Writing your own story can help you cope with painful feelings
haya read the pamphlet with a mixture of feelings. She wanted the information and support it promised to provide, but she didn’t want to be in this situation. Still in shock, Chaya couldn’t believe the turn her life had suddenly taken. “Your husband has had a stroke... time will tell how much damage there’s been...” Now, sitting at the bedside of her spouse of 48 years, she turned to the pamphlet that was supposed to help her cope.
“You may be going through a grieving process. Your loved one no longer functions as a partner.”
Chaya snorted to herself. Beryl was never much of a partner to begin with, but at least he was there. He paid the bills and kept the accounts. He moved the trash bins. He did errands.
“You miss the communication you enjoyed with your loved one.”
Chaya paused. Communication wasn’t Beryl’s strong point. But at least he could speak! Even if he was just reporting on the news of the day or making a complaint, he was talking. Chaya never thought she would miss Beryl’s criticisms but now she did. He was far too quiet these days.
“Perhaps you were looking forward to traveling during your retirement years and now find yourself trapped in the house, caring for your loved one.”
Now Chaya was getting irritated. Why do they keep calling him ‘your loved one’? How do they know whether I love him or not?
True, she and Beryl had married, built a home and a life, but there were so many frustrations along the way. Chaya was always disappointed with her husband for one reason or another: He didn’t make enough money, he was too hard on the children, he wasn’t taking care of his health, he was always in a bad mood — and the list went on.
Did she love him? He was her husband, and she was attached to him. And, sure, at this point in life they were supposed to be traveling to visit their married kids, they were supposed to be hosting the family, and she was too young to be stuck home nursing an invalid. She was envious of her friends whose youthful and healthy husbands were still there for them. And most of all, Chaya felt guilty for feeling the way she felt.
Addressing the Complexity
The well-intentioned little pamphlet, glossing over the complexity of life as it did, made Chaya feel worse about a situation that already left her feeling so distressed. Its innocent use of the term “loved one” jabbed at her heart each time it was used, and the omission of seriously complicated emotions or the possibility of a less-than-ideal spousal relationship left her feeling angry and confused.
She had struggled to hold her marriage and her home together for all these decades, and now her husband her husband was in a state of total dependence, forcing her to give up any hope of a lightened burden at this stage of life.
Yes, she felt grief, but it wasn’t the kind the pamphlet was referring to. It was a deep grief of a life of loss, sacrifice, and suffering — a life that was supposed to be recompensed in her final years.
In her rage and despair, Chaya ripped the pamphlet into tiny pieces and threw it in the garbage. Then she sat down and wrote her own pamphlet.
“Your life has been hard, and you were just beginning to see the light. You were looking forward to resting a bit, shepping nachas from the children and grandchildren, and spending more time with friends, when suddenly, Hashem forced you upon a different road altogether. You were shocked, panicked, and dismayed...”
Chaya wrote and wrote and wrote her truth, the way it felt inside her gut. Her “pamphlet” was personalized, just right for her — authentic, compassionate, and comforting. This was her story, and when she finished writing it, she felt lighter, somehow relieved.
“I’m not a generic ‘loved one,’ ” Chaya was able to acknowledge. “I’m me, and this is my story. And it’s okay.” Penning the right words helped heal her heart.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 806)
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