Healing Through Loss is a bi-monthly feature on Your Turn To Care. Guest columnist Michele Neff Hernandez provides insights into the process of healing after losing a loved one.
Every once in awhile I am able to see myself through another person's eyes; sort of like looking up and seeing an image in a mirror, and then realizing the face that is reflected there is your own. The observations from these unguarded moments usually provide some serious food for thought.
Recently I watched the movie Brothers. I will leave out the movie review, but here is a brief synopsis: An excellent family man who is in the military goes back for a second tour of duty and ends up being captured. His family thinks he is dead, and grieves his loss. He is then restored to them (this part really hurt...I wished so many times that Phil's death was actually just a terrible mistake) but has been altered due to the horrific experience of being held captive. Not a feel good movie by any stretch of the imagination.
There was a scene, however, that provided a glimpse into my life. Before everyone realizes that the hero is not dead, the bad boy character is trying to help his brother's widow "feel better." He plans a birthday party for her, complete with a cake baked by her two adorable girls. There are guests, decorations, gifts, candles, and of course everyone yells surprise as she walks in the door. Then the camera pans around the room and you see the exact same look on every face. Expectancy. Did it work? Is she happy? Will she stop wearing the look of grief on her face? Have we communicated to her how much we love her? ARE WE ENOUGH? And that last one hit me right in the stomach. Because as widowed people we constantly carry around the weight of other's concerns, fears, sadness, and yes, their wishes for our ultimate happiness...as we are observed, discussed, fretted over, and advised by good meaning folks of all types.
The heroine in this scene looks a little dazed. She obviously understands the reaction that is expected from all the people surrounding her with loving birthday wishes, and yet grief is clearly present in the room. Her need to acknowledge her painful loss clashes with the needs of her loved ones to know that she will one day recover from the searing pain of separation that grief inflicts. These same people want to be reassured that they are enough to make her happy, that she will choose to live again because she wants to share her life with them too. As I watched this scene I felt the weight of the wishes that the people in my own life hold close to their hearts for me, and for my children. My shoulders felt heavy, and my heart ached, viscerally I experienced the feeling of being loaded down. The most difficult part of the weighted feeling was that the load was full of good things...wishes for happiness, wishes for wholeness, wishes for the ability to laugh freely, wishes for the unspoken lines of grief that mark my face to fade away, wishes for good things in our future, wishes for life to be a little kinder to our family, and wishes for the past to not always overshadow the future.
As I watched this actress play my part, I suddenly realized that I have carried the weight of all of the good wishes of my friends and family for many years. I dragged them around with me even when I couldn't believe that any of them would ever come true. Each wish has been piled on top of the next, and I have been walking around like an overloaded juggler trying not to drop any one of the wonderful things that the amazing people in my life hope for me. The idea of putting them down and letting someone else carry the load for me never crossed my mind.
Viewing myself through the mirror of film struggling to honor my loss, and also to acknowledge the possibility of my future, made the weight of other people's wishing shockingly clear. I wish I had known that my loving friends and family are free to wish as many good things for me as they can dream up, and I am free to be grateful for their kindness, and to allow them to carry the weight of all they hope for my future.
Michele Neff Hernandez is the founding President, and Executive Director of the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation. Soaring Spirits is a non-profit organization committed to providing resources and peer support to people grieving the loss of a loved one, with a special focus on those who are widowed. Michele inspires people as a motivational speaker and freelance writer. She also works as a member of the Bereavement Training Team for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and is a regular contributor to various websites, blogs, magazines, and collaborative book projects. Ms. Neff Hernandez is a resident of Simi Valley, California where she lives and laughs with her three amazing children, and is newly married to an amazing Aussie who supports and encourages her work with the widowed community. An avid runner and outdoor enthusiast, she actively encourages others to embrace the life they are given.