Can We Please Talk About Him?
“I wake up thinking of yesterday. The joy is in remembering; the pain is in knowing it was yesterday.” David Levithan
The journey begins with an event about which everyone is talking – the death of your spouse. Family, friends, funeral home, florists, food caterers, and finally the newspapers….everyone is remembering him. Perhaps you spent hours going through photos, creating that perfect video presentation…. remembering so much life….
At the memorial service, it seems that everyone has something to say about who he was to them…when he was living. For many of us, those stories and shared adventures go right over our heads. The shock of loss is still so fresh. We move through each day as though in a dream, taking one step at a time, accomplishing only that day’s demands. We may not even remember who attended the service! (In my personal experience, a dear friend of Dave’s came from Oregon to Omaha for his memorial service, and it didn’t even register with me that he was there! Needless to say, I felt terrible weeks later when I realized I hadn’t even spoken to him!)
Slowly but surely as the people leave, daily life invades our reality, and things begin to “normalize” for everyone else. We may find ourselves at home alone for the first time in days or weeks. If we were long-term caregivers, the routines around which we built life are now gone. No meds to organize, no tube feed to prepare, no trach care or personal care to do. No doctor appointments or treatments.
Hours grow into days, days into weeks, weeks into months. And the silence….
Some say silence is golden. Most widows would disagree!! Silence is empty. Silence is oppressive. Silence is lonely. But the silence we experience is definitely not golden! Suddenly it seems as though everyone has stopped talking.
Friends have stopped talking to me, ironically enough, because they don’t know what to say beyond, “I’m sorry for your loss.” But even more importantly they’ve stopped talking to me about HIM! Sometimes when they mention him, my eyes fill with tears – which they mistakenly think is a bad thing! It’s just that I’m momentarily overwhelmed with emotions that I don’t know what to do with: joy, comfort, sorrow, loss.
As I’ve talked with a number of widows about this phenomenon, here are five of their responses:
“For me, it was and still is healing. It does my heart good to know that others still think of him and want to talk about it. Even though I know he didn’t cease to exist, if no one ever spoke of him, it would feel like it.”
“I love for people to tell stories, share pictures and memories about my husband! It is comforting to know they haven’t forgotten him. Sometimes I have to tell a story or share a picture first to let everyone know that I am comfortable talking about him. I have noticed as more time goes by people talk about him more because they aren’t as worried that they might upset me.”
“I like it when people share stories/pictures about Rick. I wish they would do more. Sometimes when I mention his name, I feel like people try to steer the conversation away from him, which makes me sad. Most people thought very highly of him and to hear their memories brings a soothing peace to my heart.”
“I LOVE being surprised that way. Dale’s been gone 13 years now and I still have that same heart leap. What people need to understand is that the tears that flood my eyes are just from big, unexpected emotions. Please don’t apologize for making me cry. It’s tears from a full heart, not pain.”
“I’d love to hear stories about Mark. As time goes by friends speak less and less about him. I still have pictures around my house. Memories are fun to think about. I try to include a good memory when I get together with my family.”
So, why do our friends stop talking about our loved ones? Lots of reasons come to mind. Perhaps they are more uncomfortable than we are! It could be that speaking of my spouse who is now with the Lord reminds them of their own mortality – something they may not wish to consider. It could be that they are trying to spare my feelings, thinking that it will make me sad to talk about him.
Nothing could be further from the truth! I love talking about Dave, as it brings him into the situation. I like to think of it this way: when we speak the name of Jesus, He enters our situation. When I speak Dave’s name, it somehow helps to keep his memory alive. That is a wonderful, healing thing. When my kids and grandkids are all together, our conversations are filled with funny stories and uproarious laughter, and one-liners that Grandpa always did or said. We keep him very much alive in our family.
I have a good friend who rides his bicycle across Iowa every summer with Ragbrai. He rides as part of the Livestrong team’s fundraiser for cancer research in memory of friends and family who have lost the battle with cancer – and Dave Gehrls is one of those. For me, it’s a precious thing that says not everyone has forgotten him.
During a video chat with another friend in Brazil yesterday, he shared that he’s been thinking a lot about Dave recently (his wife also died of cancer). He told me stories of the two of them jumping in Dave’s little sports car and going to play basketball together. I had totally forgotten that, and was blessed to realize that he, too, remembered things about Dave.
As widows, we give you permission – in fact, we ask you to talk to us about our spouses. Share your memories and stories and adventures with them. Share your photos with us that we may not have seen. We will remember them regardless, but sharing with others lessens the burden and brings comfort that they are not forgotten.
In a poem called “For the Fallen” British poet, Laurence Binyon says the following:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”
Help us remember them….
As always, your thoughts and comments here are welcome, or you can email me at email@example.com. Feel free to share this blog with your friends who might be encouraged.