by Jan McDaniel
Holidays – for those who have lost a loved one – are no longer the same as they once were. Almost ten years have passed since my husband’s death, and while I can tell you my new life brings me joy, I will also say I still love and miss my soulmate of thirty-three years.
I can hear his voice sometimes in the carols sung at church, and I wonder if those around me know I’ve left them and wandered back into the past, if only for a moment. I am here and there at the same time. I see him in our children and grandchildren, a quick glimpse as they turn or smile, a familiar quality in their patience and gentleness, a definite similarity in their excited embrace of some new idea or plan.
My journey through this last decade has felt like an Olympic race in which runners must not only run but also jump over hurdles in their paths. We are all hurdlers, just trying to survive, finding ways to navigate the next obstacle, problem, disaster we face. Life speeds by and demands the most of our endurance and strength.
This year, many hurdles, both small and large, loomed before me as summer turned into autumn and warm days filled with sunlight deferred to the colder darkness of coming winter. Nowhere was that change more evident than in My Big Project.
Like many grandparents do, I decided to move closer to my grandchildren. Imagine the hurdles this would set up for me. At my age, downsizing, selling my house, and purchasing a smaller one close to one of my daughters seemed like a good idea, but the transition was much more complicated and long-lasting than I would have ever imagined.
It was daily lifting, hauling, packing, carrying, searching, looking, working with real estate agents, buyers, sellers, lenders and so on for weeks and then months. All without the man I had depended on for over thirty years. All unfinished, as the process is still ongoing. All, taking apart the new life I had so carefully constructed.
Major decisions, such as selling a home, making a move, changing jobs are sometimes necessary early in the grief journey. Sometimes, they come later, but it is almost certain that at least one major change will cause complications for survivors at some point. The hurdles will line up, one after the other, in what seems like an endless stretch of obstacles that can weigh us down with overwhelming chores, decisions, and heartache.
This is when I really began studying the art of hurdling. The hurdles themselves were not going away. I had to find a way to manage this race the way these hurdlers did. I kept in mind that sometimes a hurdle is not cleared and asked myself: what happens then?
I thought about the early days of grief in 2007 and beyond. Even a simple, everyday problem would overwhelm me back then. I asked myself how I handled those hurdles. The answer is what many of us talk about on the Alliance forums. It is what each hurdler knows. One hurdle at a time. One moment at a time.
So, with my new life literally boxed up and in storage, I am floating until I can close on my new home, staying with my daughter, my sister. This experience gives me a new perspective on just about everything. It is unsettling and sometimes painful. Yet I know I am safe, I am warm even if I have to keep reminding myself. I look at people who are truly homeless in a different way now, and I wish I could give them the comforts and safety a home provides. I can more easily see the broken places and remember how difficult it was to build a new life without the love of my life.
We heal. We may have to work on it for a long time, but we do return to life and its problems and comforts. The holidays often bring an ache, a longing for those we lost that is sharper than at other times of the year. But by knowing that is a normal part of the race, by focusing on one moment at a time, one hurdle at a time, we can endure, rebuild.
And do it all again.
Jan McDaniel, a writer from the southeastern United States, lost her husband to suicide in 2007. As a blog columnist and community forum moderator for the Alliance of Hope for suicide loss survivors, she writes about survival, connection, and hope. www.LightThatBringsHope.com