I got myself a couple of mini-interventions this month. I don’t get them often because I am highly independent as well as incredibly impatient with bullshit so most people are afraid of having their head handed to them. I don’t blame them I don’t particularly like giving myself an intervention either. They can be wrenchingly painful and humiliating. Yet I do it to myself. All the time. And for one simple reason, I think the primary foundation of being self-sufficient is that you problem solve and trouble shoot for yourself.
Anyway for me, I’ve been getting a lot of these interventions lately because I’m a recent widow. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about grief, it’s that there is an inherently human expectation that even though it makes no sense at all, there is a right way to grieve. Now don’t misunderstand. No one would ever say such a thing because its lunacy, however they do believe it — deep in their bones.
My most recent mini-all about me came from a very, very dear friend. He and I share something awful. He is a widower and has been for almost a decade. He’s still not over it and knowing the woman he was married to, I am not at all surprised. He shared a story with me, which I’ll paraphrase mostly because it’s a good story and should remain his to tell however he wants. Essentially it was about coming out of hiding soon after he became a widower. Many people, mostly colleagues, were shocked and uncomfortable at seeing him and how one guy in particular made him realize that he had a whole lot more grieving to do.
In his sweet and compassionate re-telling of the story, the messaging for me was clear. I am not over the hump yet. He gently explained how he had seen it again and again even in his own father, a year or almost two after the fall there is another, very personal shattering of your composure about your loss. Because my friend knows me well, as many of my dearest friends do, he urged me not to argue with him.
“I know you want to say ‘but, I’m okay and I’m fine’. Don’t. Just listen.” He said emphatically.
Surprisingly I was able to curb my inclination to skewer him with my superior knowledge of myself and I kept my mouth shut. It was difficult. So difficult it’s been creeping in and out of my thoughts ever since. Therefore I’ve come to a decision. Since I need to make room for other thoughts I’ll share the “buts” I didn’t share with my friend, with you dear reader. Here goes.
But, I know you’re right. I’ve grieved many times. I’m older, so probably many more times than you and I know it doesn’t go away. It morphs. It mutates. And it can be debilitating. It can also be molded like clay or channeled into a force for good or evil. It is an emotion. Something you feel even when you don’t want to but that does not mean that you’re not okay or that you’re not fine. Being okay and fine, simply means you’re functional for the moment. You’re not lying in a heap unable to move or sobbing so much that you feel hollow.
But I’m a woman and all the grievers you mentioned are men. Woman fend off pain and loss differently than men mostly, I believe, because we’re used to it. Grief and a woman’s reproductive system have much in common. They both can be painful yes, but it’s more than that. Any woman who has been through labor (or even some menstrual cycles) will tell you that the pain can be sharp or dull but it usually comes in a rush, stays a moment, and then goes flat suddenly like a wave hitting then retreating from the shore over and over. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before or since — except grief.
But I’m taking care of myself as best I can and because I’m no fool or feckless user, I will ask for help when and if I truly need it. It is a slow process finding my footing and I have come to terms with that. However I’m going ahead with it because I have more to do with this life. A whole lot more. I can’t always go as quickly as some would like. I also can’t change myself into an extrovert who shares and shares and shares their grief with anyone who will listen until it becomes manageable. Would that I could. Everything might be a lot easier but, I seriously doubt it. And since I cannot break my grief down into bite size morsels, I am prepared for anything to happen, and I am also secure in the knowledge that I’m not completely ready for anything that does happen at all.
I read a quote recently that I liked very much. I’m sharing it though I don’t know its source: You have the power to say, “this is not how my story will end”. I am a Black American and for that reason alone I’m fully convinced that metaphorically the quote is a wistful fallacy. I do like the quote anyway because it reminds me that I do have power over the story I tell myself, about myself, and how in turn I share that story with others. There is another saying I use a lot. My writing is my therapy. I think about both quotes often when I wake up to a new day with my losses as well as my gains piled high in the recesses of my heart and mind. I have the power but, how on earth will I use it today?
8 thoughts on “But…,”
I have discovered that my grief manifests itself differently depending on who I am grieving, and how busy I am dealing with the fallout of their death. Not the emotional fallout. The financial, legal, business fallout. The paperwork and notifications and arrangements and lawyers. Grief must wait where my sister’s death is concerned. I don’t have time for it. But when my father died, well, I grieved. All over the place. Any time of day, anywhere. Right now, 1 month post-death, I AM fine. I AM okay. Because right now, I have no choice in the matter. I must function. At a high level. I’ll revisit these thoughts a year from now when all the paperwork is done and taxes filed and assets distributed. Oh how I hope it will all be done in a year…
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Ahh yes I remember it well, “the paperwork” as well as the “financial, legal and business fallout”. My mother’s death prepared me at a reasonably young age for how very challenging it is to resolve the life and death of a loved one. It also made me realize the benefit of siblings and/or a bestie. Doing all that crap alone is pretty damned awful. And you only have to do it once to realize, if you can help it, you wouldn’t wish it on your loved ones. I sincerely hope it will all be done for you in a year or even less. And in the meantime remember however you grieve it’s yours, so everything at your own pace and timbre.
I always tell anyone who will listen or who asks, grieving, whether a death or a divorce, is different for each person and for each relationship. Don’t let anybody rush you through it. If someone says, “It’s time for you to move on,” kick them in the teeth (figuratively, of course — don’t want to have to bail folks out of jail). You have to go through it — there’s no way around it. If you don’t go through it and “let it go” because someone thinks it’s time, it will always linger and manifest in various ways (because, after all, it has to get out some kind of way. That’s the law of physics — something about an equal force acting back on the original object). Both of you, Lily and Julie, are savvy, intelligent women, who I know are fiercely independent. It’s easy for people to either be overly concerned or not concerned enough.
You’re such a smart woman Michele. I do, in fact, often feel remorse for my friends esp. the ones who make attempts to help someone as bullheaded as me or who feel guilty for not doing a better job of it. It ain’t easy I know. For the record, I do like the idea of seeing what wonderful vitriol you’d write about any arresting officer of me or Julie for clobbering some insensitive soul. You may be miles away but I suspect your grass roots effort would be powerful. 😉 Thanks for reading!
Oh Lily, as many times as I have given you unsolicited and unwanted advice.. there are the thousand time I have kept my mouth shut and said to myself..when she wants my help she will ask for it..
I have never lost a spouse but I do know a lot about grief. When my mother died shockingly and suddenly on the highway on her way to our family reunion, I went into super woman mode. I made sure all the guests coming to the house to help us “Sit Shiva” with Bagels and lox, (Jewish mourning fuel), were cared for and fed. They kept saying, “But we are here for you!” ME!?? Pish POSH!
It did not occur to me until years later that sitting in my apartment with the security gates locked and the curtains closed, ordering in greasy food and getting pimples, deciding cleaning my apartment was a chore too much for me, ignoring the phone messages from friends was in fact Me in full scale depression and grieving mode.
Nobody did an intervention on me then, nobody suggested I look into grief therapy, or let someone into my home to open the curtains and let in the sunlight. I’m not sure what I would have done if they tried, probably bit their head off. Or maybe, maybe I might have listened. Stranger things have happened.
So what did help? Writing of course my life-long-soul-partner-(thank you pen), long walks along the water, any water, If there was a fucking puddle I would do a long walk around it..feeling the sunshine on my face, having hot sex,(that helped a lot!). I just started to thaw out, the frozen pimply blonde ice queen began to melt, I started to let friends in, not just appear to let them in (my biggest talent), but really actually let them in..
and then, one morning I woke up and realized that I was looking forward to the day..
Dear friend, sister, compatriot, I am here for you.. when you decide to open the curtain and even if you don’t.
That’s just it darling. The curtain IS open, otherwise a ton of snow wouldn’t get shoveled. But you, like everyone else who has experienced grief, understands all of this with a deep personal resonance. Whether it’s a spouse, a parent, a child, or a dear friend, even if it’s someone you’ve never met who you admire, grief is different for everyone and so is how you deal with it. If you’re functional enough to play hostess to your friends that’s okay, so it shouldn’t be played down (that is an intervention by the way) cause it ain’t how it’s supposed to be done. If you need to lie in bed with the covers over your head for a while that’s okay too. Basically I can’t think of a time more appropriate for the term: whatever it is, do you. Love the water angle by the way. My fave place to weep though I haven’t done it in a very long time is the shower. Expedient. 😉
Paul Smart 49 Spring Street Catskill, NY 12414 Ulster Publishing/Shawangunk Journal 518-929-5765 (cellular) email@example.com