Pathfinder: A Companion Guide for the Widow(er)’s Journey
People say well meaning things to console us after the loss of a spouse. Very often, they say the wrong thing; though I am not sure there is a right thing to say. I am usually able to muster up a, “Thank you for caring. Your concern means a lot to me.” But there is one thing that really bugs me, and makes me simmer inside. I have come to dislike the phrase, “move on”. To me, it implies that I should forget about my 37 years of marriage, and start life over. First of all, it would be impossible; secondly, I want to remember as much as I can of those years. Instead of moving on, I’d like to build on what I had. Since this is January, let’s use a snowball metaphor. We can keep the good of what we had, and add more experiences to it. And, we can roll the parts that were negative, covering them in the nice clean white snow of forgiveness and peace, and learn from what went wrong.
January is a time to welcome in a new year. A small snowball represents our past. We can choose how much more snow to pile on, and how to fashion our snowman. The first of the year is a natural time to assess where we are, and to develop a vision for our future. For many of us, this might be the first time in our lives that we are free to set our goals without consideration for anyone else. I know that we don’t live in a vacuum, and we certainly need to consider the people who are dependent on us, especially children. But for the most part, we have the freedom to set our future course.
Freedom can be daunting to anyone, but especially for us. We have spent our adult lifetimes compromising every aspect of our lives in order to make our marriages work. Some of these compromises were made quite willingly, and they enhanced our life. Others were made to keep the peace in our homes, and kept us from developing to our full potential. Either way, the habit of compromise discouraged us from wondering about what life could be like if we could do anything that we wanted to do. So this very simple question of what we’d like to see happen in the coming year is enough to stop me in my tracks. I can easily carry on as I always have. It’s safe, comfortable, and predictable. This can even include living in the past, keeping the house and its traditions intact. There is nothing wrong with that, if it brings comfort and joy. But we may find that we fatigue of grief and reliving the past. We may find that our brains start to wonder what other choices we have. When we find ourselves developing some other ideas to try, we have permission to explore those ideas, too. In fact, it’s more than just permission. It’s encouragement. If we think of our future as building on our past, then the foundation of our married years stays solidly with us. What we learned then gives us confidence and competence to step up to the next level. It is not disloyal or disrespectful, or any of those other guilt-inducing labels, to continue to grow and to be happy.
Pathfinder: A Companion Guide for the Widow/er’s Journey has some great articles this month to get your creative juices flowing as you consider what 2015 will become for you. Jane Milardo, LFMT, recognizes how difficult it is to cope with “firsts”. Amy Martin, APRN, describes the differences between grief, depression, and SAD. Judy Clinton tells her story of keeping her home by sharing it. Patricia Chaffee tells the story of a widow who rebuilt her life after her husband died in a hiking accident. Rosemary Collins encourages us to eat well while becoming healthier. Lisa Saunders explores history to share the story of Hetty Green, a financial genius who certainly lived beneath her means. Your creativity will be sparked by poetry, Tai Chi, and collage. Toxic relationships with new partners and rewarding relationships with pets are explored. The two books we present this month add some welcome humor with their wisdom. I’m very inspired by the article about affordable adventures throughout snowy New England – maybe I’ll even build a snowperson as a metaphor for “building on”.
I hope that 2015 is a year of “building on” for you!
Dr. Joanne Z. Moore,