Eight months ago marked the first anniversary of my husband's death. For one who has always relied on the power of words, there were none at that time to help me explain to family and friends how raw the wound still was. I have no doubt that a year might have seemed adequate to move on with my life, but I will attest to the fact that every single day of that first year, I had to struggle to believe that Ed was not around the corner, waiting to hear what was on my mind and in my heart.

I was on the outside of a drama that was happening to someone elseOnly now am I able to set words to paper. The first weeks are still a blur; nature has its way of shielding us from intense pain. Through the traditions of my family - going to synagogue, sitting shiva (the seven day mourning period), sharing the memories with relatives and friends, the time passed. But I still felt as though I was on the outside of a drama that was happening to someone else.

I found myself living in a new place, with my two cats, new neighbors and the seemingly insurmountable task of redefining myself. It has taken these eight months beyond the year for me to share with you how I accomplished that.

One of the first things I felt the need to do was find an introspective way to spend time alone. Having had little or no exposure to teachings about my heritage, I set about reading and learning. Some of my reading came from my computer, some from books I found at the local library and book stores, and some from calls and letters from well-meaning relatives whose advice was ample. It was here that I first learned of the healing power of giving. But how does one reach out to others, to give and to receive, if the very act of waking in the morning causes the pain of realizing one has loved and lost?

I'm a person who finds it far more natural to give, to do for others, rather than to admit needing help and accepting it. In the early months, I needed help. You simply cannot be married for nearly sixty years and suddenly take on life alone. I had little energy for the basics of living and I seemed not to care. Noticing this, my daughter arranged for services that would keep me on a level plane. I was made to see that, in allowing others to help me, I was giving them a chance to feel close to me and take pleasure in seeing me improve. That, in itself, was a mitzvah I was able to do.

I began to keep a journal, and it seemed there was little to record except my loneliness and countless questions about the purpose of life and the reasons for pain. It was a peaceable kingdom, even though I was talking to myself. It became a place I would visit every day and it helped point the way to what I had to do to redefine myself and my life. After all, my life remaining was precious beyond words, and Ed would have wanted me to live it fully, using strength I had yet to discover.

My life remaining was precious beyond wordsWriting became a refuge, but I woke one day realizing that it was something I could share. Something I could give to others trying to rebuild lives that seemed shattered by loss. I put together a course in creative writing, with a focus on memoirs and reminiscences, and offered it to the adult community center, as well as to a residential community. Not only did I discover a writing talent that was lying dormant in these venues, but something began to stir within me. I would wake with a purpose, even though some days I was tempted to pull the covers over my head and give in to ennui.

Each weekday I would go to the center with a van service provided by this generous city, join others for a lunch program, and then return home to the loud silence and unending loneliness that contained countless reminders of my life with Ed. I have yet to remove some of these from the bedside stand where he spent most of his final days. There are two cards he had given me, his favorite pen, his keys and a love letter I cannot bring myself to read again. Not yet.

I am getting to know a neighbor or two, and can recite by name those who sit at lunch with me every day. Because of the class I teach, they greet me with smiles. "Hi, Shirley, how goes it today?" Maybe, I tell myself, it is purely me, Shirley, who they like and enjoy? I can be liked and recognized for me! It has really not been easy. I have to grow into the role of being single, living alone, reaching out to others. Every good deed has two sides... like the proverbial coin. I accept and I give, and the days are accomplished.

It's so easy to let oneself pale into a mere shadow of one's former selfIt's so easy to let oneself pale into a mere shadow of one's former self. If you have been one of a pair for a very long time, there has been an imprinting, a bonding that colors everything you do- from the time you wake in the morning and begin to speak, out of habit, to one who is no longer there. It is so easy to sink back into the forgiving darkness of sleep. There is no preparation for redefining oneself. I'm reminded of the phrase "pulling oneself up by ones' bootstraps" It's nearly impossible, but that is what one must do.

Stepping forth into each day requires, literally, a leap of faith, a decision to move forward, believing that there is solid ground under our feet. We must have faith in that person who lived, loved and functioned before our loss. We were loving and loved. We had much to give, and still do. We were children of G‑d and still are. Will the wound ever heal so that there is no scar? Never. But as I take those first tentative steps as His redefined child, I discover a new kind of strength. I find myself reaching out to hands that can help me walk, and to hands which I can steady if needed. I find myself reaching out to the One who loves me.