An interesting photo showed up in my memories today. This is a photograph of the ’64 Falcon that my late husband owned. He also died in this vehicle. He was in the process of painting it and asked me to take some photos of it. This Fall, it will be eleven years since that day when everything changed forever. You would think that I would have some deep sense of emotion when I see this photo and others like it. The curious thing is that I don’t. Not even a little. If I were compelled to come up with one emotion that I could possibly tie to this, it would be pity.
To this day, when I tell people I’m a widow, most people will usually respond with, “I’m sorry to hear that” or, “I’m so sorry”. It is a kindness that most people show. When it first happened, I was quite on the younger side of the age people would consider a “normal” age for a widow. Many questions like, “Oh, was it cancer?” or some other assumption would come up in those awkward conversations.
For the most part, I spared people the, “Oh no, he was a violent, abusive alcoholic who was drunk and slammed into a pole at 100 mph. I found out later the medical examiner found a .24 blood alcohol level a day AFTER his death.” I may sound like an angry, vindictive widow, but truly I’m not. I do believe that it happened because of his reckless behavior. To be honest, most days I’m eternally grateful that no one else was in the vehicle with him, or that he didn’t harm anyone else that day.
For a long time after his death, I proceeded through quite an odd grieving process. I did and didn’t have a lot of support around me. I had the comfort of food being brought and delivered, people ensuring that the kids had a nice holiday since he died right before the start of the winter holidays, my sidewalk was shoveled and the like. However, there really wasn’t a lot of emotional support. I actually asked a friend of mine at the time if I grieved like I was “supposed to”. They gently reminded me of the anguished cries that came from me, the sounds of despair and horror that only someone who has experienced traumatic loss could bring forth. I had also just lost my mother, and my father was dying of cancer and would be gone just six months later.
Finally, at the urging of a few people I allowed into my orbit, I started seeing a therapist, specifically, a grief counselor. They immediately recognized the psychological nightmare I was, and I was given my PTSD diagnosis, amongst other issues. The PTSD wasn’t just from the catastrophic losses I was going through, but years of trauma from abuse, going all the way back to my childhood. No, I wasn’t a battered child, but there were other ways to abuse someone that I hadn’t come to terms with. In some ways, I still haven’t. However, coming to terms with the conflict of being relieved that your spouse is no longer here to smack you, hit you, berate you and other daily forms of abuse that I’d endured for the better part of fifteen years, is a LOT to process.
As time wore on, I would start to heal, tiny fragments at a time. I thought I “needed” to be in a relationship and I made extremely poor choices a few times (and am still making them) and wasted a lot of my precious time involved in trying to make things work. I think my ability to recognize a quality relationship was broken. After what I’ve been through lately, as the victim of a conman, thief and liar, I think that ability is still quite broken! However, each time I seem to emerge stronger and wiser (even if the gains in strength and wisdom are negligible!). My current conflict is the decision to remain on my own and not seek the company of what I am finding are individuals just as damaged as me, albeit in different ways, but nonetheless damaged, or to continue to look for the proverbial needle in a haystack. It is a conflict, one I will likely wrestle with for some time to come.
There are times when I contemplate returning to therapy. I am proud of the fact that I was able to wean myself off my anxiety medication, but then I wonder if that was the best decision. I know that therapy is good for me, and contributes to better overall health. So, I continue to consider it. I also consider revisiting the memoir I wrote many years ago, but I truly am not sure I can finish it without it being an angry, bitter story steeped in the hatred I feel for what I went through. The story was always something I wanted to stand as a testament to what I went through, but also something hopeful. Maybe the story will just remain something cathartic that I needed to type out and get out of my system.
In any event, while that meme up there says in part, “it will not last forever”, don’t be so sure of that. Yes, the grief softens, it lessens, it fades, but it does last. It may not be pervasive and woven into the thread of each day’s events, but don’t ever think that it’s not there.