We educate our kids on stranger danger, calculus, cyber safety, Egyptian history…but not death. Yet it’s more certain than taxes, and will impact everyone on this planet.
So here is what I now know. It is long, as is grief. It’s not pretty and it’s not all positive, like grief. So if happy-go-lucky-hope-to-find-a-quick-fix is what you’re after, it’s not here. This is my very real, very raw account of my grief experience. The purpose for writing here is twofold; it helps me to write and maybe it will help others…I have found hope again, it is possible.
1. It’s bloody horrible! It is the hardest thing I have ever faced, hands down, no shortcuts, no “but it won’t happen to me” fairy tales. It’s the most painful thing full-stop. It can’t be sugar-coated, it’s really tough. I would dream up reasons why he would walk back through the door, witness protection programs or a bad, bad joke etc. I would convince myself he was there, watching me and would walk around the corner at any minute…the harsh truth, the reality was too hard, the waking from daydreams even harder. So what can you do about it? Remember time really does help, get through the first few months by just determining to live, you are still loved and needed. When the shock wears off be kind to yourself. Give yourself time and permission to feel what you need to, raw, primal, whatever it takes. Let others help you. To friends of those who are grieving – Give kindness, affection, time, practical skill, a listening ear, space at times and hopefully it will be accepted. If you say you will help, keep your promise.
2. Platitudes made me want to punch you in the face! I really didn’t want to listen to anyone, my heart cried too loud. Words are great, but not always helpful. You cannot ever fully understand everyone’s everything, it’s impossible. The wrong words maybe hurtful and uncaring. They leave me having to remember you mean well, but it stops me reaching out to you. So what can you do about it? If you can’t think of something to say,just shush! Don’t be afraid of silence, give a hug, and pay for the coffee! Tell me about your day, life, loves, I still want to know, because that’s relationships, stay my friend, not my social worker. If I they cry (highly probable), just hold theirhand and if you feel like it, cry too. Be real, feel feelings, that’s a hard ask, but it’s comforting. Remember there’s always the Shush option. I liked it when you prayed with me, because I didn’t have my partner to do that with anymore. Let God say something to my heart through yours.
3. Night-time can be a horror movie! As the day progressed emotions depleted. It would leave me feeling like something out of “Nightmare on Elm Street No 456”. Inward resources so low, that the only thing left was the creature from within, it didn’t want to surface, but it’s all that was left. It takes bucket loads of energy just to get up and do basics, not to mention all the medical, legal and financial details you have to go through, so by dinner time, I was done, cranky, not at all up to anything social, just bed…but oh yeah you can’t sleep! So what can you do about it? Just knowing helps you conserve energy for essentials, and that includes making yourself do something you enjoy, it’s hard, but it helps… eventually. Prioritize tasks; it’s OK to put something off until tomorrow. This is where the practical help comes in friends, offer it, but back it up with action, empty promises are disappointing. If we forget to thank you or decline an invite somewhere, it isn’t personal, there just isn’t brain space left for anything else or for remembering…what was I talking about again?? Please ask us out again, one day we will be ready and we love and appreciate you immensely.
4. My manic, Tassie-Devil-like phase! Oh my manic phase. As soon as I got home (Paul was in hospital elsewhere) I felt like everything needed to be done instantly. Put in order, fixed, sorted and organized. Problem was I couldn’t put two thoughts together to finish anything. And by the time my manicness was coming to an end so was my energy, and it left unfinished projects everywhere. E.g. bookshelves, paperwork, curtains, outdoor furniture, and kitchen reorganizing. A friend who also lost her husband decided to paint her house, and I have heard of others taking off overseas and so on. Illogical yes of course but you couldn’t have told me. My world was panicked, manic and way out of control. I guess I probably wasted a bit of money too, not much thankfully. So what can you do about it? Understand. Don’t criticize, come a long side, help, and suggest ways of avoiding the big money ideas. Like getting quotes/estimates, I got heaps of quotes for all kinds of things, most of which I didn’t do. I was just searching for order. Yes I know it wasn’t the answer, but you can’t talk logic to crazy!! Put things off if you can, it will generally be a better decision. Worry about today today and tomorrow tomorrow. Matthew 6:34 the Bible.
5. It can be a dark, dark place! I felt so lost at times. A fog had descended and it felt like it would never lift. Very dark moments are scary moments. I thought horrible things, lost hope, and purpose disappeared. There isn’t a consolation for a loss so grand. So what can you do about it? REMEMBER fog descends, but it also ascends. Don’t succumb to the belief that it will be like this forever, it’s a process. Different things lift the fog…sometimes just going to bed and to sleep (when you can) so a new day would come and bring freshness. Often it did, not always, but often. Look for what helps you i.e. music, walking, garden, pets, it’s different things for everyone. Substance abuse is never the answer, darkness lives there! New mercies are there every morning, even if you can’t see them. Remembering they are there is always helpful. (NB this is not the same for clinical depression)
6. Where did all my friends go? When Paul passed on so many friends and family rallied around and were fantastic…but it wore off. I understand, but it was hard. The more I declined invites, the more I was left alone. My exhaustion was seen as avoidance or putting up walls, so people withdrew and worse still, some took personal offence. My focus, my world had shrunk to the necessities. I wanted to keep the monster within in toe, energy was precious. So what can you do about it? For me, I needed to keep focussed on my kids, they had lost their Dad, no apologies, what energy I had was theirs. I should have held onto some, I learnt that fast, but I chose to give it to them. I don’t regret that. Paul always said “Keep your own heart soft” so forgiveness is key. Shrug, and choose to forgive, then shrug, roll your eyes and forgive again. For friends, keep asking, keep helping, keep loving and you will become (or stay) one of those beautiful people that makes one smile when thought of. I don’t believe in Karma, but it will come back to you pressed down, shaken together and running over. You gain the love and loyalty of a good friend.
7. For Heaven’s sake get help! I could get lost inside my own head, bogged down in sadness and the overwhelming tasks of facing life without my other half. Grief can be as unique as relationships. Different factors affecting how we grieve but many similarities exist. Only the details are changed to avoid confusion. So what can you do about it? Sharing grief is important; you have to let it out. Support groups and counselling don’t change events, but they can change how you cope with them. When friends and family are overwhelmed with their own grief or life, your group or counselor can still be there for you. They offer expertise that helps bring you back to the here and now, dispel fears and help you face tomorrow. If you don’t know where to look for help, ask your doctor and go from there.
8. New Years sucked!!! Do not, I repeat, do not underestimate New Years Eve. The focus on Christmas was expected, but New years is so close I forgot, didn’t plan and it smacked me out! For weeks! Everyone chiming in with “Out with the old, in with the new!” Well no thanks. I didn’t want to start a new year without my honey, why would I. But I had too. Besides the horror of grief there can be a sense of guilt about still living. You know you have to move on, but it’s very reluctantly. So what can you do about it? Choose what you do want to celebrate and what you don’t want to, you won’t always feel this bad, so if you need things your way this year, so be it. Choose friends who understand and be aware that in this fragile state a crowd can feel like the loneliest place in the world!
9. Be afraid, be very afraid! Fears can carry you down a track that isn’t truth or reality. Fear is often triggered by some out of our control feeling. I was facing a new life without my man and important decisions to make on my own. So what can you do about it? The real feeling may be something other than fear, it may be loss, sadness, loneliness, worry about finance etc. Identify original feeling and address it with what is true and what you know for today, no assumptions, no projections and do what you can today and leave for tomorrow its own concerns. Be Mindful of here and now, listen to what you are telling yourself, is it helping?
Friends, understand this and help by bringing calm, the panic feels real, but it’s just our grief. Be reassuring and give hugs.
10. It’s so flippin lonely! My man was a good man, not perfect, but I know he loved me. He was very affectionate and wanted to be with me. He really was my best friend, soulmate, and complete love. To not be able to hold him, talk to him (in person anyway) or even just sip coffee together leaves a huge gape right where the two had become one. No one on this earth comes close, and many months later still doesn’t. It’s a very difficult part of the loss. So what can you do about it? Friends, hug us!! Go ahead and ask first, but we are low on affection. I found getting a massage helpful. Not in any weird or sexual way, but touch is important, especially if you were the kind of couple to just sit and hold hands; we were. Listen to us, let us ramble on, because we don’t have that partner anymore to listen about our day. Wow, I really took that one for granted, a very very good man indeed.
11. So where is God??? I don’t think many go through such loss without asking the big ones. “Why did he have to suffer?” or “Why didn’t You heal him?” or whatever fits the circumstances. I did. I asked, pleaded, bargained, and begged even, for the cruel joke to end and for my Paul to be alive again. I felt let down by God, this wasn’t how it was supposed to be, I thought the best was yet to come…we will have to see about that one. So what can you do about it? God is big, ask big questions, He can handle it. One of the things I love about God is that He lets us choose Him, He doesn’t force. He waits. He waits for you to be OK with Him again, He understands and doesn’t turn away from you if you aren’t performing. He is God, not people. If you feel lost, He is not and He holds you securely. Be honest with God, tell Him what you really feel, when you can figure that out. He can’t help fake, there’s nothing to help, but a real open heart, even one full of sadness, is a sweet aroma to His senses.
12. I remember you xx Commemorating was big for me. We have come to be able to talk about him, remember him and share him with each other more as time goes by. I try and make it as normal as possible to talk about Paul just as much now as before. He is still very much alive and well in my heart. Always will be. It helps especially to talk to the kids about their Dad. Bad Dad jokes, things he did, said, memories, all of it. We put his ashes in the ocean, so sometimes I write him notes (biodegradable of course) wrap it around a rock and throw it out to him. Fathers Day or just any day! It helps me. We put photos around, special things on the Christmas tree and I got kids something for Christmas from Paul. It’s hard to make new traditions without him, but in order for our family to function anew it’s important. Find your own ways to remember, but remember well.