Grief Waves. Grief Bursts. Grief Bombs. Whatever you call them, they exist. And they suck. There you are, going about your day operating under the assumption you are managing. You may think you are getting better and managing quite well. And then out of nowhere, your grief jumps out from around the corner and bitch slaps you. If you’re not prepared for these explosions, they are harder to deal with because we end up blaming ourselves for backsliding. Here are a few things to remind yourself of when these happen.
They can happen anytime. Grief doesn’t have a timeline.There are W’s that still have grief bombs years after their husbands have died.
They can happen anywhere. Grief doesn’t have a sense of privacy. It doesn’t care if you’re at work or the supermarket or a restaurant.
They aren’t always here and gone again. Grief bombs can be an afternoon of crying your eyes out or a week where you can’t get out of bed. It can be so overwhelming it feels like you’re starting over at the beginning.
There is usually some kind of trigger. Sometimes you can predict them-holidays or other milestones you can see coming and brace for impact. Other times, you’ll be sitting in your car at a red light, and a grief bomb goes off in the form of his favorite song on the radio. Or you’ll be at the supermarket and out of habit throw his favorite snack in the cart only to remember he was the only one that would eat it. Or you start sobbing in the kitchen alone because you can’t get the dang lid off a jar. Or you realize it’s the first perfect spring golf day and he’d be on the course. Or you start crying because you get tickets to a sold out show but the one person you want to hug or high five isn’t there. You get the idea.
You aren’t backsliding. Grief bombs just happen and are a normal part of the grieving process. Be kind to yourself. I find it helps to step back and try to identify the trigger. It doesn’t necessary shorten the meltdown but does help me take the pressure off myself.
And just a reminder for you friends of W’s. It’s NEVER okay to tell someone that they should be over it by now, no matter how long it’s been.
Seriously. What’s up with the ginormous photos that appear for the funeral? They are HUGE! And no one else wants them (because they are freaking HUGE) and yet it feels wrong to throw them away. So they end up in the shrine of our dearly departed. Or hidden in a closet. Or just disappear. Seriously, when you get comments that most churches don’t have pictures of the Madonna that large, you know they are ridiculously HUGE.
When Dan died, I knew I didn’t want to spend a minute longer in our dream home than necessary, so I downsized as soon as possible. My fresh-start house was supposed to be just that, a fresh start. Tons of Dan’s stuff still ended up coming with me. Including the ginormous canvas photo that ended up over my fresh-start fireplace where he could watch me try to put the pieces of my life back together. Or watch me not leave the couch for weeks at a time.
After staring at it for months, I knew it needed to go. It didn’t feel right to throw it out in the trash. And unlike another W, I didn’t have anyone I could ask to throw it away for me when I wasn’t looking. Plus, I needed something over the fireplace. So…on a whim I painted over it. Wine and Pinterest may or may not have helped in this decision. I googled how to paint over a canvas, and trekked out to the craft store for supplies. I skipped an important step (when Google tells you to sand it down first, you should do that), so it took five coats of gesso to cover it up. Have I mentioned I’m not an artist and have never painted before? Yes, wine was definitely involved.
I was nervous when that first coat went on but then started laughing. Dan’s face was still there after each layer of gesso. He always was stubborn. It was a perfect metaphor for my fresh start in life. He’ll always be there underneath. Part of my core. But as I strive to Live Now, the new memories and experiences I have will add paint to my canvas, and it will eventually become all about me.
As always, thanks to wine and the ladies of The W Club for their heartfelt contributions to this post.
Next week–a discussion on proper disposal of military uniforms.
This post is not trolling for sympathy. In fact, I hesitated quite a bit before posting it. In the end, I decided it was important to share my story in the hopes it might help someone else. Since we collectively fear grief, it’s hard to comprehend how consuming despair can be or what to do when someone we love is drowning in it.
Why is Grief so terrifying? Why do we turn away and shield our eyes and our hearts from the pain we see in the ones we love? Why do we push them to be more positive or delete a grief-related post just because it makes us feel uncomfortable? It’s a topic I think about often.
It was about four months after Dan died that I was sitting outside in the fall moonlight with a glass of wine and my besties when one of them looked at me and said, “I have to tell you that I’m mad at you.” I was a bit taken aback. Where the hell did that come from? How much wine did I drink? What did I do?
Let’s rewind a bit.
Losing Dan pulled the earth out from under my feet. In addition to the loss of my soul mate and love of my life, I had a front row seat to his agonizing battle and very gruesome end just months after losing my Dad to the ravages of another horrible disease. PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety are Grief’s annoying evil step-sisters who crash the party. To say I was struggling was an understatement. I suffered from nightmares every single night, reliving those horrible last few moments in every gory detail. Death like you see on TV and the movies would have been a blessing. Dan’s passing was not peaceful. I was later told that he didn’t suffer because he’d been in a coma for days. I call bull$%^t. How would anyone know whether or not he suffered? It’s not like you can verify this statement.
But I digress. I wasn’t sleeping without pharmaceutical help, and the sleep I did get was deeply troubled. I was miserable. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t function. I withdrew from the family and friends (the ones that stuck around after the funeral) that were trying to be there for me. I dodged my grief counselor. And I went to a very dark place. VULNERABLE MOMENT ALERT (as if anything in this blog isn’t): I became suicidal. I went from questioning how I was supposed to live without Dan, to not wanting to live without Dan, to praying to die, to thinking about how I could take matters into my own hands. I had reached the point where suicide seemed the only logical escape from the unbearable pain I was suffering. I repeat, it seemed LOGICAL, not EMOTIONAL. So logical I was dead calm (haha, inappropriate humor is a coping mechanism) and convinced that, in death, I would be with Dan again. I was fortunate to wake up one morning with the clarity that these thoughts weren’t me and that I needed some help to pull myself out of the downward spiral. Only a handful of people knew how bad it had become. The besties were in that group and got me the hell out of Dodge hoping that a change of scenery would do me some good. Sweet Baby Jesus at Christmas-time I love them so much.
Fast Forward back to besties and wine and moonlight. She was mad at me for even considering taking my life. And she was scared. She said that if grief could shake ME to the core, one of the strongest people she knew, what would it do to the rest of them? How on earth could anyone else survive a catastrophic loss?
I loved her for trusting me enough to share how she truly felt and that she looked at this broken mess and saw strength at all. And I realized at that moment one of the reasons we fear looking at other people’s grief is that we don’t want to look in that mirror and envision that loss for ourselves. And that’s okay. We can’t live in the joy of all that life has to offer if we’re too focused on losing it. And at the other end of the spectrum, there is another truth-that in recognizing loss is inevitable, we can free ourselves to enjoy the time that we have.
So for my W’s who are in that dark place, it gets better. I promise. You will reach a point where the light breaks through and finds you. But we can’t always do it alone. When those who love you are throwing you a lifeline, reach out and grab it and hold on with all your might.
The Wandering Widow
Suicidal thoughts are a serious matter. If you have them or think someone does, please get help. Those closest to me had suspicions but were afraid to take action in case they were wrong. Old Lisa was “strong” and independent and apparently a scary bitch who would have freaked the F out on someone if they dared mention it. If I hadn’t woken up that morning with the epiphany that I was about to fall off the cliff, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
Shortly after Dan died, Julie showed up at my door. She sat with me and assured me that, while I wouldn’t believe her now, things would get better. Julie was one of the few people who could get away with saying that without it being a useless platitude. She was a few months ahead of me in losing both husband and father. She alone had the street cred to tell me to hang in there and promise that I’d want to live again.
And she was right. I didn’t believe her. I was drowning in grief and couldn’t comprehend anything different. I nodded, thanked her for coming, and prayed that someday I’d have it as pulled together as she did.
And she was right. It was long and painful but it did get better.
Today marks eight months since that horrible morning. 243 days on this grief journey. 5832 hours of recovery. And it is better. There are more good days than train wrecks. I find myself dreaming about the future again. Things I’d lost…my smile, laughter and hope have resurfaced.
So now it’s my turn to share. To all the new W’s out there, it does get better. I promise.
This is an article I wrote for a recent Treasure Valley Hospice newsletter. Special thanks to the wonderful women of The W Club who contributed their thoughts on the topic.
Starting the moment your loved one breathes their last, a flurry of activity takes place. Family and friends are notified, funeral plans kick into high gear and you are surrounded by people 24/7. You are in shock, even if it was expected. You are surrounded in casseroles, flowers, stories and love.
And then the funeral happens. And then there is silence. The friends and family that were at your side disappear, returning to their own busy lives while you are left behind. This is normal, but painful. Even if you’ve been warned about it, it will be unexpected. Why do the people we need most disappear after the funeral? Some of them thrive on crisis, which is now over so they move on to the next adrenaline filled tragedy. Others have been strong for you and now need to deal with their own grief and pain, and will try to hide it from you to protect you. Others find your pain too much to bear because they love you so much and don’t know what to do, so they turn away. In fear of saying the wrong thing they say nothing. Silence.
Regardless of the reason, their disappearing act doesn’t reflect on you. It doesn’t lower your worth, or mean they love you any less. We live in a grief phobic society. We aren’t taught how to handle these situations. Our friends and family are desperate to help us, but usually don’t know how. Most people feel useful if you can give them busy work, an action job or task that needs done. Tasks like mowing the lawn, cleaning the kitchen, grocery shopping or even getting the oil changed in your car. If they ask, have a list ready (or show them this newsletter). And to those of you who want to help your W, if she can’t think of anything, just pick something you know needs doing and do it. It will be appreciated.
W’s we can help them help us by simply communicating. When they ask what we need, tell them the truth. Be honest, even if you don’t know the answer. After visiting with some of my fellow W’s, here are some examples we came up with:
Call or text me every day to let me know you haven’t forgotten me.
Don’t disappear or stop asking me questions, even if you think I’m being negative. Help me talk about him, and listen when I do.
Don’t let me become a recluse. Keep inviting me out, even if I say “no” a lot.
I don’t know what I’m feeling or what I want.
I just need to be held or to talk and you don’t have to fix anything, just be here with me.
I just lost everything. Please don’t leave me too.
Don’t offer me solutions or advice, just give me time to pull through this with you at my side.
And most importantly don’t hide your grief from me. I want to know you loved him as much as I did. It makes me feel less alone.
You really aren’t alone, even if it may feel that way. So do yourself a favor and help them help you.
We all come to W Club in one of two ways: we are stunned by the unexpected loss, or we are slowly dragged to it as we watch our husbands suffer and die. Both ways suck. One gives us the opportunity to plan or say goodbyes. The other, spares us a long drawn out suffering. One thing is the same. When you are in the throes of grief you don’t want to (or can’t) hear the warnings that there are those in your inner circle who will try to take advantage of you.
I don’t remember anyone warning me that it might happen, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t. Our inner circle was completely trusted. But the slow and steady and guilt laden requests for money happened anyway. At first I didn’t realize what was happening. When I did finally figure it out I was so taken aback I didn’t know how to respond. I’ve had many conversations with other W’s over the last month, and it is a common scenario. In fact, it’s happened to almost all of us. Some people still subscribe to the myth that life insurance is a huge windfall. It’s not. It’s a predetermined amount to help you get back on your feet.
When it’s the ambulance chasing investment advisor who shows up to the funeral with high pressure tactics (unethical, by the way, please file a complaint if this happens to you) it’s a little easier to tell them to f#$% off. When it’s family or friends it’s a lot harder. They know you are at your weakest, and know how to manipulate you. It hurts. And it makes you angry.
One of the W’s I spoke with came up with a brilliant response. She told the shameless beggars that she’d turned over control of her finances to her advisor, since she needed someone to have her best interests at heart while she was grieving and nothing would happen for at least a year. Genius! Sad that it was necessary, but I wish I’d had something like that at the ready.
So in addition to everything else you have to deal with, please be safe my dear W’s. Those friends and family who truly love and care for you will NEVER ask your for money, valuables, or assets. Anyone who does isn’t worthy of your time or energy.