I am in no way an expert on grief. Sometimes survival to me is just making sure I function as close as I can on the level of “normal human”. The truth is, grief changes you. It changes your reaction to almost everything. Grief causes you to, at first, feel nothing. Then you feel everything much deeper than before.
I wish people knew how hard it is to continue life as normal after a loved one dies. Matt died on a Saturday. Sunday we went to church. Monday we planned the funeral. Tuesday was the funeral. Wednesday our daughter started school at a new school where she knew no one and Thursday I started work after being a stay at home mom for 6 years. I remember folding a load of laundry that Friday and thinking “Laundry doesn’t care if someone dies or not. It’s always there”. The truth is, no one swoops in and does all of the daily, mundane things for you. The funeral was the end of the suffering for a lot of the people we were surrounded by, but it was just the beginning for me. Still, life had to go on.
At first, there was never a time I just laid in the bed and did nothing and allowed myself to grieve. I think I was scared that if I laid in bed and cried, I would never get up. I really didn’t cry until I was in Europe for a few weeks that Christmas. My in laws were there to help with our daughter and I could just feel it. It was really the first time I slowed down long enough to process what I was going through. Then the floodgates opened. I remember feeling like it wasn’t normal not to cry, but my doctor was really quick to push Xanax toward me as a “you have to function so here’s this happy pill” kind of thing. That proved to be a huge mistake, as I quickly became dependent on it. It’s been over a year since I’ve taken it on a regular basis. I have something now for panic attacks, but it’s not habit forming and I use it very sparingly.
When you’re a mom, life goes on as normal as you can make it. I feel like I didn’t truly grieve the loss of my husband until COVID hit and I was sent home from work without a reopen date in sight. It was then that I really had to feel the loss of my husband because I didn’t really have anything else to distract me from my own reality. In a world where “busy” is seen as success, grieving people get a hall pass. We can simply power through life in a fog and no one really notices, because everyone is busy.
When you’ve loved big and lost, especially if you’ve watched someone suffer, it can be hard to control your emotions afterwards. Once you start feeling again, you feel things deeply. You dissect and analyze everything anyone says to you. You ruminate over every conversation, every harsh word, every kind one. You take love as real, all consuming love, because that’s what you’re used to. You take rejection like a punch in the face. Some days, I wish I could just be numb again. But then I would miss out on feeling love and happiness. It’s a double edged sword for sure.
I wish people knew how hard it is to go on some days. I wish people knew that, when you see me smiling and laughing and happy, I fought like hell to get to this place. Every effort I make takes twice as much effort as it used to. If you know someone who is grieving, please understand that they are giving you everything they’ve got.
I wish people knew that grief changes your brain in such a way that you have to make a conscious effort to learn how to interact with people again. I don’t always say the right thing. I don’t always do the right thing. But I always try. No one is giving out World’s Hardest Try-er awards, but if they were, I would have a shelf full of them. I give everything I’ve got to every situation and I am fully aware that that can come across as too much. I’m working on myself. I’ve made big mistakes. I have to answer for those and I try never to throw the widow card. My reaction to certain situations is a trauma response, but that doesn’t excuse it. Reintegrating into the world after loss is hard, but not impossible.
I wish people understood the fear associated with grief. I live in constant fear that everyone I love is going to leave or die. This impacts my life negatively because I don’t want to lose anything else. We were rear ended today in traffic and thankfully, we had no damage to either car. The young girl that hit us slid on wet roads and I was fortunate enough to see her coming and give her space. Still, I was shaken. I had this vision of us being pushed into traffic and broadsided with my sweet daughter in the passenger seat. I would cease to exist if I lost her. She’s my whole world. We walked away with racing heartbeats and just a “bump”. Angels watching over us.
People that are grieving need constant reassurance that you aren’t going anywhere. We need someone to say “I’ve got you. I’m here”. It can feel redundant to the person doing the reassuring, but to the person experiencing abandonment issues after the loss of a loved one, it can mean the world. To really understand someone who is grieving and their needs, you have to acknowledge that one day, they had everything they ever dreamed of. The next day it was gone. That did something to me mentally that I’m not sure I’ll ever get over. No matter how prepared we were for Matt’s death, nothing could’ve prepared me for having someone to love, kiss, and hold, and then having it wheeled out of my house as a lifeless body on a gurney.
For that reason, it takes a lot of courage to love someone again after death. Loving someone means opening yourself up to the possibility of losing them. Loving someone can make you feel more raw and vulnerable than you’ve ever felt in your life. Still, the pay off is amazing because of the deeper understanding you have of love itself. I live and love the way I do now because I’ve lost and I value time and memories above all else. It made me prioritize what’s important and what just isn’t. Time truly is all we have.
We are coming up on the 2 year anniversary of Matt’s death. The sad days are few and far between, and I used to think I was betraying his memory by not being more “sad”. The truth is, he didn’t want us to be sad. He wanted us to thrive and live and find love again. He wanted more than anything for us to be happy. I try to make him proud and honor his memory every day. Some days my anxiety and grief make me fall short of that, but most days we do ok.
Nora McInery once famously stated in a TED talk that we don’t move on from grief, we move forward with it. I find this to be true, because the loss of something so big will be felt for the rest of my life. I believe that God turns graves into gardens and that I am deserving of love. I wish people knew that we want, more than anything in the world, to make every day count. I live with urgency because we know what it’s like to have everything I hoped for taken in an instant. If someone who is grieving loves you, believe them. We have already thought of every reason not to.