Ch.221 Evidence of Healing: A Tale of Two Vacations
Last May I flew to Canada to visit my brothers Don and Art, eleven months after Pat’s death. Last week I flew to California to visit my brother Brad and his wife Donna, fourteen months after Pat’s passing. Only after I returned home from California and had time to think did I realize that I had unknowingly crossed a border sometime during the three months between visits. If that border had a name, it could be called Ron’s New Life.
I spontaneously burst into tears twice when I was with Don and Art, once at a dinner party when the host simply asked what I was doing for fun lately. “Grieving,” was my first thought. I was still preoccupied with Pat’s death and my suffering, to the point that having fun was out of the question. I did enjoy my visit, but it was as if I were camping on a foggy day, wishing the mist would clear so I could see the beautiful scenery around me.
My time with Brad and Donna felt different. I had fun, for instance, when we went to watch a 1980’s film of a Talking Heads concert. I laughed without a follow up sigh. No sudden sobs. We went for a walk in a redwood forest, and it was as if the fog had cleared, literally and figuratively. Even when Donna and I “reminisced” about a terrible episode the last time we saw them, when Pat went missing for eight hours (Pat had taken our car to meet Brad and Donna for breakfast, got lost and couldn’t find her way back, until she could and did – my first realization that our old life was ending and the Lewy Body chapter was beginning) I didn’t cry, although I certainly did feel plenty of emotion.
Healing my grief is something I don’t have a lot of control over. Some control, yes. It’s up to me to establish new relationships, find interesting things to do, and create meaning. But my brain and body possess the wisdom of thousands of generations of individuals who have mourned the loss of their loved ones. Evolution has crafted an effective healing process, one that takes time and allows for a gradual transition from living as a couple, an “us,” to living alone as a “me.” This process has taken me from “Losing Pat is unendurable” to “Losing Pat is awful but survivable” to “Losing Pat is painful, but I can envision new paths to happiness” to “I will always remember Pat as I live a new, good, meaningful life.” The dual process model of healing tells me that I won’t stay continuously on this side of the border. Rather, I expect to travel back and forth frequently between the one land in which my primary occupations are remembering and mourning and the other in which I am living my new life. But now I hope to spend most of my time in my new country, the one labelled “Ron’s new life.”