I know you want to be my confidante. I know you want to be my savior. I know you don’t know what to do and that watching me in pain brings you pain.
But, no, I will not tell you about my grief.
If there’s anything I have learned in my 10 months of widowhood, it’s that a lot of people don’t “get it.” They love you, they love your dead loved one, they want to help, but their frame of reference for grief is pop culture, platitudes, and incorrect assumptions about what they would feel if they were in the same place.
Here’s the kicker about my flavor of grief: only I actually know what it’s like. Even fellow widows and widowers get close, but don’t actually “get it.” They get their approximation. They have a pretty close sense of what I’m feeling. But the only one who does and will ever get it is me.
What so insidious about this kind of loss, this “out of order” loss, is that even I don’t know what I need. I have been trained for loss with pets, grandparents, the odd distant relative. But to lose my partner, to lose my person, well, there’s just no preparing for that.
People who have come before, people who have experienced the loss of their person, they have some sense of the pathway ahead of me. They know about Grocery Store Lagoon, where the most mundane of errands has become a veritable minefield. They know about Random Chore You Never Knew They Did Desert, where you suddenly realize something you never noticed is actually a Crucial Part of Your Home and now you’re in charge of it. They also know about Decision Fatigue Oasis, where suddenly your domain increased exponentially and occasionally you have to say “fuck it” and everything falls apart for a bit. They also know that this isn’t a conscious decision, but one that happens subtly until you’re wading in undone laundry and dishes and your child is having to wear the same shorts two days in a row because you totally missed that they were out of clothes. They also know that in Decision Fatigue Oasis comes in the inevitable Flash Flood of Crippling Guilt when you realized the neglect that has happened in the Oasis. And also that you never even noticed you were in an oasis, so it’s not like you actually rested or recovered from the Desert. You just dropped to your knees and stayed until the flash flood and now you have to swim like you’ve never swum before only to be back in the desert.
Yes, they know this landscape. But they do not know the particulars of how I need to travel. Like that I need reminding to drink water, but also that I eventually grow to hate water unless it is flavored or bubbly. But you know who did know that?
My person knew all the facets of who I am. He saw sides of me I couldn’t and he saw how they gleamed and shone and cast rainbows on others. He knew I needed more sleep. He knew I needed to have my hand held. He knew how to actually alleviate the burden on me so I didn’t have to do my own forensics on what I needed so I could tell him and then he would get it. He just quietly walked beside me, occasionally handing me a treat.
No one else knows this. And I don’t know how to unbake the cake to tell people what I need. It’s ironic that the one person who could get me through this is the one person who isn’t here anymore. Isn’t it ironic? Or is it cruel?
In any case, no, I won’t tell you about my grief, dear friend who has no frame of reference for this because your family is intact. I would say “I appreciate your concern,” but I kind of don’t. Please don’t ask me to talk about it. What I actually need is for you to follow along behind me, watch me, read the signs, and then provide what I don’t see I need and can’t articulate to you. Because for a long time, someone else noticed these things and took care of them for me. Even as he lay dying, he told me the things about myself that I didn’t even know needed knowing.
Watch. Learn. Act. Please. Don’t make me tell you about my grief.