Grieving Without Feeling

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Widow to Widowed and Life After Loss are two of several organizations to help people through that bleak period when they are left behind after someone close to them dies. Group counseling by sharing experiences cannot change the way they feel, but it can put things into perspective. We are so unlikely to be prepared, even when the departed has been ill for ages. We seem not to be able to anticipate the emptiness and sometimes meaninglessness of life alone.

“How long will it take?” one woman asked a pastor I interviewed. Another told him she was proud of the fact she had not needed a group, that she is “doing it on her own.” You never get through grieving, he told me. “You get through the hard part.”  Grieving is work, he warned. It’s not as if one day a fog is lifted. You wake up every morning still lacking something that defined you for so many years.

What makes it doubly hard in many cases is that the grieving may have two different reasons. The current separation is one of them. The other is some former, not-quite-forgotten loss.

My character Harold Garber, in WINDOW BY THE POND, has been a widower for some months when he meets Sophie George in Bok Tower Gardens. He explains that he is in Florida visiting his daughter, helping her around the house. It isn’t long before Sophie sees that he has transferred his sense of importance to the needs of his only child, a young accountant in a new position, and freshly divorced. He thinks maybe he should stay down here instead of returning home to Boston.

He had found his wife slumped down on her knees in her garden. There had been no warning that her heart was weak. He now feels abandoned, cheated out of the rest of their life in his retirement. In time we learn that he also carries guilt about having disappointed her. He grieves for himself at the end of his crumbled career, so pitiful in his wife’s eyes.

Sophie is witness to Harold’s gradual healing, which takes another woman to hasten. She doesn’t quite approve of his dependence on women to make him feel whole. When Sophie’s husband died, she started to find herself, who she really was, what she cared about most, and what she wanted to finish. We know her as fiercely independent, holding her worried son at arm’s length, and reluctant to fall under the seductive powers of attractive Captain Sam, though she respects and admires him.

Group counseling aside, grieving is a solitary process, a road that is longer for some than others. Harold, Sophie thinks, is not willing to to do it. He wants to look in another direction, forget about his unfulfilled plans to travel with Dorothy. He is willing, it turns out, to forgo his original bucket list, substituting it with a different list, a new way of being, or no list at all. He glimpses a future he never could have imagined in his marriage, and sets off on a road charted out by a stronger person than himself. He will feel safe with her.

Who can say for sure that he is wrong?

Fulham Palace May 4 2014 (31)

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