Chapter Five

Life isn’t worth living if there is no one to cry for you when you die. – Ukrainian saying

5. Emotions, Emotions

For me the two stages of overlapped so I am not sure if or when I went from disorganized to being out of control emotionally.

My physical life was finally organized. I had completed most of my paper work. I had the mandatory two pieces of photo ID and a healthy credit identity. I had stopped burning pots and losing keys and I knew I wasn’t haunted. Once more I would get up before 8 a.m. even if I didn’t set the alarm. I even slept the entire night sometimes.

The problem was my feelings were out of control. I tried hard not to have outbursts but sometimes I burst into tears or laughed hysterically without warning. At times I wondered if I was becoming mentally ill. I hadn’t read the seven steps of grief yet so I didn’t know that this was perfectly normal and healthy.

I never attended the grandson’s wedding. John and I had been looking forward to it, and were eager to go for he was marrying a nice girl. But I couldn’t trust myself. I might be the spectre at the feast, laughing or crying at inappropriate times and upsetting everyone.

A friend of mine, a retired nurse, told me she didn’t attend her son’s wedding either, because her emotions were still totally out of control. We loved them and wanted the best for them but the best was not our presence at their weddings at this time.

I believe my pent up emotions were finally coming out. I had done everything I had to do and finally I had time for myself.

I couldn’t cry at the funeral because John was English and they believe in the stiff upper lip. I remember when Princess Diana died, many Americans were upset with the Queen because she showed so little emotion. I also remember seeing the funeral for Princess Diana’s father, the Earl, on TV and Diana’s mother, the widow, had this huge macabre smile throughout the funeral. She said something like, “I will not be daunted by death.”

This is the British way. They control their feelings in public and discourage tears at funerals. If tears fall upon the deceased, the mourner’s distress will cause great problems for the departed one’s soul journey to heaven. It is considered wrong to cry at any stage of the funeral and especially bad to cry at the cemetery. The British also believe that the happier the atmosphere is at the wake and all related family get-togethers, the better it is for the future of both the living and the dead.

I tried to do John proud throughout the funeral. By nature I am very emotional but I controlled my feelings. I smiled instead.

It was hard. I grew up with stories of widows who threw themselves into the grave after their husband’s coffin was lowered. They had to be pulled out, wailing like banshees. That is what I felt like doing but I stuffed my feelings down and tried to comfort others.

The squashed down feelings finally came to the fore. I cried at anything or nothing, a favourite TV program of John’s, seeing my name on a credit card that had been his, noticing a man wearing a shirt like he owned, a song with memories, a person who had a British accent like his, a joke he would have liked, my passport application with me listed as widow, letters coming addressed to the “Estate of John Benger”, his unused soap and toothbrush, his favourite foods on special, his magazine in the mail or the list of bills he was planning to pay the week he died. You name it, it set me crying.

I would also laugh at things that were not funny. I was neither polite nor politically correct with my hysterical laughter.

Later when I was talking about my emotional swings a widow explained it. She said, “Tears relieve the tension within and hysterical laughter gives relief from sorrow.”

Other widows have told me they expressed extreme anger at this stage. Some were angry at doctors, who let their husbands suffer and die, others were furious at funeral homes, who gouged them.

I felt no anger at John’s doctor. John had chosen a young doctor, who felt as he did about life and death. John wanted to live a full life as long as he could and then die quietly at home. He had a terror of ending up on life support with tubes running in and tubes running out. John got his wish. He died peacefully at home even if it was a bit sooner than we would have liked. We had the right doctor for him.

The funeral home was very considerate. They were constantly suggesting cheaper options as they helped us have a personalized funeral for John. We had the right funeral home.

Some widows are angry at the way people acted at the funeral. One was very upset because a lady turned up at the funeral wearing a red coat and red shoes and red shows a lack of respect. As I see it Mrs. Red Coat probably wore a red coat because it was cold and that was all the coat she owned. It was a question of not attending or attending in the red coat. But here is no logic to emotions.

Most people wore black to John’s funeral and if any wore colors, I didn’t notice. I only noticed their kindness.

Two things angered me, I admit. The first was good, well-meaning people who expressed sympathy in thoughtless bumper sticker terms. A good, kind friend said, “John is in a better place.”

I wanted to shake her and say, “What do you mean, a better place? John was happy here. He was enjoying life. He had everything to live for.”

Fortunately I controlled myself, smiled and thanked her for her sentiments. I told another friend how I felt and she said, “If she is lucky she’ll go to that better place soon.” And I laughed hysterically as she let me vent my anger safely. I still have both friends.

Oddly, when I told this story to another widow, she said “I was very comforted that my husband was in a better place with no pain or suffering. ‘ He had had a long and lingering death.

The second thing that angered me was people who had the misguided belief that all widows have to stay busy to prevent depression. I had to tell some people not to phone and I left some letters unread. I made lots of excuses when people wanted me to go out. I wanted to scream, “Leave me alone. Let me be me.” I believe this is true for extroverts who recharge by being with people.

I am an introvert so I recharge by being alone. Social events drain me. I recharged alone keeping a journal, reading and writing. I realized John and I had been so happy because we were two introverts sharing solitude. I found I could escape from grief by being in the flow and writing. Mind you, it wasn’t good writing. I was simply venting my feelings.

Briefly I even felt mad at God. I saw a fat, out of shape man smoking and found myself wondering, “Why did you take my healthy, fit, husband and not him?” It didn’t’ seem fair. Then I thought, “Oh, that poor man can’t be happy.” And prayed for him. When anger turns to pity or understanding, anger vanishes.

Eventually my emotions settled as emotions will. I could once again trust myself and my emotional reactions in public. I also realized that at some point the broken record had stopped playing and replaying in my mind. I was once again a free thinker living for the moment.