Smiling, I sat at my grandson’s Bar Mitzvah just six weeks after my husband Adam’s passing. Everyone was kind to me. That day went beautifully.
Up until that day I had been concentrating on how I would celebrate the Bar Mitzvah despite being in mourning.
The rabbi had said, “Widows only mourn for one month.”
That was not true for me.
The day after the Bar Mitzvah was when the real mourning begun.
I arose each morning and wondered how to get through the day. I was tired all the time. I had trouble just marketing for food that I hoped I’d have an appetite to eat. Doing the laundry and dishes and getting to my doctors appointments was a chore.
I sat at the computer to write one sentence a day even if it was in a letter to my husband. After getting no response to the letters I stopped writing letters.
Each weekday I tried walking in the sun a suggestion to fight depression which must be akin to mourning. I forced myself to market and cook so that I could report to my children that I ate.
It was at sundown that the loneliness and the reality of being alone returned.
The real healing began when I went to the local senior center bereavement group.
The first time I entered the room I apologized for coming late but all were welcoming. By all I mean mostly widows and some who had lost a parent recently. I was actually in both groups. My husband Adam had died a few months before and my mother less than a year before. I was in desperate need of help.
It was in the evenings that I waited for the door to open and for the sweetest sentence in the world, “How was your day?”
That did not come. I could look out the window and no one came home. What I missed most was the sound of Adam’s voice even on the phone when he was at work.
My children and grandchildren were all kind but it was in the middle of the night that death came to me in the form of dreams, from which I awoke in a panic.
Alone and lonely is the only way to describe how I felt.
Couples stopped calling or if the wife called it was to return my call, but not ask me to join them. Some met me for lunch which was fine.
The biggest topic at the support group was being alienated from our friends who were still couples.
“Maybe they worry what happened to us could happen to them,” I said. “I told a friend how lucky I was to be in a good marriage all these years, how grateful I was for that good time.”
Another woman in the group explained, “My friends don’t call anymore. They think I should be over it by now: I should get on with my life. Maybe they think widows are a threat.”
“I have the same experiences,” I said. “Many people think, you have children, you have your religious community, all of which I was thankful for, but at three in the morning when fear strikes, you are alone.”
Just seeing couples eating out, older couples eating together made me cry. No plan, just “Let’s go.” Seeing people with walkers and their spouses behind them as I waited alone in a doctor’s waiting room also made me cry. I remembered.
I looked at my husband Adam’s picture and turned on the light above him and asked, “What is the purpose of life when you are alone?”
My daughter-in-law came to my house with big plastic bags to help me clean up until one day I sat down in the living room beside Adam’s picture and said, “Enough. I can’t deal with this anymore. I will have a heart attack.”
However if one of my grandsons wanted a coat or even Adam’s favorite sweater I would say yes and hope they enjoyed wearing it, an easier way to let things go.
During Adam’s long illness I had been so tired I hadn’t appreciated just talking or sitting in the living room or eating the food I had cooked with someone.
The hospital had sent Adam home after a stroke while he was still falling backwards.
“You know you have to take care of him,” a social worker repeated.
I did the best I could catching him many times before he would have fallen on his head. Despite the difficulties I would take back those days.
I tried having a goal of helping someone else whenever I could. Like opening a door for a person with a walker or helping a caregiver with a package.
I called my neighbor who had been widowed a few months after I was and asked, “Do you want company? You can call me anytime.”
“I can’t stop crying. I’m sorry.”
“No need to be sorry. Crying is good. I go to a bereavement group. It helps me are you interested.”
“I don’t need that,” she said.
Every act of kindness helped give my life purpose.
One session in the bereavement group leader asked, “Is there anything you regret?”
I closed my eyes as others spoke.
One woman cried, “I hadn’t realized what would happen after I agreed to hospice care.”
I thought about how families are so out of control and so dependent on the kindness of others. I tried to push out of my mind my feelings of guilt. I should I have called doctors earlier; I should have noticed signs of trouble earlier. I should have talked to him more about the future.
The truth is whatever I did he would be gone now. The illness was not my fault. What happened to him was not in my hands. At least the hospital allowed the family to stay with him since he was paralyzed and couldn’t speak. We wanted to make sure they took good care of him.
That night I sat in the dark and considered not going back to the group. It was too painful. I looked at Adam’s picture and said, “You were lucky to have me during your illness.”
Months after Adam died, I discovered that besides the broken heart from mourning I did have a heart condition, one that involved real physical issues and pills.
When my neighbors saw the ambulance come for me, they offered to help. One neighbor even takes out my recycle barrels. My community sat with me at Shabbos lunch when I had the energy to go to services. Of course my family called, visited and invited me for many a Shabbos, but I was too tired to go.
At first I wanted to move out of my house, but then the memories made me decide I wanted me to stay as long as I could. That way I could have my family and friends from the community nearby.
I had to live through the anniversary and birthdays, and all the challenges to come, I told myself.
So I decided to get up in the morning and look in the mirror and say, “Today you will be okay. G-d is with you.”
One Friday night, I went to an Oneg Shabbat on the week of Adam’s Yahrzeit. And for a moment, I thought I could hear Adam’s voice among the men singing behind the Mechitzah.
I almost cried from happiness.
I was not alone.