Lot’s Wife

Lot’s Wife

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

Lot’s Wife

Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of overcoming it.

Helen Keller

Enid was an older woman whose husband had died unexpectedly two years before she came to see me. Withdrawn and distant, she had not cried or spoken of his death to anyone in all that time. She no longer cooked or looked after her garden or her house. Most of the time she sat in her bathrobe in the living room, looking out the window at nothing at all. She had been given antidepressants by her doctor, but they had not made much difference, and after a while she had simply stopped taking them. “They won’t bring him back,” she had said. She had been brought to see me by one of her daughters who told me, “I lost both my parents the day my father died.”

At first Enid and I sat and looked at each other in silence. She was a lovely woman in her early seventies, but she seemed as lifeless as the chair she sat on, as if she were only the wrapper that had once enclosed a life. She seemed so fragile that I wondered if she would have the strength to stay the full hour.

I opened the conversation by asking her why she had come. “My husband has died,” she replied, turning her head away from me to look out my window. “My daughters would like me to talk about it, but I do not think that I care to.” When I gently asked her to say more about this she said simply, “Talking seems a waste of time. No one could possibly understand.”

I nodded in agreement. “Yes, of course,” I said. “You have lost your life. Only your husband could understand what you have lost. Only he knew what your life together was like.” At this she turned back to look at me. Her eyes were gray, like her hair. There was no light in them. I nodded again. “If he were here, Enid, what would you tell him?” I asked her.

She considered me for a long moment. Then she closed her eyes and began to speak to her husband aloud, telling him what life was like without him. She told him about going to their special places alone, walking their dogs alone, sleeping in their bed alone. She told him about needing to learn to do the little things he had always taken care of, things she had never known about. She reminded him of times that only he would remember, old memories that no one else had shared. And then for the first time since he died, she began to cry. She cried for a long time.

When her tears stopped, I asked her if there was anything she had not said. Hesitantly she told me how angry she was with him for abandoning her to grow old alone. She felt as if he had broken a promise to her. She missed him terribly and all that he had brought into her life.

“He was a teacher of love for me,” she told me. The child of rigid and suspicious people, she had been amazed at her husband’s selflessness, his readiness to extend his hand to others, even to strangers. She told me story after story of his generosity, his kindness, her eyes looking beyond me to the past. “Herbert always went the extra mile,” she said. “So many people loved him.”

I was deeply touched by Herbert and by the woman he had loved. “Enid,” I asked her, “if Herbert were here, what would he say to you about the way you have lived the last two years of your life?” She looked startled. “Why, he would say, ‘Enid, why have you built a monument of pain in memory of me? My whole life was about love.’” She paused. Then for the first time I saw the hint of a smile. “Perhaps there are other ways to remember him,” she said.

Afterward she told me that she had felt that if she let go of her pain, she would betray Herbert’s memory and diminish the value of his life. She now saw that she had indeed betrayed him by holding on to her pain and closing her heart. She never came back to see me again. Herbert had told her everything that she needed to hear.

Every great loss demands that we choose life again. We need to grieve in order to do this. The pain we have not grieved over will always stand between us and life. When we don’t grieve, a part of us becomes caught in the past like Lot’s wife who, because she looked back, was turned into a pillar of salt.

Grieving is not about forgetting. Grieving allows us to heal, to remember with love rather than pain. It is a sorting process. One by one you let go of the things that are gone, and you mourn for them. One by one you take hold of the things that have become a part of who you are and build again.

About a year after this meeting, Enid sent me a clipping from the local paper about a group of widows she had organized to help elderly people with the tasks they could not do for themselves in their homes. There was no note with the clipping, just a tiny one-breath poem she had written and signed. “Grief./ I pull up anchor,/ and catch the wind.”

Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

THE FAMILY CIRCUS®

By Bil Keane

“When a lady’s husband dies,
why does she hafta be a window?”

Reprinted with permission from Bil Keane.

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