Grief is a sneaky son of a bitch. It lulls you into a false sense of security, lets you think you’re doing okay and then pushes you right off the ledge. It happens over and over, like some cruel remake of Groundhog Day, to the point that you don’t trust yourself to do the smallest thing, for fear you’re just going to free-fall and hit the painful bottom once more. It also doesn’t care when it makes its moves. I’ve come to approach just about everything I do with more caution than optimism. I’ve stood in the cereal aisle of the grocery store and cried because there were all those boxes of my husband’s favorite cereal on the shelves. The tears came again when I went to Home Depot to pick out paint and found myself thinking about past trips there. My husband looked at Home Depot the same way a child looks at Toys ‘R’ Us – as a giant playroom, chock full of things just waiting to be explored, taken home and enjoyed – even if we didn’t really need them.
If you’re familiar with the works of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, then you know that she describes the five stages of the dying process. Well, the five stages of grieving are exactly the same. It shouldn’t come as any surprise because grief feels very much like you’re dying. In a way, pieces of you have died. If you’ve loved someone long enough, shared their life for decades, you become a part of them and they become a part of you. Their absence feels as if someone has gutted you or peeled back your skin, leaving you ragged and raw. The pain isn’t some phantom pain. It’s real and it’s excruciating. I’ve felt each and every one of those stages, sometimes more than one at the same time. And you don’t get through them, you don’t get to check them off the list, because they come back to visit when you least expect it. Sneaky bastards.
I’ve always thought of myself as someone who walked the earth with a certain confidence – ballsy and bulletproof. Now I know that a good deal of that confidence came from the man who presided over my fan club. Without him, there’s a gaping hole in my armor. I handle things differently now. I’m more vulnerable, more afraid. I hate feeling like that, but I can’t seem to shake it. I’ve had conversation with others who have lost their partners, and they say the same things. Your center is gone, you’re off-kilter and now you’re just trying to maintain some sort of equilibrium. Take it from me, that loss of balance can and does make you puke.
The notion of moving forward seems an impossibility at the moment. I go through the movements. That’s it. I try to accomplish something each and every day, but it’s as if I’m on auto-pilot. The things I manage to do seem hollow, empty, because there’s no one to reassure me, admire what I’ve done and tell me “atta girl”. I do these things anyway because I want to believe I’m creating a life for myself, a life as a single person – a widow. I can’t tell you how much I hate that word.
Everyone tells you not to make any major decisions about your life for at least a year after losing a loved one, a spouse in particular. I have no intention of doing anything even close to life altering. Hell, it took me two hours to choose from among three shades of parchment at Home Depot’s paint department. Seriously, beige is beige, no matter what fancy name you give it. Planning anything beyond the next 24 hours isn’t even a consideration.
One of the worst aspects of widowhood is the loneliness, the quiet that falls over a house when only one person lives in it. I’ve had long, serious conversations with my dogs but, while they’re excellent listeners, they’re not big on responding. It’s the kind of loneliness that can’t be overcome, even in a room full of people. You see, I know and understand, even if no one else does, that there was a person who could fill a room, even when it was only two of us, and he’s no longer available.
People, friends and family, tell me that it will get better over time but I don’t know what better means. Does it mean that the pain subsides or that you just learn to manage it? I’d like to think that it will somehow get easier, that I’ll learn how to control the grief attacks with distractions and coping skills, but getting better is a lot to ask. Ms. Kubler-Ross said it much better than I am. “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
I’m just about through with all of the “proof and paperwork” side of death. I’m also packing up my husband’s things and donating them. Yesterday, I dropped off bags of those things, enough to fill the back of my SUV, and left them with the nice man at Goodwill. I then drove to Kroger to do my grocery shopping and couldn’t get out of the car until I stopped sobbing. I told myself, when I was packing them up, that it was just stuff, but I was wrong – very wrong. It seems that with every step forward, there’s also a very visceral, gut-wrenching reaction to it, even when it comes to shirts, jeans and sneakers.
I have a plan, though. I want to find out who am I am now. I want to get to that place where memories make me smile instead of bringing me to my knees. I’m not the person who was married and I’m certainly not the person I was before I became half of a couple. So, yes, I’ll repaint the master bedroom and put up the new curtains and make up the bed with the beautiful new bedding, the very feminine bedding, I might add. And then I’ll move back into that room because I know I have to. It’s a baby step in the healing process, but a step nonetheless.
Wish me well, my friends. I’m going to need it.