Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

How long does grieving take? Of course, there is no single, simple, or obvious answer to that question. Does it take a lifetime? Probably not, at least in its most intense form. Can it be done in 6 months? A year? Two years? Maybe. Maybe it just gets easier but never really quite ends. I don’t know yet. And a word of caution: It’s so easy to consider my own experience, and extrapolate that to the universe. Grieving has its commonalities among people, but it is probably better known for its way of being unique to each person. It would be as wrong to say that my experience should be everyone’s, as it would be to say that no one can learn from another’s experience.
My husband died in the early morning hours of July 1, 2012. He died peacefully, and I was at his side, blessed to share his last hours and commend his soul to God. Tom had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer the day after Christmas, 2003. He achieved an 8-year remission by undergoing intense radiation therapy and quitting cigarettes. And during those 8 years, he lived life his way; we lived our lives together the way we wanted to live them. In the fall of 2011, it became apparent that the cancer had begun to grow again, and during a two-week hospitalization over Christmas and New Year’s that winter, we learned that it had spread so that his prognosis was measured in months. Further treatment might have bought an extra month or so; he decided in favor of quality of life, and so he lived those last six months as he had the previous 8 years: his way. I counted it as a privilege to be with him during those months.
I met Tom in 1992, about 10 weeks after his wife had died of lung cancer. He was not done grieving yet, but he was ready to have someone in his life. From the day we met, we were together — until the day he died. My own experience is quite different; if I have learned anything in 18 months, it is that I am not ready to have a new partner in my life.
I wrote, on December 31, 2012 — six months after Tom died:

Things happened in 2012 that I would not care to go through again…and yet I would not trade a minute, not a second, of those experiences nor would I have wanted to miss them. They are part of who I am now, and I am different from how I thought I would be at this time in my life.

I retired from work at the beginning of the year, knowing that my husband’s prognosis was limited, and I participated so fully in his decision to ignore that fact that at times I almost believed in a future that my intellect knew was not going to happen. Tom never really owned up to the fact that he was dying; once he assured himself that I was going to be ok, the subject was closed. It is a great challenge to provide end-of-life care in those circumstances. Certainly, our plans for my retirement began to take a different form.

I really thought that my retirement would matter more…to other people as well as to me. What I find interesting is that it doesn’t even matter that it didn’t end up mattering all that much. I have not once missed working, and (as I planned and fervently hoped), the ranks closed behind me and life did not change all that much. That is as it should be, and there are no regrets at all. I understand much better that saying that no one goes to their grave wishing they had spent more time at work.

Life sped past at a rapid pace, leaving little time to reflect. While I would never wish Tom a life of prolonged pain, I could only reflect, after it was all done, on how little time I really had to get it right…to care for him and ease his transition. Before I felt I really had the chance to get things right, I was already saying goodby, and then missing him. And that mattered. It still matters.

It is truly a revealing experience to look back on the year and think about what mattered. My road trip and visits with family mattered, and continue to matter. My return to my Catholic roots matters. My relationship with my daughters and grandchildren and great-grandson matter. My friends and volunteer work matter. My grief, in its own way, continues to matter, because it is made of who I am at the same time that it is changing me.

Because of the things that happened in this year, I am changed forever, and what matters to me has changed too. I like to think that I did the best job I could with what 2012 handed me, although much of it still brings tears when I think and remember. I think, too, that I am ready for whatever 2013 is going to bring. Tom told me how proud of me he was. His wish, on one of the rare occasions we talked about this, was that I would go on and live “my” life. Admittedly, that takes me in different directions than our life together took us. I am not always sure of my steps…two weeks ago I had myself talked into selling this house and moving to Lansing, and now I can’t quiet fathom why I wanted to do that! A friend of mine who also lost his spouse this past summer said that he had wrapped his life up in her, and that was how he wanted it…and now it is hard to see the future. My brother, who also lost his wife this past summer, says much the same. And I see and understand that…my life for those 20+ years was totally wrapped up in Tom, and that is what I chose and wanted. It mattered! And for all three of us, 2013 will be the time that we begin to see the future that each of our loves want for us. As painful as it is that this future does not include their physical selves, the lives we wrapped around them would be in vain if we do not begin to see and embrace and build the future that is ahead of us.

As I close out a year in which both terrible and wonderful things happened, a year in which I learned how some things matter quite differently from what I thought, and a year in which I learned something about how tough I am (and am not), I have learned some things: the grief process cannot be rushed or even set to a timetable; pain will insist on being fully experienced and will have its way; people will surprise you with their ability and willingness to love you through it; and even though sometimes you are entirely too close to your emotions and at others may feel quite separated from them, the fact is you can and will survive.

Here’s to 2012 for the moments I would not trade, no matter how painful they were. And here’s to 2013 for the new opportunities and fresh experiences it will bring. I look forward to watching one great grandson grow, and to welcoming a new great grandson in just a few weeks! God is good.

And now, another year has passed. My new great-grandson arrived on schedule in February, 2013. Now I have two beautiful little boys who know me and who I love with all my heart; yet it is someone else’s job to raise them.

I tried dating for a few months and found that it wasn’t as much for me as I had thought it would be.

And I found, as anniversaries rolled around, that they were easier than I thought they might be. The anniversary of his death; his birthday; our wedding anniversary — all passed without great pain. The pain came with remembering the day — Father’s Day, 2012 — when it became clear in an awful way that the end was beginning; the pain came with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, when I found myself missing him even more than the year before. And I survived it. Again. Not always gracefully; Father’s Day found me indulging in far too many glasses of wine as I tried to avoid or kill the pain. And I found myself retreating from the world over the holidays. I spent Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day with family, but was glad to return to my solitude at day’s end.

I made some big decisions in 2013, and in doing so found that I was still a little rocky when it came to trusting my own judgment. Back in 1993, just before we married, Tom had bought this cottage in northeast Michigan, and we thought it would be our retirement home. At a point in his illness, we determined we couldn’t do it justice, and he turned it over to his sons. This past June, they decided they were ready to sell it, and when they asked if I was interested, I couldn’t wait to get the deal closed. By the end of June, it was mine. Funny, I never doubted this decision for a moment! When I got up here, finally, near the end of July, it was like coming home. I had forgotten how much I — we — loved this place.

When I was here, I didn’t want to go home. I would sit here and decide to make it permanent; then I’d head back to my other house and change my mind. Each time I was up north, though, the pull got stronger. Even when I had to have a new septic tank and drainfield put in, and even when I had the replace the furnace, the pull got stronger. And finally, in November, I made my decision. This place — Sparky’s Place — is now home, and I am in the process of getting the house downstate sold, and moving all my remaining possessions up here.

What finally tipped the scales? The simplicity of it all. The peace and contentment I feel when I am here. The need to change as a means of recovering from grief. I realized, as I moved between the two houses, that it wasn’t so much the house downstate that held me back; it was the comfort of being among things I have there. And those can come with me.

And so, 18 months after Tom’s passing, I am here in the place we used to enjoy together. This is home now.

And as I did a year ago, I say: Here’s to 2013 for what it taught me about not drinking too much wine, about trusting my heart, and about remembering even when it hurts to do so. And here’s to 2014 for new adventures, new experiences, new friends, and some quality-time visits with family both here and where they live.

I am loving life and living “my” life, just as Tom wished — and doing it “my way.” He’s proud of me, and it’s ok that that is still important to me.

Comments on: "Reflections On a Year, Lived…And Then Another" (2)

  1. Krista Besley said:

    Beautiful Abbie…I wish you the peace,
    happiness and contentment you deserve!


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