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Posted 2019-10-16T16:02:00Z

How am I? No idea

There really aren’t any rules for grief. Or if there are rules, then everyone experiences them differently and hardly remembers them in retrospect. They certainly aren’t comprehensible from the outside. And they definitely don’t look like any neatly defined “stages of grief” you see bandied about.

The only worthwhile thing about the stages is that they present a whole host of responses you might or might not have at any point. They (almost inadvertently) give permission: grief doesn’t look like just one thing. Not from moment to moment, or month to month, or (I’m guessing) year to year. And certainly not from person to person.

Grief has what seems like an infinite number of ways to kick your ass.

Right now, I have no idea how I feel. Which clearly freaks people out when I say it. It’s even worse than when I told the truth, a couple months in, when people asked how I was doing, and so clearly hoped I would be able to say, “It’s getting easier.”

It wasn’t getting easier.

The early days for me, when grief was all-consuming, when the tears were constant, when everyone was hovering around and everything was about death and funerals and planning, they had a stark simplicity to them. Plus, I was still in shock. And shock, as awful as it is, physically and emotionally, does function to keep you afloat.

For me, as the months went by, it got harder and harder. The loss just kept growing. The realization of how much future had been stolen from me just kept getting larger and clearer and more awful. Day after day of him still not being there, of him never going to be there again, and it’s all gone and I have to keep going. Keep going, with him gone. Keep going, and keep walking into a future that is now as wide-open as the bleakest landscape anyone ever got lost in.

The loss just keeps getting bigger. Yes, I get better at carrying it. Stronger. Because I am strong. This does not, however, feel like much of a blessing. Sometimes I wish I could just go under. Could drown in the loss, be crushed by the enormity of the loss, could give myself to the loss as though it’s my new husband.

In a way, of course, that’s true. Because I do still have a husband, it’s just that he’s dead. And for the most part I’m okay with that. Not that Brian is dead; that’s still the very worst thing I know. But that I’m still married to him, even though he’s dead. Actually, to be honest, I love that. I love that the bond doesn’t die with him. I love that the love is eternal and will be with me always, no matter what else my future brings me.

But it makes things complicated, in the times that the loss feels less tangible.

I don’t really know how to describe it. I’m not in love with my misery. I don’t miss the “attention” I got as a more recent widow (though, news flash: “recent” lasts a lot longer than people might be able to admit). It’s just that … I’m not single. I’m still married. It’s just that my husband happens to be dead. And my connection to him, my marriage to him, feels most present to me now when I am actively grieving.

Yes, it’s there when I smile at a memory. It’s there when I look around at the home we made together. It’s there when I (still) argue with him about the politics of the day. It’s there when I think of all the things he taught me, all the things we shared, all the ways he made and makes me a better person.

But let’s face it: there’s nothing like overpowering emotion to really make you feel as though you’re IN something. And so … I miss it, when I go a week without shedding a tear. I feel disconnected. And I hate the thought that the longer things go on, the more I will “heal” (seriously, that feels like a mixed blessing rather than a goal), and the more I will be ready to make a new life.

Seriously, seriously: That doesn’t sound like a promise right now; it sounds like a threat. Because it sounds like loss. I mean it: that reality, that incredibly healthy and hope-filled reality that I will someday make a new future for myself—most likely and most joyfully (I admit) with some other person—it is the Next Great Loss I have to face.

The only thing that makes it bearable is the wisdom of those who have themselves walked this path: their grace-filled acknowledgement that (should I be blessed with another love) I will always have two loves, and perhaps even two husbands. My marriage to Brian continues, alongside whatever other relationship or marriage I might someday have. I have no idea what that might feel like. I have no idea how tangible that will be, should that time come. But it is real, and it is right, no matter how complicated that reality might be.

And for now, that vision makes it possible to continue. Makes it possible to hope for healing, and to be grateful for time passing. Otherwise, I would only resent it, would only experience it as further loss.

That’s where I am. Hard to define, but trying to make space for all that is and all that may be. And so grateful for those who allow me the space I need to move through a version of life I had never expected or wanted.

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Comments (8)

  • Sandra Cohen
    Sandra Cohen

    It is almost hard to remember that, beneath your beautiful writing, is a grief-filled widow. You will always have Brian. Even if you choose to love another, you will always be with him. Much love to you, Clare Louise. And thank you for sharing your story once again. Sandy

    7 months ago · Reply
  • Sandy (Pribyl) & Doug Lamberg
    Sandy (Pribyl) & Doug Lamberg

    Dear Clare: Just as a reminder, I am Brian's 2nd cousin, Sandy, daughter to Carol and Wendell. Thank you for sharing a bit of your grief journey, as painful as it is... I think your transparency will help all of us when if/when our time comes to navigate the loss or our spouse... This month I was able to spend a bit of time with my sister, Sue's husband. Sue was diagnosed with cancer just before they were to marry in 1982. Bob married her in spite of the bleak prognosis. (Sue graciously gave him an opportunity to back out!) They went on to have 4 years of marriage. Good years and roller coaster years as her cancer kept returning. She passed away in 1986 at 26 years of age. Because her husband, Bob, was in the service, and moved several times, quite a distance from us, I hadn't seen him in over 30 years. I knew he had remarried and had stepchildren. He kept in touch with my folks from time to time and reached out to us 3 1/2 years ago when we lost our son. But, we were in Ohio this month and we were able to meet up with him and his wife for supper, and even stayed in his lovely home. We got to catch up a bit on life. Not an opportunity to really explore his grief journey, but it was good to see that he was living a fulfilled life, enjoying work and grandkids and having a life partner. Our prayer for you is that God would meet you where you're at, comfort your tender heart, and walk with you through your journey of grief, wherever it takes you. Hugs

    7 months ago · Reply
  • Nora

    I will probably write more later, when I've had the space to absorb the beautiful agony of your words. Right now, on the surface, everything you say rings true in my mind. I'm further along the road by almost two years (not that years always matter because I've found grief doesn't run a straight course).

    7 months ago · Reply
  • Ronald Belanger
    Ronald Belanger

    It has been over 15 years for me and the grief remains. I am fortunate to have been able to move on in life but have never lost the beautiful memories from before. After the dust settled and family and friend visits and calls started to become farther apart the quiet settled in. The first year was a constant struggle to cope with everyday life. I was 44 years old and felt alone in the world, all of our plans for the future came to a screeching halt. I forced myself to get out in the world only to find that I just wanted to be home alone. Then life happened again! I am in a very happy and healthy place once again and while the memories and love have never faded....I will never forget and will always love my lost partner. We all grieve differantly and I pray that you too will find the strength. Much love to you

    7 months ago · Reply
  • Ian Reed Twiss
    Ian Reed Twiss

    Sounds to me like you are exactly in the place you need to be--for all of its large sorrows and small gifts. A grief theorist I just read in a class says that one of the 4 main tasks of grief is "to find an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life." I like that description, and your discussion of how your marriage to Brian continues makes me think of it. Hugs.

    7 months ago · Reply
  • Matthew Lawrence
    Matthew Lawrence

    Thanks once again Clare for these achingly beautiful words and for the love that animates them. You capture so well the heartrending labor, the simple paradox and emotional complexity of it all: love and loyalty drawing us into sorrow and holding us there. And also the invitation that this isn’t the end of your story. Thank you.

    7 months ago · Reply
  • Vicki Hesse
    Vicki Hesse

    The light you share, the hard work of grief, and the love you reflect here fills my heart. I'm praying for you and Brian. Love, Vicki

    7 months ago · Reply
  • Dann Federico
    Dann Federico

    I'm sure, some day, you will realize that what you have said will be so helpful for others who are going through the same situation !! And when you read it again, you will see how you have advanced in your progress in handling it all. I admire the way you were able to share it with us, and express a "feeling" into words. Keep up the good work, for it's good for you, and good for those you share it with. Hugs & God Bless.

    7 months ago · Reply