I doubt if the big lessons in life are ever completed, but there is a point where they can stop – like an essay test when you know you could write more, but you decide that you have done enough to answer the question. I am wondering if that is where I am on this transition from Married to Widow. Pragmatically, the transition is complete – I am a widow, a single woman. Emotionally, the trip is quite different.
I was reading something last night that talked about not being able to move on until we had acknowledged that the lessons from the current situation have been learned. That is a mind full to think about. Have I learned the lessons intended from Bob’s death? Have I acknowledged them? I have no idea – in part because I never thought of it that way. I have thought that his death has opened a new path and that my life is totally changed without him. But thinking in terms of lessons learned hadn’t even crossed my mind. It seems like a worthwhile question to mull over.
I have certainly learned that I can handle most things on my own. Those that I can’t are physical and I will either have my children around to help or I will do something to make the problem a non-issue (like getting laundry facilities without having to deal with stairs). That has been clear to me for a good while, and that is relatively easy to handle. I think the lessons that were being referred to were on a different level.
What have I learned about me? One thing I knew at some buried level, but has now become quite clear is that a couple does things that they both enjoy and when half of the couple is gone, some of those things lose their enjoyment. Not because of sad memories, though they can be there, but the activity was fun because of the interactions and contributions of both people. Two examples for me are TV watching and shooting. Bob loved television and I was a reasonably willing participant with much of it. Without the snide remarks that we would make about the show or the movie or the questions, comments, or conversations it raised, the enjoyment is lessened for me. For me the fun is just not there and I am doing other things instead.
Shooting was another of Bob’s loves. He taught me to shoot. We spent many hours testing our accuracy and enjoying the out of doors. It was fun to be impressed with each other’s skill and to be proud of each other’s accomplishments and to figure out ever harder targets to test our skill. Shooting alone has not had that same sense to it; I haven’t yet found anyone else who shares the same type of enjoyment. I don’t enjoy serious competition or the idea of shooting to figure out how to protect myself if something terrible happens. For both of us shooting was an event in which we appreciated skill. I probably haven’t found the right people yet, but without Bob, there has been little incentive to look very hard.
What did all of that teach me? Surprisingly, it taught me that I do not know what I like. I know what WE liked, but not what I like. Discovering some of my likes has been difficult and exciting. For a long time I just felt lost (and often still do). I had no desire to “find fun” for a while and when I did have that urge I had no idea what I thought was fun. After some trials and errors I have discovered that I like writing and I am becoming a writer. That was never in my thoughts when Bob was alive. I have also discovered that I love Qigong and that I want to share that with others through teaching classes. Finding two activities that I want to be a significant part of my life that Bob was never a part of has had some disconcerting side effects.
Realizing that my new life is missing things that we did together and is gaining things that were never a part our our life together was troubling. I felt as if I was throwing Bob away by discarding “our” things and replacing him with new things – my things. I felt as if I was betraying him. It has taken work to recognize that and to see that view as wrong. I know that Bob wants me to be happy and to find new things. Learning all of that was quite a struggle. I think that I can say that I have learned it. I now accept that I am no longer half of a couple, I am a whole me. I do not know exactly who me is yet, but I know that I am whole and that Bob’s likes and dislikes do not have to affect my choices as I create this new me. That feels like an important lesson.
Another lesson is related to sadness. I think some of my turmoil boils down to learning when it is OK not to be sad anymore. That sounds cold. I will always be sad at certain things – no more hugs, no more being call “Young’un,” no more conversations to solve the worlds problems as we are driving, no more smelling woodsmoke on his shirt after a weekend in the woods, no more passing him coffee through the cabin window. They are all pieces of sadness that I don’t think will ever go away. I don’t think I want them to.
But when is it okay not to feel devastated that he is no longer here? When is it okay to enjoy the ability to do what I want when I want and not feel like that enjoyment negates my love for him? When is it okay to have prolonged good feelings (that I just wrote something I like or that the qigong class went well or that I had a nice dinner with some friends)? When is it OK for the good feelings to be more plentiful than the bad feelings? Those are hard questions for me. And they can cripple enjoyment of the moment. So many conflicting emotions! I have trouble believing that being happy – really laughing-and-joking-and-teasing-with-others happy – doesn’t mean that I don’t love and miss Bob. That has been (and maybe still is) a hard and important lesson.
I was asking a friend about the difference between sadness and grieving or mourning. She said that sadness to her is a quick emotion; the other two are long and deep. I like that distinction; it rings true. I am wondering if the transition point I am now facing, the lesson to be completed, is to recognize that my sadness is not only okay, but actually to be cherished. It means that my life with Bob was something to be cherished. Perhaps now is the time to realize grieving or mourning is finished and saying it does not diminish my love for Bob. It celebrates that the way I grew while we were side-by-side partners in life has prepared me for some wonderful new experiences; that the purpose of my life so far has been to prepare me for these next steps; and that the purpose has always been for those next steps to be joyous. Perhaps sadness is good right now and grieving and mourning are no longer helpful. Happiness is not betraying Bob – that is the hard part of the lesson for me. And the corollary must be that continuing to mourn is betraying Bob. Continued deep mourning past a certain point means we were not whole people, we could not stand on our own – not true for either of us. Bob would be the first to say that I was a strong woman in our marriage; not finding long-lasting happiness denies that strength. The pathway to finding that happiness cannot be found or followed if I am mourning. And seeing waterfalls and thinking about how much Bob loved waterfalls and maybe even shedding a tear because he is not with me physically on the path does not negate the strength. It is sadness not mourning. I think that lesson is learned, too. Maybe not at 100%, but at a passing score.
If the book I was reading is correct and if I have learned these lessons and I am publicly acknowledging that I have learned them (at least at some level), I can be looking for the next lesson because it is on the way. Of all the emotions on this journey boredom has not been one of them.