Monday, March 1, 2010

The Language of Grief

Foreign Language Poster
Originally uploaded by

Another late beginning to a new day's post. Today I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, and suffering greatly from allergies. When I'm like this, everything frustrates me. It helps to complain a little, then move on.

This afternoon the kids and I went to our family therapy, then across the city to my son's Jiu Jitsu class. While he was down on the mat, wrestling his assigned partner, the other two kids and I walked over to a couple of the stores. I decided that since dinner was going to be late we should stop into one of the stores for a snack. At first glance the store appeared to be a regular small mom & pop general store. But as we walked around we began to notice something different about this store. We didn't recognize any of the products, and their descriptions were not in English. My daughter looked over at me and asked if we were in a Greek store. I focused on the writing and realized that, no, it was a Russian store.

As we strolled around, the one display case that grabbed our attention was filled with a huge variety of large chocolate bars. They all looked quite tasty, but we were having trouble figuring out the differences between each bar. I said that it was too bad Michael wasn't here with us, as he could explain to us what we were looking at. Years ago Michael lived and worked in Latvia, and he spoke fluent Russian. He would have got a kick out of stumbling into this store. I'm sure he would have gone straight toward the store owners to strike up a conversation. He would have been very interested in where they were from, how long they had been here, and what their experience has been like.

This is not unlike the type of conversations I like to have with other widows and widowers. I love to listen to another person who is having to walk this same journey that I am on. It is very helpful for me to hear from others who are a bit ahead of me in their widowhood. Knowing what some of the experiences are of other widows, and widowers, helps me understand where I am headed. This is not to say that we all grieve the same way, but there are definitely some common experiences and milestones that we all pass through.

There is also a great comfort in hearing another person speaking the language of grief. Whether this is heard in person, or in communicating by email or these blogs, I feel and immediate sense of connection. As a recent immigrant will tell you, day to day life can be so challenging when you don't speak the same language, or when you feel like your experience is so different from most people around you. That is how I generally feel each day. I go about my day carrying my grief with me. It casts a shadow on all that I see and hear. While others around me may be aware of this, and may be sympathetic to my situation, they don't experience this. Only another widow, or widower, can truly know how I now relate to the world. Only when I hear them speak to me do I feel less alone. When this happens, any difference between us suddenly seems less important.


  1. i can appreciate and feel the emptiness of missing Michael in that store. my Dragon was half Russian and spoke it fluently. he also spoke Spanish, German, Farzi, and Portuguese and enough French and Italian to get by. i wish he were with me here as so many speak Spanish while pretending they do not understand English. i will be out walking the dogs and the men sit out on their vehicles to smoke and talk and, well, their stares and laughter, i have to admit it bothers me and at night, being followed by them, it frightens me. i never try to speak and i never make eye contact but my downcast eyes always know where their feet are. if my Dragon were here......ah, the fantasy of it makes me smile. he would cut a path as if he really did breathe fire.

    i feel lucky to know you, even if for now it is here. you are someone who does understand missing another person this much. thank you for noticing me and for allowing me to be part of your journey. i humbly look forward to meeting you in August.

  2. I was late in joining the blogosphere. When my husband died 6 years ago, we did not even have a home computer! My husband and I just used our computers at work and I had a laptop from work but no internet access. The first few years of widowhood were quite challenging because I indeed felt like a foreigner in a strange land. So it has been better late than never for me here. The sense of community I have received and felt is truly life affirming. For me, there hasn't been much personal interaction or support within my community so blogging has been a very significant connection.

  3. I love the comparison of widowhood to a foreign language. You are so right, and I am so glad that if I had to learn this language, you all are here to talk to.

    Love Deb

  4. My experience has probably been a little different as I first began blogging in February 2006 - about nature and our travels. When Don became ill, I did not write about this on my blog as it seemed right to keep it private. I didn't blog much as he became increasingly ill as I was preoccupied just caring for him and also, I felt too sad to write much of anything. I ceased posting to the original blog and started the new one when I began this journey after Don's death. At first, I didn't connect with other widows - partly as I was traveling so much that I spent little time online - and partly as I never really thought to search for others until a few months ago. The main readers of my blog are those who read my nature blog, so, at times, it feels a little awkward to write about my feelings -- but it's interesting to see the kinds of responses that are provoked by posts such as my latest on finally deciding to buy land in Nova Scotia. I find reading the blogs of others who have lost their partners to be helpful. Some have been alone longer, and others less. I find threads of thought that I can identify with - the intense anger that I felt for several months but have, for the most part, gotten past this winter - the uncomfortable feelings that occur when I'm the only widow at a dinner table of couples - the stress of having no one to *truly* discuss certain important things with - and all of those other threads that are familiar to so many of us. Yes, it is like a different language - one that many have yet the need to learn.