A work in progress: Living with grief.

In progress

I refuse to fully open my eyes until I get a damn cup of coffee.

Aside from needing to shave, I don’t look all that unusual in this picture.  This is a picture of me from earlier in the week.  I am trying to see if I can smile without it looking weird to myself.  On this day, I couldn’t even manage to fake it.  All I was able to accomplish was smirk a bit.

My eyes look sleepy because I only got about six hours of sleep.  I seem to need less sleep lately but it is starting to take a toll so I will need to work on that.  I didn’t feel like putting a sharp razor to my face this morning, so I skipped it.   Otherwise, I look like anyone else more or less.  This is the face of someone in the process of healing from a devastating loss.

When a person is grieving, they go through ups and downs.  People who haven’t lost someone dear and close to their heart haven’t experienced just how complicated it is.  It also doesn’t affect everyone exactly the same, and we vary in our ability to control it or even find the will to get out of bed in the morning.

I’ve heard a lot of stories in the groups I am in and it all is the same.  Depending on what is going on around the person and what their family or friends want from the widow/er you will typically hear something like this:

“It’s still too early for you to date, you should wait a while.”
“You need to stop grieving and get on with your life.”
“You don’t have to worry, you are young – you have your whole life ahead of you.”
“You need to put yourself out there, move on.  Your kids need a new father/mother.”
“Take your time, don’t rush.  You need to grieve.”
“Why are you still crying?  Get past it and move on.”

These kinds of statements are very hurtful to someone who is grieving.  Doesn’t matter the situation.  Frankly, a widow/er doesn’t want your opinion; they want your love and friendship.

Most people who say these things don’t mean harm; they just don’t know what to say.  They think they are helping when in fact they may be causing more harm and hurt feelings.

Other people shy away from the person after a time because they are uncomfortable.  They are there in the beginning but then they start to distance themselves.  I have heard many stories of friends and family doing this to folks.  Thankfully, neither of the above issues have impacted me to any great extent.

I want to explain what grief is in hopes that people stop trying to treat it like it is something to get over and move on.  Grief is so much more potent and encompassing.  It doesn’t go away, it hides for a while to come back and bite you in the ass when you least expect it.

When it hits, grief is like terror without the ability to run away.  It is being surrounded and enclosed with the worst kind of despair you can imagine.  It isn’t fear for your safety so much as an emotional pain in your soul so great you want to run away and hide.  However, there is no escape.  You can numb it for a while, but that just makes it worse.

Grief comes in waves.  You can recover from a bad day only to be drawn into again by something innocent that reminds you of the past.   We are in a constant state of recovery, and I don’t yet know if it ever really stops.  It feels like it gets easier to manage, but it is never defeated.  When you have lost someone very close to you; you will carry scars from it for a long time.  Possibly, it will be your lifetime.

As we heal, we attempt to escape our little dungeons and start exploring the world.  We start to ask ourselves if we are ready to date again, or if we still need time.  We might decide we need a change of address or possibly a new career path.  We may want to go back to school.  Or we may want to stay exactly as it is because it is familiar.

The person who died could have been terrible, but that doesn’t offer any comfort for the person left behind.   It can cause more damage than if the marriage was solid and reliable.  People who have lost a loved one to substance abuse or some other terrible event feel cheated that they didn’t get the closure they were looking for.  Not only are they grieving for the person that they lost, they are pissed off they never got to resolve a major life conflict on their own terms.  These emotions play into each other.

Kids could be involved and they have grief too that the survivor has to deal with while going through this.  I don’t know this burden but almost all of the folks I talk to do.  Felecci and I decided early on in the Cancer fight to focus on saving her before we would consider kids.  We didn’t bother to save her eggs when the stem cell transplant was scheduled because it would have delayed her treatment.  Not everyone gets to protect their unborn children from this pain and those folks deserve a damn medal for going through this while raising kids.

I would have loved to be the father to a bunch of little Irish-American / Filipino rug rats.  (a nod to my Irish friends who will correct me if I call myself Irish)  If they had my determination and their mother’s heart I believe they would have grown up to be excellent people.  When I die I want to leave something to this world that makes it better than when I came into it, and maybe someday I will get that chance with my own kids.  For now, I have nieces and a nephew to hold me over.  Goals are good though, they give us hope and a reason to escape the dungeon.

I have come to peace with the fact that Felecci is gone and I will be 37 soon, but I still am working on coming to peace with the fact that my sense of self has changed.  I was a husband and a partner, then a husband and a provider, then a husband and a caretaker.

What am I now?  I am still working on that.

While relapses in grief will provide me with excellent material for this blog, I’d prefer if I could just make the emotion more controllable and start working on the rest of my life.  As widow/ers we don’t want to be this way.  But this process can’t be rushed.  We need to deal with it ourselves but we want to know that there is love and support out there for us, not to be told how to do it by people with no fucking clue.

And we don’t need you to keep track of our timeline to tell us if it meets your approval.  Fuck off with that shit.  You can’t just snap us out of it with 2 minutes of advice you heard on Dr. Phil or from advice you heard from some other random asshole.

If you want to support someone you know who is grieving; just be their friend.  Don’t try to fix things or diminish the pain that they feel by distracting them or telling them what they should do.  You can’t walk this journey for them, so instead put your arm around them and just give them a hug.  Or take them out so that they feel normal.  Take their kids to soccer practice.  Mow their lawn.  I don’t know, figure it the fuck out!

Action, not words.  Whatever you can do.  That is what helps people; not your judgement or your opinions about how they could be handling this better.

And by the way; don’t judge them if they take years to move on.  Or just a few months.  Everyone is different.  You have to be happy that they are trying to stand back up as best as they can.  Support them.  If you were in their shoes, you would be hurting too.  Maybe worse.

If a person appears to be in trouble, encourage the person talk to someone.  When it gets destructive or if the person is showing a danger to themself it is time to call for help.  Therapy isn’t a crutch; it’s a guide for those who have lost their way.  It doesn’t have to be permanent but it can be if that is what the person needs.  It all depends on the needs of the individual.  Grief is the most powerful negative emotion most of us will experience in our lives.  Do not underestimate it.

It’s ok to remind them that the last thing the person they lost wants is for them is to cause harm to themselves  We all have a small part to play in this world, and we need to be reminded that without us that part goes unfilled.  If not for ourselves, many of us will work to honor the memory of the partner we lost.  It’s the first thing that gave me purpose as I dragged myself off the floor.

We owe it to those now gone to lead good lives.  To teach those we love why their stupid arguments are not that important.  That no matter how annoyed you might be at someone; you still love them.  And to tell them that we love them as often as possible.  Because we know that tomorrow, they may no longer be there.

I said I love you to my wife every single day, multiple times a day.  It was the last words we said to each other.  We never got tired of the reminders.

It’s because of her memory and her love that I can get out of bed most mornings with hope that I will continue to figure this shit out.

I leave you tonight with something similar to what I wrote to someone who didn’t know how to express their pain.  By expressing our pain, it helps to understand and to heal. That sort of is the whole purpose of this blog.  Maybe it helps you understand what we go through when grief first hits and we are at our lowest.  I felt every single line below at the same time for weeks.  I’ve dealt with the worst of it but I can still feel some of it.  It’s weaker now, but it is always lurking.  Trying to stop me.  We can’t let it.

Sadness so bad it actually hurts. No, not sadness per say.  Despair
Anger, sadness, fear, guilt, despair, relief, agony, shock.  To name a few.  All at once.  Throbbing.
It hits so hard that you struggle to catch your breath.  Tears, sobbing.  When will it end?  It just…hurts.
All of a sudden you are willing to barter for more time.  Never enough time.  I’d give anything to go back and spend more time.  Why did I not do XYZ before now?
For 8 years I wanted this to end so she could be at peace, and I hate myself for it.  Now I am ready to do this for 20 more years.  Don’t go, I need you.  Please, just get better so we can be together.
Utter defeat.  Beaten.  Finish me.  How do I possibly go on from here?
I don’t want to do anything.  I don’t care about anything.  Numb between periods of intense emotion.  Can’t sleep, don’t want to get up.
Walk around the house and remember something I want to tell her; forgetting  just for a second that she is gone. Then I remember and it starts all over again.
If something came and killed me right now I would not care.  I am not ready, I want her back.
I didn’t ask for any of this, how do I go back? Why her, why not me?  I don’t know how to do this without her.


One thought on “A work in progress: Living with grief.

  1. There is one thing that connects each Widow/Widower. You can each tell a different story and all of feel the SAME EXACT EMOTION! Anyone can write their story, their feelings, their raw emotion and it can describe every single one of us the same way. The weight of our grief that is unexplainable and exactly as deep that you can sit there and read it and feel like he/she is describing me and my story. This blog is perfect and completely relatable. But only if you are a fellow w/w!!! There is no way to describe this loss to someone who doesn’t know.


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