My friend Kathy ‘s husband passed away over a year ago and I find myself fascinated by how she has handled her loss. Her grief is something she keeps very much private and to all outward appearances, she is moving forward with life. I know she loved him deeply and I know she misses him deeply too. I am sure she has her times of tears. The fact that she is moving forward in no way diminishes those feelings or the depth of her loss.
In many ways, they were very different individuals. They had a relationship based on mutual respect that gave them both the freedom to be who they were. They each celebrated life in ways that worked best for them individually and as a couple. A gregarious, social woman, Kathy has embraced life for as long as I have known her. She loves to travel and to get to know, really know, new people who become a part of her global social network. He, I think, preferred to be more of a homebody. They often went their separate ways as she frequently travels for work, but when they were together, they treasured every moment as they created priceless memories.
So I was not particularly surprised when Kathy told me about an exhilarating zip line experience she had this summer in Central America. Her insights into the experience truly amazed me. As she flew along the line, she said, she was incredibly thrilled by the adventure of what she was doing. In my mind, I can see her screaming in sheer joy, her face alight with excitement. But, in the midst of that joy, she sobered, feelings of guilt intruded and she was saddened to think that she was doing it alone and her husband was not there to share it with her. It dampened her enthusiasm and diminished the entire experience.
She later told a friend of her feelings. The feedback she got changed everything. Rather than feeling guilty for enjoying herself in her husband’s absence, her friend suggested, perhaps it would be more valuable to understand that she was doubling the joy by experiencing it for him as well.
I think perhaps for many people there is a feeling of guilt as they begin to live again. And living again is inevitable. But it can feel something like a betrayal of the person you loved so deeply. I would like to think that when you find yourself able to smile again, to laugh again, to find joy in even the smallest experience, you will cherish those things and know that in feeling joy once more, it is not a betrayal. Rather, you have doubled the joy as you embrace life in honor of the one you loved.