"Everyone has his or her own way of dealing with grief," my always cheerful therapist liked to say, "and you'll find yours." She was less positive about her answer to my question, "Does it ever end?" The best she could do was, "It gets easier."
She was right on both counts. I did find my own way of dealing with the sudden death of my husband, more than 30 years ago, and though the grief has never ended, it has gotten easier over time. Except for one week of each year that I would like to tear out of the calendar, but I have learned to deal with that too. I think of it as walking through the shadow cast by an eclipse of the moon. (Yes, I know, the earth casts a shadow on the moon during an eclipse, and not the other way around.)
Though a lunar eclipse only lasts a few hours, the shadow I walk through each year lasts a week, beginning on February 14th, the day I received a dozen red roses for Valentine's Day, back in 1983. (Even now I cannot look at red roses.) My husband died the next day, and I stumbled around in a nightmarish fog of disbelief for three more days, until his funeral on the 18th. That ended the disbelief, but not the nightmare. By the 21st I was able to go back to work, where I would at least be surrounded by people, and have something to do. Every year since then, I think of that date as the one where I emerge from the shadow that began a week earlier. I can rejoice that I have made it through to the other side, one more time.
It's true that everyone deals differently with his or her grief, as my therapist had told me. I have known women (and men) who were able to marry again and find love and happiness with someone new. At first I thought I would, too, being only 50 years old when I was widowed, but I never found anyone who could take the place of the man I lost. That is not to say that ours was a perfect marriage. Not by any means—and that may be part of the grief I still suffer. I was left with so many regrets over things that were said and done, as well as many not said and done! Now I would be willing to make this bargain with the Devil: Let me go back and spend one more day with my husband. Even if I had to go to hell after that, I wouldn't mind. At least I think I would die happy.
Some years ago I did find the courage to write a play about our marriage, and the regrets and guilt that I was left with after my husband died. By making him a character in the play—the irascible ghost who follows his young widow to London on a group tour—I managed to turn it into a dark comedy. It was first performed in southern California sometime in the late 1980s. I went to see it on opening night, wondering if I would be able to sit through it. As it turned out, I wasn't.
I often think of my cheerful therapist who helped me through those black days in 1983, and wonder if she is still dispensing advice to the newly-widowed and other bereaved persons. If I ever met any of those people, I would say, "She's right. You'll find a way to deal with it. Think of it as passing through a shadow. One that has a beginning and an end. As in a lunar eclipse, it may be dark for a while, but there's light on the other side."