In her most recent addition to the wildly popular Bridget Jones’ series, Mad about The Boy, Helen Fielding portrays the bubbly and erstwhile boy-crazy Bridget struggling with the untimely death of her husband, Mark. We see Bridget five years after Mark’s death still struggling to adjust to the reality and learning how to respond appropriately to the social network that once embraced them both and now uncomfortably welcomes her alone into their homes at Christmastime.
It is with anguish that I recall my ex-best friend bossily announcing that I “really (wasn’t) a widow,” just before Christmas, only a few months after my husband’s suicide, because I was “too young,” depriving me of the one descriptor that provided some lucidity to my surreal experience. Or, the fact that my five year old cousin Melissa was the only one in my family who dared acknowledge his absence at the holiday dinner table that year, running up to me to tell me that she “miss(ed) him too.” My status as someone who was abandoned by their spouse through death was the most painful reality I ever had to accept. Yet, I was told by everyone surrounding me, my safety net, that I was not allowed to be it or feel it.
Unlike Bridget Jones, I do not have children. In Fielding’s novel, Bridget doesn’t have a great deal of time to think or grieve, because of her preoccupation with being both mother and father to two small children. Her children are her saving grace – her true loves, in some respects. Unvarnished in their grief, Bridget’s children constantly bring Bridget back to the pain of their shared loss. She falls in love with her children’s vulnerability and allows herself to follow their lead. Like Bridget, I began to surrender to the emotional pain, while consciously embracing things I loved during that first holiday season alone.
Commingled with my misery was a growing curiosity about what it would be like to feel happy and alive again. Because I no longer rejected misery and, as Buddhist nun Pema Chodron taught me, I “made friends” with my pain, I became curious about it. I prayed and suffered with Christ hanging on the cross during Mass on Sunday. I suffered publicly, but appropriately, crying openly in church or seeking out clergy who could explain my suffering to me. I also became more focused on this nebulous, strange thing called love, wondering more deeply about the nature of love and its genesis. I held my pet rabbits, Lepus and Emily, in my lap closely and in a way that I never had before. I discovered that love was not just a verb, it was a noun, an energy that we feel and is transmitted through space and time.
I tried to bridge the divide of loss and love. Questions nagged, especially that first holiday season. If I still loved my husband and he still loved me, I was sure of it, am I still married? How could I be married and widowed at the same time? These were concepts I had to process, wonder about, and struggle with, and did so for years afterward. By opening myself simultaneously to both love and loss that first Christmas, however, I became stronger and was able to begin my new life, not without my husband, but with him in my heart.
Melinda Moore, Ph.D. is a clinical psychology research fellow at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY where she conducts military suicide bereavement research. She has a particular interest in the intersection of suicide bereavement and posttraumatic growth.
Jen May is a Scorpio and artist living in Brooklyn, NY with 3 cats. She keeps a tumblr updated regularly with horoscope images and everything else.