Several weeks ago I was reading an article about loss and grief, in particular as it pertained to divorce. One sentence that resonated was “…for healing to take place, grief needs a witness…”
Shortly after reading this article, grief in the form of death presented itself front and center in my circle; a friend’s husband, a beloved teacher, and perhaps most tragically, the teenage daughter of a close friend. At each funeral and memorial service, despite the overwhelming sadness and grief, there was a sense of healing amongst the mourners, sharing our collective memories and connections to the deceased, giving affirmation to the depth of our emotions.
Seven years ago I fell in love. It was a slow, quiet process, one that crept up on me, bit by bit, until one day an electric current ran through my body and I was able to recognize and name the feeling. Love. It grew, strong, intense, powerful. My love was reciprocated. It was joyful and frightening and all consuming.
There was only one problem with this love. I was married to someone else, not the person whom I loved. This new, and passionate, and compelling love had no witnesses. It was a secret between us, and we built our love and connection sequestered away from people who could share the beauty of what we had. Fear shadowed my love – our love – perhaps because witnesses hold the power to judge, and oftentimes to punish. I read once that the rules of society are for the comfort of others, and in general, society is not comfortable with love when it is outside the binds of a marriage.
I told my best friend about our love, and she told me she had my back. She shielded me – us – from witnesses who would judge and punish, and we remained private in our union. I told my mother and she judged harshly and refuted my love. She refused to bear witness to our relationship. My father removed his hearing aids and would not hear of my feelings. I stood alone in my family with no witness to what was so important to me.
A year went by, then two. Our love continued. We tried to pull away, and sometimes would for brief periods, but like pawns controlled in a chess game of the gods, we were checkmated back on the board, succumbing to a power and connection that was stronger than anything either of us had known. But still we had no witnesses. As time passed, our relationship evolved. Divorce was initiated and dynamics were shifted. A few friends tried to integrate us into their routines, but our relationship was far from routine, and we challenged comfort zones – even our own, and the few witnesses we had closed their eyes.
Time passed, and as with any relationship we ebbed and flowed. There were days when we laughed, other times we cried. Some days our love grew, other days it was stagnant. We bickered and fought and reconnected, but always within ourselves, not amongst a circle of witnesses who could have challenged or supported our growth. And through it all I never stopped loving.
Telling your story to an audience of one can become mundane. And countless retellings tend to cloud perception. Facts become muddled, and one day you question your own identity, even your own integrity, because nobody witnessed your life, or your love, or your being. Two can be as solitary as one when there is no third party to validate emotions. Emptiness crept in, and with it came loss, then separation, and change, and solitude. And then the grief arrived.
But now there is no healing, because there were no witnesses. Unlike a funeral where there are shared remembrances, and the trumpets wail in a collective howl of sadness, a private relationship has no readings or reflections to soothe, no hymn of restitution. There is just the secluded rereading of letters and messages, the replaying of songs that trigger reminiscences and emotions, the secret acknowledgement of a time that was beautiful and special and important.
This post is my declaration, and those who read it are witness to my grief. One day healing will begin, and the tightness in my chest will loosen, and the memories will evoke a smile, and not a tear. Until then I will be my own witness, and guardian of what was real and profound and meaningful…and hope that it might live again, but this time with witnesses to validate it.