THE BLINK OF AN EYE
On January 8, 1991, my husband died. In the blink of an eye, I became a widow, a single parent and a bread winner. Grief and fear seized me as I thought of our children still living at home. I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Our lives had been those typical of middle class families. My husband was a successful salesman. I worked part-time as an early childhood teacher, and our children were growing up nicely and finding their own paths in life. Our oldest daughter was already pursuing her career in another state.
My husband suffered with rheumatoid arthritis since his late twenties. This is a painful and crippling disease that we coped with daily. As it progressed, the crippling increased, resulting in a diminished capacity to function. There was uncertainty and insecurity for us all, but determination and a positive attitude fired up our spirits. Even when he began to have replacement surgery for worn joints, we geared up and put our best foot forward. I truly believed life would get better, and we would grow old together.
I was 50 when my husband died. The children were 25, 20, 17, and 15. We had life insurance, a 401k, and some investments, which we planned to use for our retirement. I was reluctant to dip too deeply into my resources, but my salary was inadequate, and I knew I needed a better paying job. That blink of an eye completely turned my life around. I went from being a homemaker with a part-time job and growing family to full-time employee and college student. Needing just a few credits to complete my degree, I decided to dig in and graduate.
Making ends meet wasn’t the only obstacle I faced. Binding up wounds was a major, ongoing task. Our emotional well-being was paramount, and I prioritized its importance, both short- and long-term.
A crisis is demoralizing, and leaves us feeling helpless and alone. Our best and worst traits come out in full force. The pain of loss is indescribable; I just wanted to grieve away each day. During bereavement, energy levels are low and concentration is diminished, but my determination took over as I began the mourning process.
Mourning isn’t sitting still. Grief is work and as I faced each obstacle and solved each problem, I again felt my spirit fire up. I sought help when I needed it and always found people around me-sometimes professionals, sometimes friends or neighbors, who had the insight I lacked. I realized we could live with some uncertainty, as long as we took comfort in one another’s love and warmth. We embraced hope and reaffirmed that positive attitude that had sustained our family while we dealt with illness and disability.
Today, I am confident and self-sufficient. My children are mature and independent, and we are amazed at the hurdles we jumped. Fear and dread have been replaced with joy and an unshakable sense of belonging to one another. The family is scattered all over the map, but each Christmas we try to get together and celebrate. We visit one another whenever we can and do Zoom calls in between.
My wish for you is to have that same joy and sense of peace that comes from living each day-not as a challenge-but as a gift. Start to build a foundation today, wherever you may be on your life path.
Resources abound, within and around you. Look inside, affirm yourself and tap into it. Trust your own instincts.
Share your bounty with those in need. Wrap your arms around them and give freely. If we wait until we think we have abundance to give, the fire in our spirit will begin to go out. The foundation you build and share will spread throughout the community, and there will be abundant resources to sustain everyone.
The blink of an eye that pushed me into a new life seemed instantaneous, but was really part of an ongoing process I hadn’t recognized. My coping skills were already in place, and my emotional content lay dormant, to be summoned when crisis struck. Your foundation touches every aspect of your being-mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. Build it carefully and consistently. Let others help you and believe, if you wish, that the Creator Spirit is pouring out love and joy.
I remember the pain and anxiety of those first few years of widowhood. The responsibility was overwhelming, and I would sit at the kitchen table and think, “When do they let you cry?” Now I know that you have to let the tears flow. It clears your head and soothes your soul.
In the blink of an eye, I moved from reasonable comfort to what seemed an insurmountable task. But here I am, still designing my new life. My late husband believed life was meant to be enjoyed, not endured. My wake-up moment handed that legacy to me. I live by it, and I encourage you to do the same. I wish you well.