Sometimes change comes to us whether we want it or not. – Marge Cook
Relief is a tough one. It almost sounds sinful to be relieved that one’s beloved husband is dead.
The first five stages of grief were understandable and reflect our love for the dear, departed one. The sixth stage is relief. I am not sure I understand it completely but here goes.
Up until now I have been wallowing in grief and let’s face it, grieving is a form of self-pity. In many ways I have been saying, “No one has ever experienced a greater loss. See how sad I am. John was the best husband in the whole world and I loved him more than any wife has ever loved her husband before and now he is dead.”
I have expressed my feelings freely. Feelings are safe. Grieving is safe. People are naturally kind and supportive when you are grieving. No one expects anything of you. Now, to move on, I have to get past that safe stage and be able to say, “I am relieved that I no longer have a husband because…..” Just the thought of being relieved that John is dead fills me with guilt and shame. I should be ashamed of myself for being relieved that he is dead. I should feel guilty for feeling relieved that this poor blameless man is dead. Notice how the word is relieved, not glad, but how can you be relieved and not feel glad? Oh, dear. I should really be ashamed of myself for being glad that John is dead. How can I possibly be glad that a good, wonderful person is dead?
I don’t want to be an unfinished griever who can’t let go, but letting go is the hardest part of all.
Those who have a long, lingering illness and slowly watched the decline of their loved one will obviously feel relieved to see him at peace and no longer suffering.
I, on the other hand, don’t feel relieved as much as I feel cheated. As Ponsot said, “We all die young.” We still had so much left to do and now he is gone and I can’t do it alone. John died in the middle of our carefree retirement. There was so much more to do, but without warning time ran out. It simply isn’t fair.
I think a better term would be release. I have been released from my role as John’s wife. Marriage is only “until death do us part” so my contract has run out and I am, in fact, single again with no one to answer to but myself.
I am like a person who had been laid off in spite of being an excellent employee because of a wild fire or flood in which the company was destroyed so there is no longer a job.
The unemployed person will obviously feel cheated by fate just as I do. We both lost our security, our future plans, and our identity through no fault of our own.
Now I must somehow try to do what that unemployed person is doing. I have to somehow shift John and my life with him from on-going present to the past. That wonderful life is over and will never return.
Then I must re-evaluate myself as a single person and figure out what I have to offer the world. I am, in effect, preparing my resume.
The unemployed worker knows she will never again have the same job with the same company, which no longer exists, but she has been released from that job so she must search for another. If she is lucky, she will get an even better job with more opportunities to advance. Then, and only then, will she realize that her job loss set miracles in motion.
I, too, have been relieved of my job as John’s wife. I must search for a new role. I am free to follow a new life-style and use my talents in new ways. This is not being disloyal to John. Relief doesn’t mean I’m relieved John is gone. It means I am now released to do my own thing without having to consider him or his needs. I must recapture the joy of the past. I don’t think it died with John.
Because I loved John and loved being with him so much, I didn’t write much. I became a columnist (A Farm Wife’s Almanac for 19 years – it went book length and sold out), and I wrote short articles and poems because I could do them in odd moments without cutting into our time together. I guess some thought I gave up a promising career for love, but I made the right choice for me. I put love ahead of career and had what few writers have – a happy marriage. Friends, who have had to work as English teachers or write for money have envied me because I had the freedom to write purely for pleasure.
Now I am released and have nothing to do but write. This is my first book A.J. (After John). If I am lucky, hope and fantasy will become reality and I will have a late-life writing career.
The second area where I can release myself is clothes. We had a cloned marriage and for the most apart I dressed like a smaller version of John. As John’s wife, I have primarily lived in jeans, first as a farm wife and then as a biker babe. Most of my clothes were men’s small or boy’s large if they aren’t ladies work wear.
I loved John and I loved being a farm wife and biker babe with him but I can’t be there alone and I don’t want to marry another farmer or motorcyclist. That part of my life is gone forever. My clothes should reflect who I am and what I am in the present as my life goes forward. Before I was married, I enjoyed fancy clothes and high heels and one is never too old for pretty clothes.
I am widow. See me glow.
I’ll still spend 95% of my time in my P.D. (pre-death) wardrobe. These comfortable, well made clothes are still perfect for walking, housework and yard work. Revising my wardrobe will be simple because everyone wears jeans everywhere now, and my jeans are good quality denims. I only have to change my style above the waist. I have packed away my motorcycle leathers and t-shirts with motorcycle designs, however I will still wear my plain t-shirts. A friend, who is an active writer, told me the uniform for writers these days is blue jeans worn with a blazer. I have bought a gorgeous retro-style blazer that makes my heart sing.
I never realized relief was a stage of grieving so I never looked for signs of it. Now I realize that often this stage is so subtle we miss it. Relief takes many forms, because no two of us are alike. I met a widow who got a white carpet. She said, “The children are grown and Bill’s gone so I can finally have a white carpet.”
Another widow, who left the church when she got married, quietly rejoined the church without explanation.
I’ve met widows who now enjoy bridge nights or bingo with the girls, activities they weren’t involved in when married.
A change of hair style is often the first sign of relief. Many wives kept their hair short or long to please their husbands.
One widow started going on bus tours. Her husband wouldn’t go so she couldn’t go before.
I know others have gotten through it, but for me, this is the hardest and most painful stage of all. I cried gallons of tears and probably shall in the future just thinking about it.
I don’t have to give John up completely. I can put all my happy memories of him into a treasure chest so I can revisit them any time I want, but I must carry on and live without him.
At first I couldn’t help thinking, “Forgive me, John, I am moving on without you and going places we never would have gone together.” It felt like total betrayal.
Then, once again, an In Memoriam verse appeared when I needed it most.
Miss me, but let me go
When I come to the end of the road
As the sun had set for me
I want no tears or gloom-filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little – but not too long
And not with your head bowed low.
Miss me, but let me go.
It reminded me of a story I once heard of a little girl, who had died, but couldn’t enter heaven because her mother’s grief was holding her back. Her mother had to figure out how to release her so the little girl could be happy in heaven.
I’d hate to think my sorrow was holding John back. I know I have to let him go.
I know John would be happy to see me carrying on without him as I search for meaning in my life. He wouldn’t want me to sit around and cry forever more. He released me.
At this point release turned to relief. I stopped fighting the reality of John’s death. It was not my fault and nothing – not all the king’s men and all the king’s horses – could bring him back again.
My mantra was the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”