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FEATURE - February 2018
Beyond the Loss: Love and Life after Death
by Laura Packer
The day after my husband Kevin died, I said, “I will never love like that again.” I was right; there was no way I could conceive of loving again, let alone with depth and passion. As time passes I miss him no less, but my understanding of love, my ability to give and accept it, and what the world looks like after his death has changed. It’s been almost four years now, and I am in a new loving relationship that in no way diminishes what Kevin and I shared. It is possible, but it isn’t easy, and it required that I be emotionally honest with myself.
When someone you cherish dies, their life isn’t the only loss. A way of living, your understanding of yourself, and the way you lived together all die, too. We cannot go back to what was because that life has ended. We need to give ourselves time and permission to mourn and explore the world as it is now. It is only by grieving, by thoroughly and deeply mourning the person and life lost, that we begin to create space for something else, be that a new love, a new way of living, a new understanding of our own role in the world. It takes a different amount of time for everyone. To clear the path for love, you must let yourself honor the old love and mourn it as much as you need.
Over the months and years after Kevin’s death I realized common ideas of grief had very little to do with the way I felt. We grieve in our own time and way. Movies, tv, books, even people who love us, all say we are supposed to grieve in a certain way and for a limited duration. That’s a lie. We grieve as we need to. I know people who lost someone 25 years ago and still miss them. Why shouldn’t they? Love is not water. It doesn’t evaporate. Acknowledging loss and feeling sad doesn’t mean life won’t continue. It means the loss becomes a part of you, and you live with that feeling even as you do new things, love new people and build a new life. To clear the path for love, you must let yourself grieve in your own way.
About 18 months after Kevin’s death, I began to wonder what my life would be moving forward. I couldn’t admit that part of what I was opening to was the potential of new love, but I know I was asking if it might be possible. I needed to love myself first, and remembering just how much Kevin loved me helped. I realized that living my life in a perpetual state of loss was not honoring the love we shared, not celebrating who Kevin saw me to be.
When we give ourselves permission to open to the world after a devastating loss, we’re not denying what has gone before. We will carry those feelings—love and sorrow—with us into our new relationships. Instead we are saying that yes, we have been hurt, but we are still worthy of love and loving. We are not denying the love but making room for more. To clear the path for love, you must remember that you are worthy of it.
I didn’t intend to fall in love with Charley. Our friendship started out with the understanding that I was widowed and would always love my husband. I didn’t know if I could love like that again. I was right. I don’t love Charley the way I love Kevin, but it is deep and passionate love. At first I was afraid that loving Charley somehow meant I loved Kevin less, but that wasn’t true. I realized that I was honoring everything Kevin and I had been together, not disregarding it. It is a different kind of love, but that makes sense. Everyone we love is loved for who they are, and so every time we love, it is different.
None of this is to say it’s been easy. Some days I miss Kevin and want him back with my whole being. Other days I feel guilty about being in a relationship, as if I am cheating on one or the other. Then there are the shining days when I just love. So it is for all of us, in all kinds of love. To clear the path for love, you must be willing to let it be a different love that does not try to replicate what was.
I cherish both Kevin and Charley, and the relationships I have with each. Even though this is not the life I expected to have, it is a rich one. I am so glad I could mourn fully, then open myself to this new place.
Remember, the more love we give away, the more we have to give. It is perhaps the one unlimited resource. If we love, at some point we will mourn. Every person who has grieved is part of the great community of people who have risked everything for love. It’s worth it. I am. You are. Love wins.
This article is dedicated with love and gratitude to Kevin, Charley, and all the rest. I love you.
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Secondfirst.com—A widow-run site run to help people find life, love, and hope after loss.
Soaringspirits.org—A communi-ty by and for widowed people, regardless of marital status, orientation, or length of time from the loss. Online support, Camp Widow, and regional chapters.
The single most useful book I found was Permission to Mourn, Tom Zuba. He is a pow-erful advocate for grieving, transformation and the continu-ation of love.
There are many grief memoirs available. A few favorites include Second Firsts, Christina Rasmussen; H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald; The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander.
There are many loss workbooks available. I recommend Mourn-ing and Mitzvah, Anne Brener; Healing After Loss, Martha Hick-man
Laura Packer knows that the best way to the truth is through a good story. She has used the transformative power of story to entertain, enlighten, coach, heal, and consult for 25 years. She is the winner multiple awards for her performance and service. Laura is also the sole proprietor of thinkstory llc where she helps organizations identify, hone, capitalize upon and celebrate their stories. For more information visit laurapacker.com, thinkstory.com, and truestorieshonestlies.blogspot.com.