This weekend, my widowed sisters (and brothers) have been basking in sun and friendship in my old stomping grounds, Tampa, Florida, at a Camp Widow weekend, sponsored by Soaring Spirits Foundation, and organised by Michele Neff Hernandez, the founder of this blog, and of Soaring Spirits. I have thought about them during this weekend, and wished to be with them, as I have witnessed their photos and posts on FaceBook.
I have been in a "Camp Widow" of my own, here in Manchester. I participated, with twenty other sangha members, in a weekend workshop at my Buddhist Centre called "Death and Dying, The Only Beauty that Lasts," facilitated by Siddhisambhava, an order member with our movement, also known as Jan Parker. She has been working with these aspects of life--death and dying, grief and loss, for many years. The workshop was deep and challenging and exhausting. But I came away with some insights that will hopefully help me along my journey in living with the death of my beloved Stan.
My grief has felt frozen solid, for the last few weeks, like the earth around me. At times, I have felt unable to find the energy to do much more than barely cope, that I am only participating in the necessities of work and food and sleep, that there has been little room or spaciousness for actually living this life. I have felt stuck, and despondent.
Meanwhile, I have also been participating in an online writing workshop called "Writing Your Grief," in which we were given prompts around some aspect of our loss, to write into, each day, for 30 days. And I was able to write prolifically, remembering Stan, exploring my sadness, the emptiness of living without him. All was well--until the prompts asked us to explore our anger.
I found myself getting irritated with the prompts. I think there were three or four of them. I read them, and read others' writings around them, but I could not or would not explore this aspect, myself. I didn't see the point.
Who or what am I supposed to be angry at? My husband, for dying? The circumstances of his death? The fact that we had such a short time together? What good would it do me, I thought, to rail against all of this?
It is what it is. How will my grief journey be made easier by raising my fists in opposition to it?
Anger is not a stranger to me. I think I came out of the womb kicking and screaming. I survived my complex and difficult childhood by using the energy of anger to propel me into a different life. When I was very young, I developed a reputation for beating up the little boys on my school bus. I got expelled from school for challenging the teachers. I wrote petitions in the 5th grade. I wore black armbands to middle school.
I formed my entire identity around resisting the way things were, and railing against it.
This anger I held, this anger that moved me from my early circumstances, also cost me a lot. My anger spewed out in every direction, not caring who and how it hit. My words could be biting and hateful. My temper, much like my father's, hurt people. My son. My mother. My first husband. Good friends.
I have spent years trying to understand, work with, and contain my anger.
When I met Stan, I was a calmer and more loving person than I had ever been. Still, I was prone to irritation and outbursts of frustration. Stan was not comfortable with anger. He had experienced the consequences of an angry father, and any expression of it made him anxious and afraid. It was a side of me that he didn't tolerate, well.
The picture, above, was taken shortly before he witnessed one of my outbursts of frustration. It was the first time he had seen this aspect of my personality, and it unsettled him, a bit. He made it clear that, if we were to be together, I would have to find other ways to express myself.
I used to marvel at his patience and calm--his ability to meet whatever came into his life, not with anger and resistance, or even irritation, but with a measure of wisdom and reflection. I used to watch him, in the mornings, waking up with a smile, humming a little tune, and think, "how can someone be so unutterably content?" It was perplexing, to me. But inspiring, too. I wanted to be more like him.
So to resurrect this anger felt counterproductive. It felt threatening and dangerous. Why would I want to risk unleashing it, again?
To explore my anger felt like a betrayal of him.
This weekend, however, I began to see the purpose in exploring it. Perhaps my inability to feel angry has something to do with my frozen grief. Perhaps I can use it, as I did in my childhood, to loosen and propel me forward. Perhaps I am so exhausted because I am trying too hard to be kind and wise and accepting of this loss. Perhaps I am trying to skip a step or two.
During one of our meditations, this weekend, we explored forgiveness. We were asked to think of a person we needed to forgive, and to spend some time with them. We were asked to spend time forgiving ourselves.
And, though he is gone, now, I chose to spend time with Stan. I allowed myself to admit that perhaps I was angry with him, a little bit. Why didn't he take better care of himself? Why didn't he tell us he was feeling so poorly? (I learned, after he died, that he had told a friend he was having chest pains.) Why didn't he let us know?
And, though it felt illogical, I explored my anger around him leaving me. How dare he leave me and all of us? His children? His grandchildren? We needed him!
But I could only allow it for a minute, with a forgiveness clause attached. I recognised the anger, and forgave him. Perhaps later I can explore the anger more at length.
As with everything, in this long journey, it is about steps. One foot in front of the other. That is the best I can do.