“Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, someplace deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke
As time always does, the years since I have written here brought change.
My late husband’s Parkinson’s Disease progressed, bringing with it emotional and physical challenges for me as well as for him, the type a dear friend calls FGO’s (effing growth opportunities): intensive caregiving accompanied by stress, anger, exhaustion, and anticipatory grief; the pain of watching a loved one decline bit by bit and ultimately die. More grieving after. Being alone after a long marriage. Letting go of how I had expected life to be and the plans we had made. Letting go of “we”.
The time after his death also meant taking practical actions such as repairing and updating the house, which had been overlooked during the illness years. The personal aspect of that was to shape it into my home instead of ours, a part of figuring out who I was alone. I realized pretty quickly I wanted another relationship eventually, but I didn’t have a clue how that might manifest. I was not unhappy, but I was lonely. Sharing life is important to me.
Many familiar comforts remained, and I spent time on them anew: Enjoying nature’s restorative influence. Reading on topics that helped the fog lift. Visiting with my daughter. Consulting with wise and kind friends in meaningful ways. Journaling and experiencing writing’s healing power. Hiking. Horseback riding. Cycling. Some solo traveling.
Gradually I began to feel more like myself. The exhaustion I had felt at the molecular level eased. Now, in addition to savoring the peace brought by the touchstones of these “familiars”, I am learning more about how to accept new joy as it comes.
Novelist Alice Walker wrote in the voice of one of her characters: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
This is what I mean by practicing wonder. Noticing. Being aware. Doing the activities which fill our soul. Accepting the gifts that still abound in this world. Being grateful. Choosing joy.
Just before the pandemic began, a big dose of joy came to me in the handsome form of an amazing man who understands, who has brought his own love for all my favorite comforts along with an appreciation of music, a reverence for family land, a highly developed sense of wonder, a gift for thoughtfulness, a voice that melts me, and a smile that helps set the world to rights.
Those FGO’s I would not have chosen have taught me a lot. One of the lessons is this: Tears can reflect both sadness and joy at once.
This is because grief and gratitude are compatible. In fact, they can enrich each other, deepening the experience–and the wonder–of life.
What activities comfort you and feed your soul? In what ways?
What emotions seem incompatible but are actually connected in some way for you? Why?