I’m not sure if every widow does this, but I tend to gravitate towards watching any TV show or movie where the main character is a widow. It’s always interesting to me to see how the plot treats widowhood. Is it realistic? Do I identify with the portrayal? Will it give me some wisdom? Will it make me cry?
Last year, I came across “Virgin River” on Netflix. It’s a sort of “Hallmark romance-like” series, but with some added elements of mystery and a little more plot. Mel is a widow moving to a new location, job, and life to get away from all the memories after her husband’s unexpected death. According to my grief therapist, running away from everything is probably not wise. Avoidance may not help, since she’s not processing the grief and all the daily memories and triggers that we all face after losing a husband.
However, this isn’t real life, and it makes for an interesting narrative. I’m catching up on the second season of the show, which doesn’t touch much on the “widowhood angle” any more, but last night’s episode returned to that issue. It was about how she should handle the first anniversary of her husband’s death. That sure awakened some feelings in me – awful memories of a painful time.
Mel was talking to her sister and told her she was doing okay, and was coping just fine. Her sister told her that she may be “on the other side” of grief. And Mel asked, “How do you know when you’re done grieving?” Her sister answered:
You’re done grieving when the memory of him brings peace instead of pain.
Although this is a simplistic answer to the complex issue of grief, it does somewhat describe it. I’m not sure I’ll ever be done grieving, but it is different now than in the beginning: more bittersweet, less painful. Three years later, I may not be “done grieving,” but when the memories are triggered unexpectedly now, they often bring me peace – and sometimes even joy.
More and more when I think of Rick, I smile. And, yes – despite it being years now since he’s been gone – I still do think about him a lot. How can I not? I didn’t move away from our life to a place like Virgin River. I stayed in the home we remodeled together, in the midst of the life we shared. I didn’t change careers. I still work at home in the office that’s right across the hall from his. I still drive to places we went together and – before the pandemic – I ate at all our usual restaurants and diners.
Because I’m still very much present in the location and life I once shared with Rick, even after all this time without him and all the adaptations to single life I’ve made throughout the past few years, it still hits me sometimes that he’s gone. Not as often, but every now and then.
During the work day in my home office, I can’t lean back in my chair and see him sitting in his. I sit alone in the living room where we watched TV together. I’m no longer in the passenger seat of my car. After two decades of chatting while we drove around together running errands, I’m alone in the driver’s seat now. Mealtime is much quieter sitting at the table without him. In fact, I often just skip the formalities of making a nice dinner and eat a quick microwaved meal at a small table in the living room while watching TV.
I’ve redecorated some of the rooms, so I did make the place a little less “ours” and a little more “mine.” But even with new bedroom furniture, I still think of him often as I sleep alone.
So, yes, I still think of Rick a lot. But it IS different now. I still cry now and then when the memories arise, but more often than not, I smile. Sometimes I even chuckle or laugh out loud. Rick and I enjoyed everything about our life together and he was a smart, goofy guy. Part of the charm of living with him was how often he made me laugh with his snide remarks and his silly antics. And, so often now, when I think about something, I hear his typical funny response in my head. And I laugh the way I used to when he was here, even as I sit here alone.
It wasn’t always this way. In fact, it seems this peaceful feeling took a long, long time to get here. Those days of experiencing agony at nearly every thought, each memory, every trigger – those days weren’t so long ago. The pain lasted for a couple of years. I’ve said it before, but it rings true for me. You may grieve at least one year for each decade you were married. Oh sure, in my case, the pain tapered off a bit after all the “firsts” were done – my life was on a more even keel after I survived all those. But for much longer than that first year, it still hurt when memories arose. And it’s nice for that painful part of grieving to be over.
So am I “done” grieving? Difficult to say. Will I ever be? As Mel traipsed through the day that marked the first anniversary of her husband’s death, pretty sure she was handling it and would be okay, she was suddenly overwhelmed with grief when a letter arrived addressed to her late husband. She lost all forward momentum and took to her bed. Realistic? Definitely! Because as I meander through my days now in my new life, mostly unaffected by grief, I still get hit out of the blue by the pain. It’s never anything obvious that will trigger it, either. In fact, it’s often something deceptively simple. A smell, a place, a familiar phrase, a song…something evokes a memory, and suddenly I’m in tears, wondering again how he could possibly be gone. And the grief is so powerful that I’m stunned and overwhelmed by how much it can hurt, especially after being okay for so long.
But all in all, I identify with that nugget of wisdom from the sister in Virgin River – the memories of Rick bring peace instead of pain. And I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for the wonderful memories that I’ll carry with me forever. I’m thankful for the happiness I was privileged to share with him for more than twenty years. I’m fortunate to have known such love at all.
That simple comment on a TV show made me remember that phase of grief where – for a very long time – it was difficult to face the days ahead. And it reminded me of how wonderful it is to be in a place where my memories of Rick bring peace – and often joy – instead of pain.