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Here’s a little story for those of you who have lost a spouse or the person who was the light of your life. It’s really my story and you will need to shape and live your own version of it. It’s my little holiday gift to you to give you some hope. I can’t pretend I know exactly how you feel, but I can say I think I know some of what you are feeling because I have been in your shoes.
If you feel alone and in a dark place, this is for you. If you feel there will be no joy ever again and when you open your eyes each day, you unwrap a world that seems bright and beautiful on the outside but inside of the box, is empty, quiet and sad, this is for you. If you long to love again but don’t think it will happen or that you deserve it, this is for you.
I know (and have lived) a story of hope, possibility, love, risk and action.
There was a woman, a widow, a mother, who thought all of the best parts of her had dried up or run away. She thought that her soul was filled with dark corners that had their own echoes which resounded in her ears and made her feel more alone and in a cave-like place than anyone should ever feel. She tried to keep the corners illuminated with a kind of artificial, contrived light she was able to generate with enormous effort. It tired her out so much to work at doing this. She hoped that this light would somehow lead her gently out of her cave, but it didn’t for a long time. The light kept leaking out through minute crevices and dimming. There was never enough to allow her to navigate a path for herself. She had too many people counting on her to lead them up toward the sky. Her light would shine for them, but when they made their way to wherever they wanted or needed to go, the illumination would always diminish for her, leaving her alone once more, swaddled in her own despair and lonliness. At times she would catch a glimpse of a distant star perhaps showing her a path to follow, but she was too afraid and too devoid of hope. She worried that if she emerged from her cave she would be leaving behind her lost loved one and somehow that felt wrong.
One day when she wasn’t expecting it, she met someone and dared to permit the crevices to be exposed and to begin to expand. At first she covered her eyes and was fearful because she was so unused to the brightness and to the emerging feelings she had buried within. She made up her mind to face them and to begin the work she needed to do to have a future, though she didn’t yet quite know what that work was. Gradually it seemed that the sky began to descend till it was almost on top of her and she could actually touch it again. She was surprised that she was no longer afraid. Yet she was not fully aware of the journey upon which she had embarked, partly through her own choices and partly through the workings of destiny. It seemed to take on a momentum of its own.
Slowly the corners of her soul smiled and the light filled them. One unidentifyable moment arrived and she was able to find a familiar but forgotten place in her heart. She knew then that it was ok to love again and that she would. Her heart opened and expanded, making room for the new, but keeping the old safe and strong within her. To this day, the light continues to fill her, even when she has difficult moments and allows the dark shadows to visit her. She knows these moments from the life she used to live will always revisit. They are part of who she is, but she has finally befriended them and can will them to rest peacefully when she must attend to the life she lives today. She knows there is no greater tribute to the one or ones she loved and lost than to go on to make her life meaningful. She has built a safe home for the memories. She can share some of them, but some are hers alone. They are no longer a torment to think about, but a gift to her, whether they bring laughter or tears. The light has brought miracles to her, even before she knew she believed in them.
Each of our relationships is unique and it is not helpful for anyone to assume they really understand what you are going through, as much as they may wish to. There are no rules for losing and grieving. Sometimes you have to make up the script as you go along. Your script may include some things experienced by others, but it will be based on you and that unique relationship with the person or people you have lost. The things most of us were taught about what to do and what not to do don’t work. Often though, we must work at the job of completing our losses because they interfere with our going on to shape a new life. Working at loss completion is pretty alien to our society. Most people automatically assume that just the passage of time will heal us and that after a certain time, people are all right and can just put their losses and pain behind them. It is true that death may end a physical relationship but the spiritual and emotional aspects of that relationship stay with us.
There are also many other types of losses, aside from death that have a major impact on how we live. Every loss, hurt and disappointment engenders feelings within us. Every change we undergo creates responses. People may be encouraged to use short-term fixes to “make their bad feelings go away”. They may be told not to feel bad, to get control of themselves and to move on when they don’t know how to do that. After a time they find that others don’t want to hear about their sadness and their feelings. The difficult feelings get pushed back and tucked away, at least part of the time, causing their owners to retreat more and more into a state of aloneness and sometimes into behaviors that may harm themselves or others around them. I am here to tell you that it is never too soon and it is never too late to address your grief and to move on to a place of resolution and completion. I am here to tell you, as well, that miracles in life do happen if you permit your heart to open, but in order for that to occur you have to do the work of completing your grief first. When you are heartbroken, your heart needs to be fixed just as much as a broken bone in your body would need attention.
If you are someone who feels alone and in a dark place because you have lost your spouse or a significant other, or have experienced another type of painful loss in your life, I would like to help you. Your loss may have occurred in the past or more recently but if you are having a hard time functioning, it is probably time to take action.
Iris Arenson-Fuller is a Certified Professional Coach specializing in Life Stage, Family and Relationship Changes. She has a great deal of experience with loss and bereavement of all types, including loss due to death and adoption-related loss issues.