That statement came to me 20 years ago, as I found myself by the bedside of my husband Michael who was in the ICU at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia while awaiting a liver transplant that never occurred. I was engaged in one of my regular ‘God-versations,’ during which I challenged the Almighty by saying, “He’s mine and you can’t have him,” to which the loving but firm response was, “He’s mine and he’s on loan to you like everyone else in your life.” At that point, we were perhaps days away from the inevitable. When the time arrived to turn off life support since he could not be sustained without it, I got the message loud and clear, as I was surrounded by family and friends, including my then 11-year-old (now 32) son who had stood vigil with me for the five and a half weeks leading up to his last breath.
This afternoon, two decades later, I was having lunch with two longtime friends, each one, herself, a widow. Yvonne’s partner John died nearly four years ago and Anne’s husband Murray took his leave this past November. The three of us, whose own calendar pages spanned decades, (I am in my 60s, Anne is in her 70s and Yvonne is in her 80s) were discussing what being widowed means to us. I call it the ‘non-exclusive club that no one wants to join.’ Although pain and sorrow are part of the journey, so too can be the joy of re-creation and re-discovery. At 40 when I crossed the threshold from wife to widow, I knew that I had the opportunity to be reborn as someone more assertive, self-loving and responsible than I had been in my marriage. Back then, I was entangled in co-dependent patterns that took me years to unravel. One person who assisted with that was Yvonne who I say, “lovingly kicked my ass into recovery,” insisting that I enroll in a five and a half day residential treatment program in 1993.
She told me in her clipped British accent, “You’re going.” And go I did, with reluctance and wearing my therapist’s hat, and my academic objectivity until one of the women told me I was the sickest one there, in deep denial about how serious my condition was. My savior behavior, people pleasing patterns were firming entrenched. Her statement was a wake-up call for me to claim responsibility for my choices and begin to alter them. All these years later, they still occasionally pop their heads up, like little meerkats, except not as cute, and look around.
We compared notes about our distinct and in some cases, similar experiences as we faced the deaths of our partners.
When John died, Yvonne wistfully shared that although she was prepared for his death; he had cancer for many years prior, she wasn’t prepared to live without him. Even though that is so, she remains a force to be reckoned with and is re-inventing herself. We are on each other’s ‘scream list,’ being available 24/7 should the need arise to vent. We invited Anne to join the club and we made sure she had our numbers and we hers.
Anne’s husband Murray, like Yvonne, had been a talk show host of a psycho-spiritual program that aired on Friday nights at a Philly based talk station. Yvonne could be heard on Saturday nights. Both had a humorous flavor even as they dealt with serious subjects such as mental health, addictions, and grief. Murray died of a cardiac condition while in the hospital, while John passed in their home on hospice. Anne, as I had with Michael, lived at the hospital during Murray’s stay.
Anne was still in raw, toppling over into tears mode, while I commented that although May 2nd would have been my 32nd anniversary, it felt like someone else’s life, a narrative that had long ago been written and since edited. We told Anne that all feelings were acceptable and that communication with Murray would change from moment to moment at times, taking her emotions with her on the roller coaster ride.
As we sat at the table, I played two messages Murray had left me when he called in May right before my much-anticipated trip to Ireland, that “a lady with an English accent (Yvonne),” told him I was embarking on. After she listened through her tears, I sent the messages to Anne’s phone so she could hear them when she chose.
I had a brainstorm that we needed to teach a class together, a kind of widow-to-widow ‘how to’. Each of us is a seasoned therapist, who counsels people around grief and now it is more than merely academic. We can speak to the unpredictable and sometimes surrealistic ride that widows and widowers take. We can help them find some sense of peace and healing as we continue to heal ourselves and appreciate who we are to each other.
It’s never too early to start talking about Father’s Day on The Good Men Project. We’re looking for sponsors and contributors for our #ModernDayDad campaign. https://t.co/WJvKqq2kTe pic.twitter.com/j66LNCY0VG
— The Good Men Project (@GoodMenProject) March 11, 2019
We celebrate Gay Pride all year long. But this year, we’re doing some special programing for a large-scale campaign #LoveEqually. We’re looking for both sponsors and contributors. Check it out! https://t.co/tkraXFPxLL pic.twitter.com/X2FlBEZb8Y
— The Good Men Project (@GoodMenProject) March 11, 2019
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