No, I will not tell you about my grief

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. 

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. 

We deserved better

We did not deserve the ending we had, where you are floating in the Otherworld and I am still tethered here, in my corporeal body.

We deserved an ending worthy of a romance novel or a movie. We deserved to ride off into the sunset. To have a real happily ever after where “ever after” truly means “ever” and not “after.” 

We deserved to live a full, beautiful life where we could walk through the doorway of oblivion together, when we were ready. 

In the end, you were ready. I was ready. The life we had adopted, the one where you were not who you wanted to be and I was so, so tired, that was not the one we wanted. So we were both ready to move on from that life. 

But we were not ready for what came next. Or at least, I wasn’t. 

Now, I’m here, in our “ever after” alone. People tell me you’re here, you’re watching me, to talk to you, to listen for you, to see the signs of you everywhere. And many days I believe that. That you are near even though you are far and I am not nearly as alone as I feel. 

But what if you aren’t? What if our letting go actually released us from our beautiful love for each other and now you are nothing and I am untethered on this plane until I become nothing, too? What if this isn’t spiritual, or beautiful, or a temporary separation? What if this is it? 

I feel you here. Over my shoulder. Hand on my back saying, “It’s ok. I know it feels too hard. But you’ve got this.” 

It’s too heavy some days. Even attempts to lighten this, to create airiness in the meringue of this life, fall flat. Do you know what flat meringue is? 

Gross.

It’s gross. And that’s what this is. It’s disgusting that this is where we are. I can’t necessarily believe in an “after” because then it feels engineered. This suffering feels engineered. Like some cosmic thing decided that we deserved to suffer. Or at least I deserved to suffer. 

We deserved better. We deserved an ending for the ages not because it ended before its time, but because it lasted for ages. Our dense life, our life well-lived, was not gross. It was beautiful and sweet and pleasant and something we could indulge in for decades without ever feeling sick. 

There’s nothing I can do about it except say: We deserved better. 

That’s all.  

A dance along the edge

It’s hard to tell what is dream and what is reality these days. My life is a nightmare. Not feels like a nightmare. It is a nightmare. The kind that at some point your brain would wake you up from so you didn’t have to endure it anymore. But there is no mechanism for turning off reality.

Well.

There is.

It feels unfair to call it a hole, what is in me right now. It’s not a hole. It’s a chasm. It’s a canyon. It’s…

A pit.

The vastness is not so much the defining factor as is the depth. Pit really truly captures that.

Some days, I can walk around the pit. I dance delicately along the edge of the pit and it feels like a mirage. “What was I so worried about? It’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.”

Some days, some days. Some days I stare directly into the pit. My toes hang off the edge and I know the balance is tenuous at best, fatal at worst, and I wish that an errant breeze would just push me into the pit.

Push me into the pit.

Push me.

Into the pit.

Looking into it, it’s too much. It’s too big. How can I dance around this like a sprite? How can I live next to it? How is it safe? How is it safe? How is it real?

Will someone wake me up from the nightmare, please?

Do I need to turn off reality?

Push me.

Into the pit.

There is a breeze, but it pushes me back. I catch my breath, not realizing I was holding it. My chest caves in on itself, my heart shrivels, and the relief from not falling is almost as bad as the pit itself.

God bless my safety.

My son.

Our son.

When I talk about him, it is no longer plural possessive, it is singular possessive. He is my son, even though he is really our son. But to talk about you as if you were still here some days pushes me back to the edge of the pit.

What if I hovered one foot over the edge? Would it be so bad? Would it be hard? Would it hurt?

Did it hurt?

When you fell?

Into the pit?

Some days, my heels hang over the edge and it’s only the strength of my calves and thighs that keep me from falling back.

I am strong, but this is too much. My body and brain and heart can’t handle this. Will a breeze please come and put me out of my misery? Will something please wake me up?

Oh, there’s my safety again. He’s calling my name and telling me how he hurt his head. And I hold him and curl my arms around him and smell his beautiful sweet smell. He tells me about the planets on his ceiling. You are Neptune. I am Venus. He is Earth.

He is Earth.

He is my safety, and I am ashamed that I need a safety. I am ashamed it is him.

But, as someone told me, he is an excellent reason to stay tethered to Earth. To him.

I miss you.

It’s our wedding day. Was and is still the happiest day of my life. The days leading up to today, I hovered near the pit, danced along the edge, tried to turn my back, tried to get a just right breeze to lend me the force I needed but couldn’t do myself.

This day is being done to me. It’s been barreling towards me since this whole thing started. I keep thinking the last Day without you was the hardest, but each passing holiday I get to celebrate because of you proves to be harder than the last.

Why do people who have terrible partners get to be married and have anniversaries? Why are we the ones who have to be apart?

For now, I will make a home next to the pit. I will tether myself to my safety for as long as that golden rope will hold. I will spend some days with my feet dangling over it, like it’s a cool pool on a hot day. I will wish you were next to me. Sometimes I will feel you. Sometimes I won’t.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart.

4 months

4 months today since Andy died.

Somehow the last four months have felt like an eternity, so I keep thinking this should hurt less by now, and then I realized it’s only been four months.

I continue to be amazed by the feelings. The universality and yet individuality of this experience is hard to reconcile. I feel the heaviness, the sadness, the anger, the frustration, the “crashing over and over again into a reality that can’t be real” as Megan Devine calls it.

And yet, it feels so personal. So strangely unlike what I hear from others. The nuance in this grief is sort of awe-inducing. Like, yes, I feel angry, but to lump it in with the anger we think comes with grief feels like it cheapens it; that it doesn’t accurately capture it to call it anger. Righteous injustice, maybe? Gross indignation? It’s more than just anger.

And the heaviness.

Yesterday, Ronan and I had a beautiful day. We went out to lunch, went to a park for a couple of hours, played at home. Even the battle over dinner that resulted in Ronan wanting to go to bed early was weirdly fine.

After I put Ronan to bed a full hour earlier than normal (at his request! Poor kiddo was so tired.) I sat on my bed, folding laundry and watching Lost in Space, and felt as if I would never be able to get out of bed again. Andy and I used to joke that after putting the kiddo to bed, the gravity around the couch or our bed would increase. This was that, but more. It was more than just the exhaustion that comes with parenting a young child. I’ve had friends assign the word “depression” to it. And maybe that’s it. But it feels so foreign. And it’s entirely born from the feeling that Andy could not be a part of and witness to our beautiful day together. It was the kind of day that when we talked about having a child, we pictured this kind of day.

I hate that he can’t be here for this. And I hate the fear and dread I have over the endless days stretched before me without Andy.

I did the math that if I live to be 80, I only will have gotten Andy for 11% of my life. That feels terrible. How do I live with such a small amount of him?

I’m grateful for friends who continue to ask about him, say his name, tell me their stories about him, and express their incredulity at his absence. To say it is helping isn’t quite accurate, nothing helps right now. But, it normalizes. It makes my desire to talk about Andy, not just as the source of grief, but as a whole, beautiful person who I am still deeply in love with, normal. People who still treat him like my husband, and not a chapter to move past, they are my helpmates and life preservers in the most harrowing storm I’ve ever weathered.

It’s also weird that this storm, being the most harrowing, is almost entirely internal. Cancer care, healing from being a child of alcoholics, that journey was far more visible. This is a silent, internal storm, so I think it seems like it’s not happening. But it’s happening.

My own internal Hurricane Andrew.

Unpacking

Ronan and I spent almost two weeks in Florida on what I am calling our “Grief Tour.” We have a series of trips planned this year that are specifically designed to help us as we navigate our first year of grief.

The first trip was in early November 2019 when we went with Andy’s family to Iron Springs. It was what we thought would be the last trip we’d ever take with Andy and instead turned into a special weekend of spending time together as a family.

The second was in early December 2019 when I took Ronan to Disneyland for the first time. We had his godparents with us and his godmother’s brother, so 5 adults to 1 toddler, which is the ideal ratio in my opinion.

This trip was an extended tour of Florida that included visiting my best girlfriend from college and her husband in Tallahassee, staying one night in Orlando to see friends from college, and then heading to South Florida to stay with my brother and his family.

We had a time. I won’t say a good time, it was a time. Nothing really feels good these days. There are moments that feel brighter, but overall everything has a wash on it, a filter that makes everything a little blue.

We’ve been home for two days and I feel as if in a fog. Interacting with family and friends was a helpful forward trajectory, but I’m realizing now just how much I would cut off from the world if I didn’t have regular external input from friends and family. It would be easy to stay in my house all day, puttering, ignoring basic responsibilities and settling into the typical images associated with widowhood.

Being with my family and friends sort of forced a feeling that things were ok. I didn’t really cry while on the trip, but coming back I’ve cried a lot. Like a lot a lot. Ronan and I had such a fierce tete-a-tete last night that we both ended up in heaving cries, me inducing a sort of low-level panic attack and him throwing up. I’ve heard that kids sometimes keep it bottled up until they’re in a safe space to let it all out, and I think we both experienced that on the trip. It shook loose some parts of grief, but also kept us from fully engaging with it.

I don’t know if this was overall good or bad. I know being with my brother and his wife was among the most soothing things I’ve experienced in months. And Ronan took to his cousin so well it was sort of shocking.

Being home has felt surreal. The house was tended to while we were gone, so we came home to a clean house with a fed cat. But, Andy’s absence is a presence. It presses in on us and sometimes I get paralyzed with the scooped-out feeling I have in my heart.

Today we returned to some normalcy. Ronan is off to school. I have therapy and work. We have beloved friends coming over for playtime and dinner tonight.

Before the trip, I felt like my life with Andy was something that happened in a movie. It was a reality so at odds with my experience that it didn’t feel like it had happened to me. Now, I feel the loss in a new, deeper way. A part of me has shaken loose the feeling of other-ness. I can feel the things I experienced with him as if they happened to me, not like I’m imaging what they felt like to a movie character or something.

That’s a new kind of gift, but also a new kind of intensity I was unprepared for.

So today, I’ll go to therapy, talk about this whole experience, go coach some clients, and then maybe come home and unpack. Both my luggage and all these feelings.