December 23rd, 2010
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ilove you

With the today’s launch of Cry, Laugh, Heal, I’ll start by sharing an unexpected moment that helped me cope with my husband’s death.

Grieving can take you down some unpredictable paths — sometimes revealing humor where you least expect it.

I learned the importance of having a sense of humor early in life while growing up in a large Irish Catholic family.  If you couldn’t laugh at yourself, then someone else would imitate you until you did.  So laughing and making jokes about life’s bumps in the road was part of my DNA, an integral part of my spirit, and it served me well until my husband died.

Suddenly, I found myself in this new unwanted role of being a middle-aged widow and single mother.  I constantly felt as though I was outside of myself, watching and trying to performing some sort of high-wire act.  On the one hand, I was trying to move forward and support my young son, while on the other hand, I was feeling completely numb.  As much as my family and friends offered their support, I still felt as if no one really got my “spin cycle” of emotions and what I was trying to handle.

I decided I needed to find others who had also lost loved ones and talk to them about how they managed to put the pieces back together and go on with a new life.  I started going to group support sessions at Sibley Hospital’s bereavement group called Widowed Persons Outreach (WPO) and it was there that I found some of the emotional resources and freedom to talk about ALL the issues surrounding my husband’s death — even the things that sound really irreverent and crazy to other people.

Issues such as emptiness, feeling surreal, the good, the bad and the ugly memories and the loss of making future memories.  The discussions were sometimes emotionally exhausting yet therapeutic.  But one of the best, and unexpected, things that came out of these honest discussions was that I rediscovered my sense of humor. 

As a group one day we were sharing, spontaneously and unfiltered, just letting stuff flow.  Somehow we started talking about what happens when you have buried your loved one and yet their belongings – their clothes, their food, their books, most of what they owned – are still physically with you.  It’s weird!  Those things that your loved one wore or used are all around you, constantly reminding you of the person who has been ripped away from you. 

Without thinking, I jumped into the discussion and began explaining what happened to me one day when I was in the house all by myself.  That particular day was just off.  I really felt like I was falling apart and all I wanted was some kind of contact with my husband. I sat on the step near our living room and I opened my cell phone and stared at it for a long time.  I got up and started walking around the room, truly believing that there was the possibility something might happen — a ring, a text, a signal of some sort from my husband. 

I know it sounds strange but when you are in the throes of deep, deep grief and your loss is so raw, you are just hurting and not being logical.  I closed my eyes and imagined that he was hugging me.  Then I opened the hall closet and took one of his tweed jackets off the hanger.  I put it on and of course I immediately felt better. I smelled him in that precious jacket and I imagined his arms around me.  I was comforted and totally torn up at the same time.

As I talked about this experience to my new friends in my group, I looked directly at the husky man sitting across from me and said, “Trying on his clothes really made me feel a lot better.  Haven’t you ever done the same thing?” Without missing a beat, he said with a completely straight face, “I gotta tell you.   I have never, ever once thought about wearing my wife’s clothes.  Ever! Wearing her pink cardigan would not make me feel better!”

I totally burst out laughing.  Something about the serious expression on his face, his delivery and the mental picture of this big guy in a small pastel sweater made me laugh so hard I couldn’t get my breath.  And everyone else started laughing too so I knew that we had hit on something close to other people’s hearts.
It was then that I knew life was going to be a little softer.  Nothing was going to be great or wonderful; just slightly more bearable. 
For a long time, I didn’t think it was okay to laugh.  I wasn’t supposed to be enjoying myself and besides, nothing was funny to me anyway.
But there I was.  Laughing.  And at a grief support group meeting.  I think we all know there is a very thin line between crying and laughing.  Many times you find yourself doing one thing and all of a sudden you are doing the other.  It just depends on where our emotions take us.
A good long cry or an unexpected laugh can be cathartic.  I find, and I bet you do too, that either one always makes me feel better, as if I can stand up straight again, take a deep breath and feel some hope about the future.
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5 Responses to “Clothes To You”

  1. Anonymous

    I love this! It really helps make sense of the grief process and makes me feel better than there are others out there like me. Keep the great posts coming!

  2. Anonymous

    This was really nice. I do hope that you post more. Grief is such a universal feeling, as well as the happiness that can catch you off guard when going through the process. This blog will no doubt help you and many others, including myself. I hope that you continue on with that beautiful sense of humor us Irish have in tough situations.

  3. Anonymous

    This is great. It’s so good to hear others’ experiences. And how nice to find something to laugh about. Many thanks.


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