Grief

Easter Twigs

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It’s March. Each year the Iowa landscape dons a coat of mud regardless of what type of winter we’ve endured or embraced. The light changes giving hope for warmer days even as the furnace continues to blow warm air on our winter dry skin. And we who chose to live in Middle America get antsy. Antsy to plant. Antsy to shed our coats and our daily vitamin D supplement. And in my case antsy to move out of the church season called Lent and into Easter.

For practicing Christians Lent is a time of deep reflection on our actions in this life. A time for many of giving something up such as chocolate or online shopping or hatred. Or taking something on, a new behavior cultivated over time with daily discipline such as praying for hungry children, dropping off food at the local food bank every Friday, or thanking mentors for their coaching so freely given for our own betterment. Something different chosen and practiced so that after Lent is over, when we begin fifty days of once again embracing our lives as Easter people, the practice remains solidified, habits changed over the six weeks of Lent. Not quite the two months needed to fully change a habit the experts tell us, but close enough to keep going.

I’ve never liked Lent. It’s dark, introspective, and wrapped in deep purple when all I really want is something light. And it’s full of the word “sin” which needs a reframe I think, one less associated with shame and more with being humanly capable of change.  And this year, well introspection hangs onto grief like sap. We’ve been Lentening since August and really a few chocolate bunnies would be most appreciated now in our spring slog.

When I was a child Lent meant extra worship services on Wednesday nights. In my teens it meant giving something up like the year my friend Kirsten and I gave up sugar only to gorge ourselves Easter Sunday morning in the church basement while helping with the Easter breakfast.

As a mother, Lent prompted creating ways to track the time preceding Easter much like an Advent calendar counts off the days before Christmas. The first year we owned a home, I tied bright colored feathers to our lone and little front yard tree until its own leaves unfolded into green. Little did I know my creation was something stemming from my ancestry. I had made a Swedish Påskris which translates as “Easter twigs.”

I grew up with a Påskris of sorts. My mother and some of my teachers cut pussy willow branches in early spring to bring indoors. Some women put the branches in water, some did not. But the branches in water over days slowly leafed out, the miracle of spring’s new life playing out on windowsills and kitchen tables across my Scandinavian influenced river town community.IMG_20170313_115823_231

Over these years of raising children, I’ve searched for willow bushes to cut my own live branches. Most years I’ve settled for store bought curly willow twigs purchased inside at my local grocery store or from a gift shop owning farm woman. These branches always decorate our home this time of year dressed in feathers and Easter egg ornaments. But they are alas no longer green within and serve as abstractions or symbols of the real thing.

A couple of years ago though I found a willow bush at a local gardening center. Tony dug through our hard clay to plant it up near the house even though I’m sure there was something else he’d rather been doing. Me assuring him as he dug that it was probably the last time we would plant a bush or a tree, the yard now full of life. He knowing by the next spring I would find something else to plant or better yet want to rearrange the landscaping.

The bush Tony planted flourished as all willows do. It grew up quickly toward our windows and the light frequently needing aggressive shearing. By last September it looked like it would take over our house. The church men who did our yard work itched to trim the willow back. But in my shock and need for control, I told them not to touch it.

IMG_20170310_092854_598 (1)This spring I remembered the willow bush out back wanting this year of all years to watch a live Påskris take root and bloom in our home.  So one morning, a Friday, I ducked out back in the early morning cold to cut back the willow bush bringing its fallen branches inside. I filled up the large old blue canning jar with water and set everything in my office. Later in the morning I asked my online seminary group to name one gratitude and one waiting, a something on their hearts and minds that seemed a long time in coming. With each gratitude and each waiting, I added a branch to the jar. After group that morning the branches found their own waiting home on our kitchen table where the boys took their presence for granted being quite familiar with my bringing nature indoors mentality.

Some mornings I take a photo recording the branches’ journey. I will show these photos to my seminary group sharing this simple miracle living right under our mostly Midwestern noses. From the funny but not so fuzzy buds, to curled up leaves, to leaves just opening the photos capture this passage from dormancy toward awakening even as an early spring snow storm rages outside.

IMG_20170321_082317_375 (1)And this process, age old, elicits hope within my heart. Hope which tells me no matter what has happened or will happen, the rhythms of nature move through their living and dying and living cycle much the same way they did last spring and will again next spring. And even if our life is so very different this spring than last, our leaves too uncurl a bit more each day for want of more sunshine; spreading out in the warmth while taking in moisture, air, and life again after a time of dying, darkness, and reflection.

You can see more examples of Påskris on my Pinterest page at https://www.pinterest.com/jenniferohmanro/

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Grief

WID’O

I have no idea what I’m doing most days. No longer in shock, I am working, in seminary, and signing up for volunteer activities. Yet all is not as it was. I awake sometimes in tears followed by an often bolt out of bed. My bolt is not unlike when the boys were small and we had just opened The Men’s Center. But back then I worked with a nervous energy afraid it would all collapse around us. Since Tony’s death I seem more methodical knowing now my own ability to survive a punch to the gut and the collapse of life as we knew it. Still the bolt soothes. Its movement creating endorphins or dopamine or something like that as I whirl around gathering laundry or finding the newspaper or making tea before settling down to write.

/wid’ō/

Once fully awake I face absolutely new, different, or often bizarre experiences. My brain spins constantly with these realities and challenges as I both mourn our loss and work to rebuild our life or just catch my often runaway breath. Obstacles live and lurk everywhere often hiding under piles of paperwork, laundry, and emails. The biggest obstacle perhaps is my reluctance to be what other’s name as widow.

Widow, a noun coming from the same first syllable as wife derived from the old English wif but meaning the direct opposite as in a woman who has lost her husband and furthermore has not remarried. A state of being I interpret as either transitional in that a widow may after a certain amount of time remarry or final for those who remain married in mind and heart only to their spouse who no longer lives on this plane of existence. Or final as well for those who merely choose independence over coupledom. A word regrettably also associated with poison filled fear inducing spiders, incomplete lines of type on a page, and an extra hand in certain card games.

/rel’ikt/ 

According to Walter W. Skeat, the early root of the word widow means, “to lack, want, hence, to be bereft of.” The word itself derived from the Middle English word widewe and before that the Latin vidua. My college thesaurus adds some possible widow synonyms: dowager, relict, widdy, and mantrap. Dowager, a widow who owns her deceased husband’s property, strikes me as grossly outdated, dusty, and belonging to past eras known for corsets and butlers. However the modern terms of executor and beneficiary aren’t exactly poetic either. Relict means something that has survived from the past like an antique. I may have a few wrinkles but I don’t feel musty or collectible, at least not yet. Widdy is a rope which connotes being tied but to what? Widowhood? Grief? My now late husband?  And mantrap, well what I am supposed to think about this term? It’s blatantly derogatory not to mention sexist.

The definitions for widower are similar to widow. But the synonyms (of course) do not contain terms such as widdy or womantrap. No, widowers are allowed to be survivors. Not antiques, ropes, or funky economic terms. Survivor, a noun easily changed into a verb no less as if this state of male widowhood has movement! Not a person, place, or thing with no possibility for becoming an action in life.

/ən’kəpəl/

I am told through books on my condition, that of widowhood, that I will begin at some unknown point in time to uncouple. A sterile modern word, medical almost, for an excruciating process sounding similar to a chain disjoining or disconnecting or severing which isn’t far from the rope concept of widdy. However uncouple is used as a verb which may show some progress in the widowhood lexicon. This newer term uncouple, used in all break ups, misses however the truth of this experience–living love torn apart by death.

Widowhood with its added suffix donating state or condition seems more an active circumstance but still one with no foreseen conclusion. A refugee of the heart in which my essence is pummeled with fluctuating and extreme emotions and my mind challenged with questions of who am I without my husband. Unfortunately the defining words associated with being a widow whether modern or musty fail in depicting with any sense my specific reality now. Widowhood indefinable at best if there is a best and at worst, confusing and painful.

/bə’reft/

The one descriptive I embrace is bereft. Yes, I am bereaved, a different tense of the word. Lacking yet wanting my loved one, my partner, and the father of my children. Bereft because a community, a county, a state failed to provide adequate precautions to the tourists they work so hard to attract on a river known for its ability to take life swiftly in any given year but which swallowed way too many lives last summer. Yes I am bereft of my husband because of a bereavement, a lack, a deprivation of decisions made for the common good, the good of all,  including tourists, vacationers, and boosters of the state and local economy. Bereavement begetting bereavement.

Hence I am now WIDOWED. Not truly single, at least not in the way I was before meeting Tony. But because of my husband’s permanent absence in life legally no longer married either. A sole proprietor in life. Not in union with another yet still attached emotionally forever to our relationship. Grossly reminded of what has happened by every form I fill out in which I now must check a very different marital status box.

If I were much older and despite the surrounding terminology, I would more fully understand this condition I now find myself in. My friends would have enlightened me as I comforted them in their grief before I began my own journey. But in my age set, well I’m a token widow, one of just a few everyone will turn to if they too become widowed which I hope and pray is decades away for their sake as well as mine.

I doubt as a day to day experience my widowhood differs from others, particularly those who became widows suddenly and still have children at home. Things fall apart or do not get done.  Toilets run on, lightbulbs burn out, and things break down, especially things of a mechanical nature which of course I cannot fix. Lawyers, accountants, and business assistants in addition want details from me I either do not know, do not remember, or have little want to do.

Books, lawyers, and other widows warn me what to watch out for having donned my new descriptive. Lecherous married men. Lecherous men in general. Money scams. Scams in general, and of course the perils of the internet. Months ago I would have scoffed at these thoughts shared by others. Now, I know too well these bits of advice contain some truths as I block yet another fake widower from my social media platforms.

It occurs to me that I am also bereft of both the cultural knowledge to understand my new state of being as well as the adequate words to describe not just widowhood but the shock, grief, and experience of in my case sudden widowhood. The violent ripping out of life as we knew it in one moment replaced with just emptiness for a time, maybe months before life in its infinite mercy gradually fills in our gaping holes. Or perhaps I am also missing a reframe of current terminology and definition. Thoughts into words which in turn create widow and its hood into a possible developmental life stage or phase much like we name the ages and stages of childhood which of course are transitional and build on each other in the perpetual march toward another time in life.

/ən ‘blen dəd/  /ˈpēs hu̇d/

To rethink widowhood as a possible stage of life, one of loss and grief, gives way to more possibilities. It becomes a recalibration of sorts, marked with gradations such as a thermometer does for temperature, of existing differently now while at the same time reflecting, healing, and building anew a life which is still worth living even without the one whose absence marks me as widow. After which a new stage begins, a post widowhood. Bereft yet trusting the love shared still exists, embedded permanently in deep cellular functions interacting with every pulse of my heart. In love still but open to what may be, could be, in this next developmental stage called perhaps unblended peacehood or renewed oneness or just peaceness. Full of love from a loving partnership and for a partner. Yet ready to forge into life rediscovering the importance of living again and living well. Peaceful enough in these life stages — although unasked for and unwanted– for the flow of new life to find my humanness.