Cancer

After My Wife Died I Committed to Grief As a New Form of Love | by Cheryl Espinosa-Jones | Moms Don’t Have Time to Write | Sep, 2021

My own transformation had begun when I threw my life upside down to commit to our love. The first few years were terrifying. Her cancer and disability were a reality of our everyday lives and created a level of terror I had never known. But I also had to let go of my very shy personality.

She was loved by hundreds, and for her to have the life (and death) she deserved, I could not avoid closeness and community. I made a commitment out of love to at least act open. But over time, I became open. Our home was a gathering place for at least a hundred people who were in and out, helping us, loving us, supporting us. We could have written the book on how “it takes a village.”

Somewhere along the way, after death and dying workshops, long conversations, and learning to feel all of the emotions, life became excruciatingly beautiful. Shortly before she died, a friend who came to give me a massage told me I had the most relaxed body she’d ever massaged. I explained, “I am not pushing away anything. I am here for it all.”

We can’t be prepared to face the death of a person we love. But we can certainly prepare! We faced her death head-on, and, at a certain point, that made life so livable, so beautiful.

When she died, I committed to grief as the new form our love was taking. Crying every day was an honor and a privilege. I experienced each feeling as it came and then I let it pass. I had never loved myself so much.

It’s ironic that caregiving for her had boomeranged and taught me how to care for myself. Knowing I couldn’t be prepared for her death, I simply decided that for at least a year I could have anything my grief asked for, providing I could find the money and good childcare.

We cannot know what will emerge from our losses. Sometimes they redefine a life, as my loss did for me. All my work in the world since has inexorably referred to what she and I made of her illness and what I made of her death. Even my second marriage of twenty-three years has been deeply affected by my experience of loss.

I remember sitting on Joanne’s deathbed and telling a room full of people, “If I ever love again, it will be someone with whom I could die, and who I would willingly help die.”

One of them said, “That is an awfully high standard.”

“That is the only standard,” I replied.

Sometimes our losses redefine us completely. But even when the effect is not so extreme, it is loss that changes how we relate to life. It alters the ways we love, support, and care for those who are important to us. The program for Joanne’s memorial simply quoted the meditation teacher Jack Kornfield: “In the end, all we can ask is, did I love well?”

If we are willing to grieve, willing to enter that most human, painful, and transformative of all territories, we will grow. And the world will be better for it.


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