NOSTALGIA: YEARNING AND LONGING

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“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
― Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

When my husband Peter died six years ago yesterday, the longing for him was so intense that it took my breath away.  I missed seeing his face; I missed feeling his touch; I missed hearing his voice; I missed smelling his soapy scent; and most of all I missed being wrapped in his arms at night.  I felt cold, with shudders of chills that were not able to be stopped.  I couldn’t find warmth. No matter how many blankets I wrapped around me, I could not amp up my body temperature and stop shaking.

The yearning and the pining for my former life with Peter was palpable.  This was not depression.  This was a craving and hunger for the comfort of what I had come to believe would last forever.  This was a hankering for the security of a relationship and love that I trusted.  This was a thirst for things as they had been.  Call it nostalgia.  Call if wistfulness.  I was hit over the head with a melancholy which had me pining for what Marcel Proust called Remembrance of Things Past.

After someone you love dies, the grief is so intense that the yearning becomes all encompassing.  You can’t remember the good times, because the pain of the memories is so powerful that you block them out.  But slowly, with time, and the support of family and friends, you begin to believe that nostalgia is a good thing.  You begin to recover the good memories and laugh about the past.  The grief writer Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said “the ultimate goal of the grief work is to be able to remember without emotional pain.” As time progressed, I was no longer feeling melancholy for the past, but began to reminisce in a good way about the times we shared. Nostalgia created a link from my past to my present with possibilities in my future.  Nostalgia provided a texture in my life and gave me the impetus to move forward.  Though I was wistful and yearning, I began to feed myself a dose of good memories to nourish my soul.

I used to think that keeping the memories hidden because they would be too painful to tolerate was the best way forward.  Now I enjoy looking at photographs, telling stories of my marriage, and laughing at the crazy things we did.   I can’t help but smile at my wedding picture.  What was I thinking, getting married in the sixties in a mini-skirt and white boots?  Now every time I look at the picture, I smile and think of the look on Peter’s face when he saw me enter the room in that insane outfit.  It makes me remember the love we shared, it makes me laugh, and finally, it makes me stop shaking and feel warmth again in the glow of my memories.

 

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