Q. How many widows does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. One. It just takes one widow, but she needs to make the effort to get out the ladder, and climb to the top of it, or ask for help.
For six months, the downstairs hallway remained dark. It had been even longer for the upstairs hallway. It was something my husband David had always taken care of, and for whatever reason, I hadn’t gotten around to replacing the lightbulbs. Nor had I asked my sons to perform the simple chore, or mentioned it to my two youngest daughters who still lived with me. Instead, we learned to work around the darkness. I’d leave the upstairs bathroom light on in the evening so we could find our way up the otherwise darkened stairwell, and if we needed something out of the downstairs closet, we’d just prop open the bathroom door across that hallway, and turn on the light to illuminate the dark depths of the closet. In other words, we adapted to the darkness.
Then during one of her Sunday visits, my older daughter Rachel offered to help me clean out a cabinet I hadn’t touched since her Dad’s death. While transferring some things to the hallway closet, she asked why the light switch wasn’t working. When I sheepishly admitted that it wasn’t the switches, but the lightbulbs, her younger sister Katie gasped in astonishment.
“You mean all this time the hallway lights worked, and you just needed to replace the lightbulbs? Why didn’t you tell me? I thought they were broken.”
I mumbled something about a fear of falling off ladders, but the truth was, I had no real explanation as to why I hadn’t changed the light bulbs. Within minutes, my two daughters had located the ladder and climbed up to replace both bulbs. When they flipped the switches on, the hallways were illuminated with brightness for the first time in months. We no longer had to live in the shadows.
The first year of widowhood was much the same for me. A light inside of me had gone out with the death of my husband. It was as if I’d lost all joy. The reality was that I got used to living that way. For a long time, the fog of grief permeated everything. I felt wrapped in a cloak of sadness. Initially, I’d feel guilt with my rare burst of laughter. I’d wonder if I’d ever truly feel joy again. Just as the bathroom light illuminated the dark closet, there were brief moments when I’d catch a glimpse of brightness. But for the most part, I adjusted to living in the dark night of the soul.
Like the simple lightbulb I’d put off replacing, I discovered there were things I could do to bring lightness back into my life. Allowing for contemplative silence and prayer helped. So did reading devotionals or books written by those who had gone down the grief road before me. Finding a support system in a Bible study was important, and so was writing and journaling. It wasn’t just one of these things, but a combination of all of them that brought me to a place of healing five years out. I’d had access to the lightbulbs, or the tools of healing all along. We all do. We just need to discover what works best for us.
Representing just how far I’ve come, last week it was me who climbed the ladder to change the smoke alarm battery that had begun beeping.
And today, the day after the 5th anniversary of my husband’s death, and on what would have been his 66th birthday, I bought myself a bicycle.
Like the lightbulbs, I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t purchased a new one two years ago when I desperately needed it, but David had picked out my last bicycle, and each time I’d looked at them, I felt incapable of completing the task. I’d walk away, empty-handed, feeling more alone than ever.
I was determined to accomplish two things today; finish up an essay I was working on for a Chicken Soup book, and buy a bike, and I managed to do both. The essay writing seemed appropriate. I’d been working on one about marriage the week David died, and it was my first piece published afterwards. The essay I submitted tonight was also about him.
The bike buying was surprisingly easy this time. I prayed before I went into the store, and I prayed as I stood in front of the display, but the choice was easy. It was as if I recognized it, my blue bike.
When I got home, I test-drove it to the cemetery.