As a new widow, I had to accept and acknowledge my limitations and embrace my new role if I was to reclaim joy. I did not like my new status—widow—neither the circumstances that made me a widow nor the images the word conjured up. I envisioned sad, lonely old ladies, living on their memories, dependent on others to take care of them. That was not who I wanted to be. But who?
This person with whom I had shared my feelings openly for 46 years was gone, and I had no one to take his place. To whom could I complain at the end of a bad day, fret about the children and grandchildren, worry about finances…or dream about the future? Was the future even worth dreaming about?
So much of what mattered lost all importance after Lev’s death. Loss of companionship—what a simple phrase. Nine years later I still cannot find the words to describe all the stomach-churning meanings and implications of the term. The danger is always to let this void—this black hole—consume me. Occasionally, I still find myself up to my neck in a sinkhole of depression.
How Does One Celebrate Alone?
Shortly before I returned to Nantucket this summer, I received an email from my publisher telling me that Barnes and Noble will carry Reclaiming Joy. That’s huge—something I never expected. It was midafternoon, and I was working at my desk. I had no plans for the evening. My daughter and her family were out of town. I moved to the library to soak in the good news. I wanted to celebrate—to rejoice. But how does one rejoice and celebrate alone? If Lev were alive, I would have called him immediately and he would have rejoiced with me.
I texted the family and eventually I heard back from them, but that didn’t fill the black hole. Calling friends and posting on Facebook feel like bragging, though those of you reading this know full well how often I turn to my virtual community to celebrate.
Then, out of the blue, I received a text from my BFF. “We finished our business downtown quicker than we expected, and we don’t want to drive all the way home just to turn around and go out for dinner. What are you doing? Can we come over and hang out and then take you to an early dinner while we’re on this side of town?”
“Please come. I need someone to celebrate with.”
What a Providential gift! And I needed to celebrate again, here among mostly strangers on Nantucket, when I received word that Publishers Weekly featured my memoir. That evening I walked down to the parsonage, where my dearest friends on the island—my summer pastor and wife—live. I announced that I needed to celebrate. With their experience in the publishing industry, they understood the significance of my good news without my having to explain. They are another Providential gift.
The Apostle Paul’s advice to the Romans is excellent advice for friends of those who grieve and who are alone: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15 NRSV) We are created to live in community, both joy and sorrow are meant to be shared, yet today a record number of Americans live alone. We need you both when we grieve and when we celebrate.
Many, Many Thanks Are Due
So a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of you who have celebrated the publication of my book with me:
- To all of you who have clicked the like and heart buttons or posted a simple “Congratulations” on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram;
- To those at Baylor, libraries, churches and clubs—along with some very special friends—who are planning celebrations for me when the book comes out;
- To those of you who have told your friends about Reclaiming Joy;
- To those of you who believed in me and my book concept from the beginning and got me to this point;
- To those of you who shared your stories with me and allowed me to share them in the book;
- To those of you who have already preordered Reclaiming Joy.
Thank you all for rejoicing with me. This journey from grief has been long and lonely. It’s time to celebrate.
Parts of this week’s blog were adapted from my forthcoming memoir, Reclaiming Joy, to be released September 15 by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press. You can preorder here. The photo was taken from the Cliff Walk, Siasconset, on Nantucket, looking east to the Atlantic Ocean, a place where I repeatedly find joy.