During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man with his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab. 2 The name of that man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the territory of Moab and settled there.
3 But Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died. Then only she was left, along with her two sons. 4 They took wives for themselves, Moabite women; the name of the first was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. And they lived there for about ten years.
5 But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman was left, without her two children and without her husband.
6 Then she arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the Lord had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. 7 She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.
8 Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. 9 May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
Early on into my journey through grief, one of my pastors did a lesson on widows. Luckily I can say that they didn’t have me in mind, since our Wednesday Bible studies follow the Revised Common Lectionary, a list of suggested readings for each week of the year.
She read the story of Ruth with us, and also the story of the widow’s mite, from Scripture. She told of their loss and what it meant in their culture. I realized in that moment their story was my own. I am someone defined by loss, a widower not a widow. But one whose whole life has become colored by the absence of one whose love so defined me. Though not in the economic threat of a widow in the ancient world, I find myself many a day not being sure how to stand, how to move forward, how to imagine a life without her.
One thing my preacher said that spoke volumes to me is that in the language of Scripture the word “widow” is a form of the Hebrew word for muteness. It means the voiceless ones. In that day and age there was a desire to silence widows. To stop their tears. To quiet their reminesences. Also without a man who was head of household, they had not voice about their affairs. They were to slip quietly into the shadows.
I have a voice, of course. I have been known to make it known to my own detriment. I can think of so many times in my marriage we were at some social event, especially when I was younger and more idealistic, and something happened. I would speak up, confident about my views. And later my wife, who might have agreed with me, would say “Honey, are you sure you have said it that way? I think you made a scene. I think you need to apologize”. Reluctantly, I would. I learned through her to control my voice. The power of quietly listening. The strength that need not make a sound.
Yet I find a month into this, there is a powerful force at work to silence me. Early on people flocked around me to make sure I was ok. People heard me tell the tales of my love, of my loss. They bore my tears, even my wailing, with poise.
I feel it now. The looks that say “oh no? Him again. Well, get ready for sad stories”. I see the folks who would return my call or text in an instant who simply don’t respond. Or I hear back from so late I hardly have the energy to talk. I feel it in myself. I grew up an awkward kid who didn’t quite fit in. Deep down, I believe if I am “too much to handle”, I will find my once friends turning their backs on me and myself all alone. Though I’ve learned some of this is my own stuff, I also know there’s truth to it in grief. I’ve seen the people who, when their friends and family have moved on from grief, finding themselves still stuck in that dark pit alone. I’ve seen when they have that pressure to move on.
I can’t move on. I have good days. But even then, every part of my heart and cell in my body aches, aches with missing her. And then I have days like today. Where it is a struggle to get out of bed. Where it is a struggle to shower, to shave. Where I am not certain I can see any hope.
My own heart tells me: be quiet. Quit talking about her. Don’t scare off the few people you have.
For I find the onslaught of emotions, the way I am tossed by a sea of pain and uncertainty that feels as if it will drown me, terrifying. I feel at times like I am losing control of my life, losing myself. And if this is the case for me, how much for others who don’t know my pain?
I want to be clear. No one is being mean to me. I understand even those who can’t bear to hear me and make it clear by their actions. I know I can be a downer. I know some who reach out to me do so out of genuine love, but some it is a function of their own grief. To move on from that when they can put aside the pain is understandable. Goodness knows, a part of me wishes I could.
But I know it is different. This woman, this wonderful woman, was flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. The only other person I can imagine who understands this in any way, who shares a similar relationship with her, is her mother. For likewise at one point their bodies were one. She held my beloved in her arms, cradling her. We both have been inseparably joined to this dear wonderful woman – her mother at her start, and me in these glory days of her life and even these autumn years.
One does not move on from that. One learns to live with it. One learns to move forward every day. One learns like Kat said many times to find our joy anyway.
I still remember when Kat told me this. Her Arnold Chiari Malformation which is what took her life caused horrible blinding headaches and vertigo. One day she was in screaming pain, hardly able to get out of bed. Our then 3-4 year old nephew was going to come over in a few hours. He loved his aunt Kat and would want to climb in her lap, tickler her and be tickled, and wrestle on the floor. Which would bring about unimaginable pain to her. She said “NO! Don’t do that. He will only be this young so long. If I stop spending time with him, if I stop doing all the things I love, that stroke the Chiari caused might as well have killed me. I have to find my joy and choose it each day, no matter the pain. When I quit doing that, why am I even here?”
She did chose it, to the day she died. And it challenges me on these oh so hard days. I have to sit with my pain a bit, let myself feel it, and remember. But I cannot stop there. I must find some joy. I must embrace it. I must live. That is what she would want.