Three years ago, I would have used the following words to define “grief:” physical and emotional pain, suffering, anguish, cruelty, punishment, abandonment, loss of self, guilt, misery, and loneliness. I experienced all of these, and I saw no way to survive them or to become whole again. I found the same to be true of my fellow travelers during Men’s Grief Group meetings. A frequent question was, “How can I survive this?”
During my second year of grieving, I began to evolve and to expand my definition of grief to include: forgiveness, cathartic, purifying, therapeutic, honor, and most importantly… love.
- Forgiveness – grieving forced me to confront my own self-doubts and regrets (the could haves, would haves, and should haves) about our marriage and how I conducted myself during her illness, etc.
- Cathartic – the pain of grieving purged me, forcing me to confront and expel those parts of my behavior which were not in line with honoring my wife.
- Purifying – as I progressed in my grief, I found myself becoming much more emotive, empathetic and nurturing towards others.
- Therapeutic – the expression of my grief, whether one-on-one or in groups or in writing, was both curative and restorative, gradually helping me to become more whole again.
- Honor – over time I came to accept that grieving indeed was my way of honoring my wife and all that she meant to me, and my way of remembering her.
- Love – as I regained my psycho-emotional balance again, I realized that the whole grieving process was about expressing my deep abiding love for my wife. Because I suffered so much over her passing, I was acknowledging how much she meant to me and how important she was to my very being.
This revised and expanded understanding of grief has helped me to emerge from this experience as a stronger and better person, a person my wife would have been proud of.
No matter your faith (or non-faith) this time of year is about renewal and rebirth. For Christians, this is a time of remembering and honoring the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For members of the Jewish faith, Passover is a celebration of spring, birth, and rebirth, of a journey from slavery to freedom, and of taking responsibility for yourself, the community, and the world. There are many other celebrations around the world with similar messages.
To me, this sense of renewal and rebirth ties in beautifully with our eventual emergence from grief into a new and better expression of our self. Grief causes us to confront all of our pain and guilt and forces us to build a new foundation upon which we can create a new self. This new self can carry forward all that was good about us in the past, all of the attributes, skills, and values that our wives instilled into us… while also growing new and even stronger attributes, skills and values.
In the end, I hope that I can look back and say, “I would never wish this horrible experience on anyone, but ultimately it has made me a better person. Thank you my dear loving wife for having given me the strength and love I needed to survive it.”