The Bitter in Bittersweet
So, I know you might be wondering, "What's it like to be a widow?" Well, let me tell you. Sometimes it's fine. Sometimes it's good. And, sometimes it downright sucks. It's fine because I'm doing what I normally do. I take care of my kids, I go to work, I go to the grocery store, etc. It's good because my children say the cutest things and make life so magical. And it sucks because I'm lonely, and I'm doing everything alone and deciding everything alone, and I never wanted this. And I realize that was a run-on sentence, but that's what my life has come to!
The other day my friend called to chat and like any concerned girlfriend, she asked, "Okay, so I've got to ask. How are you doing on the whole no sex thing?" I laughed and responded, "You know what? Thank you for asking!" Obviously, I don't want everyone asking me about something so intimate, but she is my best friend so I didn't mind. It was nice to have someone acknowledge that there are so many different parts to my grief. And sex is one of them. It was actually one of the first things I started to miss. I thought it was strange at first but then I realized that it made perfect sense. That was when I felt closest to Isaac. That is the one thing that we shared that was never shared with anyone else. It is hard to lose the person who is your truest, closest friend, and lover. No relationship comes close. I have to live with going 100 to zero. No one can just step in and make it better. And, I think that's why we call it "loss." We can't get it back. It can't be fixed. Now, that doesn't mean that I can't be happy or that it doesn't get better. It doesn't mean that I won't love again or that I won't have other meaningful relationships. But it does mean that I have to make room for this ominous feeling.
A couple months ago I was talking with my church leader who also happens to be a marriage and family therapist. We talked about the difference between grief and depression. I think that often people think that if you really loved someone, that you should be depressed. Grief can be a trigger for depression, but you don't have to struggle to function to experience grief. Now, that's not to say that functioning at times can't be difficult. For a lot of people it can be. My church leader made the comment that some people run hot and some people run cold. He stated that I seem like someone who runs hot and that I was probably not at risk for depression. I was more likely at risk to be anxious and have panic attacks. So I've been trying to monitor that and be aware of my anxiety. And, I definitely feel anxious at times. I try to use a lot of the coping skills that I've learned as a therapist. It helps a lot. But just because I'm a therapist and I know what is going on, doesn't mean that I can avoid the pain or the feelings that I experience. I sometimes find my mind racing with all sorts of thoughts. Sometimes I get stuck in problem solving mode. Other times I realize what's going on and I remind myself that the thoughts and worry are just my brain trying to fix this. And, I like to fix things. I'm not one to sit around and wait for things to happen. I'm a go-getter, but you can't go get healing. Grief doesn't have a finish line. It doesn't work like that. So methods that have worked great in other areas of my life won't work with grief. I have to learn to sit with the unknown and wait for grief to come to me.
Sometimes the waves of grief come at unexpected times. Sometimes something will trigger a memory of Isaac and the loss feels like a sharp knife. Sometimes it feels like a actual ache in my heart, not like the ache of a heart palpitation or when you think you are having a heart attack. Sometimes my heart physically feels like it is hollow. Sometimes I lose my appetite, but I still eat anyway (cause if you know me, you know I love food). Sometimes I feel so exhausted that I can't even cry because I don't know how to create the space I need to let it all out. Sometimes I re-experience some shock symptoms, especially when I have to deal with things pertaining to the automobile accident.
Sometimes I'm happy when I expected to be sad. And sometimes I can cry one minute and laugh the next. Sometimes I can remember things about Isaac and not feel sad at all. Sometimes I can feel confident and full of hope and faith. And other times, I'm full of fear and longing. Sometimes I'm angry and super pissed to be alone. And sometimes I'm tired because I'm trying to stand up as huge waves of emotion wash over me day after day in addition to the normal things I do. So I'm trying to simplify my life to make space for the grief that rolls in when it pleases.
It's a lot. And I don't share these things because I want you to feel sorry for me. I share this because I know that a lot of my family and friends really want to know what I'm experiencing and this is a way for them to grieve with me. And, it helps me. Sharing these things helps me give space to process what I am experiencing. It helps to be able to talk about my grief and know that others care to listen because I'm not really looking for advice. I really just want someone to sit with me in this vulnerable and unfamiliar place.
I want to take some time here to talk about what I think is helpful to a grieving person. What is helpful to me might not be what another grieving person needs, but I think it's a place to start if you are trying to support someone who is grieving. First, a grieving person wants you to ask. You can ask something as simple as a genuine, "How are you doing?" Now, I'm a pretty open person so if I feel the need to talk about my grief, I will seize that moment to tell you. And if I don't feel like talking about it, I won't. Others might not be so open. So politely ask how they are doing and let them know that you don't want them to feel obligated to talk about their grief but that you would love to be listening ear if that's what they need. Second, advice can be annoying. Not all advice is annoying so this is tricky. I would say that you probably need to think about how well you know the person who is grieving. If you know them well, not much will be annoying. But when people who don't know me well are telling me what I should do or how Isaac or God feels, it can be annoying. Not all the time, but sometimes. Sorry to be vague there, but that's the way it is. Now, I don't get offended easily, so don't worry, I'm not thinking anything about you if you did do this but at the time I was probably thinking, "Okay, stop talking. I don't care." Third, check in. I have a friend that calls me almost everyday. We don't talk about my grief most of the time but having someone be there to talk to each day about the little things really helps. Fourth, don't fear my grief. If my sadness or pain make you feel uncomfortable, that makes me feel like you don't accept the human parts of me. So if you have trouble tolerating sadness or pain, you need to figure out why. Your loved one needs you to listen and sit there calmly. And when you can't be there, it makes your loved one feel like they need to feel better to be loved or accepted by you. I also think that it will prolong grief and depression because when you can't be tolerant of their grief, they will move deeper into their grief. Validate their grief. Be there. Fifth, don't just offer to be there, show up. It means a lot to me when people don't half-heartedly ask me to do things. When they make specific plans, or ask me if I need specific things, that is helpful. The other day a friend asked if I needed help with the snow. I happened to be out of town, but it meant a lot that he recognized that I might have a very specific need at the time. Although, I know my friends are happy to help when I ask, moments like these help me to really know that I can ask for help and my friends will be there.
Now, I realize that this was a heavy post. I'm so very grateful for everyone's support and prayers. I don't want you to be worried about me after I've shared with you that I experience difficult emotions. Sometimes I feel like when I share my sadness, everyone starts to worry. I need you to know that this is a part of me. And it doesn't mean that I'm slipping into a depression or that I'm not doing well. I'm just letting you see that I am a whole person. And that means I experience ups and downs. And the truth is that most of you didn't know much about my downs before now. I want to be authentic about my grief. My grief isn't just spiritual epiphanies, growing closer to God, and remembering good things about Isaac. There are some really tough, ugly, gut wrenching parts to grief. I would be doing a disservice to anyone else who experiences grief if I left out the hard parts. I hope to show you that my life is a bittersweet combination of both loss and love, and that where there is a lot of pain, tears, and struggle, there is also a lot of laughter, singing, and dancing.