The year following my husband Vic’s death, his absence stunned me as I walked by his orderly shelves of books or smelled the acrid scent of firewood he had cut. I woke up and went to sleep thinking of him. He starred in my dreams. Even though my body ached with grief, I wanted to hold on to our strong connection. I was still married to Vic inwardly, still sorting through the last chapter of our relationship.
Two years after Vic’s death, the weight of grief and loneliness continued, although with less anguish. I emptied his bookshelves, put my books where his had been, and moved into his office. I travelled more and wrote about my life, but nothing felt as real or satisfying as the life I had lost. I worried about my ability to let go of the person I loved most and wondered why it took so long to accept my situation.
After three years, I still think of Vic each day, although the pain continues to soften. Instead of constant longing, I tend toward inner conversations with him. Vic appears in my dreams occasionally and is no longer the central character. I leave flowers where his ashes are buried, keep photos of him close by, and feel rushes of gratitude for our many years of love. I still feel connected.
In a recent bereavement group, I spent time with other women who had lost their partners, some recently, some many years ago, and was reassured by our shared experience of a continuing relationship with our past partners. Our stories of loss, love, and transformation made me feel stronger and more at ease with my experience of grief.
Continuing Bonds: New Understandings in Grief (edited by Klass D, Silverman P, and Nickman S, Taylor and Francis, Washington, DC, 1996) helped me see the grieving process in a new light. Unlike most cultures, our individualistic society decided around the time of Freud that grieving should come to an end and be left behind. Recent bereavement research disagrees with this “leave it behind” theory, finding it healthy and normal to keep a strong inner connection with a loved one who has died. Rather than being an impediment, this connection becomes a source of strength as it evolves alongside a changing web of new relationships and experiences.
I move into my future with a bag of memories thrown over my shoulder. The sack overflows with gifts, but also grows heavy with loss. Along with deceased parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends, my memories of Vic are in that bag. My continuing bond with him travels with me and gives me courage to create a meaningful new life.