Thursday, December 23, 2010

Clothes To You

With the today's launch of Cry, Laugh, Heal, I’ll start by sharing an unexpected moment that helped me cope with my husband’s death.

Grieving can take you down some unpredictable paths -- sometimes revealing humor where you least expect it.

I learned the importance of having a sense of humor early in life while growing up in a large Irish Catholic family.  If you couldn’t laugh at yourself, then someone else would imitate you until you did.  So laughing and making jokes about life’s bumps in the road was part of my DNA, an integral part of my spirit, and it served me well until my husband died.

Suddenly, I found myself in this new role of being a middle-aged widow and single mother and I felt as though I was outside of myself performing some sort of high-wire act.  On the one hand I was trying to move forward and support my young son, while on the other hand I was completely numb.  As much as my family and friends supported me, I felt as if no one really got my “spin cycle” of emotions and what I was trying to handle. 

I decided I needed to find others who had also lost loved ones and talk to them about how they managed to put the pieces back together and go on with their lives.  I started going to group support sessions at Sibley Hospital’s bereavement group called Widowed Persons Outreach (WPO) and it was there that I found the emotional resources and freedom to talk about ALL the issues surrounding my husband’s death -- even the things that sound really irreverent and crazy to other people.

Talking about the emptiness, the surreal feelings, the memories and the loss of future memories was exhausting but therapeutic.  But the best thing that came out of these emotional dialogues was that I unexpectedly rediscovered my sense of humor. 

We were talking about what happens when you have buried your loved one yet their belongings – their clothes, their food, their books, most of what they owned – is still all around you.  I jumped into the discussion and began talking about what happened to me one day when I was in the house all by myself.  That particular day, I really felt like I was falling apart and all I wanted was some kind of contact with my husband.

 I opened my cell phone, walked around the room and stared at it, thinking there actually was the possibility that something might happen -- a ring, a text, a signal of some sort from my husband.  I know it sounds strange but when you are in the throes of deep grief and your loss is so raw, you are just hurting and not being logical. 

I closed my eyes and imagined that he was hugging me.  Then I opened the hall closet and took one of his tweed jackets off the hanger.  I put it on and of course I immediately felt better. I smelled him in that precious jacket and I imagined his arms around me.  I was comforted and torn up at the same time.

As I talked about this experience to my group, I talked directly to the husky man sitting across from me and said, “Trying on his clothes really made me feel a lot better.  Haven’t you ever done the same thing?”

Without missing a beat, he said with a completely straight face, “I gotta tell you.   I have never, ever once thought about wearing my wife’s clothes.  Wearing her pink cardigan would not make me feel better!”

I totally burst out laughing.  Something about the serious expression on his face, his delivery and the mental picture of this big guy in a small pastel sweater made me laugh so hard I couldn’t get my breath.  And everyone else started laughing too so I knew that we had hit on something close to people’s hearts.

It was then that I knew life was going to be a little softer.  Nothing was going to be great or wonderful; just slightly more bearable.  For a long time, I didn’t think it was okay to laugh.  I wasn’t supposed to be enjoying myself and besides, nothing was funny to me anyway.

There is a very thin line between crying and laughing.  Many times you find yourself doing one of them and all of a sudden you are doing the other.  But a good cry or a good laugh can make you feel as if a huge weight has been lifted and that’s what this blog is here to do.