It is now eight months since my beloved wife passed away. I don’t use the phrase “I lost my wife” because what is lost cannot be found. I did not lose her. She simply died. She passed away. Her life ended. Her suffering is gone. And my suffering continues and will continue until my body lies next to her in the grave.
The knife is stuck in my heart and I am unable to pull it out. The more I try, the more I bleed. It stays in my heart to keep the memories alive, never to forget beautiful years shared together.
Friends continue to ask me how I am feeling and I reply “I’m not doing very well but am trying to take each day only one at a time.” How else could I reply? Can they know my suffering? Can they feel my pain?
Each one shares a platitude with me: “She would want you to go on living” or “Your children need you” or “Your grandchildren want you to be at their weddings”. Nice words. But only words. Words that go to the mind but not to the heart.
In group therapy sessions of the Bereavement and Grief Counseling Center, each one of us shares our pain. Many cry. A box of tissues is at our side and only the one who is crying can use it. We cannot pass a tissue. We cannot embrace the crier. We cannot speak words of comfort. We are directed to let a person cry. Crying helps the healing process, we are told. We should not be ashamed to cry. Our tears are tears of deep love.
Some of us, including me, tell that we talk to the pictures of our deceased. When I heard an elderly gentleman share that he kisses his wife’s photo every morning, says “good morning, sweetheart. I miss you very much” and weeps for a seventy year marriage that ended for him, I hear the voice within me repeating his own words. I kiss Rahel’s photo every morning and every night.
It stands on the dining room table beside the chair on which she sat. Flowers surround the photo and no one is permitted to sit in her seat. It is especially painful on Friday evenings when my daughter blesses the Sabbath candles and I bless the wine and the challah. We look at the photo and we weep. At the end of the meal we sing the zemirot, Sabbath hymns, and recite the prayers at the conclusion of a meal. Rahel’s voice is silent. She no longer sings with us. Her absence is painfully noted. And we go on, following the traditions by which she lived her life.
Each person experiences grief differently and personally. Kind words from others are welcome but they do not help to take the sting of grief away. Some people believe that time heals all wounds. That is a fantasy. Simply not true. The wounds which we experience following the death of a beloved one can never and will never heal.
The American poet, Edgar Guest, summed up our feelings in one of his beautiful poems, ”When Sorrow Comes”:
When sorrow comes, as come it must,
In God a man must place his trust.
There is no power in mortal speech
The anguish of his soul to reach,
No voice, however sweet and low,
Can comfort him or ease the blow.
He cannot from his fellow men
Take strength that will sustain him then.
With all that kindly hands will do,
And all that love may offer, too,
He must believe throughout the test
That God has willed it for the best.
We who would be his friends are dumb;
Words from our lips but feebly come;
We feel, as we extend our hands,
That one Power only understands
And truly knows the reason why
So beautiful a soul must die.
We realize how helpless then
Are all the gifts of mortal men.
No words which we have power to say
Can take the sting of grief away –
That Power which marks the sparrow’s fall
Must comfort and sustain us all.
When sorrow comes, as come it must,
In God, a man must place his trust.
With all the wealth which he may own,
He cannot meet the test alone,
And only he may stand serene
Who has a faith on which to lean.
I re-read these words frequently. And like prayer, they bring comfort to my aching heart.