The other night I decided to attend a session they were offering at my church called, “GRIEF: The Uninvited Guest This Holiday Season.” I have been attending private grief counseling which has helped me get through the dark times, but I wanted to see if therapy in a group setting would help as well, since my therapist encouraged me to be aware that I am not in this alone.
I walked in and right away I knew it was going to be a very somber night. As I looked around I realized I was the youngest person in the room; it was full of elderly men and women. I took a seat between a woman with a whole box of tissue and another woman who looked like she hadn’t slept for days. My head turned to the sound of another woman yelling at an elderly man because she didn’t want to sit in a certain seat. Later I come to find out that the woman who was yelling at the man was a companion of his; he had lost his wife over 12 years ago and he told her to stop yelling at him because his hearing aid was already turned up.
The priest started the session by asking a few of us how long our loved ones had been gone from our lives. A few said their spouses had been gone over 20 years and others said close to 6 years. They all looked lost, confused and out of touch. Mentally I started to panic. Is this what I’m going to be doing when I reach my elder years? Will I be in mourning to the point that I can’t function for the rest of my life? Then I asked myself, “Do you realize you’re the youngest person in the room? Where are all the other young widows? Oh, wait….. the odds of dropping dead in your 40s is way less than dying in your 80s or 90s….forgive me for even wondering.” I started to become mentally bitter at all of the people who were talking about how they had spent a lifetime with their spouse and they were lost without them. I would have loved to have reached my 2-year wedding anniversary, let alone spend the rest of my life with my husband. My bitterness turned to sad bitterness and I just started to weep. I grabbed a tissue from Kleenex lady to the left of me.
As the priest continued, he told us that he wanted us to remember one thing: As we enter the holiday season, let our grief make us better, not bitter. What was I going to do to make myself better because of what happened to me and how am I going to do it without becoming bitter? His question was one I took to heart because it’s what I’ve been trying to do all along; to try and stay positive and limit the negative thoughts and people in my life.
I have had a lot of loss in my life. My father passed away when I was 23 and I always loathed the holidays because my mother was always the saddest around that time of year. I hoped and prayed that just one holiday after his passing would be filled with the happiness that the holidays are supposed to bring but it never came until I had my own children. I always made it a point to make the holidays special and joyous because I focused on what we had instead of what we didn’t have.
I never thought in a million years I’d be joining my mother in this horrible club. I get how she could feel hopeless, alone and lost. But as the priest was telling us to be better and not bitter, I started to have flashbacks of the depressing Christmases that we spent “wishing” for what wasn’t there. Just then I promised myself that this Christmas I will make every effort to make it special for my children, because that is what they deserve (and it’s what I deserve too).
Even though I’m trying to be better and not bitter there are definitely some traditions I’ll be putting on hold this year. I still deserve to grieve, but I don’t deserve to be bitter.
As I am writing this, I just realized something: My grandmother became a widow at 40, my mother became a widow at 50 and I became a widow at 45. If that’s not enough to make someone bitter I don’t know what is. Thank God I didn’t’ have a daughter.
In my quest to become better, I won’t dwell on these facts. Instead, I will think about all the things that can make me better during this difficult time. Reflection about what has made grateful for the things that I have has been a constant in my life since my husband’s passing. Today was no different. I remembered a scavenger hunt I participated in a few years ago with some of my coworkers. One of the steps on the hunt was to document a moment where we “Paid it Forward.” We were handed a $100 bill in an envelope and were told to do some good with it. We decided to head to the local children’s hospital to donate it to a family with a sick child. This is a picture of us giving a young mom $100:
If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought she had won the lottery. She had tears in her eyes and so did her mother. It was enough to fill my heart with so much joy that I want to do this again this holiday season because these are steps to being better and not bitter. There is always a way to happiness and as long as I continue to tell myself that, the young widow who loses her husband 20 years from now will not see me lost and alone in a grief counseling session; if I continue to be better, I may be one of the volunteers helping others through their grief. I hope and pray that each and every one of those people in that room find peace in their hearts during this holiday season and they find the better in the bitter. They deserve that and I hope it blesses their lives one day.