Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Is It My Turn?

I don't know what I would do without my widda friends. Most of them I've never even met - just correspond with online. But they know my struggles so intimately because they are their own struggles as well.

For months I have watched many ahead of me in this journey hit their one year mark. There seems to be this deep, lasting grief that takes hold close to this important date. Sometimes it last weeks, sometimes months, sometimes more. Most of the widows/widowers I talk to cannot explain it or how to fight it.

For the last couple months I have been feeling pretty good. Still sad, but moving forward. I have someone amazing in my life who loves me, I moved to a great new home, I've begun to feel like I am re-entering the human race, dipping in one tiny toe at a time. I even took a sunny vacation in the tropics.

Then tragedy hit on the way home and it has felt like I've taken 10 steps backwards.

Scratch that. 100 steps backwards.

I feel this overwhelming grief creeping into every pore of my being. I have all sorts of wonderful things coming up in my life that I can no longer muster the excitement for. I find myself crying at all hours of the day and night with no idea what is triggering it. I am tired. I am miserable.

I know I'm ok, I know things are looking up, my life is steadily moving in a better direction. But this sadness just seems to be taking a foothold and no matter how hard I self-coach or try to cheer myself up, I can't seem to shake it.

Am I approaching the one-year funk? Is my widow card making its reappearance? And most importantly, how long is this damn grief going to be dragging me around?

Help me out, wids.

Tell me this gets better.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Damaged Goods

This week I realized just how damaged I am.

Not just from Craig's death, but from everything that came before it and everything that followed.

Craig and I never had a perfect marriage. Who does? We fought, we yelled, we got on each other's nerves. When you get together as teenagers, you are bound to one another before you have even begun to grow up, before you have any idea what in the heck you are doing.

We went through all the usual teenage drama. There were ups and downs, ex-girlfriends I had to beat back with a stick (not always effectively), struggles to be our own people, and financial strain... and all while trying to figure out what we wanted to do and who we wanted to be. There were a few years there where I could love Craig or hate him all within a five minute period.

But things changed.

We got married, we calmed the hell down, we learned how to respect and appreciate each other. The last couple years we were married were pretty great. The last few days were amazing.

Craig and I got into an enormous fight the weekend before he died. It was a Saturday. We were talking about moving to Vancouver (my home town). I argued that I was living in this hideous city I hated for 10 years for him (sorry Calgary), and without kids it was the perfect time to be adventurous and maybe try my home town for a couple years. He wouldn't even consider it. The fight was not only rare but extremely unusual when I finished it by yelling something and dramatically exiting the room. I'm not even sure where it came from, but I hollered half-hysterically at him, 'I've always loved you more than you loved me!'

Craig just sort of stood there with a deer-caught-in-the-headlights stunned look on his face. It would have been funny if it wasn't so sad.

But we made up. He never followed me when we got into a fight (if I left a room, he would wait me out until I came back to find him). This time he did come to find me. And reassured me he loved me. And we talked and talked just like we used to. I went to work on Monday happy, reassured, and full of hope that we were, in fact, utterly perfect for each other and would be together forever.

I was so happy.

It only took one more day for him to wind up dead on the side of the road and my entire world to come crashing down around me.

As far as I think I've come and as tough as I think I am, I've realized I am still just as broken as that first day.

I live in fear that my new relationship will be filled with the same hurts and struggles, that I may spend years being miserable with someone before I can find happiness.

I am terrified of being happy. That if I let myself embrace joy, fully and completely, I will be sidelined once again. That death and tragedy will come find me, over and over and over.

I am scared that I will once again be left alone, that those closest to me will turn on me or look the other way, and that I will, again, end up helpless and hurting.

You think you can control these fears, keep them at bay, but they find ways to creep in. Lighting can strike twice, nothing is sacred. I experienced another loss this week and all these fears came flooding back in to overwhelm me - it's my own fault, I let myself forget, I let myself be happy. And this is what happens.

How does one seperate oneself from your past? How do you find that magic lightswitch that turns your old self 'off' and your new self 'on' so you can try again without lugging around all that excess baggage?

I'm tired of feeling like I'm wearing my old life around my neck like some oversized noose. The effort required to drag that weight around everywhere I go is exhausting.

And more than anything these days, I just feel tired.

So very, very tired.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Behaviour of the Bereaved

A little quote today on one of the stages of grief:

"Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be 'talked out of it' by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.

During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair".

I include this quote today as a gentle reminder to others that when a griever seems to want to be alone, that is perfectly normal and acceptable. It is nothing to do with you or what they think of you as a person. They are not trying to subtly tell you they dislike you or prefer the company of someone else. They are simply grieving and behaving normally for someone in that much pain. Sometimes being alone is the most helpful thing for them.

When the magnitude of the loss becomes too great, it can bring us to our knees. We need time to think, to ponder, to go over the details of our loved one's life and death over and over again in our minds until we can find some measure of resolution on some aspect of it.

Please understand that asking the griever to do the work - to call you or to stop by your place or to make all the effort to connect - is asking too much. They are the ones hurting and will need you to make the effort.

Even in times of isolation and sadness it is important to let the griever know you care. While they may not want to see anyone, a simple email, note, or phone call saying you are thinking about them and still care can make a huge difference. I myself kept every phone message and email I received from people, including the ones I never had the chance to reply to. I still read/listen to these from time to time when I am feeling low.

Rather than looking at the griever's behaviour and trying to decide if it is normal or not compared to your own, understand that they are in a position you cannot even imagine. Your ideas about what is 'normal' behaviour for them are misguided, at best. You may think you can imagine what 'you would do in their position' but that is actually impossible. Instead accept them for where they are at knowing that their pain is too deep and overwhelming for you to understand without having walked in their shoes. Be the listener they need rather than the giver of advice. Remember, they know far more about grieving than you do at this point.

And above all, do not hold this behaviour against them later on down the road. While you may never understand why they chose to be alone at certain times or why they seemed so sad for so long, their behaviour was still completely normal.

As difficult as it may be, you must remind yourself that it is not about you. It is about the loss of their spouse.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Widow's Work Is Never Done

I know I've whined about this before, but I'm going to do do it again... death is so much work!

There are lawyers and insurance companies and criminal charges and courts and banks and paperwork and funeral homes and credit card companies and the list goes on and on and on...

Just when you think you have conquered the Mt. Everest of Crappy Paperwork, you see you are just in the middle of a mountain range, and that you have many more piles to go.

The day before yesterday I tackled some of these 'piles'. I keep going through Craig's stuff in phases - to try to do it all at once would leave me buried and I'm pretty sure it would take days for anyone to dig me out.

So far I have gone through his clothes five or six different times and given away as much as I could each time. This is key. Never try to give it all away at once. Just make two piles - the 'shirts I hated every time he wore them' pile and the 'clothes you will have to pry out of my cold, dead hands' pile. Obviously the latter being the ones you want to keep. Then it doesn't feel like you are throwing away everything - just the stuff you didn't like or don't have a particularly strong memory attached to.

Eventually, though, you get to the last few boxes and it's time to make some tough decisions.

This go around was that time.

I had to say goodbye to many things I actually really did care about. You see, the closet full of clothes is just one burden. There is also Craig's books, his paperwork, his toys, his shoes, his sports equipment, his workout set, his music, his movies, his jackets, his jewellery, his ashes, his notebooks and letters, etc. So to maintain sanity, I have to work on all these things. I have to give away what I can, because there is just. So. Much. Stuff.

Anyway, this time around I made myself give away all but 10 things. That sounds like alot but if you knew Craig, you'd know he had a wardrobe bigger than mine.

This time around I gave away all his business shirts, include the four he still had in the drycleaning bag from the day before he died.

This time around I gave away his flannel shirts, so soft and comfy, that he wore when we went camping and when he went on his friend's bachelor party campout the summer before.

This time around I gave away his brand new tailored pinstriped suit he had just bought the week before for a job interview. He looked so good in it dammit.

And this time around I finally parted with my wedding dress. I never cared about my wedding dress, not really. It was nice, it was pretty. But I never had that sobbing-in-the-store reaction other people seemed to have. Every time I tried to sell it on ebay or give it away Craig would get super pissed. I used to tease him that it was more sentimental to him than it was to me. Ever since he died I couldn't stand to let it go.

I also gave his parents a box of all his report cards and little projects from when he was in elementary/junior high. Damn, he was one cute kid.

It took me the better part of a day to sort through this stuff.

And then it took me an entire day to recover.

I literally did not get out of bed yesterday until late in the evening (outside of a few pee and food breaks of course). And I probably wouldn't have gotten out of bed except that I was forced by an irritatingly well-meaning and persistent friend.

But this is the toll grief takes on you.

It saps your strength, your energy, and every last spark of happiness. It took an entire day for the sadness, the guilt, and the general misery to wear off from just getting rid of those few things.

It has been 10 months and it still catches me off guard. One little task like this can set you back months in the grieving process.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that a widow's work is never quite done. I will be dealing with Craig's things for years to come.

And unlike the rest of the world, the burden feels like it is all mine.

I am the one who needs to let him go. I am the one who has to fight the guilt for every little piece of him I let go of. I am the one who swallows that anxiety that each little piece is a memory I will no longer have.

I look forward to the day when I can open one or two boxes and see the things that mean the most and remember him with a smile instead of all these tears.

Please let that day be soon.