Reprinted from The Design Observer Cooperative. A Valentines Day missive by Nancy Sharon Collins:
Perhaps it is the melancholy mix of emotions approaching another anniversary of my husband’s passing in 2010. Today—just a day after Valentine’s Day—I have been thinking about what it was like to love someone so completely that absolute trust was a given.
Two people. Two bodies. Two minds. One checkbook and home and life and meals and shopping together. That presence was the last I would be conscious of before falling asleep and the first in the morning. I’d forgotten that part of absolute love.
Perhaps I was reminded to search for that memory by a photo taken by a friend, the journalist Robert Fieseler. There is a caption in which he uses the word love. Yes, this was posted on social media. Yes, he described the objects to whom he ascribed the word: his husband—artist Ryan Leitner—their dog Chompers, and their cat.
Chompers was put down last week. That photograph illustrated a household of individual bodies made whole by this emotion we call love. I miss it.
Grief is a process. It takes years. The pain starts to soften as years progress, then—WHAM—love’s memory reappears, hard and raw. It’s tough to lose anyone. Its super-difficult now as we all, across the globe, grieve daily.
How do we deal with this? Not long ago, someone gave me Joan Didion’s excellent book, The Year of Magical Thinking. In it, she explores the pathology of grief in American culture, describing the various phases of mourning, and considering grief as a state of temporary mental illness.
We make mistakes as we grieve. We forget to eat. (Or we eat too much.) We sleep too much, or not at all. We exercise obsessively or just sit and stare. Work goes unfinished or is maniacally performed. I sometimes long for a time when a person could wear widow’s weeds; when grieving itself was seen as an acceptable behavior, not a medical diagnosis to be treated by drugs; a time when the mourner was allowed to become distant from polite society.
I was teaching graphic design during the spring semester when my husband’s robust health failed. We (well, I) shuttled back and forth from southern Louisiana to Houston for his care. Generous colleagues picked up some of my classes. As much as possible, I learned to teach remotely over networks that were fragile and only slightly less satisfying than today.
Suddenly, the semester was ending. My students asked to see their grades. To my total amazement, I had not graded a single assignment.
And just as suddenly, after only two short months, my husband died.
Grief. How long does it last?
For me, by about year seven, living became easier. I felt the burden of grief begin to ease up. A new life began to evolve. After a decade, grief was no longer an undertow but a resonant and powerful echo that still, occasionally, makes me cry.
The lesson in all this is that love is as special as grief. Embrace both. Accept each for the emotions they make you feel. Sighing is an acceptable release, though crying is better. And while time doesn’t heal all wounds, it helps, just a little. At least it did for me.