By Holly Olmstead
As we live our lives, we can expect to lose our elderly loved ones. We are saddened, of course, and we respectfully mourn those we loved. We realize it is the natural order of things when the aged pass away. The stone that is cast by that death has rippling effects that last for years.
Adult children who may have come into town to visit that parent stop doing so, family gatherings are less frequent and sometimes difficult without an identifiable matriarch or patriarch, and the next generation of babies born to those adult children are born and create new, exciting attentions.
Now, when there are losses of loved ones that are unexpected and do not align with the natural circle of life, that brings on a grief of a whole other kind. You wonder how your life will go on. After a long and successful marriage, I lost my husband of 35 years. He was my best friend, cheerleader and protective caretaker my entire adult life.
Through the last few months of his life, we had to re-home our Labrador of five years, a sacrifice for hubby’s safety in the household. Even though it was a successful transition, one’s pet is like one’s child, a terrific loss.
In the meantime, my sister with Down syndrome passed away, a death more bittersweet than upsetting as at the age of 62 and born in the 1950s we felt she lived a full life. However, it was indeed a significant, heartfelt loss to me. Having lost my sister, pooch and hubby all in one year, I felt like I had lost my entire identity.
This was overwhelming, to say the least, for me. Where to begin? Where to pick up the pieces? Where to turn?
At first I was numb. In shock, anger, and likely, in denial. So, I did nothing. Mourning: Who knows what that looks like? They say gather with others, join groups. Keep old traditions, consider new. Give permission to yourself for time, space and for your family.
So, I took on some new things. I now volunteer at Habitat for Humanity at the construction site and run with a group from Fleet Feet. I’ve just signed on to teach knitting at Cornerstone for the winter semester and completed a grief group session at Hospice.
I’ve learned how to time manage the job of two people regarding house maintenance, including grocery shopping and cooking. Children are out of the area and trips scheduled to see them are and will always be in the works.
It has been over one year. I am dating. While all this was well and good, the busy, full schedule was not filling the void and the loneliness I was continuing to feel. It wasn’t until I had a euphoric moment that things began to take a turn for me. My past and present do not need to look the same in relationships. While I understood and had accepted my activities looking different, why not my relationships, as well?
This simple shift in thinking, of taking off the parameters of expectation of the familiar interpersonal relationships I had known, is allowing me to be more open to friendships of all kinds.
Much like starting adulthood over, I can enjoy people I meet, find joy in others’ ways and traditions, and accept new ideas in conversation and lifestyle. The world actually feels like a bright promising place for happiness and love, once again.
Holly Olmstead, of Kenmore, is a retired teacher from the Sweet Home Central School District.