A story not so different than my own
June 27, 2012
My husband died when he was 48.
The lurking question with a death so young is: How? Was he ill? An accident? We can’t help but rubberneck. Rebelling against the urge to bow to the stigma of shame associated with addiction and suicide, I usually spill my story pretty quickly. I tell them exactly what happened. “I’m so sorry,” is the usual wincing reaction. But often, there is recognition and relief because they have a story not so different from my own.
My daughter was 8 years old when it happened. She felt sure all of her classmate’s lived normal, happy lives. I assured her nobody gets to escape sadness, and brought her to The Den for Grieving Kids in Greenwich. There she gathered with other children who had lost their parents and I joined the surviving spouses. We found comfort in baring our raw hearts. Our own particulars seemed terrible to my daughter and I, but we learned those left behind always have painful and complicated feelings. Over the years of going to The Den, we received and, I like to think also gave, solace to our groups. As lonely as we sometimes felt, it helped knowing we were not alone.
Indeed, memoirs of grief outnumber even celebrity reveal-alls on bookstore shelves. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking came out a year after my husband’s death. I recognized her language of grief, the trance-like telling of numbness and eventually, the glimmer of feeling again. I still read memoirs of loss compulsively, as if I might find an answer to the myriad of lingering questions I will always bear like a ragged scar. My life is full of joy but not a day passes without at least a passing shadow of memory.
But books like Didion’s or Nina Sankovitch’s elegantly written, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, remind me that the survivor’s intimate knowledge of mortality is not an awful thing. I know to breathe deeply the air I share for some finite time with my loved ones. To pay attention, to cherish moments and do my best to never be blithe about leave-taking, even for sleep.