Today was one of those chilly overcast January days with audible rain outside. I had initially planned to spend this day indoors, tackling paperwork.
But after a very cold, wet walk with my dog, it seemed like a much better idea to warm up with a hot drink inside a steamy, convivial coffee shop. My soul just wanted to be among people, even if they were all strangers.
I decided to bring a book along as a companion.
After a short, satisfying break and back home, I procrastinated by curling up on the couch. My dog laid her head in my lap. Soon I was hearing her contented little snores. “I’ll just read a few more pages.” Okay, one more chapter. Then, I gave myself permission to read for one more hour.
This is not my normal practice. I’ve only recently learned to soften and bend into my quiet needs.
Asking permission from others began for me as early social conditioning. As children, we were not allowed to eat anything in the kitchen without first asking permission. I remember the day my friend Wanda boldly opened up the fridge, took out two apples, and handed me one. My eyes grew as big as saucers, alarmed. We did not have permission.
The years that followed were shaped by the firm habit of respectfully seeking permission, to gain approval for my ideas and desires. I sought this from my parents, teachers, supervisors, friends, and neighbors. Most of all with my husband, as our lives were so intimately intertwined.
During his illness, my husband understandably fell behind in his professional obligations. And after he died, as the executor of his estate I had to meet all those unfinished duties — in addition to the demands of my own full-time job. I had a house and yard to now maintain on my own. There were so many expenses and responsibilities. I worried for my future. I felt alone without family nearby.
It was a heavy burden, at a time when I was overcome with the emotional pain of grieving. My body went into fight-or-flight mode. I started to lose a lot of weight and sleep. I was exhausted.
One day I tearfully confessed to my grief counselor: “I feel so much pressure to meet all these filing deadlines. My anxiety is high, and I’m awake all night with insomnia. I feel overwhelmed by an avalanche of responsibilities.”
She smiled calmly, then said: “What if you were just late? Applied for an extension? What is the worst that could happen? Give yourself permission.“
It was like a bolt out of the blue. A thought that had never occurred to me before. Permission to be late? Unheard of!
But I did take some extra time to file the paperwork. And the sky did not fall.
During the first year after loss, those of us left behind must continually give ourselves the kindest permission, to adjust and choose the way we move forward.
Permission to laugh again, to feel happiness and joy and not feel guilty. Permission to dream again, to look forward to the future with new goals and aspirations. Permission to love again, to let others into our heart.
And the hardest one of all. Permission to fully live again.
During my first year as a widow, I struggled to create a new life for myself, while working long hours and over capacity, managing the complicated existing one.
One day I woke up and realized, my rainy day is here.
After the deepest soul-searching, I finally gave myself permission to pursue a long held, unspoken dream. I left my job and embarked on my own version of life sabbatical … to rest, reflect, learn, experience and grow. To take care of myself, for a little while. To get to know myself. And to write.
It’s hard to form a new vision for life, when you’re still focused on the one you’ve lost. It takes time to discover who you are, what you want, and what you are capable of. And it isn’t just a matter of time passing, but what you choose to do with it. What actions you take, what changes you permit, what bending you allow.
On this rainy January day, I found my thoughts returning to a much-loved quote by John Burroughs:
I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.
I have always been a hard worker. It is part of my nature, my orientation to life.
But each day is short and precious.
Today, I give myself permission to read a book.
This post was originally published as my guest author contribution on Second Firsts, a website and community devoted to inspiring people after loss. Christina Rasmussen’s book, Second Firsts, helped me immensely.