The night before his death, I came home from an evening coupon workshop and announced that, other than my weekly couponing column, I now had two and a half weeks without commitments, and I was looking forward to spending time caring for my husband and working on some ‘fun writing.’ In fact, this is what I wrote as my Facebook status that evening; “Another fun workshop. Now I have until April 14th before my next presentation and I am glad for the time to work on what I consider my fun writing: Chicken Soup essays, contest entries, and other anthology writing. I have a stack of submission possibilities I want to work on between my TH columns and caring for my dear husband.”
I was more than willing to become a caretaker for David as he recovered from a heart attack. It had been an honor and a privilege to care for him during his cancer treatment.
I never got that chance. The following morning, my husband was gone from this world. I was grateful, then, for the 18 days before I would have to attempt a workshop of any kind. I did not stop writing, however. Not that writing was easy. My fingers were heavy with grief and the familiar act of pushing a pen across the paper seemed foreign to me the first day or two. After laboring over David’s obituary, I began filling pages in a journal, chronicling all that I was thankful for, and the lessons I was learning about myself, my spouse, my marriage, and especially, my faith.
Despite the editor of the Telegraph Herald informing me I could take as much time off as I needed, I still wrote my coupon column. After all, David had been instrumental in giving me ideas for the next two, and it seemed a fitting tribute.
Next, I picked up the essay I had been working on the weekend before David died. I will never forget the boyish look on his face as he asked “Is that about me?” Since it was an essay for an anthology about finding love in our life, the answer was most emphatically yes. He was delighted by that answer, just as amazed by our newfound love (since cancer) as I was. I struggled for at least two weeks over that essay, intent on conveying what we had discovered about love so late in our marriage. I filled more pages of my journal, wrote blog posts, and completed other essays. My submission files indicate I submitted a dozen essays in the ensuing three months’ time. Not only that, but I continued writing my weekly column, conducted more couponing workshops along with a writing workshop for a local independent bookstore. I also attended two Christian writer’s conferences. When I submitted a column for a magazine section of the newspaper this last weekend and turned in my weekly column, it struck me that I didn’t actually have to write anything for another week. For the first time since April 18th, I was suddenly confronted with a period of time without any commitment or deadline, save for that weekly column.
Instead of relief, I felt a slight tremor of terror.
Now what? Should I complete my book in progress? I e-mailed my agent to ask if I needed to complete my manuscript now, before it was sold, and he replied that I didn’t, letting me off the hook in regards to that, at least. Should I begin work on my other book? More than one person has pointed out that my blog postings might have the makings of a book within them. You need to write this “handbook of grief” your blog keeps referring to, one said.
It occurred to me that I could possibly use this time for quiet contemplation; to address the very thing I have been avoiding through my busyness; my own grief. For despite all my writing about it, I have yet to actually confront it. All you readers out there who have wondered; Yes, a person can write about grief frantically and manically, and still not be dealing with it. If I write about David, he will still be here with me. If I keep really busy, I won’t have to think about it.
A good friend had asked me in an e-mail a week ago; “What about you? How are you handling your own grief?” when I’d confided in her about my concerns for Abby. A letter from my long-time friend, Mary, asked the same thing yesterday.
Shortly after David’s death a friend of mine told me about the daily e-mail I could receive in my inbox from GriefShare. “A Season of Grief: 365 Daily E-mails” to help people through their grief, they tout on their website. http://dailyemails.griefshare.org/dailyemails/. The e-mails have been helping, except for that egregious e-mail informing me that others might be tiring of my grief. That was on Day 56, and for a few days I refused to read more. Since I began receiving these e-mails a couple of weeks into my own grief, the day number doesn’t correspond with my actual day of grief, but they are helpful nonetheless. This was yesterday’s e-mail:
Loneliness Trap: Clutter
To have a new hobby or to embark on a new endeavor to serve others is good, but overcrowding your life with activities can distract you from the process of grieving. You need time to be quiet, to relax, to meditate, and to pray.
Dr. Jim Conway says, “I remember a woman coming to one of the groups who said, ‘My husband has been gone for about a year, and I’m just not getting any better.’ She listed off half a dozen activities that she’d started since her husband died, as if being more active would help her through the process.
“I said to her, ‘You know, you’ve been running from grief, but you have not yet started to grieve.'”
Use wisdom in the choices you make during grief, choices about your time, commitments, activities, and behaviors. Grief must be faced and then journeyed through, and the wisdom and strength to persevere is found in the Lord.
“Can’t you just slow down? Do you always have to be doing something?” I can still hear David’s voice in my head. He worried about me, and my frantic pace. I scoffed at napping, toted a bag of writing everywhere I went, and filled a calendar with activities. In the busyness of my life since my mother’s death, I’d forgotten how to rest. To just be. I will not ever forget that the Sunday before his death, David had asked me to lay down with him when he went upstairs to take a nap, and my answer had been, “I can’t. I’m too busy.”
I submitted my column on Monday morning, and looked at the calendar. Two weeks before another workshop. Other than two columns, I had nothing I had to work on. I thought about what David would wish for me, always wished for me; peace and relaxation.
Be still, a small voice urged, and then I panicked, busying myself with cleaning my office.
Be still. This time more insistent. I squirmed with impatience. I looked through my writing tote and found submission guidelines for two things I could begin to work on. I checked my shelves for non-fiction books that might add to my working knowledge on the topic of my book in progress.
I woke up on Tuesday and didn’t immediately begin writing, as I have done every single morning in the fourteen weeks since David’s death. It felt unnatural. I made my coffee, searched my shelves for a good book, and then pulled things out of my tote bag; submission guidelines and rough drafts I’d abandoned.
Be still. The voice was louder, somewhat commanding.
I ignored it.
I sorted through a dozen file folders of information for my book and organized them, did a little online research, printing out some pertinent articles. I picked up my journal, put it down. Picked up a legal pad and felt a heavy fog of what I imagined was writer’s block seep into my head. I wrote a letter instead, and cleaned some more.
It was clear. I needed to stop doing and be still. But could I? On Wednesday morning, the fourth of July, I got up early, made my coffee, and sat on the couch, alone, and still.
“Did you almost feel like crying when we did yoga?” someone had asked me after we’d participated in an introductory yoga class at the library.
“Yes, I did, and I think it is because, as busy mothers, we don’t allow ourselves that quiet, contemplative time. It seems too indulgent, somehow.”
It was time for me to think. To feel. To stop doing, and be still.
It was difficult at first; my mind still jumping around all over the place. But then I remembered the yoga experience, and the instructor’s soft voice telling us to relax our minds, and be kind to ourselves.
Why do you keep crying in church and when you’re driving alone?
Because David held my hand in church and in the car. But I knew it was more than that. Nervously, I reached for my tote bag.
God had never told me not to write before. I’d written my way through David’s cancer treatment, the death of my mother, the months of grieving that followed. I’d written my way through my grandson’s cancer diagnosis, his surgery and treatment. I’d been writing my way through the last three months of grieving David.
Not now. This was a gentler admonishment.
I relaxed a little, and let my thoughts flow again.
And then, What are you worried about?
My book. I’m afraid it will never get published.
I felt the cool dismissal of that concern. It’s in capable hands. Let your agent handle it.
What are you worried about?
Jacob. I surprised myself. Jacob’s next cancer treatment would begin on Friday and I hadn’t let myself think about it much. I was worried as much for my daughter Elizabeth who would be spending the majority of her time with him as I was for the small grandson who would have to endure a harsh and punishing treatment.
Don’t you trust me?
“Be still and know that I am God.”
And then my mind quieted.
Where had that come from? I wasn’t raised to memorize Bible verses and despite the fact that I’ve been immersing myself in devotionals and Bible quotes ever since David’s death, I haven’t reached a point where I can either recall or quote pertinent verses, and yet this one came out of nowhere.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
I cry in church and in the car when I am alone because that is the only time I am still enough in my mind and my body to let myself go. I protect myself at night with the presence of a nine-year-old who is more than willing to accommodate my need for another’s presence. Even when I had the opportunity to be alone at a conference, I made certain that I had a roommate. I busy myself writing every morning so that I can keep David alive through my words.
Saying that, even to myself, gave me permission to feel it; the tremendous weight of grief over losing David.
Yesterday, I neither wrote, nor worried. I read an entire book (fiction, not fact for my book or any grief-work reading). I picked up raisin biscuits at Hardees and dropped them off at my daughter’s house for her family. I did some shopping, both online and at my sister’s consignment store half-price sale. I carted one child to Driver’s Ed and another to swimming lessons, and in between running everyday errands and living my life, I spent a few quiet minutes throughout the day, in what little bit of stillness I could muster, crying, but mostly at peace. I took a nap.
The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
“Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”