One of the first things my mother-in-law told me after I lost my husband, her son, was, “Do me a favor, just don’t make him a saint.”
She didn’t say that because my husband was a bad guy or a good guy. She didn’t say that because she thought I would bash his memory or boast in his grandness. She said that because in her lifetime she had seen the tendency over and over for widows, or parents who had lost a child, or anyone in grief really, to remember their loved one through grief-colored lenses. And if you don’t know what that is, it’s when we remember them through a lens of perfection.
And when we do that, it hurts. It hurts us. And it hurts the people around us.
We don’t often realize we are hurting anyone. We simply have an innate drive to honor someone we loved. To remember the good times. The good days. To remember their beautiful qualities. I mean, who wants to rehash all the bad stuff, right? But who, or what, can ever compete with that?
In my grief, I have often combatted the mentality of remembering my “perfect” husband. He was so talented. I could just watch him at any given project and never get over how impressed I was at what he could do. He was smart. And funny. He could make me laugh even when I was upset. He made me feel so loved. Loved me just the way I was. He had a strength I admired, physically and mentally and spiritually.
And in reality, he was all that. But he was much more. He was also rash. And opinionated. And arrogant. And could be a big jerk.
In reality, I went to bed often in his arms, utterly content. But I also went to bed many times in tears, utterly frustrated.
I am often so overwhelmed by life since becoming widowed. But in reality, I was often overwhelmed by life even when he was alive. It’s called life. And parenting. And money troubles. And house troubles. And jobs. Was it nicer when he was here to help take care of it? OF COURSE! I definitely am not negating that! But if I think to myself, “If only Kyle were here, everything would be alright,” I am sadly mistaken and fail to remember how much stress my life consisted of even when I was married.
We as humans, have a sickness called “the grass is greener.” In grief, that sickness is usually on steroids. Don’t get me wrong, in an instant I’d take back my life with my husband. I’m not at all trying to minimize the deep pain of losing my intimate life partner. This widowhood thing is the single most draining, difficult, emotionally exhausting, excruciating thing I have ever experienced. But I don’t want to glaze over all the hard times I experienced WITH my husband, and then treat the hard times WITHOUT him as if something new is happening. If my husband was here, would some of my stresses go away? Yes, a lot of them. But it would bring back a different set. Would my emotional torment lessen? Absolutely. But at the same time, it would reinstate a different kind of emotional strain.
I had stress and emotional upheavals even when he was here. I can’t pretend my life was perfect then. When I look at my previous life with those lenses, it makes it impossible to reach any form of acceptance or contentedness in this current life. Remembering my loved one with grief-colored lenses not only does me a disservice, it does my loved one a disservice and it does my faith a disservice. Because no matter what blessing may come my way, or relationship comes my way, or opportunity comes my way, it will never be able to compete with my version of perfection I had to leave behind with my loved one. And my unhappiness will continue to rule me.
In our grief, we want to honor them. But honoring isn’t idolizing. We can’t idolize our loved one or the life we had with them. We must love them. Honor them. Remember them. But remember ALL of them. We need to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground. Not floating in the utopian version of what our life once was.
If you are new to grief, please don’t be discouraged or turned off by this. I am two and a half years into this and simply have been thinking about my mother-in-law’s words. Knowing what she experienced growing up, living in the shadow of a deceased brother. I have seen in my own life how easy it is to slip into those grief-colored lenses and feel like this new life will never compare to my old one. But I don’t want to stay in the clutches of discontent. I want to live. I want to remember my beautiful relationship with my husband and honor him, while at the same time, live with hope for tomorrow.