HAP Posted February 11, 2014 Report Share Posted February 11, 2014 Dear friends, People tell lots of stories about what grief looks like and how it works. They write books. They write articles. They talk about the stages of grief and about what recovery looks like. But it is a very different story from the inside. The things we are told about how it all works seem largely myths at best to me. Thirty-eight months after my wife Jane’s death I have seen nothing that even resembles what the scholars and experts describe. They talk about the first year of grief as “The Year of Firsts” and imply that when that year is over everything is better and you can get on with your life. Maybe that is true for some people. It was not the case for me. My second Christmas without Jane was, if anything, worse than the first. Maybe it was that my expectations were too high. Maybe I was still so much in shock at the first one—Jane had died just 15 days before—that I should have counted the second as the first. It was late in January before I felt anything but numb. But every “second” experience was just as bad. Each one taught me the emptiness that had descended on me within seconds of Jane’s death was not something mere time would wipe away. Even 38 months later I am aware of the dense silence that surrounds me in every environment, no matter how noisy or crowded it is. Coming to grips with the reality that nothing I did or tried to do could fill that void was the work of the second year of grief—and of much of the third. At one point in that third year, I described myself as a toddler in my dealings with grief. I had learned to cope with the emptiness at times, but like a toddler, fell on my butt periodically for no better reason than it happened. We often refer to such events as “grief tsunamis:” They come washing in and drown whatever progress you think you have made without any warning. They can be triggered by the smallest seeming event but leave you swimming in tears and exquisite agony. Two weeks ago, I was at a dinner to kick off the season our local Relay for Life. I was talking with an old friend Jane and I had worked with. Suddenly, the DJ spun the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” It was our favorite song. I fled the room, knowing what was going to happen if I stayed. But I might as well have stayed. The words were in my head and the tsunami had been launched. It was a week before I felt ready to deal with anything again. Without the need to get the Jimmy Fund Marathon Walk pages together the end of last week, I might still be paralyzed. The truth is that even with that pulling me back to the surface I am still struggling as I write this. The house is too quiet, too empty, too filled with memory. To the people around me, I look to have recovered from Jane’s death. I can carry on a conversation, talk intelligently about a piece of art or some new piece of scientific theory; I make the bed, clean the house, go for a walk every day; I laugh at the appropriate times and seem to avoid being cruel most of the time—though I still have my moments. But each day I realize the truth of my neighbor’s words shortly after Jane’s death. She had lost her husband a dozen or more years before. She said people told her all the time now how she seemed to have gotten beyond her loss. She said she sometimes told the ones who could handle it that the truth was she had just learned to cope—that the grief and emptiness were still there—that she still sometimes cried when her children were not home or when she knew they could not hear her. Three years and two months into this journey, I can give a good counterfeit of normalcy most of the time. I’ve always been good at hiding how I really feel from everyone but my very closest friends. Sometimes, like at that dinner, I have to struggle to control what others see. But, for the most part, people think I am doing fine. They don’t see me screaming at the top of my lungs like a three-year-old when something frustrates me. They do not see the blinding anger that I still feel about the unfairness of Jane’s death. They do not see me struggling to go to sleep at night, struggling to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning. They do not see the fear that stalks me—or the loneliness that plagues me. I cope with the life I live. I cope with the losses life has dealt me. I cope with the well-meaning ignorance I encounter every day. I cook and I clean and I write letters and articles and I work on this project and that event. I look normal and well adjusted and like I am moving on with my life. I went to the cemetery yesterday. I placed a decoration I had built for the 38-month anniversary of Jane’s death on her grave. I will write a poem for her, and a card, and buy some flowers to put up there Friday for Valentine’s Day. But there will be no reciprocal gift or card here that day. I will wake up alone and go to bed alone and feel just as empty and alone as I did on Christmas Day—or any of the other holidays I have faced without her these 38 months. The day after Jane died, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “I’m too young to be a widower. I am too old to be a bachelor. What the hell do I do now?” For 38 months, the answer has been grief—and working to prevent others from experiencing what I have experienced by fighting Carcinoid/NET cancer with everything I have left. Where others see success, I am too aware of my failures—too aware of how much more I could have accomplished if I could bring my full focus and energy to bear. Loss has weakened me. I have endless ideas, but lack the energy and focus to make them work as well as they could. But I keep trying. The tsunamis keep knocking me down. But I keep getting up. The silence and the hurt cripple me. But I keep moving forward. It’s who I am. Peace, Harry (This is largely similar to a piece I posted on Walking with Jane earlier today.) Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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