July 23, 2009

To every season…

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Women at 4:52 am by dinaheng

My friend and I sat and talked about her husband, who had died a few months earlier. Since I wasn’t able to attend the memorial service, she shared the day’s events in detail, needing to tell the story again.


Over the course of the weekend, she’d show me pictures from their past, what she’d done to preserve his memory in the house, and the container of his ashes.


Our lives are the stories we tell, and death is an inescapable tale for everyone. While many of us are uncomfortable around those who are grieving for a loved one, life would have no meaning without death’s existence.dinah-eng-21


“I’m doing okay,” my friend said, sipping a cup of tea. “My sister stayed with me for the first few weeks. Now, she comes over on the weekends and we go out for lunch. I’m learning to be an independent woman again.”


The five stages of grief — denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — may seem definitive, but there’s no telling how long it will take for any of us to go through the process. Those stages, of course, don’t happen in a straight line, either. 


One day, you let out the anger at your loved one’s death, and months later, more anger can come out. The important thing is allowing yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling, and then be willing to let it go.


My dear friend Lynne, who’s now in her 80s, lost her husband many years ago. It took her several years to get through the pain, and part of being friends meant listening to the same stories over and over, until she was ready to move on.


One night, while we were on a short trip to Sedona, I woke up and heard her moaning in her sleep in the bedroom next door. She was having a nightmare about losing her husband. I didn’t want to startle her awake, so I stood outside her door, just calling her name aloud. Her unconscious finally heard me, and calmed whatever was running through her mind.


The next day, she told me she’d slept better than she had in a long while. I never said anything about hearing her cries in the night, but wondered how long it would take before the nightmares no longer plagued her.


Most of us find it easy to extend sympathy right after a death, but all too often, we get impatient if people share their bereavement longer than we’d like. It’s as if we fear that their sadness will somehow seep into the fabric of our souls.


Yet it’s the willingness to hold a space of light and love around another that allows grief to dissipate and healing to occur. 


In January, my friend Alice lost a longtime job. A month later, she lost her mother, whom she’d been taking care of for several years. A woman of strong faith, she shared her pain, yet was determined to move forward with her life.


Four months later, she called me to say she’d met a wonderful man, and they’re dating with an eye toward marriage.


“I felt like I lost everything in my life,” she said. “But now I feel like I’ve been given everything and more.”


Death, after all, is not just an ending. It also signals new beginnings.


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