A very good friend Elsie and I rekindled our decades-old friendship a few months back. With busy lives, we have kept in touch over Facebook, until one day it felt strange when I read a post she wrote: “It’s been a year without Manny.”
Curiously I wrote her back to ask, “What do you mean without Manny?”—to which she narrated how she was widowed a year back when her husband Manny suffered a major coronary attack.
It came as a shock to learn the demise of Elsie’s husband the way I did, and with much guilt, I sent her my sympathies, though they were quite late coming.
Hence, it was a pleasant surprise when Elsie unexpectedly called to invite me for lunch recently. Just as we greeted, Elsie candidly apologized for having taken so long to see me, but that she simply wasn’t ready to see anyone for a while since being widowed.
She narrated Manny’s harrowing illness as if it only happened yesterday. And across the table, I knew those memories will eternally be fraught with sadness and longing.
As we caught up with each other’s lives, our conversation moved from sobs to quiet laughter and then to encouraging words. And by the time dessert was served, we both had resolved that maybe it was a good time for Elsie to consider going back to graduate school, a decision she will finally see through this September.
Perhaps, the Irish writer Cecelia Ahern best captures the long painful process of grief and bereavement in her now famous novel P.S. I Love You. Many years back, I first read this novel about a young couple, Holly and Gerry who meet tragedy unexpectedly when Gerry succumbs to cancer.
On Holly’s 30th birthday, she receives letters from Gerry, one for each of the months after his death, guiding Holly into her new life without him and prompting her to try out adventures they never had the chance to do together. Each note was then signed “PS, I Love You” in Gerry’s own handwriting.
I was sobbing my eyes out at the end of each chapter, but to me, the narrative was more poignant than its movie version. Throughout Holly’s bereavement, one could feel the immense struggle she went through as a young widow.
Whether it’s the loss of a beloved parent, friend, pet, a coveted job, a relationship, a miscarriage, or even of one’s home, there is both a physical and an emotional emptiness loss creates.
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisa-beth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the five stages of grief, namely: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages interestingly though do not happen in a neat sequence for most. Even Kübler-Ross acknowledged that these stages of grief “were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.” Like Holly and Elsie, the road to acceptance was indeed unique, but both long and difficult.
I realize now that when people tell you to go on with your life in the aftermath of a loss, I don’t think you ever can instantly. Settling back into one’s life after a losing someone does take time and only you can say when you’ve healed and that things will be okay. With any luck, having a strong faith coupled with the encouragement of family and friends, in time you can ultimately conquer despair and begin to hope again.
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