How healing is a kind of evolution

The woman looking back at me from the mirror near the end of 2016 certainly isn’t the one who was there at the beginning of the year.

This woman is more confident, more observant, looks happier, has eyes that occasionally sparkle again and looks forward to whatever the day might bring. This woman is learning how to enjoy life again, how to be comfortable in her own skin, how to surround herself with friends and family and how to get out and be an active member of the community.

This woman is alive.

Coming back into one’s own skin after the loss of a loved one is an interesting process, albeit painful on many levels.

When my husband, Jim, died from pancreatic cancer, the loss of my best friend, lover and other half was devastating. It numbed my body, my mind and my heart. I don’t even remember much of that first year after he died, and I hope I never will — just highlights, like getting the Brittany puppy I named Thistle; building snowmen with a friend; and spending every weekend on the road participating in dog sports.

Thistle opening her stocking in the midst of other Christmas chaos.

Thistle opening her stocking in the midst of other Christmas chaos.

I remember thinking I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other because there was no choice. And I remember mind-blasting pain that cut me to my very soul.

After a couple of years and lots of grief counseling, the numbness began to wear off and the reality of my life without my husband seemed nearly unbearable. So many everyday moments bombarded me with the reminders of loss and being alone.

But you see, I never really was alone. We never are. We have friends, family, co-workers, and in my case a church family, who genuinely care about our well-being and keep tabs on us, often without our awareness. They gently nudge and hug and, with their love and concern, guide us back to life. And when we’re ready, they welcome us back to the regular flow of life with open arms.

After a couple more years of looking reality in the face and fighting its presence, I began the slow process of accepting my situation. Widowhood is not for the faint of heart. However, unlike other extreme challenges, there is no choice about walking the path. It opens before you and you either walk or die.

I am a glass-half-full kind of person. Even in the face of adversity, I will always choose life, regardless of how painful the journey is. I have a strong core. And it didn’t fail me. Neither did those who love me. Neither did my faith in God.

My family Christmas at my house: (from left) my stepdaughter's fiance Daryl; stepdaughter Cheryl; youngest daughter's friend Jacob; myself; youngest daughter Jessica; Jessica's husband Ryan.

My 2016 family Christmas at my house: (from left) my stepdaughter’s fiance Daryl; stepdaughter Cheryl; younger daughter’s friend Jacob; myself; youngest daughter Jessica; Jessica’s husband Ryan.

So, in 2016, my little core family that was blown apart six years ago gelled again into something stronger than it was before. In my new state of confidence and self-awareness, I legally adopted my younger adult daughter. She was graduated from University of Maine in May, then married her perfect mate in August. My step-daughter became engaged to a wonderful man who is perfect for her and makes her happy.

Somehow all of these events have brought my little family together — the family that Jim made possible for me by loving me and making me part of his family — and drew me together with my own adoptive family and my blood family.

The realization of all of this came to a head for me this year on the night we decorated the Christmas tree, when my daughters, their other halves and a couple of my youngest daughter’s friends gathered at my house for dinner and decorating.

As I watched them interact with the ease of a longtime natural family, laughing and teasing each other over food and fun, I said a special prayer of thanks for each of them and for being able to recognize my blessing.

That’s not my only new awareness. Also in 2016, I began to truly notice my physical surroundings and make changes. I’ve been sorting out and cleaning up. I’ve been better able to keep up with house maintenance, and find myself caring enough to do the things that make a house a home. I have much more to do, but it’s a start.

The important thing is my house is no longer a place where I just keep my possessions and a base for my four Brittany dogs and me. It is becoming my home — a reflection of my personality and priorities. A place where I look forward to decorating for Christmas, changing the kitchen tablecloth for the season, rearranging knickknacks and mementos to please my whims.

A place where I invite my family and friends to share the space in love and warmth. A place of safety, peace and restoration. Home.

I still enjoy bird hunting in the fall and my other dog sports, but I no longer crave being on the road to escape my reality. I want to be home. I want to be part of my community and push my comfortable boundaries to try new things and go to events.

And I look forward to what 2017 might bring.

This was who I was on some level before Jim died, but I have grown beyond that person, too. When you stand at the edge of the abyss and stare into its blackness, there is no going back. Only change. And you get to choose whether that change is positive or negative.

Glass half full. Always.




Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.