I am hardly an expert but I do know a thing or two more than I would like about endings and beginnings and about moving on. I spent a good deal of time closing up the rooms in the dreams of the future my late husband and I imagined together in what seems now to be a long ago time but in reality is just a mere five years past. During his long illness, there were many endings. Most too painful to recount. There is a time for remembering loss and there comes a day when the laundry list of hurts isn’t a useful exercise anymore and I have reached that point. Ironically there were as many beginnings during times of tragedy and loss, and there is even growth. I changed job sites and age levels in my teaching career. Began and finished a masters program. Made new friends. Set new goals, among them a decision to change locale and careers in the short term future. It’s interesting the chain reactions decisions of all shapes and sizes have on the course of a person’s life. Some people are blown far afield by unexpected circumstances and their reactions to them. Some are brought to a dead stop, letting currents take them and waves sweep them under. Some keep moving, re-plotting their courses as the conditions warrant until they find themselves on stable ground again. My plans changed course over the course of my late husband’s illness and in the aftermath of his death and again when I met my now husband, Rob. In a strange way, Rob has always seemed a natural progression, a given, in a new beginning we seemed destined to share, so despite the rather momentous hurdles of leaving family, friends, home, job and country, it’s been in some ways the easiest of my transitions from then to now.
Being a widow I have the dubious pleasure to know many others. Male and female. Much older than I am and some young enough to be my sons or daughters. We have endings in common. That’s true. But a small portion of us share beginnings too. Some are triumphs and some are not. There is one gentlemen I know of through a message board for young widowed I frequent from time to time. He has taken to posting emails he receives from an organization called GriefShare, which tries to help bereaved people work through their losses. Recently he posted the following message:
What It Means to Move On
Moving on does not mean . . .
• you forget the person.
• you never feel the pain of your loss.
• you believe that life is fair.
Moving on does mean . . .
• you experience a lessening of the pain.
• you can treasure your best memories of the person who has died.
• you can realistically accept the different aspects of your loss.
• you can form new relationships, try new things.
Moving on also means . . .
• you grow in grace and in your walk with God.
• you accept your loss and forgive others.
• you understand that both joy and loss are a part of life.
• you believe that God is good, even when life isn’t.
My husband loathes the saying “moving on” like many widowed he prefers “moving forward”, and I try to use the term in deference to him though to me it is a bit of a semantics thing. In many ways beginnings do mean moving on as opposed to forward because it is not about momentum or trajectory as much as it is about putting certain dreams, hopes and deep feelings away in much the same way you pack up mementos from your children’s lives or souvenirs from a trip. My mother has a cedar chest in the basement of my childhood home that is crammed with tiny clothes, blankets, report cards and such that belonged, and were important, to her and to each of us kids in times now long past. I seldom think about the old rag doll I named CeeDee that lies there wrapped, I think, in the remnants of my sister Kate’s baby blanket. I know that it sounds like apples and oranges, comparing the inevitable of growing up to the loss of one’s spouse, but they are not as different as you think. As my mother has been annoyingly fond of pointing out to me over the years, everything is a growth experience. Because I look as though I have achieved adulthood doesn’t necessary mean I learned all there is to learn. I haven’t achieved the enlightenment of Sidharrtha. Possibly because I haven’t the time to sit under a tree until it smacks me on the head like gravity struck Newton. But in a way, widowhood has been my apple. We learn from everything and everyone in our lives, with luck, and at some point we move on from them – willing or not. It’s not about forgetting or minimizing. Time moves and sweeps us along in its wake, but its different from just being pushed forward. Moving on implies that we have packed up those things from our old lives that are important and special in our own cedar chests, loaded them on the truck and once arrived, carefully put them away.
I have a habit of choosing my mottoes from the lyrics of songs. One of my favorites was written by group called Semi Sonic. The song is entitled “Closing Time”. It uses the idea of a pub closing down in the wee hours as a metaphor for moving on and out into the big wide world. The song on the whole has a rather positive message but the line I truly love is “Closing time. Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.” There is so much truth in that one simple expression. So much faith as well because I know many people who see endings as endings and nothing more, and even though I can see their side of it, I find that kind of thinking short-sighted. The reason being that endings and beginnings, as Shakespeare once put it are “neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” Funny that I should find a line from Hamlet inspiring because there are few plays I dislike more than that dirge, but it is true.