Finding a world outside “Kansas.”
by Ann Peachman
I stared at my hand and knew I needed to remove my rings. My husband was dead, and everything normal in my life was altered. Although they felt as much a part of me as the freckles on my arms, I realized that the familiar look and feel of my rings on my left hand would also have to change.
I’ve never been a brave person. Acts that other people perform without thinking, tie me into knots. If something as simple as making a phone call causes fret and worry, how was I to face a totally changed life? I had been married to the same man for thirty years. The first time I had to check one of those little boxes marked “widow,” I felt bewildered. I had a mental picture of a widow — and it wasn’t me!
Sometime during those first weeks, I was shopping at a craft store and saw a poster of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz standing with her little dog, Toto. It read, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!”
That was it! I wasn’t in Kansas, and all I knew was Kansas. Somehow, I had to find my way around Oz. I bought the poster and put it in my front entrance. It became a symbol for each step I took into this new life.
Life since my husband’s death has felt like a whole series of tasks: the funeral service, the first day back at work, the mounds of paperwork, packing his things. Each task carried its own emotional burden. The service was an emotional high, as we honoured his life and were blessed by the many friends who came.
The paperwork seemed endless. Fear and frustration often reduced me to tears. Sometimes, when I saw a task looming, I was able to steel myself, pray, and get through it.
Anger and sorrow
I felt anger as I faced the mountains of work ahead of me. My husband was a collector, and tears of self-pity overtook me as I boxed over a thousand DVDs; hundreds of CDs; and at least fifty binders full of papers, books, and sheet music.
“Why did you keep so much stuff?” I accused him, aware that Bill was no longer there to defend himself.
Sorrow trailed behind anger. When I first met my husband, he was playing his guitar at a church function. His degree was in science, and his job dealt with government regulations, but his guitar was as much a part of his life as breathing. From classical to worship music, from rock to musical satire, his guitar was his passion. Tears coursed down my cheeks as I looked at his empty music stand.
Pain, guilt, peace
Pain and guilt returned over and over as I packed his treasures for a garage sale. Bill hated garage sales. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, but I have to do this.”
At other times a sense of peace and completion warmed me, like fitting the last piece in a difficult puzzle. When I sent my niece his Bible, I knew Bill would have wanted her to have it. When I found two binders of my children’s primary art that he had kept, I wrapped them up for the first Father’s Day without him. I was so proud of him and them.
Grief was there in every emotion, every task. In a sense, the tasks were the practical outworking of my grief. I may feel like this, but at least I have accomplished that.
All of these steps paled, though, in comparison to the day I took off my rings.
Why take them off at all? I argued with myself. There is no rule that says you have to. Many people wear them for the rest of their lives.
Although that was true, I knew this would be an important step in accepting the reality of my situation. My mind was struggling with Technicolor flashbacks of the last year of my husband’s life.
Every week, it seemed, had brought a new crisis. His enlarged heart led to multiple hospital stays. Near the end, lack of blood to his brain caused intermittent paranoia and confusion that frightened me to the core. He was awaiting a heart transplant when he died.
It seems foolish now, but I never considered Bill would die. It took us both by surprise. A part of my brain pleaded, No! How can this be? For me to take off my rings was to say to my brain and my heart, “This is how it is.”
I remember the day I repeated my vows and received the rings — my wedding dress that my sister sewed, bridesmaids with daisies in their hair, my husband playing a song he had written. I thought of our wedding vows, memorized and spoken with such love and hope: “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.” As long. . . .
I added the passage from the book of Ruth to my vows:
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16b, 17, NIV).
These were brave words from someone who was 23. Now at 53, I was living them.
Still, I resisted. There was such an air of finality to it.
Finality? I scolded myself.
Final was stroking his face in that hospital room and whispering to him that it was OK to go. Final was going to church without him. Final was going everywhere without him.
Final is acknowledging what is. By taking off my rings, I was taking a tangible step toward saying, “The season of my marriage is over.” It was wrenching and lonely, yet healing. Until I was able to do it, my mind and heart clung stubbornly to a season that had ended.
Throughout this horrendous year of my husband’s sickness and death, I have been unshakably convinced that I am not alone. God has walked with me in ways I couldn’t even imagine.
“Do not be afraid,” He whispered in my ear as I slipped the rings from my fingers for a final time. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).
I place my bare hand in His, and we walk toward that future.
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