DOES WRITING ABOUT ONE’S GRIEF LESSEN THE GRIEF?


I am still grieving over the loss of my wife; its been several years since that awful week in which my wife died and I still cry when I allow myself to ruminate about our marriage and what it means to me. Yes, I still think of myself as being married. After 66 years as Patty’s husband, I am permanently married! We were married when we were 18 years old, but our marriage lasted 66 years; our marriage was abruptly ended by a cancerous tumor that destroyed her brain. I have never before experienced the feelings of loss and  loneliness that I felt as I witnessed my wife exhale her last breaths. These were the most profound moments of my life and they have remained fresh in my memory. As she exhaled her last breath, the strained look on her face relaxed to that of a person that has finally found a peaceful place to rest. I cannot forget these moments nor do I want to forget! But, life goes on for those who survive. Since I am still counted as being among the living, I must act as though I have some reason to stay alive, beyond that of the primal instinct of self preservation.

Today I read an article which presented ideas on how to deal with one’s feelings of grief resulting from the loss of a love one, and I need ideas, that is clear. One idea presented was to write about your grief and, in that way, find your way to peaceful accommodations with your feelings of grief.  This an approach that has a good chance of working for me and I am going to try it. I enjoy expressing my thoughts by writing them down, so here we go, for better or worse.

I have been taking pictures since 1961 and I have accumulated a ‘collection’ of about 25,000 color slides. The main focus is my family, in the ‘extended family’ sense of the word, but I also extensively documented my interests in railroads, railroad history, the great outdoors, mountaineering, and life in general.  I generally took a quick look at my slides as I got them back from Kodak, put them into ‘limbo-like’ storage, and essentially forgot about them. A few years ago, I woke up to the fact that I had accumulated a ‘collection’ of slides which was a fairly good record of my life experiences. So, I bought a scanner and began to digitize my slide ‘collection’. I started by digitizing my ‘railroad slides’ and when that phase was completed, moved on to the digitization of the remainder, a process that is still not completed. The digitization of my images is a very personal process for me, that is, I am forced to relive all of the experiences that I shared with Patty as I view the images. Recalling the events and circumstances of my life is not usually a problem for me, but after my wife Patty died, I found myself in a quandary as I started to resume my normal life. l realized almost all of the images that I was looking at evoked memories of Patty. I realized that I was faced with the choice between continuing to process the slides, and in so doing add to my grief, or to avoid the reminders altogether by deferring the scanning and thus allow myself the luxury of lessening my grief mainly with the passage of time. I chose to resume the digitization of my slides and I set aside those images that showed Patty. That was a lot of images, and a lot of memories, as Patty and I shared many experiences. This was a difficult process for me at times but I managed to edit these images of Patty down to a final group. This group became the slide show which was presented at Patty’s Memorial Gathering. This Memorial Gathering of Patty’s family, and her many friends, was the most emotionally intense thing I have ever willingly subjected myself to. I believe the experiences and emotions of preparing the slide show were responsible for my being able to attend Patty’ Memorial and not experience a complete emotional breakdown.

Living in the home that Patty and I made for ourselves and our three sons has proved to be a blessing for me, but it does give rise to a problem similar to the one enumerated above. Everything I see or touch brings back memories of Patty and of the experiences we shared. We have lived in this house since 1958 and it contains a lot of memory jogging artifacts. The artifacts that trigger these memories are everywhere in the house. For  instance, every time I brush my teeth, I am reminded of her because her toothbrush is still where she left it. I cannot avoid seeing it. The solution is as simple as it is obvious; get rid of the toothbrush! Except that is not so simple (for me). Throwing away anything which  belonged to her is, to me, a bit like denying her place in my life. This is a huge problem for me as it renders me impotent in doing the things that I need to do to close her estate. Consequently, I am not making much progress in giving away her belongings to family and friends as she wanted. The severity of my problem is compounded by my nearly complete inability to dispose of my own stuff. Recently, I did resolve to go thru some of what I have accumulated over the years and rid myself of most of it. My son David eagerly helped and encouraged me by moving many storage boxes  and otherwise facilitate the work. So far I have rid myself of three boxes of books, looked at, reorganized, and returned an additional six boxes of stuff back into storage. In looking at the contents of the boxes, I found much minutia of the early years of our marriage. and I dutifully scanned many documents into the computer with the intent of disposing the originals. I made the mistake of reading documents as I scanned them and when it came time to actually throw them away, I found I could not do so. I ended up with much of what I started with; much better organized, properly stored on my computer, and once again, stored in the garage. However, I also experienced wonderful trips down memory lane as I processed all that stuff; I literally relived the early days of our marriage and courtship. I found photographs of the engine I built-up for my 1940 Ford sedan and these reminded me of the time I spent with my Father as he taught me the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of engine rebuilding. I was reminded of Patty and the fun times we spent together as a couple before we were married. Time well spent, but not very useful as far as downsizing my ‘stuff’ is concerned. Unfortunately, I am becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of just doing what little I can and not worry too much about the actual downsizing. My apologies to my sons who will have as much of a problem with throwing Dad’s’stuff’ away as I am having in doing the same.

Do I feel any lessening of the burden of grief that I bear? I really do not know yet. Will I continue to write? Yes, I will continue to write. Later!

 

 

2 responses to this post.

  1. Dear Sue,
    Writing about our loss does seem to help. I am now scanning color slides taken when Patty and I were in Alaska about 30 years ago. It seems unreal to me how long ago this was, but it seems like yesterday to me now. This work serves to my memories of the life that Patty and I enjoyed together fresh in my mind and I think of her a lot. Expressing my feelings does provide a way to at least try to lessen the pain of the loss that we suffered.
    Mel

    Reply

  2. Posted by Sue Johnson on April 18, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    Oh that’s beautiful! I hope it helps you as reading it surely helps me.

    Reply

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