This past week I drove out to visit a college friend whose husband recently died. For the past several years, they had made monthly treks to Fox Chase Hospital for treatment for his condition—each trip lasting several days. They stayed at Hope Lodge, an American Cancer lodging facility nearby. I was able to call on them during those weeks, and there was so much hope in the beginning. Cancer, though, had other plans.
My friend is a cheerful, optimistic, lovely human being. We have been friends for over 55 years—she was in my wedding; I was in hers. There have been years when our only communication was the annual Christmas card; still, we relied on the kind of friendship that is constant—the kind where you can pick up any time as if you had never been apart. This reliability has sustained us, especially during her husband’s health crisis.
When the end came, it was a rapid decline. The month before, all had seemed good; then, suddenly, blood work showed sharp deterioration. Infusions were not working. Nothing more could be done. In two short weeks, he was gone. They did not have children; my friend has only one unmarried sister; her husband has a twin brother with three children, so there are two nieces and a nephew. She has lots of friends, though, who live nearby.
How does one go on? My friend has joined a support group; she is one of six recently bereaved spouses. They have weekly homework. Write about something that your spouse did that annoyed you. Write about your favorite time of day together. This week’s homework: Write a letter to grief. My friend says she always does the writing, though she never shares it—most of the members don’t share their writing either. She thinks that it’s the process of thinking through the “assignment” that’s helpful to her.
I noticed that because of the weekly writing suggested by the support group leader, my friend has begun keeping a daily journal. She told me that this is the first time she has kept a journal and that she finds writing cathartic. I believe that the act of writing has been helpful to her. Grief is often a long and narrow tunnel. If writing brings that glimpse of daylight, what a blessing that is.