by Jan McDaniel
When I think about time with my husband I’ve lost or what could have been if we had grown old together, I sometimes get angry and feel cheated, but maybe there is another way to look at the situation.
I taught English classes at a technical college for several years after I lost my husband. When grading papers students had written, I would come across a few that made me pause every semester. Though I sometimes wondered what was happening to punctuation and grammar these days, what my students wrote could amaze me in more positive ways. Most of the students at my school were there because they wanted to be; they had goals they want to accomplish, or they had been given a second chance, or they suddenly needed a piece of paper that said they could go back to the job they had been doing for twenty years. Some were fresh out of high school, and some had come to my class after serving in the military.
I had no delusions. One of their immediate goals was to get my English class behind them. Most of our time together focused on the dreaded comma and ways to avoid major errors like run-on sentences, comma splices, and fragments. Those ten-pointers and other infractions are mechanical in nature. I stressed proofreading … but then there were those papers where content not only stood out but also took me away from the page and into the private worlds of my students' lives. Commas were the least of their worries. Most had a job or even two while in school. Some worked the night shift before coming to class at eight o'clock in the morning.
Tragedies do not take a semester break. Sometimes the heartbreak was strong on the page when a student talked about a dying parent or asked why his friends are treated the way they are. These were not the papers that had been written at the last minute or the ones that were meant to “snow” me. These were the ones that came from somewhere deep inside. And these were the words that showed me my own life in a new light. Unintentionally, my students helped me see some of the “obstacles” that stopped me from working on my own writing, stopped me from healing. Seeing how they dealt with the stumbling blocks they faced helped me become unstuck and begin to deal with mine.
Sometimes hope comes like that, unexpected and in the smallest packages. Once, a batch of cookies I baked turned out so well they made me cry, but it wasn't the taste or the texture, even though I think this was the best peanut butter crisscross I ever made. The memories associated with batches past brought on the tears - these were my husband's favorites - but then these very same cookies and memories helped me take the next step on my healing journey.
Funny how a cookie can accomplish so much. As I stacked them on the plate, at least the ones that were left after tasting, I thought about all the earlier days I had spent in the kitchen. The making, the waiting, love put into each carefully crafted "crisscross" before the pan went into the oven, just as my mother had done when I was a little girl allowed to mark the tops after she had rolled the dough between her hands. After I grew up, the scent of the cookies coming out of the oven was guaranteed to attract at least one man and two little girls.
Thinking about someone you've lost can be painful, but as healing takes place, pain cannot compete with love. This particular plateful of cookies taught me a thing or two about building a new life. In the minutes it took to put them together I found out that even the most tender memories can bring a smile to my face. So what if a tear or two slips by as well? I also found out something even more important. Cookies are meant to be eaten, not kept. Memories are meant to be shared, not stored away until they are too bitter to taste. And if you can't share cookies or your life with the ones you love, you can reach out and share them with someone new.
The day these cookies came to be, I had been struggling with what a lot of widows eventually face. How could I ever love again? Is the alternative just loneliness? Something in that question clicked while I baked those cookies. It has been said that the kitchen is the heart of the home. The heart of life is joy. Finding new love is not a dishonor to the past, I’ve come to see. Maybe I won't love again. I don't know the future. And I'm happy just like I am. But now I know it's possible.
Such are the hurdles survivors face, one after the other.
(to be continued)
Way for Hope
Losing someone you love is difficult, but it can mean a lot to hear from others traveling similar paths.
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Links of Value:
Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Word of God
"My Story" Big Daddy Weave
"Hope in Front of Me"
The Joy FM
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"Take Charge of Your Mental Health" - a free download from www.nami.org: