Having experienced an extraordinary amount of grief in a short period of time with the loss of both my parents and husband one after the other, I’m often asked how I “got through it” or how I “survived” it. Being that grief is such an individual process and has a fluidity not often realized until much later, there is no easy way to answer that question, if it can be answered at all.
I included the quote above not because I necessarily feel that way, but I found it an interesting perspective on grief. For some people, grief may come in waves, it might come through as a sleepless night, or sitting outside at night crying for the stars. For me, after the years that have passed, I still reflect on my grief, revisit it and in some ways, still process it through my thoughts, my writing and in my daily life.
Grief can be tasted, in the bile that rises from within you as you realize the depth of your loss. It can be smelled, as you walk through the door of the funeral home or open up the closet of your loved one and pull down an article of clothing to your nose to breathe them in. Grief can be felt, as you stroke the sheets they once lay upon, now a bare spot, devoid of their warmth. If left to be fed, grief can consume you.
I’ve been through enough years of therapy to know that there are no timelines for grief and nothing that requires me to let something go or “move on” as is said. Society judges us all in real time now, so you will be judged if you do anything that it sees as inappropriate. I remember sitting at the meal after my mother’s funeral and the look of pure hatred that came from some of my mother’s other family as I laughed until I cried, remembering my mom. I still don’t regret it and would do it again the same exact way.
After my husband passed away, my doctor prescribed sedating medications to help me get through it all. I sat at the table, eating with people I can’t remember and laughing then too. I actually was told that someone said, “She’s delirious with grief.” Whatever. I don’t hold back. If I feel like laughing, then I will. Don’t like it? There’s earbuds for that, or you can simply walk away. You wake up with $62 in your bank account, two kids, aged 6 and 13 and face having to bury your spouse and then we’ll talk about permission for me to laugh! (heck, I’m laughing now remembering the hell of it all)
I’ve come to the conclusion that humor is how I get through some of my grief. In the eulogy I wrote for my husband that finally emerged onto a blank page, stared at for a week, written a few hours before the ceremony, that I would miss him because NOW who would kill the spiders for me? So, you see, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. If you need to cry, then cry. If you need to scream, by all means, do it, loudly. Allow yourself to feel it. Just don’t let it consume you. That is where so many get lost.
I decided early on after my husband’s death that I didn’t need therapy. My closest friend gently pushed me to “just try it”. They suggested that I at least give it a whirl and if I didn’t like it, fine, but to just try. Six and a half years later, I go weekly LOL. It’s cathartic and fluid, just like grief. Having someone to look at and talk about how pissed off you are or how tired you feel about an issue is VERY helpful. Therapy is not for everyone, but I highly advise it if you’re on the fence.
Since those dark days almost seven years ago, I’ve grown in so many ways. I’ve lost weight, gained it back and lost it again. I’ve dated (endured) a few (horrifyingly bad) men and learned (finally) some lessons that I will not (I swear this time) repeat again. I’ve traveled with the kids to another country and vacationed alone for the first time, traveling to four islands I will never forget. I bought my parent’s home and became a writer. While the loss and the grief will always be a part of me, it does not DEFINE ME.
There are days when I do wonder what my life would be like today if my husband hadn’t died. Would I have finally left him and filed for divorce; escaped all that unhappiness? Maybe. If my father hadn’t passed on so soon after, where would I be living? Would I still have bought his home and continued raising my children here? Maybe, maybe not. However, everything that came before this very moment has placed me here, on a continuing journey that continues to surprise me as I go.
A lot has changed within me. I no longer care what people think of me. Don’t like my sense of humor? Shrug. Don’t like the way I dress, the company I keep, my extremely outspoken nature, my parenting techniques or anything else I do? I’m sure I’ll hear your opinion, but rest assured that anything I do will be based on what I feel is best for me. No one will ever control me again, no one will ever hold dominion over my path. Sure, I emerged strong from it all and not everyone does. I’m grateful for the strength and I embrace it. I see others go through loss and unimaginable grief and I do not know what they are going through; but I do understand how it can feel.
In all things, I believe I must continue on. Perhaps I was gifted this strength long ago from some unknown source. Maybe it appeared after it all happened, stuffed down my controlled throat years ago, lying it wait. All I know is that it is here now and I hope it never goes anywhere. It’s refreshing and makes me feel alive.