a lot, placing a rose on their graves and pulling out weeds that grew tall around the headstones. I've learned to create distractions too, that also fulfill my need for connection. So I plan get togethers with family or friends to fill some of the emptiness, and make new memories while having fun at the same time. The kindred spirits understand, knowing what it's like to lose a spouse, a parent, or other family member. New traditions are born, and the ties of devotion to family and friends become stronger.
During the first year after losing my spouse, I found out that there are a lot of us that are members of this club that we didn't want to join. And the words of a stranger stuck with me. "You have to stick together," I was told by a hotel employee as he sympathized with me and my daughter. He was referring to family, as he shared his own story of personal loss with us. Bearing in mind his wise words, as the years progressed my (adult) children and I have remained close, closer even than before their father died. We've been more understanding of each other, with our hard won lesson of how precious life really is, and are there to support each other when needed. And we make it a point to get together regularly to enjoy each others company, even though we don't live in the same cities.
Devotion to family can be part of the magic of healing. And appreciating the people who are still present in my life has made a positive difference that keeps me optimistic and involved in good times and supported in down times. We're all imperfect, and we all have wounds that can reopen, even when it's not convenient. I've learned that while we have each other present in our lives, we are stronger, more resilient, and more loved.
Written by Janet Polech
May 19, 2022