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If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that “time will heal,” or “time will make it better,” I’d have a lot of nickels and no where to put them.
But I am want for nickels and I know from experience that time itself will not heal anything.
Between today and where I was in May of 2008, there has been a lot of laughter, and a million tears. I have cried in anguish, and I have relished accomplishments. I have felt lonelier than I ever have, and I have been grateful for the support of my many friends that never seems to cease. I have lived enough, in these 29 months, to believe that despite the invalidation that such a phrase can conjure in a newly grieving person, it does come from a very profound truth. However, it’s not a truth that can be explained away by an insensitive platitude. It must be experienced.
I now think of time like a vessel. Life and all it’s inhabitants are on a journey, and whether we participate in it or not, that vessel keeps moving, ever forward. You cannot stop it, and you cannot put your hand over your mouth and wave to get off. There have been many times that I have wanted to do so, and despite my retching and desparate waving, I am still along for the ride. Eventually, I chose to participate, and in doing so, I found my first real moments of healing.
The problem with trying to explain my thinking now, to someone who is where I was then, is that newly widowed people are so saturated with Death. It is everywhere we go: in our clothes, in our hair, on our walls, and in our hearts. Like a black hole, it swallows the life we wanted to live completely, and we are left numb and confused, while people struggle to comfort us. It tells only of an unknown future, and that can be completely overwhelming. It scares us into believing that we have no reason to continue, and we feel completely vulnerable. How, then, can a future, that brings us there via time, be of any comfort at all?
The answer is simple, but it stings. And Death wants us to hate it.
We have to live. That is what time holds in it’s mechanical fingers: life, and the time we have here on Earth. And to most people, that means two of the worst words ever said to the bereaved: Move On.
I totally disagree with this, and call it an outright lie. People have no idea what it means to “move on.” I think that phrase is nothing but an indirect way of saying, “I don’t want to deal with it anymore.”
No. Living doesn’t not mean “Moving On,” and I would never suggest anyone try to do that. No one really moves on from anything, in my opinion. Just ask anyone about things they dealt with in their past. Most of them will tell you ever ready sob stories about their difficult childhoods and prior experiences. And if they don’t, they will tell you about the great ones. Either way, they haven’t moved on from those things. They have simply learned to live with them.
We’ve all heard the adage about diamonds, and how they are forged from carbon, ugly and uncut. We all know that a jeweler will work with their many facets, cutting and polishing them until they are worthy to be sold for a large price. We all know that what it takes to end up who we are, whether we are delicate and diplomatic, or stoic and steadfast. Whatever areas we are of strong character, we all know what it has taken to get there.
Like those experiences, this one will cut us a new facet to catch a new light. And it is not necessarily time that will take us there, but a life lived, in pain or in pleasure, between the past and the future. It is a multitude of experiences and lessons that will elevate us to understand that time is irrelevant. What matters is how we lived.
Another tragedy has struck my neighborhood and social circle. Tonight, I pray for a family who has been victim to the tragedy of losing a son, a husband and a father. It’s close enough to home to keep me up. I can’t stop thinking about them.
I didn’t realize it would be so hard to watch someone else go through the pain of loss and widowhood. Most of the time, my peers are widows who are either around my time line or farther out. Some are earlier widows, but they are mostly faceless names on a computer screen. They are not someone I know, who is going through something very similar to what I went through two years ago.
It’s bringing a lot of stuff out from under the ground, that I thought I had gotten passed.
Right now, I’m just trying to find the right words to say, if the opportunity arises. What DO you say to a sudden widow? What do you say to a care-giving widow? And the people in between? All I can do is tell them what I know.
I realize that there are a lot of newly widowed people who stumble across this blog. By the keyword searches people are using, there are a lot of broken, confused and hurting people, looking for answers and maybe a little comfort.
In retrospect, there are two major things I learned: Don’t rush to the finish line, especially if you can’t even see it, and All forward motion counts.
I will not tell you that this goes away with time or that you’ll be better within a year. Instead, I’ll tell you to think OUTSIDE of time. Your life is going to go on, as long as you live it. That’s just how it goes. But your grief will go with you. You don’t have to think about time in a sense of having to keep up appointments and stages. You’ll be depressed when you’re depressed. And you’ll be angry when you’re angry. You’ll be lonely when you’re lonely, and you’ll be in denial for as long as you are in denial. I don’t believe there’s a set strategy to the process of grieving. It’s a process that we have very little control over. When we try to control it, it waits for us to exhaust ourselves, and then starts all over again.
This is true for the amount of time that one grieves. For some people, it may only take a year or two to accept their new sense of normalcy and continue on with their lives. I’ll put those people in a very small percentage, however. I think the majority of young widow/ers find themselves at a year, and cannot believe that it’s gone by so fast. They suffered through an entire year of Firsts, where they had to endure holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, accomplishments, hardships and everything else without their spouses. While the loneliness can make it seem long and painful; most widow/ers find themselves at a year and think, “Already??!!”
Then the second year of Reality hits, and the grieving can find themselves more alone, and more aware of what has happened. The second year was a little harder for me, because people surrounding me were passed their period of grieving for my husband. But I wasn’t. I spent a year hiding the fact that I missed him so much, as much as ever, and that I was no where near being “over it” as some people expected, (and wanted) me to be. It hurt to lose impatient and clueless friends, whom I thought I could count on to comfort me still. But for them, my time was up, and Reality began its harsh lesson.
I had to teach myself not to put too much into the far off future. I don’t really care what happens when I’m an old lady anymore. That will happen if and when it happens.
It’s kind of silly, since I planned on growing old with my husband, and he didn’t even make it to 30 years old. How do I even know I’ll make it to my birthday in six months? I don’t. While I understand that planning and preparation are important, they don’t rule my life anymore. I make a goal, and if I reach it, I’m ok. If not, there are other goals and other ways to live my life.
I also had to accept that I am walking at a totally different speed than just about everyone on this journey, and everyone outside of it. And that is just fine. I know that I will make it to the other side of this, because I’m going forward. Sometimes, it may feel like I’m going backwards, but I’ve learned that a moment with the monster known as Grief does not mean I’m regressing. It does not mean I’m losing progress. It just means that I’m still working through the debris from what happened to me. It’s a process, and as long as I keep pushing forward, it counts and I continue. There is no real time line, and I’ve read from numerous sources that most people accept their new sense of “normal” anywhere from 3 to 5 years out. And that’s a rough estimate.
There is no order of stages that one must follow. Most people feel a mixture of all the stages at any point in time, especially in the first year. This is normal. It is also normal to not feel anything at times. Numbness and denial are the body’s way of coping. They buffer the reality that our conscious selves are not ready to face.
Some people remark on this as some kind of supernatural inner strength. I don’t know about other people, but that bothered me a little bit. I did not feel “strong” despite arguments to the contrary. I was simply trying to live through what I consider to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to face in my life. It’s very much like being chased by a train, speeding on a bridge that’s suspended above a giant ravine, thousands of miles up, without a shoulder to avoid. What do you do? YOU RUN. And when your life as you know it turns upside down, you don’t get a time out to freeze everything and breathe. You just deal. Some people call that strength, and that’s ok. But when it’s either sink or swim, most of us make the choice to swim. I will say that this kind of thing does MAKE one stronger, in that they are now aware of what they can survive. It turns one into a “thriver”, regardless of their situation. And that’s what it’s supposed to do.
There are tons of books about widowhood, grieving and how to gently and quietly get over it and live a new life with actual joy and happiness. I can even recommend a few, because some are actually good. But the past two years have taught me to bite my tongue, unless asked. Joy and happiness seem very far off for the recently widowed, and it’s not something they can identify with.
Instead, I’ll close with this: Drink water, because dehydration only makes things worse. (crying can make you dehydrated) Try not to get so drunk that you wake up still a widow AND regretting last night. That’s a terrible feeling. Talk to your doctor if you’re feeling suicidal or think you need more help – DON’T BE ASHAMED! And finally: take it slow. If you think you can’t survive, try surviving just 5 minutes. Then try 10. After that 20, then 30, then an hour, then a day, then a week, and so on and so forth. For me, I paused at a week for a while, and then it was “month to month.” Now, I can handle whole seasons knowing I’ll make it to the next unless The Almighty has a different agenda.
At two years out, I am able to focus on the task at hand, which is just learning how to live in this new reality, and make the best of it. Coming from a place where I couldn’t even breathe, knowing that my husband wouldn’t be there to breathe with me, I think I’ve come a long way. And eventually, so will you.
Somehow, I keep finding myself explaining myself and my situation over and over again. Sometimes, the words get stuck between my teeth, and as much as I want to shout “MY HUSBAND DIED!”; I cannot. I end up softly mentioning how Jon died almost a month ago. A month ago.
To some, I don’t have to lower my voice. I simply speak: “My husband just died”
To others, they seem to need me to repeat myself. “My husband just died. MY HUSBAND JUST DIED.”
And it still doesn’t seem real to them.
I don’t blame them. It doesn’t seem real to me either. It doesn’t seem real to me at all. His pictures. His clothes. The fresh memory of his stubble in my hands as I kissed him. It seems as though all those things can just happen again, at any moment. He’s not really gone. He’s just not here right now.
But I’m lying. I’m the biggest liar. I never knew how badly my heart could lie to me, because it cannot handle the truth. I can’t believe I’ll never see his face in this life again. Or that he came to this demise. How can this be? How can he be dead, like a squashed bug or a falling bird from a tree? How can he join the ranks of the past, instead of being a part of the present? How come he is not going to be in my future?
These are all rhetorical, obviously. There are no answers. I can dream. I can pretend. I can even carry on a typical Jon-and-Maria-Conversation in my head, while everyone else lives in the real world. I can do all these things.
But I cannot touch his face, or kiss his hands. I cannot wrap my arms around his waist and burrow into his back as we sleep. I cannot look up to his eyes in the shower, and see the beautiful color of his auburn hair, wet and finger-tossed, above me.
And I have to keep explaining that to myself. And to everyone else. He’s dead. And the dead cannot continue to live. It’s the plainest of truths, and the hardest of all to swallow.
Missing him no longer quite describes my despair.