In Defense of Living Again After Loss
If the article title sounds a bit baffling…it’s because that it is a bit baffling.
Why should anyone feel as though they have to defend living again after loss?
I am not sure – but unfortunately, it is happening.
Many survivors of loss find themselves defending an eventual continuity of life in the ways that they see fit.
This “defense” begs an important question:
After one life ends, should all semblance of living an abundant life come to an end?
Jacque Hansen** is a beautifully outspoken member of the widowed community. She recently shared a very insightful post on social media in answer to the increasingly apparent need to defend one’s Healing Journey after suffering a loss (bracketed additions are for clarification):
“It’s crazy to me that what people find so offensive [are]widows and widowers who find happiness after tragedy.[Widowed] in many of my widow groups [on social media] are finding they are having to defend that their heartbreak and grief still exist and they haven’t forgotten their late spouse even though they are in love again or are traveling a lot or are enjoying new and different activities.
Grief and joy can coexist. The length of devastating outward public despair doesn’t equate to the amount of love that was lost. We didn’t ask to be widowed and most of us had great marriages. Why should we be without a partner in life if we desire one?”
Over and over, I receive questions that begin with the words,“Is it OK to…”. Is it OK to go to a movie and laugh; is it OK to take a vacation; is it OK to celebrate holidays (any of them); is it OK to pursue hobbies and interests; it is OK to continue to wear wedding rings, is it OK to take wedding rings off; is it cheating on a late beloved if one dates again or falls in love again or remarries…
The “Is it OK” list is lengthy.
Regardless of who or what you have lost, the answer is now and will always be … IT IS OK. It’s OK to take vacations, change jobs or careers, change homes, change cities, states or countries; travel the world, seek companionship, fall in love again, remain on your own if that is your choice…and thisparticular list is lengthy as well.
Let me ask you this…if the situation was reversed and you were the one who had left your loved ones behind, what would you want for them? What kind of healing journey and future would you want them to pursue? Wouldn’t you be the first to say, “It’s OK”? I am guessing that your answer would be “yes”. I am also betting that whatever you would wish for your loved ones is what they would wish for you as well. Keep that personal vision in your mind whenever you (or anyone else) question whether something – anything – is “ok”.
Another lesson that I love to teach concerns the so-called “appropriateness” and/or the ability to love again because it is such a hot-button issue. Let’s begin with a newsflash:
The capacity of the human heart is infinite.
The ability to love is infinite.
The capacity to embrace as much love as you wish…is infinite.
Why is this lesson so important? Because too many people (both the grieving and the opinionated around them) believe that by moving forward, you are either disrespecting, casting aspersion upon or completely forgetting about the past – including your life with your late spouse. The reality is that if these axioms were not true, everyone in the world would have only one child. Obviously our hearts expand to include as much love as we choose to include.
I have more great news for you:
Life is not an “either/or” proposition.
You can treasure your past.
You can honor your past.
You can and should certainly love your past.
You do not have to live in the past.
The existence of present joy does not mean the elimination of past grief. As Jacque so wisely observed, grief and joy can occupy the same space. Grief eventually takes its rightful place in that corner of the heart where it is no longer raw, nor is it always on public display; yet will always reside.
Almost fifteen years after losing Mike, I can tell you without reservation that I still love him and I treasure the life that we had together. It was a great life – why wouldn’t I continue to celebrate what we built together and treasure the memories that I have? That said, I have also moved forward into a beautiful new life. Eleven years old when her daddy passed away, our Kendall is now a young adult living on her own and enjoys a thriving career. After nine years widowed, I remarried and my husband and I have built a blended family. To top it off, I am privileged to live my life’s passion by being on a mission of service to others in need.
Now, by living a new life, does that mean that I have forgotten about or otherwise betrayed my life with Mike? No. Do I need to “defend” my joy because my grief is not “public” enough or “painful” enough? No. Does it mean that after Mike died, I should have stayed inside the house in my flannel penguin pajamas and kept the blinds closed forever? What would thathave accomplished?
You can honor the past, you can treasure the past – you do not have to live in the past.
I understand that there may be those around you who have opinions and observations as to your particular loss situation – and those opinions may not be especially helpful, supportive or even positive. You must be careful about the people with whom you surround yourself on a regular basis. For example, people who were once in my life believed – and told me,“Once a widow, always a widow“, or words to that effect. In other words and in their opinion…I had caught my lifetime limit. It did not matter that all the grieving and mourning in the world was not going to bring Mike back…I was “expected” to be grieving and mourning forever. I decided that while widowhood has definitely shaped who I am, I was not about to allow it to define who I am; nor was I going to allow widowhood to design, define or determine my future. That singular decision enabled me to continue moving forward and turn a deaf ear to the naysayers of the world.
What about those who are in a loss situation similar to yours and who attempt to question your Healing Journey – your methodologies, your philosophies and the ways that you have chosen to design your path going forward?
Do you honestly care?
Are you really supposed to fall into step with another person’s vision of your Healing Journey?
Since dating seems to be among the most discussed issues, let’s again use dating as an example. The facts are these: People (widowed and otherwise) are going to have opinions about dating post-loss. Some will be positive. Others will be negative. However, I can promise you this…no one is now or will ever be driving home from work at night thinking, “I wonder if Susie went out on a date tonight – how could she? That is so disrespectful”.
The same holds certain for any and all other areas of your Healing Journey. The reality is that your life now – all aspects of your life now – and the decisions that you make about your life going forward are not going to impact the lives of the people who offer differing, unsupportive or negative opinions. You therefore cannot allow any negativity, lack of support or any other potentially soul-sucking behavior to influence any of your decisions and ultimately decide your destiny.
Living again after loss needs no defense – to anyone.
Loving again after loss needs no explanation – to anyone.
It is what we are meant to do.
So go ahead.
Laugh loudly (and often).
Apologize to no one.
**With thanks to Jacque Hansen
Carole Brody Fleet is the award-winning author of the #1 ranked new release in its genre, “When Bad Things Happen to Good Women…” (Viva Editions, January 2016). She is also the author of “Happily EVEN After… “(Viva Editions); winner of the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award, one of the top national awards in publishing; as well as the critically praised, national bestseller, “Widows Wear Stilettos…” (New Horizon Press). A contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul, Ms. Fleet is also featured on numerous television shows and regularly appears as a media expert on numerous radio programs nationally and internationally; as well as in national and international print media. To learn more about Carole Brody Fleet, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com and www.carolefleetspeaker.com