Saturday, October 30, 2010

Identity Problem

"Who am I," the widow asked me. She was tall, with thick, wavy, grey hair. She wore a purple shirt with a gold linked chain; her glasses were rectangular with purple sides. "I left my parent's house when I was 20, and I've been The Doctor's Wife ever since. We were married for 51 years. I don't know who I am." She turned her hands up in the air, shrugged her shoulders then dabbed her left eye beneath the glass. "I didn't think I would cry," she said, surprised.

We were sitting in her comfortable living room, on opposite low green chairs. In addition to couches and lamps, the room had several tables with dozens of family photographs. Floor to ceiling shelves lined the walls, filled with books, a collection of Chinese jade and ceramics, partially hidden by more photographs. Many of them were family groupings of several generations. One showed a happy young bride dressed in a high necked, long sleeved gown, from which I surmised that the family was orthodox. I gently suggested that the woman married to the Doctor, who parented the children, who lived and loved in this home for so many years, was fully and vibrantly alive, even though, at this moment, it did not really feel so good.

The widow told me that she wandered through house, not quite believing that her husband is truly gone. According to her, she was in denial during the hospice process, convincing herself over and over that another treatment would work. For the past 9 ½ years, they had spent every waking moment together. Then she said that when she starts to break down, she remembers something important. She remembers that she is still standing, here in her house, with comfort and good food to eat, with her children and grandchildren nearby. She is even having company for dinner. She is, in fact, alive. I looked at her, as compassionately as possible. "I wish I could make this pain go away. But I am sorry to say there is no way to fix this. There is, however, a way to heal. It is called…Time."

There are a few things that she can do, if she wants to be proactive. She can nurture herself, carefully sensing what feels right and what does not. Slowly, she can begin to identify where her interests lie, what she likes to do. Perhaps she will decide to go to the Opera again; perhaps she will never return, preserving the memory of years of attending with her loving husband. Slowly, I believe that she will find her way through the grief to a renewed sense of herself.

At least I hope so.

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