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Rites of Passage

Down paths of rediscovery

By Doug Charrett

No one could have prepared me for the death of my wife, Joyce. It was a cruel twist of fate that it happened on our 44th wedding anniversary. She never got to read my card. I must not falter. I will, however, begin to question what is important in life as I adjust to this new role of widower.

So here I am, not fully human, stumbling along the changing continuum of grief. The sun shines one day, and my spirits rise. Then I pass her photo and collapse into tears. I still glance at the crosswords in the newspaper, and for an instant, wonder if I should save it for her. Should I change the message on the answering machine? My son said that wouldn’t be wise. “You may want to hear Mom’s voice again.” It gives me comfort, but it also makes me cry.

The panic and numbness have subsided, and loneliness has taken their place. There is no shame in crying, I am told, yet that is not the culture I was brought up in. Be stoic. Men don’t cry. Let me tell you that some do.

Joyce was my social guide. I find it difficult to let go of that dependence and realize I must now do things without my loved one. Society thinks I should be over my grieving. Will I ever be over it? Not likely, but the sadness will diminish, I am told. And I have support from caring friends and a loving son and daughter, no matter how long it takes.

The weekends were ours. Long talks about travel; when to visit the grandchildren; watching movies; simple things done together. Now I am alone. Activity slows and there is time to think about what could have been. Meaning well, a friend says, “You did have 44 years together,” and I am grateful for that. Still, it hangs around me like dripping laundry on a clothesline. Sometimes I think, why me? But that just delays the realization that I must go on and discover my new role. Keep busy, they said, and I bought into that with a vengeance — hours in front of the computer, writing; many meetings. But that only lasted for a while, until I realized I was still grieving. I must have patience and be kind to myself.

The question “Why am I here?” was never difficult for me to answer. Purpose and meaning were everywhere. There was unlimited potential in my work life. Then, a beautiful and loving wife and two great kids, followed by the anticipation of our retirement years. Now I must really ask, “Why am I here?”

The numbness has now left me, like the freezing from a tooth, and my true reality is fully exposed. I have my children and grandchildren, but they are also grieving in their own way. Thank God for their support; how can anyone really understand who has not experienced it? But, they have full lives to cope with as well.

I wondered how something good could ever come out of Joyce’s death. But it did. My son Craig and I were never good at expressing feelings, defaulting to a warm handshake and a slap on the back. After Joyce’s death, neither he nor I hesitated to throw our arms around each other, like hoops on barrel staves. I had not seen his tears since childhood. I knew they showed grief and love for his mother, and I am grateful. Our awkwardness in greeting has now passed, and the love that was alive and anchored before, now flourishes unfettered in the full light of truth. Joyce’s parting gift has created a greater depth of love and understanding between father and son.

Until Joyce’s death, spirituality and religion had taken a back seat in my life. Her passing sent me down paths of rediscovery, at first like cold paths in the snow. On those paths, I experienced an emerging way of looking at my Christian faith. It has been best characterized by theologian Marcus Borg as “a movement away from literalism and dogma, and a shift toward a closer relationship with a God of compassion rather than judgment. It is marked by a yearning for justice, and a renewed sense of ancient mystery.” Those thoughts give me hope.

Doug Charrett is a writer in Prince Albert, Sask.
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