Monday, November 7, 2011

Widowhood: Bouncing Back Guest Post by Stephen Gallup

I have a grown son who is disabled and who inspired me to write a memoir, What About the Boy? Please visit for details on that. I lost my first wife to cancer 17 years ago and later remarried. I’m now trying to be a good parent to a girl who is almost a teenager and a boy who’s still in preschool!

Bouncing Back
By Stephen Gallup
For a period of time after my wife Judy died in 1994, a strange thing kept happening to me. Again and again, I would find myself standing in the middle of a room, with absolutely no idea of what I had been doing, why I had gone there, or what I’d meant to do.
Judy’s long illness had kept me busy. She’d had frequent medical appointments and hospitalizations. I tried to be emotionally supportive, while taking over aspects of family life that had previously been her domain. Suddenly, she was gone. And with her went almost all of my focus. Adrift, I remained in Busy mode, even with no real direction. There were still impulses to go and do something, but each time the notion faded away before I could do it. That was scary.
Fortunately, I did have other responsibilities. Judy and I had a son, who happened to be disabled. Joseph relied on me for his care. I also still had a job, and definitely needed the income. These two concerns distracted me from my grief. They kept me involved with other matters.
Almost two decades have passed since those days, and I look back on them now with wonder. Every time one of my friends loses a loved one, I see that same confusion and doubt. Whether the death was expected or not, the survivor enters a period of stunned bewilderment. Things stop making sense. There seems to be no point to continuing. Then, gradually, out of the fog, questions take form.
Is my life over, too? Can I even make this adjustment? Is any more fun for me even possible? The answers to these questions are no, yes, and emphatically yes. The loss of a spouse, no matter how dear, does indeed close an important phase of one’s life. However, that loss does not mean it’s time to give up. We are still here, and I think it’s safe to say that we’re here for a reason. Reasons tend to become apparent in due course.
In the mean time, there are things a recently widowed individual can do to ease the transition back into an active life. This could be a very detailed list, I think, but for now let’s focus on the high points. I’m sure you will have heard these before. However, I can vouch for them. They worked for me.
Get involved in something.
What sort of activities or causes have been important to you in the past? It’s possible that you may have changed so that they have lost their appeal, but consider those things first. If these activities involve interaction with other people, so much the better. For most if not all of us, this is a time for human contact.
If familiar activities just don’t excite you now, consider stepping out and trying something quite different.
In my case, traveling to China was something I had always imagined doing, although I’d never thought it would actually happen. In the year after Judy died, I resumed a long-discontinued study of the Chinese language. I played language tapes in the car while driving around town, and rented Chinese movies to watch at night. At the end of that year, I actually went to China on a solo vacation. I saw the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, and I had lots of opportunities to find out if I could make myself understood there. It was a great adventure. I felt as if I were suddenly leading another person’s life.
Expect good things. Expect wonderful things.
A lot has been said about the way optimism attracts good outcomes. Emotions like gloom and self-pity might be easier, but they have the opposite effect. And there’s really no justification for them. Yes, we’ve lost someone very, very important, someone who can never be replaced. But would that person want us to spend our remaining days in sorrow? Not likely! Our spouses loved us and surely would have wanted continuing fulfillment in our lives.
My wife Judy died in a November. As the end of that year approached, I got serious about making some new year’s resolutions. As I mentioned above, I had a disabled son and a job to hold down. In addition to my son’s ongoing needs, my employer was making it clear that layoffs were coming. I had to get active and find a new source of income. Those were my top two priorities, but I ended up with a list of five or six objectives that I held in mind as I went about my life every day. That list gave me a purpose.
One item further down the list was the wish to expand my social life. In those days, of course, I had no thought of remarrying. That kind of relationship was beyond my expectations. However, because I did believe good things would come to pass, a new partner came my way. And as a result of that new union, I now find myself, at this late stage in my life, with two more children. I’ve gone from grieving spouse to a dad who helps kids with their homework and school projects. They keep me young and tuned in to this changing world. I’ve been very fortunate, and I believe Judy would be glad.
Everyone who has been widowed has a unique story, but I think these two points figure in most of them. How do we carry on? Let us count the ways.


Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Stephen, I've just read this post, and three things jumped out at me - the honesty and the simplicity - and the message of hope. I certainly hope that lots of folk read it. Lovely writing as always.


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