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The First Time…Without

“Have you gone anywhere yet…without?”

I knew exactly what the woman meant.

“I’ve avoided two weddings so far, but attended one birthday party, in a place he and I had never been together. But the first time will be my family Christmas party this weekend.”

She nodded her head, and her eyes filled with tears. “I went to a wedding, but I shouldn’t have. It was too hard.”

I’ve been seeking something, attending different grief groups. I went to one at the hospital where everyone was either much older than me or grieving a parent. I didn’t return. I know the grief of losing a parent; bad enough, but not the ‘ripping out of a heart’ pain of losing a spouse. I tried a Griefshare group at the church where the other two attendees were also grieving a parent. That facilitator called me after I missed the next meeting. “We missed you. You were such a help to the other women. I hope you come back.” I didn’t say it, because I do like helping others, but I needed help myself. I attended a church memorial service where afterwards, I ended up sitting across from two sisters who were also both grieving parents. I wished for time with the older woman in church who’d twisted her wedding band back and forth during the entire service (something I also do~when do I take off my ring, I wonder absentmindedly), and whose hand I clutched so tightly during the “Our Father,” but she’d disappeared after the Mass. I’d thought that this evening retreat for grieving spouses would be just what I needed.

It did do me good to be in a room full of people who knew the particular pain of losing one’s spouse. Our eyes would meet across the room or the table and one tender look would say it all, I know your pain.

By the end of the evening, however, it occurred to me that I “fell through the cracks” in widowhood. I was younger than the majority of the widows in the room, older than the three young ones. During the evening, an announcement was made about a group for “young” widows, up to the age of 45, and another group in the area for singles, ages 20 and up. I felt as though I couldn’t join either; I was older than 45, and I certainly didn’t yet feel “single.” Later, one of the young widows would invite me to their group “because you have young children, and it’s a whole different ballgame when you have young children.”

Yes, I have young children, and it was for them I decided I needed to attend a party that just a year ago David had attended with us. It has been nearly nine months and these kinds of thoughts still boggle my mind; a year ago, David was here. A year ago, I went Christmas shopping with David.

It started out fine; I arrived before my children because I was bringing the coffee pot. My siblings welcomed me with hugs and smiles that meant they understood how I might be feeling. As the room filled with more and more couples, I forced myself to walk around the room, clutching a cup of coffee more for emotional strength than sustenance. I’d retreated to a corner near the door when the last sibling arrived. My brother-in-law Dave casually hugged me with a sense of tenderness, and I felt my stomach lurch and the room spin a little. As he hung up his coat, I fumbled for the knob of the door. Once outside, I sprinted towards my vehicle, dumping the coffee in the snow. Within the safe confines of the vehicle, I sobbed, realizing the mistake of coming without my children. If I’d had the sense to grab my purse before fleeing the building, I would have driven away.

“You have no idea how well you are doing,” my brother John had complimented me just a few minutes before.

What did that mean; that I was doing well? That I’d come to a family gathering? That I’d remembered to bring food? That I was dressed, and my hair combed? That I was wearing shoes?

I did rejoin my family when my children arrived. Maybe no one had noticed my brief breakdown (the room was very crowded) or else they were just being polite and studiously avoiding my red-rimmed eyes. My children noticed. They greeted me outside with hugs. My brother-in-law Shawn noticed, and I appreciated his sage advice not to drink wine when I was sad (appreciated, but did not follow).  My sisters stuck close by me, and I wonder now if Denise was even aware of how she lightly stroked my arm as she talked to someone on the other side of her. I know I ate something. I had not eaten breakfast or lunch. I laughed a little, even joked about how I should have just gone outside and lain down in the snow. My sisters and I imagined how someone inside might have noticed. “Mary is outside in the snow, making show angels,” they might say. And how one of them might come outside to join me and comment wryly “That’s not a very good snow angel, Mary. There are no wings,” as I lay there, curled up in the snow.

I did not want the party to end. My children left earlier than I did. I wanted to sit at a table with my sisters, drinking coffee and pretending everything was fine, for hours.

Or maybe forever.

I didn’t want to go back home where my sons sat, waiting for permission to eat the chili I’d had the forethought to throw in the crockpot (is that doing well?) or look at the muffins and bread my daughter Emily had to make from baking powder and sugar that had clumped up from old age and dis-use. (Surely the fact that I have not baked since David’s death signaled I was not doing so well)

When it was apparent that the party had, indeed, ended, I bolted out the door again, without saying goodbye to everyone. In my vehicle, I cried as I headed to the cemetery, cried as I walked through the snow in ridiculously inappropriate sandals, and cried some more as I knelt in front of the tombstone. I was pleasantly surprised to see the bird feeder hung from a shepherd’s hook and another hook in the ground behind the stone. How kind of someone to have purchased them. (I later discovered it had been my daughter Rachel)

“Have you gone anywhere yet…without?”

I have, and I survived.

Perhaps that means I am doing well.

Author:

Author, public speaker, and workshop presenter for community colleges, libraries, women's groups and for grief support groups, Hospice and retreats. Certified grief counselor and Senior Service librarian for the James Kennedy Public library. Popular public speaker and workshop presenter on the topics of writing, couponing, utilizing your creativity in everyday life, and finding hope in grief. "Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America's Extreme Obsession" was published by Familius Publishing in 2014. "Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage" and "Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace" were released by Familius in 2014. "Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink," co-written with Mary Jedlicka Humston of Iowa City, was published in September 2015. Grief journal to be released in 2018.

One thought on “The First Time…Without

  1. Mary, you have and you will. I have and I will, too. I don’t know about you (I know you are March and I am April) but right now I find that I am having a harder time attending anything than I did soon afterwards. I think the numb has worn off? Or maybe it is just the realization that the “without” is permanent.
    Hugs and prayers coming to you from me. We both are blessed to have our children to help us through this season.

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