My good friend’s husband passed away after 11 years of fighting lymphoma and leukemia. This past year was terrible for both of them as they struggled to be positive and useful and loving. I visited with her one afternoon and I listened as she told me how she will miss his presence, his humor, his wit and his nightly, “Good Night, Beautiful”. She is, of course, glad he is no longer in pain and she has removed the reminders of that pain from the house. We both know the reminders live within her and will fade with time as the good memories take over. A doctor once told me that losing a loved one leaves a hole inside. That hole can be likened to the hole in a doughnut. The hole is there with healing around it.
I opened my memory box to share some of the pain and some of the humor I remember so well from my husband’s dying. My friend was concerned about getting the ashes to another state. I shared the story of picking out the container for my husband’s ashes knowing he would not have selected any that I saw. I finally spotted a cardboard cylinder with yellow tape with the words ‘TEMPORARY CONTAINER’. That’s what I wanted! When I went to pick it up, I was handed a cylinder printed with a rainbow and his name. I cried and said, ‘No! That’s not what I selected. That looks like a Libby’s fruit can!” The manager quickly explained that the tape was under the label. Yes, I took it off.
I learned many things during that time in my life. I learned the importance of listening, of quietly holding a hand, of giving a hug, of sharing myself. I learned the value of not making judgments, of accepting where we are at a given time. I learned that inviting Hospice into my home could save my sanity letting angels take over. I’ve learned to manage the memories and open my heart to a new life and a new love. Yes, it takes time and everyone’s time table is different.
My friends, who were extremely supportive, explained that since I was the first to go through experiencing Hospice, losing my husband and rebuilding my life, they would expect help when it came their turn. That only seems fair.
Perhaps this piece I wrote in 2007 will help someone going through the same experience.
The Grief Box
It’s there – all the time. This multi-sided box, tumbling in my mind, sometimes invisible and sometimes so large there is nothing else. It is sensitive to any temperature with clear panels that change size and color and opacity with an ever-revolving code that I cannot find and cannot control. Pictures appear and trigger memories- some welcomed and some not, some long forgotten and some very sacred-never to be lost that feel like they are slipping away. And yet I know they are captured. But can I find the ones I want when I want them?
After five years of becoming very familiar this multi-sided container of mine, I know that it will never go away. I will continue living as I learn to accept the place it occupies. My box holds fragments of living and dying and it is mine. I cannot give it away. I cannot run far enough to lose it. I learn to look at it, experience it, put it away and know that without warning it will pop-up to surprise me, annoy me, sadden me, and bring me joy. It is now part of me just like my ability to continue to love and greet each day.