Janus: The God of Widows
Jan 2, 2021
Three years ago, I blogged about “Looking Backward, Looking Forward,” grading myself on my 2017 New Year’s resolutions and sharing my resolutions for 2018. Writing annual resolutions was fairly new to me. For 46 years life revolved around husband and children, and I felt little need to set life goals and priorities.
Importantly, Lev assumed most responsibilities—business, finance, insurance, cars—and he was always willing to run errands, clean up my messes in the kitchen and take me out to dinner. How I have missed dinners out and longed for someone else to wash the dishes during these 10 long months of pandemic-driven social isolation. My flashbacks to life with Lev are more frequent now, 12 years after his death, than they were five years ago. Sometimes the aloneness is overwhelming and managing life is a burden.
Ralph Storm, Lev’s longtime partner and friend-like-a-brother, said when Lev died, “Ella is going to find out how easy he made her life.” Ralph was never so right about that as now.
We spend too much time in the past
I concluded my blog three years ago by comparing widows’ lives to the two-faced Roman god, Janus, the source of this month’s name: January.
We widows tend to spend too much time ruminating about a past we cannot change and worrying about a future we cannot control. Some live in the past, never letting go, moving on, building a new life or reclaiming joy.
We need both of Janus’ faces: One regarding what is left behind and the other looking toward what lies ahead. Janus was the Roman god of gates and doors, the guardian of exits and entrances. In that role, he also represented beginnings…one must go through a door or gate to enter a new place.
“Give Yourself Grace,” by Kristin Meekhof, widow, author and social worker, is especially helpful for widows who linger in the past. She concludes, “One of the most difficult things for the bereaved to do is to relinquish the past. As long as you are anchored to the past fear will dominate your choices. Fear will drive every decision you make and this is a dangerous way to exist. There are many healthy things…that you can do to cope with loss, so if you haven’t tried giving yourself a pass, I’m asking that you consider this as well.”
Joy = Memories + Anticipation
Those of you who have read my memoir, Reclaiming Joy, know I depend on the great Christian author C.S. Lewis for the definition of joy and the important roles both memory and anticipation play in experiencing joy. Lewis’ observation that anticipation is a more important factor in joy than memory is confirmed by neuroscientists and psychologists.
That has certainly been my experience, and my struggles now to experience joy consistently are due in large part to the inability to make any plans with any certainty that they will happen. Covid has robbed us of many of our hopes, dreams and expectations.
My family has a thing about Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Miserly, joyless old Scrooge—“Bah! Humbug!”—haunted by the ghost of Marley, his business partner, with terrifying nocturnal visits from the Spirits of Christmases Past, Present and Future. I far prefer the Spirits of Christmas Past and Christmas Future this year to the Spirit of Christmas Present, haunted by too many ghosts like Marley.
“2020 is a year best forgotten”
But it’s 2021 now. 2020 is a year best forgotten. I have looked at the past and bogged down in the present long enough. I am ready to look to the future. I am ready to walk through the door to new beginnings. No resolutions this year, just prayers and hopes.
The future is ours. Let’s seize the day and the year and with God’s help, make the most of it.
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“Carpe Diem: Seize the day before it’s too late” was posted December 29 by Baptist News Global, a national online news service, where I write a monthly opinion column. You can read my newest column here.
Portions of this essay are adapted from my memoir, RECLAIMING JOY: A Primer for Widows, published by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press, in 2018. To learn more about the book or to order a copy for yourself or a friend, click here.