C.S. Lewis said, "We read to know that we are not alone." I truly believe that this statement is correct. There is no greater loneliness that one can experience than when a death of a loved one occurs. Grief is multi-faceted in that it impacts all areas of one's life in a variety of ways. I entered this vast void of loneliness in 2007, when I was 33 my husband, Roy, died from advanced adrenal cancer. This happened nearly eight weeks after being diagnosed with bronchitis at his family doctor's office.
After his funeral, I read nearly every academic journal article, book or magazine piece about grief and loss that I could get my hands on. It didn't have to be specific to the loss of a spouse because I was curious about how people in general coped with the death. For about three years, I searched and searched for stories about how widows transformed their loss. And I couldn't find anything that had the collective stories of widows.
This is when I decided that I would interview as many widows as possible and share their narratives with others. I wanted readers to see how other widows coped, and in a book format they could see directly how other widows managed their own grief. I spent over three years embarking on this research journey. And the widows were incredibly generous with their time. They too had the intent of wanting to help others and were more than willing to provide me their stories. The result of my research came to fruition in the form of my book, "A Widow's Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice for the First 5 Years." The intent of my work was to be able to share the narratives of other widows so that a widow would be able to find herself in one of these stories and hopefully feel less alone.
As part of my book, the publisher had me take part in a number of media interviews. One never knows if they will be printed, but I was more than willing to participate in this process. And one question that continuously popped up in the interviews was this: What is the gift of loss? The question made me bristle. I tried to use verbal gymnastics to get around it and sometimes it worked. However, on one occasion it failed. The reporter persisted, and I mumbled something about valuing what truly matters. This is in part an honest answer. The death of a loved one brings to light what really matters in life. However, the question bothered me to the point that weeks after the interview I carried it with me to The Parliament of World Religions conference in Salt Lake City, where I had the honor of being a panelist.
At the end of the panel discussion, I was able to enter into a separate conversation with another panelist, Dr. Robert Kaizen Kaku Gunn. He is a psychologist and also teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. During my panel discussion time, I talked about the impetus for my book, so Dr. Gunn was aware of my research and my personal loss. During my conversation with him, I shared that I was frustrated with the question about the gift of loss and how I felt that I couldn't seem to find the right way to respond to the question. In a very gentle way, he said that this is something that I would need to discover.
The conversation transitioned to me discussing the methodology and process I used for writing my book. I explained that I spent over three years listening to dozens and dozens of widows share their stories. I went on to say that some of the widows lost their husbands to suicide, others to substance abuse, 9/11 and other horrific tragedies. Dr. Gunn asked how I responded to the widows during my interviews and I admitted at times, I wasn't sure if my response was adequate. I said, "I mean what is the appropriate thing to say when a widow tells you her husband completed suicide? I tried to emphasize to the widow that this was not her fault, but even then it didn't seem like enough. Clinically (I'm a master's level social worker), I'd talk about how people with deep depression do not see things clearly and accurately, how they have a blind spot."
At this point I was looking directly at Dr. Gunn for approval, since I knew that he was an expert with over 30 years of clinical experience as a psychotherapist. He nodded and said, "There is the gift." I didn't understand. I asked for clarification. "The gift is that you listened and now you're sharing their stories in your book so others can heal."
I knew at this moment that when you create an intent it is important to remain open to unbounded possibilities. In other words, stay open to all questions because the unresolved things are meant to reach you in unexpected ways.
Kristin Meekhof is a master's level social worker, speaker and author of the book, "A Widow's Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice for the First 5 Years."
She can be reached at her website.