After my husband died, I felt like an alien – like there was no one else out there like me. I was the only widow walking around feeling lost and disorientated. About 3 months after Keith’s death I joined a support group for men and women under the age of 40 whose spouse had died. The first night we all had the opportunity to share our stories. I looked around the room as each person told their heart wrenching story of loss and watched everyone else’s head in the room nod with understanding. I was instantly surrounded by 18 other aliens who all spoke the same language as me. It was so empowering and so freeing to know that I wasn’t alone. It gave me the courage and strength to carry one on more day.
There were countless times in my grief that I believed I was the only person who felt this way, or acted this way, or said the crazy things I did. And I always felt such relief when I met another widow who was feeling the same as I was.
I had lunch today with a widowed friend – someone that I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the past year – someone who I am grateful to have in my life.
Over our sandwiches, she shared that she had been shredding the papers of her husband’s life. I had to giggle. A few weeks ago, I was working on shredding the final papers of my husband’s life. His mounds of paper have been following me for the past 11 years and I am almost done shredding it all. Yes, he had lots of paper. Enough paper that I have used the shreds as packing material to move from Calgary to Hamilton to Waterloo and there is still more left over!
We discovered the process of shredding could be compared to the grief journey. Both of us expressed the need to slowly and methodically review each sheet before we shredded it. We could have easily just tossed the whole lot into the garbage and have been done with it – that has even been suggested by others. But no, it was important for us to honor our husbands, their lives, their handwriting, their signature, and their escapades by going through each page one at a time. We had to slow down and do the work, just like we need to do the work of grief.
For me, I found many interesting and fun tidbits of Keith’s life. Some I have kept for my children to look at and to be able to learn more about what their Dad was like. My friend has done the same. I found letters that I wrote to various companies expressing my dislike for their procedures and customer service….. apparently I had a little attitude back then and told people what I thought! I found all sorts of hidden treasures and even some land mines that bubbled up my grief and brought tears to my eyes. It was important to honor my emotions and to just be in the moment.
My friend and I laughed as we both cursed at the paper jams we had to fight to unplug. It always amazed me just how much crinkled paper strips could be lodged in the blades! Often the shredder would just over heat and stop. It was like our husbands were telling us, “OK, it is time to take a break – you have done enough grief work today”. Or maybe they were giggling at us as we cursed the shredder, our husbands, and life while we tried to pry out the many staples that were jammed with the paper! Maybe it was their way of saying “I’m still watching over you!”
Whatever the case, it was wonderful to share this experience with my friend. To again realize that I was not alone in my widowhood; that here, across from the table was another alien just like me, facing the same challenges, same struggles with a paper shredder that I was.