Sunday, July 13, 2008

Moving forward, looking back

Sometimes I wonder why there's such an urgency about "moving on" after losing a partner to death. Really, it's a source of obsession for widowed and non-widowed alike. On one side, people are wondering Shouldn't I be moving on by now? Have I moved on enough? What can I do to move on more?, and on the other side, their friends and family are saying disapprovingly, Stop talking about your husband/wife so much; that's in the past. Why do you still have photos of him/her up? You need to get out there and start dating. Move on move on MOVE ON.

But the strange thing is, this fanaticism seems limited specifically to spouses. Just as an example, my grandfather died six years ago this autumn, and I can still remember the scent of his aftershave, the blue cardigan he wore when he took me out for walks, the crabapple tree in his back yard. I can remember touring Old Town in Albuquerque with him and my grandmother, marveling over the mellow gleam of the copper-and-turquoise jewelry spread out on Indian blankets, eating sopaipillas at the Mexican restaurants and licking honey off my fingers.

If I sat and reminisced out loud about all that, people would smile and say what wonderful memories of my grandfather I have, and how much I must have loved him. No one would look uncomfortable or tell me that I need to let him go and stop dwelling on the past, and they certainly wouldn't ask why I don't want to look for a new grandfather.

Yet as fond of him as I was, my grandfather still didn't play a tenth of the role in my life that P did. And so I have to wonder why I should try to erase one man from my history when it's all right to keep the other one in it. Why is it supposed to be unhealthy for me to remember clothes P wore, or how he smelled (fabulous) or things we did together? Why should I "get rid of" P's possessions when no one would bat an eye if I had keepsakes that belonged to my grandfather? Why is someone I saw for a week or so every few years irreplaceable, while someone who slept in my bed every night for more than a decade needs to be shuffled off ASAP to make room for someone else?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that it isn't possible to get caught up in someone's death -- anyone's death -- so deeply that it interferes with living the life you still have left. If, two years after the fact, I were unable to get up in the morning and carry out my responsibilities, that would be a problem. If I had a creepy shrine to P in my house and made visitors light a candle and kneel in front of it -- well, that would just be weird. (I can imagine P tearing his hair out and groaning "What the hell's wrong with you?" over that.) But to talk about him? Remember him? Give him the respect he deserves for being the man he was?

I'll never understand it.


Alicia said...

What a perfect way of thinking about this. You are so right --- If I pick up things that belonged to my brother or my father or my grandmother, nobody accuses me of "playing" the grieving sister/daughter/whatever, nobody thinks I'm being morbid.

Wow. What a revelation. Nearly four years out, and I'm still learning new ways to think about/respond to situations.

Thank you.

SJW said...

This needs to be an NPR Essay. Seriously-you have hit the nail on the head when it comes to mourning a much loved spouse.

Thank you for putting into words what has been rattling around in my heart for the past year and three months.

LOVE what you wrote-hate that you had to write it.


writermeeg said...

yes!! V, this is so good and true and important. please try to publish this elsewhere! people need to hear it.

Shelley said...

Great post.

I'm sure everyone is well-intentioned, but I really don't understand how anyone can push someone to "move on" ...especially knowing the traumatic way things went down for you.

I haven't walked that mile in your shoes, but there's no doubt I'd be feeling exactly the same way.


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