I Thought I Was Through With Grief, But Grief Wasn’t Through With Me

I’d planned to stop writing about grief. Someone I respect said, “There comes a time when it’s healthy for one to move on and drop the grief banner. It comes at different times for different people and it is an important part of the healing process.” I thought I was at that point. I’ve been getting on with my life, living each day as it comes, dealing with the loneliness, seeing the whole of our shared life rather than the terrible end.

For the most part, we had a good relationship. We were friends, life mates, and business partners. We helped each other grow. We never expected the other to fix our individual problems, though we often took each other’s advice. We didn’t cling, demand, or base our relationship on unrealistic expectations. Together we provided a safe environment where each of us could be ourselves. We supported each other in any way we could. And we enjoyed being together.

Long-term illness, however, skews a relationship. Over the years, our world kept getting smaller and smaller, trapping us in a life where neither his needs nor mine were being met. In that constricted world, small betrayals loomed large. Small disagreements seemed insurmountable. And there was guilt galore. After he died, I worked through all of those leftover problems, came to a greater understanding of our relationship and what his ill health had done to us, and finally realized we both acted the only way we could in such an untenable situation. I also dealt with the soul searing pain of loss, with the confusing physical symptoms. (Like falling in love, falling in grief causes changes in hormones and brain chemistry, and creates incredible stress, but unlike love, you can’t regulate those changes with sex. Unless you’re into necrophilia.)

I thought I was through with grief, but grief wasn’t through with me. There was no great realization, no lightning bolt of discovery, just the truth settling into my soul: I’ll never see him again in this lifetime.

Seems an obvious conclusion, doesn’t it? I’ve been saying for fifteen months that he’s gone, though I always accompanied the statement with a bewildered remark about not being able to fathom the sheer goneness of him. And yet somehow, someway, in the dark recesses of my mind, I felt as if we were on a break, as if I’d come to take care of my father for a while, just as I did for my mother, and soon I’d be going back to our life. It didn’t help that, when I drove away from our home for the last time, his car was sitting out in front as it always did when I left. (I’d donated it to hospice, and they hadn’t yet come to pick it up.) Nor did it help that I’d made this same trip, stayed in this same room several times before.

I’ve often listened for the phone, hoping he’d call to ask me to come home as he’d once done, but now I know the truth, I feel it.

Eleven months ago I wrote: I dread the time it hits me deep down in my soul that he is dead, that I will never be going home to him, that I will never see him again. Well, this is that time. There are no more issues to work through, guilt to suffer, or blame to lay. No more feelings of being rejected or abandoned (as if it were his choice to leave me). There is no more stress or gut-wrenching pain. Just pure and simple heartbreak. And silent tears.

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Surprised by Grief

I continue to be surprised by the intensity and depth and variability of grief. It’s been more than ten months since my life mate — my soul mate – died. Most days now I feel normal, but “normal” for me is his being safe at home, perhaps in the other room, perhaps outside shoveling snow or watering our trees. The renewed realization that he is gone from this life still brings me raw pain. I’m getting used to being alone — in some ways, that aloneness feels normal, too. Until I met him, I’d always expected to be alone, and so part of me is looping back to that earlier life when I had only my concerns to worry about.

Still, despite that normalcy, there are days when it feels as if he just left, as if he walked out on me (or I walked out on him) and it’s a matter of time until we reconcile our differences. I don’t know where such thoughts come from — we had no major differences. Well, except for the soul-shaking differences that came when our journeys diverged — his into death, mine into continued life.

I mentioned before that love and grief were the bookends of a relationship. Because of its intensity, the ability to change a person’s life and outlook, and the all-consuming focus on another person, grief seems to mimic falling in love, though in a bleaker, blacker, lonelier way. And like love, grief stirs up your depths, making you realize you are more than you ever thought you could be. As I’m slowly beginning to define my life solely by me, not by “us”, I’m seeing another similarity. When a couple embarks on a life together, they learn to depend on each other, to find ways to complement each other, to meld their likes and dislikes, their hopes and frustrations into a workable emotional environment for both parties. When half of a couple dies, the person left behind has to find a way to unmeld. To go from thinking about both of you, to thinking solely of yourself, to depending solely on yourself. It’s hard and painful and feels futile at times. (Because, you think, if life is worth living, he would still be here.)

It’s like a teeter-totter. When one person leaves abruptly, you crash to the ground. You do learn to play by yourself, but you are always aware that the other side is empty. Gradually, you get used to it, though — or at least resigned. And that’s where I am, most of the time. Resigned.

I’m even getting resigned to that great yearning I once talked about, especially since it’s nothing new. Looping back to the time before I met him, when I was young, I remember being consumed by yearning, though I never knew for what. I didn’t feel it when we were together, but I feel it now. Could that yearning have been for him? Or could our being together have masked the earlier yearning? Just one of the many questions stirred up from the depths by grief.