Everyone’s grief journey is their personal experience. There is no playbook you can buy or use as advice. Others’ tales help to verify our sanity. Others’ journeys help us grow our capacity for compassion for our compatriots in grief and for ourselves.
Still, when the call ends, the door closes behind the visitor, or the sympathy flowers die, we are on our own when it comes to losing our spouse, our partner, our soul mate, our co-conspirator in life.
Life is lovely; the contours are worn smooth with familiarity. Our life is an expression of who we are. It is the nexus of our family, the people we know, and those we love; we bring them in. Our life is made of that which brings joy in the doing. The resolution of the little pains and the jolts of what scares us, we face it, it folds in, and we step forward.
The dents and worn paint are only visible sometimes. Life is what we have done, what we are doing, and what we will do someday. We are safe, cared for, and deeply loved. We are content. This is the timeline of our life – all there is. It never ends until it does.
Abruptly, a tectonic shift ungrounds us. We stumble and cry out in pain as we are banged, tossed and turned, and emptied. This shift comes out of nowhere, or it certainly arrives way too early.
The mercy of anesthetic coats us from within, numbing us from the acuity of a pain awaiting us on the receiving line of this grief. We may laugh at a joke someone says or discover that we have eaten a half sandwich placed before us. We say yes, and we say no, and the clock keeps moving, and the tent of numbness lies heavy. Still, we want a blanket, a sweater, something to protect us from the coldness that seeps in through the cracks and broken seams of our temporary shelter.
In time, far too short a time, the numbness begins to wear off; there is this queer sensation of not being quite right, feeling backward, awkward, not being able to do things correctly. There is no longer an up or down, this way, that way, a when, a where, a why. There exists no signal or light to aim for. As in war, all road signs have been removed, we are in enemy territory, and the horizon line is gone.
We may be standing like Lot’s wife, rigid in the salt of tears, on the floor, two-dimensionally flattened, keening, or utterly mute, for there is no tongue that speaks the language of what is happening. There is no hand to touch to reaffirm a connection to reality. Everything is unrecognizable.
Everything that was you has been redacted.
There is no way to know about the passage of time. We have no way to measure the second versus the year. Now needs a context. What we know as now, in our language, is what was. There is the casting of false shadows.
In a millennium of heartbeats or a single breath, the incremental, inevitable crawl begins out of the primordial ooze. A new shape of life takes form. This primal urge is the progenitor of ineffable despair. Consciousness lifts a corner of itself and gives us a feel of the violent desecration that has taken place.
Sometimes, surrendering to what is not enlightenment; it is exhaustion. My surrender was seven months into the Covid shutdown; it was seven months of walking in the Shadowlands. Losing my person while living in a foreign place during a pandemic was precisely as you would think it would be.
What was not expected is the attrition of my people.
It is so odd that a movie of exquisite execution would attract thousands to go witness the character’s suffering. It will be a force and have a gravitational pull so that people willingly come to see, feel, and be astounded by the tribulations of the hero.
Yet in our drama, there is a stampede for the door after the last casserole is dropped on the table; the table you spent hours at, in laughter, grand debate, and deep connection.
There exists an inability of so many to sit still, say little, and do nothing other than perhaps touch a hand, just letting the pain flow out.
This quote was given to me three years and six months in. I wish I could have had it in Week One to explain what I needed.
The griever’s friends’ to-go bag would have beads on a string to thumb, duct tape to stop unnecessary words, a poem or phrase memorized to meditate upon it, and tissues. Words and expectations, assumptions, and the sense of your knowing, your understanding are left at the door. Being the attendant with stillness in the presence of grief will be the most challenging job you ever do and the most important gift you can give.
It is not easy to be a witness and not be a player. It is not meant to be easy. If you are not able to stand witness, then be brave enough, kind enough, loving enough to give words to this inability, have one moment of courage, and ask for forgiveness owed to this debt of friendship. Lovingly believe it is not forever. Send texts. We all must own our limitations.
The healing journey meanders through different landscapes that slope down and rise. Healing time is not made of hours, days, months, or years. Healing time is a process. There is no protocol to follow and no stages to complete. Healing time is the entity of nerve-wracking patience, quiet permissions, the soft air of forgiveness, and the sweet light of grace. Healing time is when anger and excoriating pain may have a full voice. All the elements need to be felt many times and respected in each iteration of existence.
I miss the intimacy of proprietary touch. Not the familiarity building to passionate need but the soft ballet we danced together, unaware of the choreography we had created. That smooth shift of our bodies, with his hands on my hips so he can slip in next to me to get the keys.
The no-sunset permissive step into my personal space, warm breath stirring the hair on my neck as he gently moves me aside so he can finish the dishes as promised. The absolute belief in my core that when he says it will be alright, it will be.
For the three years and seven months since my husband died, he has been a presence, a comforting weight displacing air, causing the sensation of him being in the next room. I just now realized I no longer feel him around me. He is not in the other room, he is not coming through the door, he is not coming home.
You may also want to read THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF GRIEF.
How did your grief unfold? Has it taken specific time to heal, or does grief take you unawares? Do you still feel your deceased one’s presence – or has it been gone for some time?