“I believe that our small beginnings, our papercuts, can rebuild us.”
#100WidowStrong, Entry #4
Join me for a raw look at part of my journey from the months immediately following the loss of my precious husband, Ben, last September. One of our three missions with NaSHEville is awareness and advocacy for women of all ages that have lost their spouses. Take a look inside my story, and please consider supporting our partner, Modern Widows Club, and the incredible work they do to promote education, empowerment, and healing for widows in Nashville and all across the country.
We are a culture of firsts. We celebrate new life, new jobs, new love; birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. In the wake of loss, those firsts cruelly turn from celebrating what is to mourning what isn’t. “The first year will be the worst,” they say. “The holidays will feel the hardest.” Is this encouragement for the years to follow or a warning for the days just ahead? Is it actually true?
To an extent, yes; not because the pain is any worse in these seasons, but because days that until now were defined by celebration now feel void of it. Days that should mark the completion of another realized year, in turn, magnify the life that has been cut off. Within the first three months after Ben passed, I faced our first wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Did they really feel the hardest? To a degree, absolutely; to the same degree that being hit in the arm with a baseball bat hurts worse than a papercut.
You see, the big blows – the holidays and the firsts – they are huge blows, direct hits, debilitating on impact. They stop time and arrest our vision, zeroing in on all that is lost under a seasonal microscope. But is pain necessarily worse, or is it just all we can see? Does the bat really inflict greater harm than the thousand succinct papercuts that slice a little deeper day-by-day? For me the pain was in the process, so to speak. The days preceding the anniversaries and the holidays weighed deceptively heavier than the actual days themselves. You know they’re coming, brace yourself, and end up with an injury more severe than if you weren’t “prepared” for it.
But the papercuts, they give you no warning. No time to ready yourself or pep talk your heart. They are instant, intimate, and are confined neither by time nor place. To others they may seem a shallow or surface level, that is, if others notice the wound at all. To no fault of their own, what their eyes assess as a scratch to us can feel like stab wound. They don’t remain isolated incidents; they compound. A lifetime sentence of papercuts; of tiny, intimate reminders that our loved one is gone.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.”
Taking out the trash, checking the mail, picking up the dog at the vet or the kids from practice. Reminding me who to wish happy birthday to and making the bed with just two of our ten decorative pillows because he left for work after I did. All the things they did that then seemed small now hugely reinforce our being alone.
Crying and changing an outfit last minute because I can’t zip my dress or hook my bracelet. Taking three trips up and down the stairs to load and unload the car from a trip. Things that used to be easy with four hands that now feel impossible with two.
And it’s not just the tasks, the things they did, but also the things they loved. Songs, meals, movies. I even burst into tears at the grocery when passing the little “halo” oranges I used to buy for him. I completely lost it getting a quick massage at the airport when the masseuse popped my fingers in the same way Ben used to pop them. I saw a girlfriend give her husband a quick hug goodbye, and realized what I longed for more than anything was a real hug – a hug from the one who knows you so intimately, they just want you in their arms, even if just for a moment.
The papercuts are endless, and they cut deeper than we anticipate. But just like surviving the firsts, they too can bring healing – tiny new beginnings and routines, small muscles rebuilt that we didn’t realize had atrophied, that outside eyes may never see. Celebrate them. Don’t chalk them up as insignificant or trivial. Cut a piece of cake and have a glass of champagne because we have persevered in one more small way.
This, I believe, will be how we heal. Not by making it through the firsts, enduring the big bat, but by facing and embracing one papercut at a time with tears and resilience and honesty. By acknowledging how deep those little cuts are and knowing they will eventually scab over.
The prophet Zechariah tells Israel this as they prepared for the gargantuan task of rebuilding the Hebrew temple: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin”. I believe that our small beginnings, our papercuts, can rebuild us. So let’s not avoid or shy away from them; magnify or mitigate how much they hurt; let’s just see them for what they are, celebrate that we will survive them, and keep on building.