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.