I recently overheard a widowed woman sharing about her experience and of being still in a very painful place with it all after 4 long years. Granted in widowhood, that isn't an extremely unusual circumstance. But I do think sometimes we err on the side of being so careful with those grieving that we do not say some more blunt perspectives that could also be helpful to individuals. I don't know that they would be, but I'm willing put it out there and find out I guess. I could be entirely wrong, you all may let me know.
So this woman was expressing that she is still in so much deep pain, and wishing she wasn't. She obviously felt as if she was “behind” in some way with her grieving. And then she went on to say that one phrase that really bugs me... “It isn't fair!”
Well no, DUH, it's not fair. It isn't fair that you lost someone you love earlier than your wanted to. It isn't fair that I did either. None of this is FAIR. I'm not even sure why this feels so harsh to say – we've been telling five year olds this for decades. But somehow it doesn't seem to sink in. And it's entirely true... life isn't about fairness. It never has been. It never will be. I didn't make the rule… and I don't like it anymore than the next person. But there it is. It's been this way since the dawn of time. I don't know when we all started thinking it was supposed to be fair - probably always. But why? Who ever said that to have a happy life meant a life without pain? That a peaceful or fulfilling life was a life without unfairness? That the horrible stuff will always just happen to someone else? It doesn't work like that.
I learned this lesson pretty early in life. When my mom died, I was nine years old. My dad was a handicapped alcoholic widower that had no clue what to do with a 9 year old girl. That certainly wasn't fair to anyone in the situation, me or him. He worked very hard to provide a roof over my head, food for me to eat, clothes, and kept me in a good private school. He started going to AA meetings and even stopped drinking for a good while, too. But he was also an emotional mess. And he bottled up everything. And he sat around his entire life saying to himself “it's not fair”. I watched this statement eat away at him over all the years of my life, until he died from complications of heart and lung disease when I was 26. He never remarried. He never dated. He never really even made new friends hardly. I watched the mental and emotional anguish that comes from sitting inside of those three words "it's not fair" for too long. From being the victim of your circumstance for too long. Perhaps that is why I feel so strongly about this phrase and about owning it instead of letting it own ME. Naturally, I don't want to end up like him.
This, being widowed, is NOT fair. Absolutely it is not. I would not wish this experience on my worst enemy. And while there is a certain amount of time – which can only be decided by us – that we do need to sit and gravel in that unfairness... there also comes a time to own that statement. There comes a time when we must grab hold of it and not let it take us down. A time when we must stand up and say that phrase in a different sort of way. “Life owes me nothing” is how I changed it up for me. It's harsh, and not flowery, but it's absolutely what I need to remind me that happiness isn't just going to show up on my doorstep after a certain amount of time. I am going to have to WORK.
This phrase reminds me that it's up to me to decide everything that happens from here on. It's up to me to make something out of the aftermath of his death, and find a way for his memory and his life to live on. It's up to me to create meaning from all this pain. To drag myself through the mud screaming if that is what it takes to work through it. And to reach out my hand to someone else and help pull them through the mud when they get stuck there... because I think that is where the most meaning can be made – in seeing just how much we can give and receive from each other. It is also where I am finding balance to the unfairness.
No, my story is not fair. But losing this one incredible man has brought into my life a string of other hearts which I have influenced and who have influenced me in ways I never imagined. It takes work to open up to that. Really fucking hard work. I want to close off and shut down and let his death ruin my life sometimes. It takes work every day still - even two and a half years later. Some days I am still crawling through the mud. But I'm beginning to see now that this idea that a happy life is one without pain is totally false. I'm beginning to see just how beautiful this unfair life can be if I work for it and keep my heart open. I'm beginning to see that maybe there are reasons that so much pain has happened to me… because I am someone who can do something with it. Change it into something else. Help another because of my experience. And that is not just me, but also you. We all have that capacity.
Life does not owe me happiness. That means that I have choices every single day to move towards something or sit in the unfairness. Some days, I say no, and I sit in the unfairness of it all. Hell, I did that most of the morning today. Sometimes I need to. But eventually, I remember that phrase "life owes me nothing". And soon enough I get up and go looking for my happiness, or my peace, or some meaning and purpose. For something that is positive. It is up to me to work for it, to find it, to make it when I can't find it, and to give it to someone else who needs it once I've got it. I suppose that is why I am writing this to begin with, after all. It was a bad morning, and I decided to make something out of it. Hopefully it finds its way to someone who needs it.