It is eight years since the hot July night that my husband passed from this world, and my existence as I had known it for forty-four years, since the age of seventeen, was shattered. Even now, when I think of it I can’t seem to breath. And yes, even after all this time, there remains a smidge of disbelief. How can the man who was my best friend, my lover, my husband, and yes, at times the father I never had, be gone? How can the life I knew be gone?
It was my friend and fellow writer, Mary Ann, who said to me, “You are reshaping your entire existence.” Her concise words made me blink. In mulling over the idea, it comes to me that the reshaping of my existence could be akin to the renovation of an old house. Some things we keep, some things we throw away, some things we adjust. All of it we build on what came before.
Grief and loneliness have become a part of my life. That sounds sad, but it is not. It is living life on life’s terms, which is real, alive life. There are times, still, when grief strikes me and brings tears–often when I’m driving, which is a dangerous proposition. There are times when I am bone-achingly lonely for the one person in the world who understood me better than I understood myself.
Grief, I’ve learned, is part of being human and living life down here on earth. Right from the start, there’s loss of the comfortable, protected womb and being plopped into this bright, cold world. My mother used to tell the story that she thought was cute about when I was six years old and the movers were packing our belongings for our family to move across the country. The men disassembled my bed as I looked on, eyes widening. As they carried the bed frame out of the house, I began to sob, blubbering, “They’re takin’ my be-ed.” This was an enormous and fearful loss of my home as I knew it.
As I write this, I sit in my travel trailer in the midst of a Mississippi forest. My bed must still mean a lot to me, as now I’m toting it along with me when I travel. I’m alone, with my dear dog. I drove up here alone, set up my camper alone, have gone sight-seeing alone. (If I waited for someone to go with me, I’d never go anywhere.) I am not, however, lonely at this moment. The truth is that I’ve become comfortable with myself and with being alone. It turns out that my nature as an introverted writer fits with my new existence.
Today I am stronger than I ever would have thought being. I’ve become strong enough to face my vulnerability. Being vulnerable means I must humble myself often and ask for help, which I’ve grown adept at doing. Or maybe I can only when I am pressed, and I’m quite often pressed. I still do not like being vulnerable and asking for help. But today I am more comfortable with facing what is, not wasting energy on thinking should be.
None of us shape our lives alone. I have had help learning and growing from my dear family and friends, and even strangers. I know surely in the way only experience can give that God sends help just when I need it, often in the form of people who can provide exactly what I need. I am learning to rely on this fact.
Sometimes I have sense of Jim smiling at me. Sometimes, when I have something mechanical to fix I first ask God for help, then I’ll ask Jim. There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t use one of his tools or remember how he did this or did that, skills that help me in my new existence.
Over the past year, I have felt an awakening to a general sense of well-being taking root in my life. I cannot say that I am happy, not as I would have said it in my old existence. But I am amazingly and certainly content. I laugh more easily than ever, and I follow my mother’s advice to laugh every time you can. I laugh often at myself. Frankly, I’m a pretty funny person.
I am at peace with myself and with my life. And I am profoundly grateful for the life I had with my beloved husband, and for all of the people who help shape my life. I am blessed.
I owe so much of my reshaped existence that I enjoy today to the man God sent to me as my husband when I was yet a child. Thank you, James David Matlock.