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Surprises happen most days in my newish-widow life. Fun things like trying to shovel thick sheets of ice off the driveway when no amount of pushing and grunting will dislodge an inch. Or trying to get excited about making dinner when I don’t yet know my way around a grocery store. Or trying to keep my cable, gas, and electric bills straight when their names are too much alike.

But I had the biggest surprise right before Christmas. I was driving to a special “blue” service at my church. Blue services at the holidays are supposed to be soothing for those who’ve suffered losses of any kind. Since we’d not had such a service the Christmas after Marv died, I decided to go.

It was dark when I left home at 5:40 p.m. About eight minutes from home, driving Marv’s Subaru Forester, my right front headlight smashed hello to a deer dashing across a four-lane city street.

I wasn’t too shaken at first; I’d hit a deer once before. When I was dating Marv, about 59 years ago, I hit one while driving his prized two-toned aqua and white ’56 Chevy, totaling it. He never forgave me, often lamenting that I’d wrecked his favorite, his very favorite car.

So, there I was wrecking another favorite vehicle of his (his one and only new one in our entire marriage). Since it was still running, I pulled off into a grocery store parking lot to assess the damage. In the eerie darkness, I could see that the fender and hood were still where they should be, so I thought I’d go to the blue service after all, because now I had something really current to be blue about.

Fir in headlight!

I proceeded the final twelve-minute drive to church.

All was well until I entered the church and saw the pastor. I could feel my face freezing up. I brushed past him, nodding a greeting only. I sat down in our smallish chapel, set up attractively for the service with just a few chairs and a table with candles waiting to be lit. The pianist was playing quiet hymns, one other person–a man–came, and the pastor, wearing a soft, dignified, black robe, opened his bulletin and began to read quietly from the liturgy:

” Today we come looking for the Christmas Child.”

And the other parishioner and I started to respond:

“We come, bringing our hurts, and our worries, our fears…”

I say “started” because I never finished. I broke into tears and sobbed  solidly, my bones and muscles feeling as if they would explode through my skin, for the remainder of the fifteen to twenty-minute liturgy. My companion responded alone to the pastor’s reading. I hid my face in one of Marv’s handkerchiefs that I’d grabbed from my purse and tried my best not to make noise. At some point, the man reached over and placed his hand on my arm. In response, I thrust my hand out and grabbed his thigh. He gently removed my hand and took it in his.

It was hours later, or so it felt, that I became aware that I was crushing his hand. Crushing, as if to save my inner essence from obliteration. I loosened my grip, glanced over at him, and mouthed, “Thank you.”

I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I felt so totally out of control.

Therefore, I was heartened recently to read an essay by psychologist Jackson Rainer titled The Blindside Wipeout of Grief and subtitled “A Sudden Temporary Upsurge of Grief (STUD) is intense and unexpected” Rainer’s words described my experience: “A STUG is an unwelcome, unexpected tsunami to the natural tidal rhythm of grief.”

Sudden. Temporary. Upsurge. Unwelcome. Unexpected.

Right on.

With my face still frozen, but the tears drained out, I got myself together at the end of the service to light a candle for Marv and to sing the parting hymn:

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I don’t even wish I could tell you that I was over it as I left the church; the experience was painfully and wonderfully cathartic.

You can ask my kids. When I got home, I called my daughter: “I hit a deer.” “You’re kidding.” “No. On my way to church.” She called my son out-of-state, and he called me right away. “Are you okay?” “No,” I wailed and then itemized at great length all the things I’m taking care of that his dad use to do. And now this, a body shop repair.

But all’s well that ends well, right?

Just this week, Marv (thus me) got a surprise email from Starbucks. He had a balance! I called the number on the back of my card (I couldn’t find his), explained my situation, and they transferred his balance to my card.

Now, I can look forward to four “free” mochas. He would like that; he knew how much I liked my mochas–decaf, grande, skinny, peppermint. Hot.