|(M.A. Reilly, 2017)|
When he died, I felt lonely, not just for his physical presence in our lives but also lonely for the incomplete picture that was my life after he left. It’s as if someone took a pair of scissors and cut out half of the photo, leaving me unfinished. - Michelle Steinke-Baumgard (from here)
Another death that happens after the loss of a beloved husband or wife is the death of "us." At first it is subtle, not rearing its medusa-like head as shock and terror, loneliness and fear abound. But in time, that loss of us becomes more prominent, noticeable. I was reading an article by Michelle Steinke-Baumgard, Who Should You Love After Loss?, that a friend sent to me and I realized that this second year after Rob died is largely about mourning the death of us--Rob and Mary Ann, Mary Ann and Rob--and all that our names joined together represented and promised. And it is the promised that is hardest to look in the eye and not blink, or at least tear up. But it is also those promises of a future that will not come that must be let go.
Steinke-Baumgard writes about the space necessary to learn to listen to the self you are and are becoming. She writes,
To find these new ways to feel full as an individual, I realized I had to stop hating my alone time. Instead, I needed to see my alone time as the opportunity to meet myself, listen to myself and love myself. The quiet times are when I could hear the most from deep inside and find out who I was as an individual.Whether we have suffered one loss or another or none that feel traumatic, the sense of being unfinished is largely human and remains with us,especially if we are circumspect. Who we are is emerging, never complete, nor consistent. Even with Rob alongside, my sense of incompleteness may have felt less noticeable, but it was nonetheless present. The person Rob met in 1988, is not the women who held his hand as he died in 2016. I think here of Kurt Gödel and the second incompleteness theorem. We cannot prove our consistency within ourselves. I think in many ways that is the power of love. Our consistency is often shown through the gestures, words, and actions of another in relationship to self. I learned about myself through my husband and others.
The space where I quibble with Steinke-Baumgard is in the idea of a self being complete. I get what she is saying about learning to listen and to love yourself and I agree with all of that. I think she captures all of this so well. I love the silent spaces where I can write and paint. These are more solitary, than not. I don;t think that everyone who grieves needs to embrace the silence. For some this would be an anathema and would be more harmful than helpful. If I have learned anything these last two years, it is that the path after the death of a husband is multiple and what is possible is best defined by those doing the walking.
As I read the second half of the article, I wondered what being complete means. What did Steinke-Baumgard had in mind? Being complete is offered up without definition and that is problematic as it continues a myth that 'loving one's self' is akin to completeness. Further she says that we need to be complete before beginning other relationships. I was certainly not complete when I met my husband.
She explains that,
Grief has changed you, shifted you and transformed you into a new being, and while some might see that as a negative, I see it as nothing but beautiful and amazing.This feels wrong to me.
Perhaps it is because I am a mom to our son who is now just 18 or that I love Rob and was loved so deeply and was nevertheless incomplete. There are pieces of myself that have not been transformed. There is a bedrock sense of self that has been shaken, but not broken. My fierce sense of love and protection of Devon was present before and after Rob died. My love for other people and interests I have had continue to exist. My sense of social justice is ever present--a commitment that has not eroded. I carry with me a belief in possibility and hope still remains. I have a deep commitment to understand and love other--to become as Maxine Greene has penned, (other)wise. Yes, this loss shifts so much and leaves open new definitions of self, but there is something essential that also remains. To love and have loved one man for 28 years, shapes a psyche and a soul and even though Rob has died his touch and presence still (in)forms me.
We are all unfinished. Whether we suffer the loss of a spouse's death or not, we remain unfinished. As scary as that may feel it is more truth than not.