Mourning and Evening GloriesBy Emma Pearson
December 2, 2021
Main image by Erda Estremera on Unsplash. Other photos our own (plus PhotoShop).
15 November 2021
A couple of weeks ago, on 3rd November, I felt moved to celebrate a different kind of anniversary. The three-year anniversary of my widbud group, the “Mourning Glories”, comprised of Charlotte, Gordon, Michelle, Pamela and me. We met in early November 2018 in Toronto at “Camp Widow” (yes – there truly is a Camp for Widow.er.s), organised by the formidable Soaring Spirits International.
Everyone attending is a widow – defined as being the person left behind after the death of your partner; partner as in the person you were in a primary, intimate relationship with, whom you’d hoped, you’d assumed, you’d be with for many more years or decades. Happy ever after. Married or not. Young or old or in between.
It’s a magnificent convening. In non-COVID times, we participate for 2-3 days in seminars, presentations, discussion groups, comedy, and even a ball. And yes, the gender balance is about 90% women and 10% men – in part because women tend to be the ones who outlive a male partner, and in part because women are quicker to recognise the value of having some kind of social support system.
Which, by the way, is a primary ingredient not only in widowing resilience, but also healthy longevity. It’s not age that kills the elderly; it’s loneliness and isolation. Widowed people have lower life expectancy and increased heart disease than non-widow.er.s. I believe that while some of that is about literal heartbreak, a good bit is about isolation and loneliness. Which I have written reams about on other blogposts.
But after Julia died, my widbuds weren’t enough for me. When we talked, we talked about our absent spouses. We talked about our alive, usually struggling, kids. But there wasn’t space for me to talk about my missing kid. At least I didn’t trust that there was space. I think that even this skilled, compassionate, group couldn’t hold it. Or, again, I felt they couldn’t. I had made yet another dangerous shift in most people’s minds. I’d already become most of my happily marrieds’ friends’ biggest nightmare. Now I became most widowed people’s biggest nightmare. An uncomfortable identity, for sure.
So I went looking for people who’d lost a child. But when I found a group, I found them (generally) unskilled in what I call “grief literacy” for myriad reasons. They insisted that losing a child was worse than all other losses, and while in time I might agree with that, at the time of meeting this new, unwanted, community, I felt, “No – actually, losing Mike is worse for me because, quite simply, if he hadn’t died, I’d still have Julia”. Something I am still convinced of.
Over time, over the past two-and-a-bit years, Julia’s absence has become bigger, more unfathomable, than Mike’s. And of course I recognise that some of Mike’s absence is eased, camouflaged, buttressed, softened, by the presence of Medjool. I don’t know where I would be at without Medjool – he truly is a comfort and source of great love and weekly, if not daily, joy. Which takes away nothing of my missing of Mike. But it lessens the loneliness.
But Julia – that gaping hole just gets bigger and bigger. With every passing day, week, month, year. Is she 15 or 17? There’s a big difference there, already. Julia is 15, but her friends are 17. How can that be? So she must be 17. But she looks 15 or younger in any photo I have of her. In time, will she be 15 or 25? 15 or 30? If Mike is still 53, that feels okay, somehow. Even if I can see that that too, might feel weird, should I live on for many more years. But the ache of all of that time stretching out into the future without Julia in it, however tangentially a young then older adult is in their parent’s/parents’ lives – that absence is not going to be buttressed, softened, eased.
I didn’t much like the child loss group. Afterwards, as I reflected a little more deeply on why I had found it all so abhorrent, part of my rejection I think was because I was so damned jealous of anyone who still had their spouse supporting them after they had lost their child.
I felt more isolated at that child loss event than I had done before going. It was truly an awful experience, and I haven’t been back. I most likely won’t go back unless there is a special group for people who have lost a spouse and a child. I don’t identify with parenting now except as a single parent. And I don’t identify as a parent who has lost a child except as a single parent. I don’t have any identity as a couple who’s lost a child, and I don’t understand the language that couples speak to one another, to each other, to others, about losing a child.
In the end, to feel I might still have a place on this planet, I had to find just one or two people who had lost both a spouse and a child (or more). I had to find and read stories of people who’d lost their entire family. Not to become buddies with them, (though sometimes I did write to them), but just to see and witness the resilience, the survival capacity of the human spirit.
I am still in awe of the human spirit. Always ever more so as my connections among Grieflings expand and extend.
But in the past year or so, 18 or so months after Julia died, I re-found solace and comfort in my Mourning Glories widbuds. We still don’t really talk about Julia. It is still too hard. For me. For them too, perhaps. Too recent. Her death is more recent than any of our other primary losses. But I have greater space, greater capacity, resilience and skill, to be with her loss on my own.
It’s devastatingly lonely work. I don’t really have anyone in my day to day life who gets it, but I know there are people out there who do, who I can call on if need be. And somehow that is enough. Even if I never call on them. And there are a couple of other precious gems who say, “I know I don’t know what it must be like, what it must feel like, but I love you, however you show up”.
And so back to my Mourning Glories and our third anniversary a couple of weeks ago. I asked them if they’d write something about what our group means to them, and here is what each person wrote:
Emma: For me it’s the ease, the peace, the calm, the not needing to explain or justify. It’s the big smiles on Zoom when we talk live every couple of months. It’s the group level support, and the one-to-one level connections that may come and go, and rotate according to time and interest and skill and expertise (not to mention time zone). For the last few weeks, Charlotte has been – pretty much without fail – checking in on me in my evening to check I am not going to drink alcohol if I am alone. And when I get up, my first thought is her, and I send her a note encouraging her to go to bed. Poor woman, I also sometimes recount my dreams while they are still fresh. I love all of that and I love each of you and all of us. Happy 3rd Anniversary to the Mourning Glories.
Charlotte: I am a grateful I know that this group is here – when I need to vent, when I need to share something that I know you will understand….. I can quickly and easily say it to you four without having to explain anything and without worry about judgement. I get tired of having to explain the complexities of grief and having a dead spouse to people. I need people around me who get it.
I also love that we five have very different backgrounds, hobbies, circumstances, etc, yet we share a bond that is so meaningful. I am a pretty private person, so I am not really likely to share my thoughts to a larger group like the WYG (Writing Your Grief) alumni platform (or a blog like Emma’s), but I am quite comfortable and grateful for this small group of people who care about each other. ❤️❤️❤️ (Three hearts for 3 years).
Michelle: Sending love to all of you. Grateful for others who know what hard is. Xoxo. Happy anniversary. (When Michelle was widowed in 2015, her three kids were 1, 4 and 4. The kids are now 7, 10 and 10. That is years and years of truly “hard hard”. I add this context about Michelle because she knows I am writing this piece and feels her contribution here is small. But while I absolutely have moments of leisure in my life, she has none, and is forever focusing her energy where it’s most needed. Which is not on writing texts on our Mourning Glories Whatsapp).
Gordon: Where to begin? I must go back to those early days of year one. It was in that year that I met Emma in WYG. She later introduced me to Michelle and her written 1000th day post. (Still one of the most moving pieces I have ever read.) That summer, the three us made plans for Camp Widow. I recall that very beautiful weekend, being with you all each day, speaking a common language with over 100 grieving people and meeting Charlotte and Pamela. Those few days when we could seek what we individually needed and at the same time lean on each other for support. I didn’t want to leave and return home to the set routine. But I had my “Yellow Brick” with Mary’s name on it and my paper ornament that read, “Hope.” Since that weekend, I have become more distant from nearly everyone in my circle. I don’t often share my thoughts with anyone because I have learned too well that while they may ask, they don’t really want to listen. Now, the few that remain no longer ask. I no longer share. But over these three years, you four have always been there. Deep inside I know you will always be there to ask and listen. That became ever stronger when I finally told you of my cancer diagnosis. Now that Emma has asked us to reflect on this 3rd anniversary, I dream. What if we could be physically together more often? What if we lived minutes apart versus hours? I feel my life would be richer. Certainly less isolated. Certainly more welcomed. Certainly more validated. And to you, Emma, it is through you that we all met and remained in contact. You are my scarecrow character in this land of OZ, as I first walked my Dorothy’s journey down this yellow brick road. I love you all, my companions in this other world over the rainbow. I miss you all. You are my dearest of friends!
Pamela: Gordon, your message moved me to tears! Thank you for sharing. I often tell Michelle that I wish we lived closer so I could help her with her kids. I know our lives would be richer with proximity to each other. I feel like our group is a refuge. A place where I am accepted and understood, and I don’t have to try to explain or justify how I feel or what I do. The knowing, relating and empathy of you all is tangible in this little column of words on my phone, and makes a safe space for me. The hardest feelings in our lives are shared here, and there is both pain and healing side by side. Uncanny how in many ways you know me better than my own family because you automatically know what my heart is holding. It’s a place of comfort, compassion and commiseration. Often, a lifeline. And yes Michelle, the Mourning Glories know “hard”, and that helps. I love you all.
A Lifeline of a Community that provides Solace, Company, Non-judgement, Support, Validation, Understanding, Gratitude.
Core ingredients of profound and meaningful relationships. Knowing about and honouring one another’s past lives, even though we didn’t know each other three years ago. Loving each other’s partners, even though we have never met them. Knowing each person’s key/special/trigger dates – birthdays, death days, wedding anniversary and getting together dates. Kids’ names and birthdays and study interests. And, yes, one child’s death day.
We are a motley crew. A bunch of misfits. I don’t know that we’d be friends if we’d found ourselves thrown together at a party pre-loss. It’s hard to imagine a time before loss, such is its impact. But having now got to know each of them, understanding the fullness of their lives, their professional skills and interests, their passions, hopes and dreams, I feel that they are among the richest, most whole people in my life.
And yes. While I don’t want to leave my little life in France, I do wish we lived closer.
COVID rules permitting, I am confident that 2022 will bring a physical, not merely a Zoom, reunion.
Thank you, my Mourning & Evening Glories (for whenever we talk live, it is my evening).
I am so sorry that we had cause to meet. And so very grateful.