I was determined to power through life after my husband died. There has never been a single thing I couldn’t handle on my own with sheer willpower and determination. Matt told me before he died he didn’t want us sitting around crying over him, so to honor his memory I pushed myself into normalcy.
He died on a Saturday. Sunday we went to church. Monday we planned the funeral. Tuesday we held the funeral. Wednesday our daughter started first grade at a new school and Thursday I started work as a teacher at a private preschool. Life had to resume, because he said so.
In my quest for normalcy, I grazed over the fact that nothing would ever be normal again. I thought wholeheartedly that I was doing the right thing. I spent my days at work, my nights taking care of our daughter and it was business as usual at our house. It almost felt like he was just gone for work. I didn’t eat. I barely slept. I drank enough wine to kill the average human. Xanax was my friend. But I fulfilled my obligations as a mom and and employee. I thought I was ok.
I didn’t shed a tear. I thought not crying made me strong. I remember being self congratulatory, proud of myself for not crying. I didn’t realize (and couldn’t have realized) that I was in shock. What happened didn’t catch up with me until months later. I didn’t process it, because I was hell bent on surviving it, despite the overwhelming odds stacked against me. Not one person would’ve faulted me for falling completely apart. I thought I was proving how strong I was by not reacting “normally”. In my mind, I was strong. Everyone told me how strong and brave I was. I thought I was. I was ok until I wasn’t.
I was wrong. I was suffering.
My therapist knows everything there is to know about my life. She must think she’s watching a late 80s episode of Days of Our Lives or something. Like sands through the hourglass. She sees things in my life that I think are little things and identifies them as big things that I need to address. Without her, I would probably still be in an abusive relationship with a flaming narcissist. I would probably have allowed him to continue to torment and abuse me for his own personal gain. Without her, I would still be sidestepping the grief process, believing it made me a stronger person. Without her, I may have succumbed to the suicidal thoughts that took me to the depth of my grief and sat me there, unable to move. She says to me over and over again when I try to gloss over things “Cyndi, you can’t walk around this. You have to walk through it.”
Walking through grief is hard. Walking around it meant I could go through life mostly unscathed. I didn’t have to feel the pain and the hurt because I simply was not allowing myself to. I was uncomfortably numb. I was spiraling in plain sight. I grasped at any and every distraction I could just to avoid dealing with it. Unfortunately, one of those distractions was a man that destroyed what little of me there was left and walked away like nothing happened, leaving behind a trail of destruction I have yet to overcome.
I was suffering (and am still suffering) from PTSD, and it took me a while to accept that and identify it as such. The trauma of losing the love of my life was compounded by the trauma of losing someone I thought was so genuine shortly after. That’s what finally broke me. That’s what brought the tears and they didn’t stop. I cry easily now. In March, I attempted suicide. I took enough sleeping pills to kill myself. By the grace of God, it didn’t work, and for that I’m grateful. The weeks following were agony. I was so hurt and betrayed by someone who said he loved me and told my child he loved her. I carry the shame of that to this day. The pain of finding out that wasn’t true was too much to process on top of the grief I was already not doing very well processing and I shut down. I was fortunate enough to shut down when the world did due to COVID so no one really noticed unless I told them. I know now I was in an abusive relationship with a narcissistic sociopath, but when I was in it it felt normal because I no longer understood what normal was. He positioned himself in our lives, took everything he could, then walked away like we were nothing. He used us as pieces in the sick game he plays with the lives of others. He used my daughter and her emotions to get closer to me in order to take advantage of me. I’ll never understand why he preyed on us at our most vulnerable time, but I won’t forget the way he crushed my daughter. Seeing your child cry over a man you allowed into her life was one of the lowest points of my life. She loved him. He played house with us and another woman at the same time. I have forgiven him for what he did to us. Forgetting is the hard part.
See, what I expected was for everyone to be as genuine as Matt. And they just aren’t. Matt and I did not have a perfect marriage, but it was full of love. If he said he was going to do something, you could consider it done. He never let me down. He never let her down. I trusted too easily. Matt did what he said he was going to do always. I took someone for their word and their word meant nothing. I see it now for what it was- he is a predator and I was his prey. So was my child. So was my money.
I have been to the depths of depression. I have walked through the days wanting to die. I have laid in bed at night and prayed for daylight because sleep did not come. I know what it’s like to think the world would be better without me in it. I know what it’s like to be so scared to say any of this out loud for fear of being labeled “crazy”. I have suffered greatly and at times, thought the only way out was checking out for good.
I have to walk through it. I have to face the demons that pull me down when I least expect it. I have to fight every single day just to live, and some days my whole body hurts with grief. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed, but I do anyway. Some days I open my mouth and words don’t come out because I don’t have the strength to say what I’m feeling. There are days that I want to take Quinn and run far away from everything just so I don’t have to see the familiar anymore. There are places I cannot go because it would hurt too bad to relive even the happy times. There are places I don’t let my mind go because the pain is unbearable still.
I couldn’t understand the impact all of this would have on me until I got to the other side of it. I couldn’t even identify that I was in an unhealthy relationship. I didn’t listen when friends tried to point that out because I was too busy avoiding anything painful. As long as the temporary felt good, I couldn’t see the bigger picture.
Matt is gone. I know that. I am acutely aware of that every hour of every day now. No longer do I just imagine he’s gone for work. Every day I have to face the fact that my daughter has to grow up without a father. He won’t be here for birthdays, holidays, first days of school, first dates, graduations, or to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. There will always be a big empty hole where he should be. The difference is now I cry about it. And I deal with it and process it instead of pushing away at the first sign of discomfort and replacing the bad feelings with good but not good for me ones. Instead of sitting in the uncomfortably numb, unable to move, I walk through it. No more side stepping the pain. I’m facing it head on.
I don’t know why I had to go through trauma twice. The first one should’ve been enough to kill me. The second one almost did. I do know that there are people who see people at their weakest moment and take advantage of their grief and I believe that’s what happened to us. I believe you can have the best of intentions and still get taken for the most traumatic ride of your life when you’re barely hanging on from your first trauma. I’m grateful that, at my most broken, I didn’t check out from this life- even though I wanted to. I didn’t want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop and I saw no other way out.
My days are still hard. Nights are still awful. Some days my chest and shoulders hurt so bad from crying that it’s hard to move. My therapist says this is the normal way to grieve and that I have to let myself feel it to heal from it. She also says I can’t rush it, like I tend to want to do when things are uncomfortable. It takes as long as it takes.
I am no longer numb. I feel. I feel things so deeply now, especially pain and sadness. But with that I also feel joy. I find joy in things I couldn’t see clearly when I was at rock bottom. I find reasons to live. When I find myself falling down in a hole again, it’s those moments of joy that pull me out. Memories of the wonderful life I had with Matt motivate me to make my daughter’s life just as wonderful as I possibly can. Losing him changed me. The only way to continue to honor his life is to show her that, even when times are hard and people hurt you and you feel like giving up, you keep going.
If you are grieving, don’t try to be a hero. Letting yourself feel it doesn’t mean failure. It’s ok to grieve. It’s ok to feel pain. It’s ok to fall apart. You don’t have to be everything for everyone and you most certainly do not have to put on a brave face. Surround yourself with people who are comfortable with seeing you cry. It doesn’t make you a stronger person to push it all away. It breaks you down further.
And if you find yourself in the darkness and see no way out but death, find the strength to get help. Talk to someone. Reach out and let someone pull you up and tell you it’s only temporary, because it is. The world needs you and you will make it, but not without help. You have to be willing to ask for help. You may have to crawl to help. But you’ll walk again, you just have to walk through it and not around it. It may feel like walking through fire, but you have to feel it to heal it. If the only thing you can do is mutter the word “Help”, it’s enough. You are enough.
And so am I.
When Jesus saw her lying there and knew she had been there for a long time, he said to her “Do you want to be made well? Then pick up your mat- and walk.” – John 5:6-8