Tuesday, December 11, 2018

They Are Proud of Us

Cherisse Boam lives in Utah. She is twice widowed. She lost her husband Justin in a car accident several years ago. Later, she remarried. In a doubly tragic turn of events, her second husband, Harrison, also died, this time by suicide.

Recently, a well meaning friend suggested to Cherisse that she should 'move on' from her most recent loss, and that her husband Harrison would want her to be doing that.

Here, Cherisse writes about her response to that suggestion. She writes about the experience of being a widow and especially, being a widow to suicide. Cherisse puts into perfect words what much of the frustration, agony, and pain feels like for those of us who have lost a spouse or partner to suicide. Having lost one husband and then remarrying, she also talks about the difference between moving 'on' and moving 'forward.' 

Cherisse's writing is raw, honest, and courageous. She speaks for so many of us who have lost the person we loved to suicide. I am honored that she is letting me share her writing, here:

After Justin died, I had friends who reached out to me in support. One of them called me to tell me he was thinking about me. He then confided that another friend had lost his wife. But he also said he couldn't understand why his other widowed friend started using drugs and giving in to lust (so soon after his wife had died).

I told him what I'm telling you now:
The pain of losing a spouse is unlike any pain you've ever felt. It is deep, constant, and all consuming. You do ANYTHING you can think of to end the pain for even just a second. If you can avoid feeling or thinking or being in this deep agony, you will do it. I don't drink, and I don't have sex outside of marriage, and these things are because of my covenants within the church. I also hold the belief that if I did these things, when the underlying pain came back - it would be more intense playing 'catch up' after those moments of numbness. But sometimes, I have to be honest with you, if it weren't for the church, I'd take the numbness anyway. Not necessarily the lust, but absolutely the alcohol.

Widow's brain and widow's fog are real. You can't move and you can't do things most days. Grief isn't linear, it's not depression and then anger and then denial. It's anger and then depression and then anger again, Sometimes it's all at once. In addition to the pain, which mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, it also affects every part of your being and soul. It leaves no stone unturned, until you are annihilated completely and thoroughly.

Losing Justin didn't make the pain of losing Harrison less. In fact, losing Harrison hurt worse, and in a different way. I've been told that the method of death makes a difference, and I absolutely believe it. Suicide adds layers that weren't there with the car accident. I still found ways to blame myself after Justin died. "If we had just moved to the other side of the canyon like he'd wanted..." but fortunately his mother, my Mama, was very clear with me and shut down those thoughts, fast.

It's harder to shut down the voices with suicide, because people think it was a choice, so it has to be someone's fault, right? And it couldn't have been his.

Years ago, my Aunt Rhonda was widowed, and afterward I thought she'd lost her mind. She'd say she could hear and feel my uncle. I felt, at the time, deep pity for her. I'm here to tell you she wasn't crazy. Losing someone you've shared yourself with, body and soul, so intimately, makes their passing through the veil not so distant. You CAN still hear and feel them. They do visit you in your dreams. My belief in an afterlife is absolute.

The widow's fog means you sit for hours in agony, trying to remember just how to breathe, trapped in your thoughts and trying not to think. Your life becomes about survival. You can't get up to clean. You can't get up to cook. I cherish the words that a friend said to me on one long drive. I told her I hated when people said I was strong when I went back to work. First of all, it wasn't what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to be in bed constantly. (There were still times I did this. I called into work more than once to stay in bed because I physically couldn't get out of the pain enough to get up.) Second of all, part of why I went to work was I was hoping for a distraction from the pain for even a few seconds (remember that thing we were talking about earlier) and it didn't help. Third of all, I still had children to support. My friend said to me: 

"Sometimes we have to choose between the impossible," (getting up and moving) "and the unthinkable," (letting my children starve). "We can't do the unthinkable, so we choose to do the impossible." 

And that is what I did.

How long does the point of immobility last? It's different for every widow. Months. Years. The levels and intensities and lengths of time for each depth of pain varies by widow, by how well they move through their grief (or let their grief move through them), by the love they hold for their spouse, the fights or joys in their marriage, whether their spouse died slowly or if it was sudden.

Widows sometimes start with "We were married for x amount of years" as though that makes a difference in how much pain they are going through. Having gone through this twice, first with Justin, whom I was with for six years, and next with Harrison, who I was with for under two, it doesn't matter. The length of time you were married to someone doesn't matter. The depth of emotion you hold for them does.

How long does grief last? When should a widow move on? 
When should they remarry?

You NEVER get over the grief because you'd be getting over your precious, irreplaceable loved one. A widow will never move on, though they will be able to function again at some point, and maybe move 'forward' with or without a new chapter (relationship) in their life. They will take with them the old chapter as well. Harrison never asked nor expected me to get over Justin. In our marriage with each other (which is sacred) we honored our feelings, the kids' feelings, and we honored Justin. We still set a place for him at the table. When should a widow remarry? When is too soon? Pay attention, because this isn't well known. Whenever the hell they're good and ready, and not one second sooner or later. Only they know where they are in their grief. You don't. You understand me?

Finally, don't tell me what my husband would have or does want for me. This is me saying this in the absolute strictest, most angry way, NO ONE has the right to tell ANY widow how her spouse would feel. Let me tell you that our spouses, who have a beyond the grave connection with us still, who communicate with us even after their deaths, know us better inside and out, than anyone else. They know our agony, they know what we're doing and why we're doing it, they know we're trying to survive. and WE KNOW THEM. 

I remember feeling disconnected because what people told me Harrison would be feeling was different from the way I thought he'd felt. Eventually I found letters he's written and I realized I'd been the one who was right. 

Our spouses are damn proud of us for doing what we have to do to survive. 

They are proud of us for living. They are proud of us for taking care of things here.

You, an outsider to our marriage, to this grief, have no right to tell any widow that her spouse is or would be disappointed in us. They wouldn't be.

They are proud of us.

Cherisse Boam with her husband Harrison.