Yep, I'm the kind of girl who makes Venn diagrams. I've read several things about how one can tend to lose one's self in a relationship. I figured that a 34 year relationship, 33 of that in the 24/7 state that is marriage, that quite possibly I could have lost a lot. No, I did not. Considering that marriage is designed by God and that I have found no shame, only honor, in being a helpmate to my spouse, I can look at my diagram and soundly say that I am still who I was. I'm just being forced to operate in a different gear.
And back to comparing this past year of my life to Tom Hanks adventures in Castaway. The first part was probably close to two weeks ago because my life has been so crazy busy. If you wanted to reread it, its on my blog: http://glynis-p.blogspot.com/ In Castaway, Chuck Noland found himself on a deserted island with one main focus: keep breathing. I found myself in the same place after Pat died. Purpose itself becomes confusing, so it must be simplified to what once was automatic.Every day becomes a matter of inhale, exhale.
One thing Pat was always saying throughout our marriage was "We are One." We were a unit with a joint purpose. He would get so annoyed if a business would insist on only speaking to him and not me. He'd say, "She's MY wife. We are One." As that "one" unit, we divided up the tasks of life and each did what was required to keep the life that we shared on course. Chuck's travels on the plane were like our marriage - we had a destination and purpose. For 34 years together we headed there.
As unexpectedly as Chuck's plane broke apart mid-air and plunged into the sea, so the life that we had came crashing down when Pat died at 55. Chuck could not fly through the air and complete his business without that plane. Without Pat, our marriage was no longer a vehicle to carry me further on my journey in this life. Just as Chuck was forced to cling to his raft while being tossed on the tumultuous sea with no clue where he was or what would become of him, I, also had to cling to something to keep me afloat. My something was my faith in Christ. It's a buoyancy outside of ourselves which kept Chuck and I afloat.
In 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul lays out the perils he has endured which included, "three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea," Prosperity preachers like to treat itching ears to the idea that nothing scary will happen to you once you are a believer. That is far from the truth - Paul goes on to say, "I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." He certainly didn't escape hardship but he did discover something marvelous and uplifting through it. In Romans 8 he proclaims this wonderful truth, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." On my island, I've been learning this, too.
As "one" unit, Pat and I had divided up duties. He had his jobs; I had mine. Suddenly last July, I was faced with all the jobs and doing them underscored his absence. I was so deep in grief it was hard to keep afloat, much less figure out how to do his jobs. The Pool Fiasco illustrates that (look back to last summer's images of my deep green pool and the toxic concoction I created in that giant cauldron trying to kill it). In Castaway, we see Chuck trying to provide for himself - his clumsy struggles to crack coconuts, his comical spear fishing attempts, forcing himself to eat things that are gross simply in order to survive. He was also doing things he had never done because he *had* to, similarly I found myself doing many things because I *had* to. I'm sure that I've looked just as hilarious as I have tried to take on Pat's tasks in order to keep my life and house going. Learning to laugh at myself and to let go of perfectionist expectations has been key. Try, try again. Through it all, though separated from Pat by death, I was never separated from the love of Christ.
With every success there is the satisfaction of, "Hey, I *did* this!" even if you don't want to actually be doing it anyway. Unclogging a drain. Changing a very high ceiling light (that he was always sure I'd break the glass globe of or fall off of something trying to do). Killing big spiders. Making minor repairs. I love when Chuck finally makes fire, he dances around it, beating his chest, so filled with relief and joy - I have definitely had my moments like that.
The reality of the matter is that Chuck was stuck - by circumstances out of his control - on an island that he didn't want to be on. This past ten months has been a Philippians 4 learning experience for me. The Apostle Paul say in verses 12 and 13: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." I can't say with truthfulness that I've "learned the secret of being content" but I'm getting there.
And again, this is too long to finish my comparison - some of the rest is already written in another piece and I'll wait a few days to share it. God bless. :)
If I were to liken my experiences over the past eight-and-a-half months to anything, I think elements of the movie Castaway are a pretty decent fit. I very much identify with feeling like my life as I knew it was ripped apart by turbulence and went hurtling into the deepest, darkest ocean. I also feel like I've had to engage in a battle of wits with myself in order to survive this ordeal. Mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually I've had to conquer a slew of challenges. Like Chuck Noland, I've also been working my way back to "home" and yet, unlike the protagonist of Castaway, I have been finding out I must have a brand new life a whole lot sooner than he did. The old one is irrevocably gone.
Chuck Noland is a very busy man with a very busy life. He has an agenda and goals he must meet. That's how I was - I was very much consumed by the things that needed doing and I valued the scheduled down time we had very zealously. Just like Chuck and Kelly had a romantic moment before he took off on the ill-fated flight, Pat and I had had a wonderful weekend - moments of relative peace, contentment and promise which belied the coming storm. Chuck was on board a jet, scurrying to solve a business problem in Malaysia, flying over the ocean when danger struck. I was cleaning up from a nice barbeque in the comfort of my home.
Pat's pain was like the initial turbulence. Suddenly it grew alarming. The next 8 days were akin to Chuck's experiences on that plane until it crashed and plunged him into the sea - ready to take him down to a watery grave with it. The life raft tied to his wrist that inflated and pulled him to the surface - that was my faith in the One Who will always rescue me and cause me to rise above the waters. When the emergency supplies snagged (goods which Chuck could have utilized to survive), they ripped off with a tug and he had to rely on the raft alone - or like me, on faith alone. All the "emergency supplies" that are a marriage sank with Pat's death. In one tragic catastrophe, it seemed like it was me against the ocean. (And yet, the Strong Hand of love was always there).
The struggle to the surface is real. Will you be under and stay under? Will the weight of the plane (aka the lost life) drag you down to the watery depths with it? Would it be easier to just relax into grief and despondency, to let the wreckage and sea overwhelm you? I'm a fighter, sinking without a fight was not part of "me." It's instinctual to fight, to engage in the struggle to rise to the surface - but useless to flail around just looking at all the dangers in terror. One must choose to unleash that raft, allow it to inflate and pull you, albeit choking and gasping, to the top and seek the next step once you get there.
Coming to the surface, the ocean looked like mayhem. An inferno was ensuing, Chuck almost got sucked into an engine... he *had* to THINK and paddle away. He survives to find himself in the middle of the South Pacific, deep dark depths of the ocean below him, nothing but waves surrounding him. I rose to the surface of the eight day ordeal of Pat's death to find myself in the middle of a dark ocean, too. Chuck lost consciousness overnight and washed ashore on an island - I shock-walked my way through a week of preparations and found myself washing ashore on an unknown land, a rocky, desolate place called Widowhood.
Chuck begins to explore his surroundings with one main priority guiding him: survival. Maslow's Hierarchy of Need says that we instinctively seek to fulfill basic physiological needs and safety needs on the lower levels. This is where we diverge a bit because sleep/food were not on my agenda during the first tumultuous weeks. Some people eat their way through grief - not I. So while Chuck was worried about food/water, I did join him in the shelter and safety hunt. I sought out info on what to do about our mortgage, title, etc, etc. I was VERY concerned about safety and within a month after Pat's death had my Conceal Carry Weapon's license. I also absolutely had to finish my Master's Degree - my husband dying in the middle of my last class was at once a curse and a blessing. I had to on some level hold myself together in order to 1) complete my degree and 2) maintain my 4.0 GPA. My new job was starting two months after his funeral - so like Chuck, I was occupying myself gleaning things I could use from whatever washed onto the shore of my island.
I don't recall ever hearing Chuck express denial over what happened to him. He accepted the plane crash and his situation with an active desire to survive and to turn things around. One of the stages of grief is supposedly denial. From the get-go, I knew that I knew that I knew that Pat was gone, that he was never coming back and that my life would never be the same. I could cry a river and it would never bring him back. Oh, cry I did (and do), but it is emotional release more than it is despondency.
The motive of survival is a place where Chuck and I diverge - he was actively trying to survive in order to return to his old life. I was actively trying to survive to do what? To discover who I would now be and what God had in store. Chuck had a deep desire to return to his "normal" - I knew that a return to my "normal" would never be possible. However, I did have a goal of finding parts of the integral parts of the "old" me and to see them incorporated into whatever the future had to hold...
This is Part I - there is more coming. It was just getting far too long for one posting. So, don't worry, lol, I'll get into the differences regarding the ever-present company of God (definitely more powerful than Wilson!), companionship, challenges faced, etc.