By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published October 29, 2021
As All Souls’ Day approaches, many people weep over the list of their beloved dead. How long that list grows as we become older! And for me, how utterly strange that my husband’s name is there. How can he be dead, when he was part of my heart?
We talk about a woman “losing” her husband, which is true in one sense. As a widow for six years, my losses have been enormous. There’s no longer someone to bounce ideas off, no longer someone to help ward off the fears that stalk me, no longer a special someone to love.
In “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis wrote about the searing pain he experienced when his wife, Joy, died of cancer. He compared his grief to the agony someone experiences upon losing a leg. Even if you get an artificial limb, the pain and the shock—and the loss—will be with you forever.
“Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different,” he wrote. “At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”
This is totally true for me, since not a day goes by that I don’t recall what it was like to be a biped. When someone is so deeply embedded in your heart, you never quite breathe the same once they’re gone.
Still, the agony of the early years has dissipated, when at times my grief was so unbearable that suicide crossed my mind. Anything, you see, to stop the pain. But the possibility that I might miss seeing my beloved husband again stopped me.
God gave me so many graces as I struggled to adjust. I began going to daily Mass, where offering up my Communion for my husband helped me feel close to him. I also relied heavily on a grief counselor, plus a priest who had long ago befriended my husband and myself.
Accepting widowhood as a cross has revealed the intimate connection between discipleship and suffering. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” As we reflect on the names of the dead—the child, the spouse, the parent—we may realize they’ve become part of the wood of our cross.
Loneliness can be excruciating at times, but it can draw us closer to Jesus. “Could you not watch one hour with me?” he asked his friends. He needed their consolation as he faced death, but they left him all alone.
My husband is still with me in ways I can’t possibly understand. I dream about him nearly every night with plots that repeat over and over. Usually I’m trying to call him, but the phone breaks or it’s the wrong number. Every so often, I hit the jackpot and we are suddenly together again. In some dreams I’m trying to tell him he’s dead, but the message seems ludicrous, because he’s so clearly alive.
On All Souls’ Day, I’ll remember the words from the Book of Wisdom: “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.” I haven’t lost my husband, not really. You see, in a mysterious way, he’s helping me bear the weight of the cross. We’re still connected through prayers, Communion and dreams—and for now, that has to be enough.
Artwork (“Sonnet”) is by Lorraine’s late husband, Jef (www.jefmurray.com) Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.