One of Pami’s biggest hopes was that Dave would remarry after she died. “Dave knows what it is like not to have a mother,” Pami said. “His died when he was four years old. He was raised by his grandmother. So we must find a mother for Paul.”
It wasn’t just Paul though, she was also concerned about Dave. “I am afraid his heart will close after I die. Close and never open again.” It was difficult for me to reassure her because I have seen this happen after a death. Surviving loved ones can become stuck—angry, depressed or just bewildered by all the emotional pain.
Sometimes people think grief is like a cold. It’s pretty bad at first but then you eventually get over it and all you have to show for it is basket full of used tissues. It’s not like that—except for the used tissues. For one thing, grief lives in your heart as well as your head. This can be a problem: our heads give us a time line: first year is hard, second year less hard, third year all done. Sounds sensible, doable. This is the head speaking.
The heart will tell you that grief is like faithful dog who never leaves you. At first, like a puppy, it takes over your life; jumping around, demanding attention, making messes in bizarre places and inappropriate times. But if you attend to it, it settles down—and eventually spends more time on the couch than running around and begging for treats. And in time, you will even come to cherish it because it is a reminder of lost love. Love—not money, or things, or power or prestige. Your grief means you have had love in your life. And what could be more valuable than that?
But you have to pay attention to grief, give it a voice. It doesn’t have to be words—you can paint, sing, garden, hammer, walk, run, write, crochet or cook your way through grief. I knew a woman who was so mad when her cigarette-smoking husband died of lung cancer, she cooked nothing but spicy hot Mexican, Thai and Indian food for a year. Even though it nearly killed her family and friends, it helped her heal.
It was clear Dave loved Pami. The few times I saw him he spoke a total of about ten words. When I asked him how he was doing with it all, he replied, “Fine.” Then he smiled, looked down at the ground and nodded his head. That’s why, I too, was worried about Dave. How would he give his grief a voice? Well, he didn’t have to talk with me, maybe he had friends or talked to his priest.
” Pami. Who does Dave talk to?”
“No one.” She began to cry and said, “Debra. I am not concerned about my situation, my body, my health. But how can I help my husband?” She buried her face in her hands.
What a question! Who among us, at one time or another, have not asked ourselves, “How can I help my partner?” and then buried our face in our hands?
We both sat there tearful for quite a while. I thought about how this situation was totally unfair; to die and leave your seven year old son and loving husband, and how, well, I would be so mad. Okay, this was a moment of complete projection and total lack of mindful presence which is why, I reached over, took her hand and said such a moronic thing. “Pami, it’s okay to be angry at God.”
She looked at me like I was crazy. “But Debra, I am not angry at God! I know God is with me every moment. I must trust that God will take care of Paul and Dave. It is not God’s problem. It is mine.”
She patted my hand and then looked down at her hips covered by blankets. “These tumors are growing. But I have a bigger problem.”
What could be a bigger problem than enormous tumors growing in your pelvis?
“Paul’s birthday is in August. He has never had a party before,” she said. “In Vietnam perhaps the mother would make a special dinner and the parents would tell the son how much they love him, but there is no party for the birthday. It is very quiet compared to here.”
I didn’t see how she was even going to live that long. But I was happy to help her plan the birthday party. She said she didn’t quite know how to actually give the party. “But I know God will help me,” she said with a smile.
And by, “God” she meant me.