Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything. But no, that is not quite accurate. There is one place where her absence comes locally home to me, and it is a place I can’t avoid. I mean my own body. It had such a different importance while it was the body of H.’s lover. Now it’s like an empty house.C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
A spouse grieves in myriad ways, but perhaps the most awkward to discuss is the physical dimension of loss. For Christians, I suspect there are many reasons we avoid talking about this. Our culture offers few expressions of healthy sexuality, and many church communities struggle to teach an embodied faith. Christians often possess an inherent (though not always fully recognized) belief that the body is somehow less valuable to God than the soul or spirit. So when the widow says, “I miss his arms around me,” we grow uncomfortable. When the widower laments his loss of bedroom intimacy, we cringe just a little. We think, Good Christians shouldn’t talk about or feel that stuff.
But the reality is that when a woman loses her husband, she loses his body, not just his mind or personality. When a man loses his wife, he loses all of her — from the mundane to the sacred and intimate. Many widowed people eventually find other sources for the wit, intellect, friendship and care of their lost loved one. But there is no replacement for the body of the one they lost. “The death of a beloved is an amputation,” writes C.S. Lewis in strikingly physical metaphor. To acknowledge the true extent of a widow or widower’s pain is to recognize this most intimate place of loss.
My marriage to Rob was incarnate; and when he died, I lost his body. Not just his personality or his intellect, his companionship or his wit. But flesh and bone. Heat and pulse and smell and touch. His hands around my waist as I stood at the sink washing dishes. His warm body against mine under the blankets at night. His hair and shoulders and sweat and strength and the million physical intimacies that those who are beloved of one another share in the sacred union of their one-flesh life. In his death, they have left me forever.
Many carry grief for Rob in their hearts. I carry mine in my body too. The body that knew and was known by him, that longs for his own to be beside it. I miss his intangible presence, yes. But it goes deeper than that. With every cell of my being, I miss his body. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. In death, our one was torn in two. To lose him is to be physically alone in the deepest, most piercing way I know.
Science tells us that loss affects not just our hearts and souls, but our bodies too. (Read more here and here.) Sometimes, I look in the mirror, and I do not recognize the person who looks back at me. New hollows of sorrow beneath my eyes. New lines etched by grief across my brow. Grief has changed my body. I see hair, face, lips that have not been touched by him in almost a year now. For almost 20 years I have known my body in relation to his. No more now. My body knows Rob is gone in ways my conscious mind does not even comprehend. Grief lives now in my body. Every cell is changed because of his absence.
My body is here, but Rob’s has returned to dust. Our one flesh has been severed. He is lost to me everywhere — body, soul, mind and spirit. This must be said: our losses are not just emotional, intellectual and spiritual. They are physical too. I know this to be true. My body is now an empty house.