There is no manual on grief for you. Oh, there are thousands of books and courses out there, but none are written for you or the absolute loss you feel for your loved one. Can you compare the grief losing a grandparent to losing a child? No. Can you compare the grief of losing a spouse to losing your best friend? No. But they are all cousins in grief….loosely related, yet none of them looking quite the same. Some people move through grief stages more quickly than others….some think they are processing their grief when they are in fact just keeping busy to avoid feeling that grief. That ton of bricks will fall at some point…and I can’t imagine the overwhelming feeling that person will have over something that seems marginally small to others, because they have held back their grief for so long that it has no where to go. Some people have faith in God and believe in an afterlife; others do not. Some families believe in showing their emotions and others feel that you should cry and rage in private. There are just so many variations to what surrounds grieving that it has to be obvious to anyone with half a brain that what works with some people won’t with others….and that it all changes over time. For those of you who have not really had to deal with the loss of someone close to you, I sincerely congratulate you. You are living a blessed life. However, none of us are immune to this. When people say they can’t imagine what you are going through (and I would be a rich person if I had a dime for every time someone said that to me), I am going to share.
I have been through the grieving process before….and I didn’t much like it. It was, however, for myself and the life I thought I would live. When I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in Nov 2019, I was devastated. Devastated that I wouldn’t live to see my kids get married, Lily to graduate from high school, to see grandkids….to grow old with Rich and continue our many adventures. I went into a very dark, bad place for about 6 months. Of course COVID hit close after my diagnosis and there were no avenues for help for me for quite awhile. I eventually met a group of chronic cancer survivors online and with zoom meetings every twice a month, we bonded pretty quickly. It was really the only place I felt comfortable talking about everything, because they were in the same place, albeit I am younger than a lot of them. That group, finding a passion I could pursue on my own in the face of COVID (photography – I took several online classes over the last two years), and holding fast to my faith was what helped me accept my own early mortality and decide to live my life to the fullest. I was really at a good point, all things considering.
Nothing could have prepared me for how hard Joe’s loss has been. Devastated just seems too light a term. Panic and disbelief were the main feelings that first day. Honestly, those feelings still rear their ugly heads a few times a day now….7 weeks later. I can’t thank enough the people who came and sat with Lily and me that first day. I was a wreck. People got the word out so I didn’t have to keep repeating it over and over again. Lots of people show up in the beginning….when you are in survival mode and just can’t function. Then a kind of fog sets in….it is like the mind protecting itself from so much distress. You can function…you just don’t feel much more than the grief, covering you like a blanket, everywhere you go. It almost hurts to smile. You want to be present for others, but you just can only literally be present…like a lump of clay beside another person. You want to take in what others are saying but your mind won’t stay focused. It wants to go back to thinking about your loved one. See…just typing that right there….I totally can’t believe my Joe is gone and tears are flowing. Weird things cause triggers of pain and grief. I cannot listen to certain kinds of music. If any song played at Joe’s Celebration of Life is playing, I am pretty much paralyzed. I know this happens to Rich as well. If a song comes on in the store, he has to go back into his office to compose himself. There are good triggers though too, where something will make me think of something Joe always did or some memory from his childhood and it will make me smile a sad smile – to cherish a grateful memory. I think those triggers will always be there…good and bad, but perhaps won’t be so sharp to my soul.
I think I am getting to the point where the protective fog is lifting. I am seeing more…ingesting more of what I hear and feeling more. That last part -feeling more, is the hard part. It has now been 7 weeks and a day since Joe left his earthly body. I am bereft without him. I texted all the time and talked to him probably 4-5 times a week….and I miss him. I miss his voice…his laugh…his crazy conversational topics. I feel like a good part of my heart died with him. HOWEVER, I don’t have the luxury of focusing on myself and my own grief. I have a 17 year old daughter at home who I have to be present for because she has already been through enough. I have a 25 year old son in California who probably wouldn’t admit to needing his mom, but I need him. I have a husband who needs a wife and someone to care for his home and do the bookkeeping for his businesses. I have a wonderful but heart-broken daughter-in-law, whom I love very much and want to support in anyway I can to help her survive the pain she is in. So I keep going. That has always been my way. Soldier through. This is way different though. I am trapped in molasses, mired in self-doubt and crippled by grief. So all of you who keep commenting on how strong I am…I appreciate it, but stop. I am nothing near strong right now, and I won’t be for awhile. I don’t want to be strong and I shouldn’t have to be. This isn’t an Olympic event…this is grieving for the loss of my child. Along with that fog being lifted, trivial things are in neon lights. Life is too short. It isn’t worth it. I just want to shout that to anyone who will listen. Everyone thinks that enough time has gone by that I should be starting to get over this…that I don’t need friends. In fact, many have scattered and I think the level of my grief has scared them away. Yesterday was the first Sunday that I didn’t cry through Mass. Sundays are hard for me. Joe died while I was in Church. No one really comes up to us anymore at Mass…they just give us those looks of sympathy as we shuffle out the door. I am actually planning on attending a different church next week to see if it eases my heart a bit….where the parishioners don’t know anything about me. As I mentioned, the fog is lifting and I am feeling more. So I am hurting more. That protective survival mode is leaving and the pain of my new normal is starting. And I hate it. I am not mad a Joe for leaving us or for God for taking him. I am mad about not having more time with him. I find myself a bit more sharp-tempered about things and perhaps a little more blunt with my answers. I am sure this will ease, so please give me grace. I have gone through a lot of hurting in the last couple of years and I know I have a long way to go to help heal the scars of losing Joe. I used to tell my boys when they played rugby and other sports and ended up with stitches, that scars are awesome. That way the world has known that you have lived. Joe left a HUGE scar on my heart….once the pieces are picked up and contained again. Do I think that the love you have for your lost loved one is directly proportional to the amount of grief you feel? Maybe. I do know that Joe wouldn’t like to see me or his wife as upset as we are over him. He knew that we loved him….but my brain just can’t seem to process that very well. I talk to Joe. I spend a lot of time alone…probably 90% of my time is alone (with Tallinn). So I talk to him out loud. I write letters to him. Some days are better than others. So for those of you out there who haven’t heard from me….please give me grace. I am doing the best I can. I am trying to reach out and sign up for more of the cancer classes that are offered that meet in person. I signed up for my first in-person photography class this weekend in over 3 years for me. Rich and I are getting some travel organized for this summer and fall. Our lives aren’t stopping even though it feels like our hearts did.