The Forbidden Parts of Grief
There are a couple parts of my grief that I don’t feel safe talking about. This eats away at me because they are significant parts of my grief. If I’m not sharing these parts of my grief it’s because I’m worried that people will judge me for what I’m thinking and feeling. I don’t want to keep feeling shame, so even though I might be opening myself up for people to judge me, I think my truth is more important than someone’s opinion of me.
The first forbidden part of grief is sex. I don’t feel like it’s okay for me to talk about how much I grieve the loss of sex. I grew up in a culture that encouraged waiting to have sex until marriage. In addition to that culture, there is a bigger message sent to women in American culture about sex. The message is that you should be ladylike. Don’t be a slut, but you should be an untamed-goddess in the bedroom. So when I think about how sex is a significant part of my grief, there is this immediate thought in my brain, “You can’t talk about that. Sex is private, sex is sacred.” And of course it is those things, but it also feels stifling that I have to pretend that this isn't painful in order to preserve my image of being proper. I worry that talking about it gives people the false impression that I’m some kind of sex maniac because I’m a woman openly admitting that I love sex and that I miss it. I also feel that there is an assumption that if I was really grieving, I wouldn’t be in a state of mind to think about sex.
The best analogy for how I feel is to think of a baby who loses its mother. I feel like a baby trapped in a crib who is no longer touched. They’ve done studies on babies in orphanages that aren't touched enough. Touch is a biological need. Physical affection was important to both Isaac and me. Physical affection wasn’t just something that was part of our courtship and then faded away with time. It was a practice in our marriage. Sex was also a big part of how we bonded. It isn’t like I just miss sex as a way to obtain physical pleasure. Sex was a mind, body, soul expression of self and relationship. I’m not sure that there is anything that makes you feel more alive than being able to express something using all of your senses. Sometimes when you share your suffering, people respond with ways to fix it, but nothing fixes this in any sort of way that would be sufficient or quick. Sure, masturbation or casual sex could fix the biological craving for sex, but that would only leave me feeling more empty. And, it doesn't have to be fixed. It just is what it is.
The second forbidden part of my grief is remarriage. It’s hard to open up about this because there are many widows who don’t want to date or remarry after they lose their husbands. They talk about their husbands being the loves of their lives and that one love was enough. So when I admit that I want to date and remarry it makes me feel like I’m saying that my love with Isaac wasn’t enough. What if it isn’t? Maybe five years isn’t enough love for me to live off for the rest of my life. Or maybe, just maybe, my love with Isaac was more than enough. I think that the happiness I experienced in my marriage with Isaac is precisely the reason that I do want to remarry. Marriage was a beautiful and rewarding experience and although I can’t continue to share that with Isaac, that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t and shouldn't share that with someone else.
People often ask me how I feel about remarriage. One time when someone asked me if I thought I’d remarry, I answered, "Yes." Their response was of shock, “Why would you remarry?" Reactions like this send a message: “If you really loved Isaac, you wouldn’t remarry. If you were emotionally stronger then you wouldn’t need anyone.” I think those messages are bullshit. I hate that I let these messages hurt my feelings. I hate that these messages are more often directed at women than men in my same circumstance. The truth is that if you felt my pain, you wouldn't dare think or say any of that stuff to me. You’d know how much I loved my husband. And you wouldn’t insult my emotional well-being because you’d know what it means to fight for your happiness.
My education and work has taught me a lot about what it means to be emotionally well. Our culture hates weakness. We value self-sufficiency and independence. We are so worried about being sucked into someone else's gravity that we pride ourselves on being alone, or worse, indifferent to our partners. Marriage taught me a lot about what it means to share a life. Remarriage might not happen for everyone and it might not happen for me. That's life. Sometimes things don't work out; my life is a great example of that, but sometimes things do work out! I loved being married to Isaac. Isaac and I were in love because of who we were as people. Our love was not the fate of cupid's arrow. I would be lying if I said that I wouldn't be able to find joy in another marital relationship. I don't think God blessed me with my wonderful husband and marriage to then leave me all alone the rest of my life. That would be so cruel. To me, marriage is a way of life. It is saying, "I'm not the best. I don't have everything figured out. I'm gonna let you hold up a mirror so I can see the good and the bad in me. And I'm gonna help you carry all your stuff, the same way you help me carry mine." Marriage is hard. Second marriages can be twice as hard. But I can't imagine a scenario in which I would stop hoping that I could connect with another person in the deep and meaningful way that marriage connects two people.
Now, loneliness can be a great teacher. Being alone has its purpose but no one wants to be lonely. Loneliness and disconnection are pretty much the root of every problem that I see come into my office. This often drives people to make poor choices to either numb the pain of loneliness or act in ways where they substitute sex or rushing a relationship for a real emotional connection. That is probably one of the reasons that these topics are difficult to talk about. If I say how I'm really feeling, it seems like someone will worry that my pain will launch me into remarrying some loser or jerk. But just because I am certain of what I want, doesn't mean that I have to have it right now or ever. The truth is that if Isaac hadn't died, I would be enjoying both sex and marriage. It doesn't make sense that what I like or what I want for my life just dies because Isaac died. I can't have those things with him right now and I'm not sure how those things look in my future. However, I'm not going to pretend that I don't desire those things because part of acknowledging the depth of grief in those areas also acknowledges the depth of love and connection that I had with Isaac. I can't separate the two. Isaac filled a huge space in my heart and in my life. While I can definitely live with an empty space, I won't feel happy about it. Grief is teaching me to own what I think and what I feel. It is also teaching me that emotions come and go. We don't have control over our lives. Life isn't about our plans working out or getting what we want. It's more about knowing ourselves and learning to accept the difference between what we want and what we have. In order to do this we have to learn what we truly want and acknowledge what we've lost, and this is just part of what I've lost.