Grief Reality Check: How are you doing?
How are you doing? An innocent and caring enough question but one I have a tough time answering lately. It is a loaded one since the end of November. Truthfully, I have no idea. Here’s hoping what follows provides some answers.
From a young age, my boys hated being sick. To help them cope when they were down for the count with an illness, I reminded them each passing minute was one minute closer to them feeling well again. Things will get better. Be patient. Look on the bright side. This too shall pass.
Knowing an ending point was on the horizon helped them get through the discomfort and unpleasant symptoms. Fortunately, strep throat, stomach bugs, or sinus infections go away. What happens when the “shall pass” is a loved one?
The past 39 days, yes, I am counting, have been spent clinging to the hope that every passing day would bring me one day closer to not feeling the loss of my wife so deeply.
Each morning my first thoughts are on whether or not this is the day life will return to some semblance of normal. Well, new normal anyway, whatever that means. My optimistic side hopes so, but so far new normal is kicking my ass.
Life without my wife looks a lot like it did when she was still alive, however feels nothing like it did. Figuring out what to do with the emotions reminds me of what it was like to bring home a new baby. In this case, a newborn with colic and reflux. I am both parent and child in the new normal. I can identify with the parental struggle to soothe, comfort, and offer relief while simultaneously feeling the discomfort of the colicky baby.
Additionally, I am on grief’s schedule, not the other way around. It is impossible to predict or prepare for the random break downs, waves of tears, or the onset of zombie brain fog. It is a guessing game and especially unsettling when it happens in public. This kind of grief is a game changer. It is no joke people. Grief is not for the impatient.
Unfortunately, patience has never been my strongest suit. My career in real estate afforded me endless opportunities to improve my ability to wait for things to happen, but is not proving to be of much help in this circumstance.
I now belong to the exclusive deceased spouse’s club. I am both devastated and honored to be among the rank and file. Without giving away too many details about the group rules, the best part of the meetings are exchanging “stupid shit people say after losing a spouse” stories. Surprisingly enough, sarcasm and humor does heal.
Grief Reality Check
Though determined to move through the grieving process fully without skipping steps, I secretly hope for the big red easy button to appear on my dresser each morning. No such luck. Here is what I have learned in the past 39 days about grief.
Grief Reality #1: Losing a loved one is difficult. There is no way to prepare other than to make sure you have a reliable band of foxhole buddies who are willing to sit in the dirt with you, often at a moment’s notice. Choose those who do not scare easily. This is a critical piece of the puzzle and will make all the difference as you navigate through the grieving process.
Grief Reality #2: Toss any preconceived notions, ideas, or estimations about what grief will be like right out the window. Death is a game changer and the game itself is unrecognizable. It feels like how I imagine playing dodgeball with boulders and bullets on a racquetball court would be. There are no rules, instructions, referees, or ticking clock involved.
Grief Reality #3: This one is important and my least favorite. Logic is powerless against grief. There are plenty of sources for advice, suggestions, and what to expect when a loved one dies. However, absorbing any information or wisdom is very difficult. Reading books, talking about it, and creating a plan of action to cope with grief sounds great on paper, but realistically is just busy work.
Grief Reality #4: Do the work. There is no way around this one and it is my co-least favorite. It is often ugly, messy, and what utterly broken looks like. Do it anyway. Do it for you and your lost loved one. Doing the work means briefly surrendering to every irrational thought, regret, instant replay, sleepless night, and would, could, should have scenario and then moving through it. Over and over again. The work heals.
(Helpful hint: Puffy eyes, dark circles under them, and headaches will let you know if you are doing it correctly.)
Grief Reality #5: The journey is not a straight shot to the destination. Googling traffic conditions is pointless on this route. The landscape and weather changes without warning. The destination is still unknown but arrival is guaranteed only by putting one foot in front of the other each day. Some moments in the journey will take longer to get through. Frequent rest stops are recommended.
The profound grief we are experiencing may lighten if we could just get a glimpse of the finish line. We are not distance runners but our legs are ready for the long haul. It is too soon to begin looking for the silver lining in this cloud, but these reminders are helping us wait out the storm.
There are lessons in everything. I still cannot comprehend the reason why my wife, best friend, and person died from metastatic breast cancer within a week of it being found in her whole body. For some things, there are no explanations.
Yvette was the soft place we all landed when times were tough. In her absence, the four of us have become one another’s safe place. She taught us well without even realizing it. This week, my youngest came home from an outing and told me he gave a dollar to a homeless man outside of a doughnut shop. He said “that’s what she would have done.”
Every tear we shed, word of encouragement shared, and photo we look at is a reminder of how lucky we all were to have her in our lives.
In the meantime, in between the waves of grief, we focus on keeping her memory alive and behaving in ways which would make her proud. This is how we are doing. Even though she is not here physically, we all feel her and know if she could be here in the frat house with us, she would be.