Pride goeth before a fall. I did not anticipate pre-Easter anxiety. I thought the weekend was all planned. I presumed too much—about myself and about my plans.
During two years of blogging about grief and my snail-pace journey to reclaim joy, I have written repeatedly about those sinkholes called holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. They are tough markers for all who have lost loved ones. Widows, alone in our grief, are perhaps most vulnerable. Our children and closest friends are sympathetic, but grief lasts far longer than sympathy.
I thought I was doing better. I learned how to prepare myself for that awful stretch from Thanksgiving to our wedding anniversary and on to Christmas. I knew how to observe Lev’s March 4 birthday. Nantucket was a great escape from the memories of our traditional neighborhood Fourth of July celebration. I didn’t give much thought to Easter.
Easter, though, is a bit of a double-whammy. Lev died on the Monday night of Holy Week 2009. After his memorial service on Maundy Thursday, I went with my son and family to their lakehouse on Lake LBJ in the Texas hill country, where Lev and I had spent so many other Easters with them. I was grateful to worship with the family at the Church at Horseshoe Bay, high up on the hillside overlooking the lake. I was glad to be among strangers, people who did not know I was grieving. Sunday afternoon the family headed back to Dallas for work and school, but I spent the night there on the lake by myself before driving home to face an empty house. I was totally at peace that evening as I sat on the shore, wrapped in a blanket, watching the sun sink slowly below the hills on the opposite shore.
When my daughter told me several months ago that they were invited to join another family in New York Easter weekend, I was fine. I would rather be in Horsehoe Bay than Corpus Christi. But then my son sold his house a few weeks ago. Where would I go? I did not sleep the night I got the news.
Ridiculous overreaction. I know. That is the problem with sinkholes. You don’t see them until you fall in and find yourself up to your neck in quicksand. There is no easy way out.
Genevieve Davis Ginsburg described the feeling in Widow to Widow. “Holidays test the spirit. They are double-bind days. You want to be part of the festivities and at the same time pull the blankets up over your head until it all goes away…. Nothing works and everything hurts…. The fact is we really don’t want to be part of someone else’s tradition.”
I realized that for me, Easter was not about being home alone. It was about being alone in the pew in church. For 10 years there were six of us in the pew, including my parents. Then Daddy died, and Lev moved to the end of the pew. The children grew up and left home. Now, I was alone in the pew. I did not want to be part of another faith tradition on Easter Sunday, but I also—most emphatically—did not want to be alone in the pew in my church! So far, for eight Easters I had avoided that choice. While I recognize that someday I might have to go to Easter services alone, I am not ready to do it yet.
Yes, I know. I’m silly. Can’t help it. And apparently I am not the only one.
In The Other Side of Sadness, George Bonanno wrote, “An ‘anniversary reaction’ occurs anytime a bereaved person experiences a dramatic increase in sadness or loneliness on the anniversary of an important date related to the loss…. For most people, anniversary reactions last a few hours and not much longer. The duration does not seem to change much over time.” [italics mine]
I finally—many years too late—have sympathy for my mother, whose dad died on Thanksgiving Day 1942. Every Thanksgiving until her death 56 years later, she had a moment when she remembered, grieved and silently shed a few tears. I thought she was overly emotional.
But Easter is going to be fine. I am going to Horseshoe Bay. My son has reservations for us at the hotel. We will worship as usual in the church high up on the hillside overlooking the lake. I am sure that the church will again be filled with Easter lilies and that we will again sing, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today! Alleluia!”