People ask me all the time about grief. We are a society fascinated by it; how people meander through it, how some people don’t and how for some grief steals a second life; the life of the one left behind. People have lots of questions. The answers are skewed, varied and often make no sense whatsoever.
Conversation with Middle Chicken leads to, “Why isn’t this your next book? A guide for widows, a grief guide, a way to somehow muddle through, written by someone who has done it instead of someone who studied it?” She’s said it repeatedly over the last year or so but it didn’t really strike a chord until I became deeply struck by two events this week.
I hadn’t heard from a former coworker for quite a while. She calls to tell me a friend of hers lost her husband and she gave her the link to the blog as a way to navigate. Hmmm. All this time I think I’m finding a way to heal myself; not that maybe words shared here are helping others with their struggles. Another friend recently lost her husband in much the same way as The Norwegian. A sudden heart attack turned her world into a mass of confusion and fright. I see her in the first weeks of grief and her experience is so very different and yet so very much the same.
And then, a massage therapist working on the knots in my back (I know–sweetest niece on the planet sends The Goddess and myself to the spa for work we did on her wedding. She has no idea that decorating for her wedding was the light of my year!) asks me yesterday what it is I’m holding onto so tightly. “What happened to you,” she blurts. I tell her it may be grief and she says in the mind-body connection we often forget the body and believe if we just manage our minds, our bodies will be fine. Color me baffled by logic. She says my back is the result of taming the grief in my mind but not tending the grief in my body. She says, “People either grieve too little or too much.” She prods me to consider which is mine. As I rarely fall maudlin, my guess is too little. That does, indeed, make me sad. Like a disservice to The Norwegian.
Which makes me consider further the friends looking for help because I am further in the journey than they; not because I have startling insight into a damn thing. There are things in my explorations of grief I find are universal. Most involve thievery. Grief is a thief of the highest order–and not of time with a lost loved one. Grief steals from the living. If allowed, grief steals the future. Grief steals days and hoards them in the way the king in his counting house counts all his money.
Death steals your loved one but grief steals your life. Death is a moment. Grief is a lifetime dancer you never want to get too close to; much less embrace. Grief doesn’t rob you of your loved one, that is death’s job. Grief is the robber of your now, your future, your insights, your grounding, your confidence, your navigation. It eats slowly at the spirit and snacks on the soul. Grief is a bitch without conscience.
So when people ask what I would tell a new widow now that I’ve had time; I say there are no answers. There is no fix. Grief is not a formula of steps we travel one to the next until we hit acceptance. That’s bullshit. Grief is the thing you step into the ring with every morning as your eyes open. I can tell you, my widow friend, there truly will come a day when your first thought upon waking is not, “My husband is dead.” For me that took 862 days. I know because it is that recent. And I noticed.
There is correct advice. Don’t do anything drastic in the first year–like move or get a new job. I did both and should have done neither. I took a new job because I thought following money was the best service I could provide my family. It was a disaster for me as well as the company. I was hired because the boss knew the old me: unfazed, confident, strong and capable. Who she hired was the broken me: afraid, small, timid and unsure. I moved from my home because it felt haunted and I knew eventually I would have to give it up. I should have stayed and lapped up every morsel of family memory living within those walls. Instead I fled. Don’t do that my friend. Stay put and stay safe.
I would tell my friend, you cannot carry the world on your shoulders even though you believe, like you can breathe, that it is now your job. The world is heavy and burdensome and there are many who want to help you carry it. Let them. Let them walk alongside you. There really is nothing to prove. You have forever to spend without your person; a period of time letting someone carry the mantle does not diminish you.
Sometimes people cannot help. This is a hard one. Some people turn to the God of their choice, some turn away. Some question, some rage and all of it is right. I remain angry with God and what I believed for a lifetime has been turned on its head. People cannot help because the only way to the other side is through. Believe me, I’ve tried every shortcut. There is a time to throw yourself on the floor and cry, no matter how often that may be. There is a time to circle the wagons and let no one in as your thoughts are so dark and dim and scary. There is a time to sit in the dark with a drink and hold a cat because no one else gets it. There is a time to let no one near your children as they are so very fragile. And there are times to admit the world is just too harsh today.
But there are times to laugh. Your heart is shattered because you loved and that love was good. Embrace that happiness and gain strength from it. Besides, dear friend, laughing through tears is any girl’s best look.