Losing a spouse messes with you in so many ways. Some are very weighty issues, and some seemingly shallow. This past week I had a social week, including an invitation from friends of my husband’s to meet for dinner. As I got ready, I found myself getting very stressed about what to wear.
I’ll admit, figuring out what to wear is not a new issue for me. I like fashion, but I also like to feel that what I am wearing is “appropriate”. For me, continuing to put effort into how I look seems to help in my healing process. Even when my husband was ill, I tried to at least put on the “appearance” of outward “positivity”. And after he died, I knew I wouldn’t be showing my grief by wearing black, it just didn’t feel right. I guess it’s a crutch, a false bravado, that if I try to look good, I will eventually start feeling good – and though seemingly superficial, it’s one I am clinging to for survival.
But my pesky mind can never leave well enough alone. And while trying to figure out what to wear, I started thinking about how getting dressed “as a widow” just isn’t the same as getting dressed as “the person I was before”. Ahhhh, gotta’ love the mental anxiety that grief can bring to every situation. It plagues me on a daily basis. I keep telling myself, “what’s the big deal?”, don’t get hung up on terminology. “Widow” is just a label. Yet every time I get dressed I find myself stressing over the following:
1) Looking like crap – because then people will really see my inner agony….
2) Worrying that I look “too good”, because that would imply I am also feeling “good”, and somehow don’t care that my husband died…
3) Even worrying that I am dressed too “sexy”, because that would imply that I am already looking for a replacement…
And inevitably, these minor anxieties get me thinking about bigger things. Like how we, as individuals, react to and face loss/tragedy in life. How a loss might – or might not – affect small things, such as getting dressed, but also affect “big”, non-superficial things, such as “beliefs”.
I think a lot about Christopher Hitchens, renowned atheist. He died of cancer over a year ago, and one of the big questions that he kept getting asked, after he found out his dire diagnosis, was whether it had changed his beliefs (or lack of belief in god). I heard an interview with his widow recently, and she talked about how ridiculous that question really was…why would it be any different for him, “as an atheist”? Most people don’t suddenly throw out everything they have believed in, (no matter what it is) at the end of their life. After all, isn’t that when you need your beliefs the most? To give meaning, validation, and COMFORT as you approach the unknown?
My husband was reading Hitchens before he died, he even brought a book to Hospice. He knew he was going to die, and he accepted it, as a fact. He didn’t start wondering about god, or questioning his beliefs, he simply accepted the facts, and the unknowns. My dad was exactly the same. So “pragmatic” about beliefs, and dying. And I’ve always felt the same way. Or so I thought. Trying to come to terms with the “reality” and “unknowns” of where my husband is now, has my beliefs completely shaken. I mean, if I don’t believe in “heaven”, then why do I keep looking to the sky in search of some “sign” of my husband? It’s overwhelming.
So for today, I think I’ll embrace the challenge of what to wear. It might be a thick warm coat called “pensive widow”, and I can only hope it will keep me warm through a winter of disbelief.