It is the way of all things that the night ends and the light returns. The light always returns.
- Brian Andreas
In the months following my husband Bruce's death, there was rarely a day that was not spent with friends or family. I adopted the mantra never turn down an invitation, and I received many - for lunches, dinners, birthdays, galas, dancing, poetry festivals, bluegrass festivals, hiking the Inca trail - and I continued to entertain at my house.
I was getting on with my life, but I had a surreal feeling that I had been split in two, that the person going through the motions, and often enjoying them, was not me. The real "me
" was observing from outside her body as I redefined a new "me
" who looked the same, sounded the same, wore the same clothes, had the same friends but was no longer 1/2 of the single entity Bruce-and-Sue or Grandma-Pa.
It first struck me when I casually looked in the mirror shortly after Bruce died and barely recognized the person staring back at me. Where did all those wrinkles and sags come from? Even in my 60's I still felt that, at heart, I was the 16-year-old Susie Ducharme that Bruce fell in love with, wiser, yes, but fundamentally the same spirit, and that was what I had had continued to see in the mirror. He steadfastly reflected back to me the essence of who I was, independent of a physical form that had changed over the years.
In the first lull in dinner invitations, when I had the occasion to eat at home, I set the table for one on the screened porch, brought my plate out and sat down. My body convulsed in fight or flight, signaling something was terribly wrong. I couldn't eat where I had shared dinner with Bruce every summer evening. More than a year went by before I was able to eat dinner alone on the screened porch and enjoy myself.
Shortly after, I naively decided to use the hot tub one evening, but my body and soul forcefully rebelled. It took more than a year before I was able to enjoy this simple pleasure without the love of my life.
I was becoming aware of the many levels of loss that I had not anticipated. It was obvious that I would be grieving the loss of Bruce, the person I had loved for most of my life. What I was less prepared for was grieving the loss of a large chunk of myself. I had lost our past, the journey and the history that we had shared together, and I had lost our future that we had planned with each other. Our family structure had changed. The children and grandchildren may have noticed it more, but likely didn't know how to articulate it. For our granddaughter Mae we had always been GrandmaPa - one single name, one single entity. I had lost a chosen lifestyle that was core to who I was. I had chosen to marry Bruce and spend my life with him. I had not chosen to be single again.
Would I be able to do even the simple home maintenance tasks around the house? My first test was changing the water filter in the refrigerator. I put off for weeks what I now consider to be a trivial task. Why was a smart person like me unable to figure out how to manage a pool? I broke down in tears the first time I had to change the pool controls to use the hot tub. I did not recognize my feelings as being a loss of self-confidence, but I think that was the manifestation. With each task that I took over from Bruce, the loss somehow became more final.
I had read and been told that the first year after losing a loved one is the hardest, that after that when you've been through all the "firsts
" alone, it gets a little easier. I moved my wedding band from my left to my right hand. I was not married anymore. I did not miss him any less or love him any less but I was not married. It was strange to remove my ring and even stranger to have it on my right hand. On my left hand, where it had been for 43 years I didn't even notice its existence. On my right hand, it was all I could feel. Everything I did was awkward.
But time does pass and the light returns. I cling firmly to his Einstein view of life, i.e., just as matter cannot be created or destroyed, only changed, there must be conservation of energy. Therefore, his soul, his energy, continues to exist somewhere, somehow, although I don't know the form.
He visits me as an image in my dreams, a face that comes into focus and then continues to morph, even as I will it to stay. He is there in the green aura that I sometimes see when I'm doing yoga. He is with me when I swim in the ocean. I feel his loving energy when I hear I'm Every Woman or I Will Survive, the songs he danced to at our annual Celebration of Life parties, dressed in drag as his long lost sister Charmaine, returned from exile in Paris. And I continue to celebrate life every day. Susan Ducharme Hoben
is an award-winning author of Dying Well: Our Journey of Love and Loss
and renowned advocate for choosing the path of a peaceful end-of-life. Her insights challenge and inspire us to fundamentally shift our perspective on death. She is a sought-after media expert and has appeared on national media outlets, including NBC and ABC, and Sirius XM/Doctor Radio. Connect with Susan on Facebook
. To review additional articles and for more information on her work visit www.susanducharmehoben.com
Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.