Monday, December 7, 2015

First, put on your oxygen mask, then…

Last week I sat with three of my friends, all of us had phenomenal marriages and were widowed in our early forties. As we recounted our experiences, there were many moments when we looked at each other and said, “I’ve been there.” I have never felt so understood or ‘seen’ since losing Shekhar.
I am learning that the process of grieving after losing a spouse is very different from the grieving that follows other personal losses. One of the biggest insights during that conversation was that each one of us had a moment around the second or third year when we were overwhelmed and said, “I can’t do this alone.” This finally answered a question that I have been asked often, mostly by people who have left marriages that were unhappy or had reached dissolution. In widowhood, your world collapses around you in an instant, in death of physical life…not love. You were not trying to escape from untenable circumstances or dreaming of freedom. Hence, it’s not about, “Aha! I can finally do what I wanted to do,” or “I am going to prove to the world and myself that I can survive and manage by myself.” You are essentially just trying to keep your head above water and put one step ahead of the other. The ‘I’ is submerged and the ‘we’ is paramount, especially when there are children who need to be looked after and protected from the aftermath.
So, where most people moving out of a marriage begin is where we reach or have yet to reach, subsequent to years of struggling to reconstruct ourselves after an integral part of us has been amputated. The significant other is not there, it’s just you…and the children.
Another insight that echoed across the table was that on many occasions we have been called brave and strong...both of which are completely dissonant with how we actually feel. What from the outside looks like courage and strength is our life, we just live it in any way we can.
I have realised the toll grieving has taken and how it has emptied my well of love, compassion and sense of connectedness with the world. This year, it dawned on me that if I did not first put on my oxygen mask, I would no longer be able to be there for those who depend on me. I have now understood that ‘I’ have been absent, detached and disengaged…like I am watching a movie and the person playing me is someone else…living, surviving, thriving, loving…angry, used up and disembodied…
It is hard to begin the flight to oneself when everything is rooted in making up for the missing one rather than acknowledging the abundance of blessings that rainbow through the clouds…I want to believe it is a worthwhile endeavour and though there may be turbulence and a drop in cabin pressure, I am testing my wings by taking tentative steps…and putting on my oxygen mask first. And when I land someday, I may actually move from being a tenant to becoming the owner of my life.
Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens
so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.
Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that
first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.
Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out
someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.
You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.
from The Journey, ‘House of Belonging’ by David Whyte