Life begins at the point of new friendship. All the rest is of yesterday, buried, unimportant to the now and tomorrow. – Robert E. Kavenaugh
The grief steps overlap and sometimes I have felt like I was going two steps forward and three steps back. Still, I was always headed in the right direction and slowly, but surely I have reached reestablishment.
I have finally reintegrated my life. I now feel free to enjoy living as a single person without having to give up all my wonderful memories of John. I can laugh at his zany jokes and share amusing stories about him with friends and family. Death took John but death did not take everyone’s happy memories of John.
John has now moved into the past along with Grandmother, my parents, and all the friends and relatives, who have gone before. He is part of my history rather than part of my present life now.
John died on St. Patrick’s Day, 2015. I’m a writer. That is what I do. I tried to write for the local paper but I got rejected. I guess I still didn’t sound healthy enough yet. My first humorous column appeared in Alberta Street news August 2015. It was not new work. I’d gone through my idea folder.
Soon I was writing new work. I could only manage short humour so I wrote lists of funny ideas and they caught on. I am not a street person but many of them are suffering from unfinished grief or post traumatic stress, which is similar, so I fit in.
Because I wrote for Alberta Street News, I qualified to go to the Global Street Paper summit in Athens, Greece in June. I knew I would probably be the oldest and least qualified writer there, but I would be with writers, who are very special. I would be safe.
Getting ready for the summit was wonderful. This is a small town and everyone shared my enthusiasm. When I applied for medical insurance, the young man said, “Enjoy your symposium.”
When I got my picture taken for that photo ID that people wear dangling from their necks, the girl was very careful to make it flattering and to be sure my glasses showed no reflections.
When I went to the bank for Euros, everyone wanted to hear all about my trip. The teller said it would take two weeks to get Euros, then she phoned to say 180 Euros had just come in.
I know it will be difficult travelling alone. John always planned everything in detail as Type A people do. All I did was enjoy the trip. He even carried my passport and handed the two over together. He also carried my tickets as well as his own. I had my doubts at first but then I had that dream where I was happy with my coming trip and a voice whispered, “Yes!” approvingly. At this point I can almost hear John saying, “You’re doing good all by yourself.”
Still emerging from grief was a scary new start. At first I feared losing all the people who have supported me this past year. I wasn’t sure I was ready to stand on my own two feet without their help. Then I found that the people who supported me are very happy for me and remain my friends. They were simply trying to help me reach this point.
I will be walking down the street and a neighbour I barely know will say, “You are looking good.” Or “You are looking happy.” My recovery has been as public as John’s death. The people who saw the ambulance and police that day followed by black clad visitors and me moping about all winter seem happy to see me laughing again.
I hadn’t realized how much people worried about me when I secluded myself writing all winter. I am an introvert so I recharge alone but we introverts don’t wear labels. They thought I might be depressed and we writers never talk about a work in progress because that might jinx it. “If you talk about it, you won’t write it.” I have always said. I turned down invitations to play cards or bingo and read and wrote to heal myself. I was almost a year before I could finally tell people, “I have a book in its final draft and I have been writing a column since August so I’ll be going to a writers’ convention is Greece in June. Then everyone stopped worrying about me.
The two things that made me realize I was back among the living were small incidents. A man asked me for money for coffee and I thought, he wouldn’t have asked me if I didn’t look normal. Soon after a lady told me I should call a widow who seemed depressed. It was a landmark occasion, realizing I am now the caller not the one being called. I found myself thinking, “She wouldn’t even have suggested I call if I didn’t look normal.”
I have made 14 new friends since John died. Most are single, divorced or widowed. I find I no longer fit in with most couples. Married friends say, “We must get together sometime.” But sometime never comes. I understand. John used to be uncomfortable around widows, too. Once we were in B.C. and saw three old women and one old man walking together. John said, “Next year there will be three women and no man.”
It is a strange thought but people, who meet me now, never knew John and simply see me as a widow living alone.
At this point, preparing for the trip has just about become a community event. Even Fate took a hand. The flower shop down the street where I got John’s lovely roses closed and was replaced by a consignment story with beautiful, gently use clothes. After a year in drab mourning colors, I was really enjoying buying bright, new, feminize clothes. I got narrow black rayon dress pants and three tops to go with them, one Suzy Shire and two Warehouse. Then I got a Suzy Shire dress and a Guess purse. I had to go to the city for my luggage. I ended dup getting a four piece Travel World set for 75% off in hot pink. Sure, I know it is an impractical colour and will show every stain, but I am celebrating being alive and it simply shrieks, “Wow! I am a happy traveller!”
It is my goal to travel so much I will wear out that hot pink luggage. I won’t be travelling alone either. John’s picture will go with me to Athens and on all future trips.
Once again, I must say, “Good-bye John. I’ll always love you but I must walk on alone. I’m sorry but I must. God be with you and rest in peace until we meet again.”
Yes, I am Re-established
By Joanne Benger
- I write with post-mourning zest.
- I wear colours. I even wear red again.
- I laugh with family and friends.
- I sleep through the night.
- I am considered healthy.
- My weight is normal.
- I walk daily, sometimes with friends.
- I visit the cemetery every week.
- I planted a garden and maintain it.
- I pay my bills on time.
- I get a lot of personal mail.
- I phone friends and friends phone me.
- I keep my house and yard tidy.
- I changed the battery on the smoke detector.
- I’ve learned how to use the TV remote.
- I painted the steps.
- I enjoy going to garage sales.
- I like giving presents and helping people.
- I give to charities and bottle drives.
- I take part in town hall meetings.
- I vote and pay my taxes.
- I fixed a blown fuse.
- I’ve learned how to use my new digital camera.
- I changed the ink cartridge in my printer.
- I have taken up the art of zentangling.
- I plan to learn how to write in calligraphy this coming winter.
- I’m going on a bus trip to west Edmonton Mall with friends.
- My motto is, “Have suitcases, will travel.”
I read many books but ended up using one to guide me through the seven stages of grief:
Facing Death by Robert E. Kavenaugh, 1974, Penguin Books inc. Baltimore, Maryland 21207, U.S.A. It was first published in 1972 by Nash publishing Co. Los Angeles, California. Thank you Father Kavenaugh, for writing this book.
I wish to thank Alberta Street News and everyone there – editor Linda Dumont, my fellow writers, the vendor and readers.
A heart-felt thanks to all the wonderful Anonymous writers of in Memoriams and thanks to my fellow bereaved who shared them. I hope you, too, shall find comfort.
Thank you to all the friends, neighbours, relatives, businesses and strangers who helped me navigate though grief. I will never be able to repay you all but I promise to pay it forward.
To this end, I have bought a box of sympathy cards and revived a comfort food casserole from the sixties.
4 ounces noodles
7 ounce can of tuna
10 ounce tin of cream of mushroom soup
½ cup milk
1 cup crushed potato chips
Cook and drain the noodles. Combine with flaked tuna, soup and milk. Pour into a greased baking dish and top with crushed potato chips. Bake at 350 F. for 20 minutes.
Do not eat. Let cool. Wrap attractively and give to one new widow. With a card, a casserole and this book, I hope new widows will feel less alone.