I have not posted anything here in a very long time because truthfully, I lost my way for a while. When I started this blog, I had such high hopes for what I wanted to accomplish and in fits and starts, threw myself into it wholeheartedly. Then reality set in. Having the best of intentions at the outset, I was a bit overconfident, I think. That or I just went a little crazy for a while. Either way, it kind of knocked me off my path. I realize now that I became a bit manic because I was trying so hard to recreate the life I lost so abruptly back in March of 2010, although I did have some pretty good reasons for going off the deep end a little.
Someone recommended an article for me to read a while back that mentioned that one life changing event, even if it might be something good like a new baby or a career change for the better, can cause stresses that are detrimental to the mental and physical health of the individual affected. The article included a self-test to see if one was experiencing a high degree of this kind of stress. The score accumulated was an indicator of what degree of stress certain events could induce in the average individual. A score indicating high stress levels was around 250. I scored 618. This widow thing is not for the faint of heart.
I have met other widows as I have been on this journey who have moved on rather quickly from their own tragedy. I have even met a couple who were not all that agrieved by their circumstance, although they are the exception by a very large a large margin. Not every one has a happy domestic circumstance.
I have also met those who are consumed by such depths of depression and despair that it has all but paralyzed them, so that they are stuck in a kind of limbo that fits the classic definition of Purgatory. I appear to be lurking on the edge of that last group. Some days I am okay. Really. I seem to have made peace with my circumstances. Other days, it is all I can do to crawl out of bed. There continues to be this gnawing ache inside of me that never quite goes away, this constant feeling that I am no longer a whole person, like I fade in and out of reality, like I am the one who has become the ghost. I wish those good days outnumbered the "other days" but that hasn't happened yet.
I have learned a lot about myself in the last couple of years and that new knowledge is what keeps me from letting myself fall too deeply into that chasm of despair when I find myself standing on the rim. I learned that I have a strength inside of me that I didn't know I possessed. Until you have cared for a terminally ill person, when that person is someone you love with all your heart, you don't really know what you are capable of doing. The profound nature of that experience changes you in ways you never imagine it will, some of it for the better and some not so much.
There have been times in my life when I wondered where people got the patience and wherewithall to spend years dedicated to the care of another person. I used to think it was something that I would never be able to do. When Dave was first diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, I worried that I wouldn't be up to the task of taking care of him, especially if the disease progressed to terminal. By the time it did, the thought never occurred to me again. Love manifested all the strength and patience required and that revelation was a wonder to behold. I would literally have done anything - a n y t h i n g - for him.
As I think about all this, I am not sitting around wallowing in self-pity thinking "poor little me" all the time. Far from it. There is nothing that I would like better than to put these feelings aside and get on with my life. But the burning question now is....what life? Where do I go from here? Sometimes I get a little fed up with people telling me that I can make my life anything I want it to be, that it is all up to me. That is bullshit.
Grieving is different for all of us. There is no way you can understand how it can affect someone unless you have experienced it first hand (and I would wish that on no one). Even then, you can't really know exactly what that person is feeling. The depth of one's grief is not measured by time or place or circumstance. It is a deeply personal, primal emotion and trying to just describe how it feels is close to impossible to do.
Don't take this next statement the wrong way, either, until you have read what comes after. A widow's loss (and I include widowers and "unmarried widows" in all of what comes after this) is different that the loss of a child, a sibling or a parent. I have lost other important people in my life and I can say with some certainty that there is a huge difference. I am not saying it is deeper or greater, it is just different because much of the time a widow not only loses the person that they are closest too but in the blink of an eye their entire lives change. And even if there was a long illness, one where death was expected, you are never prepared for what comes after.
Being behind in a marriage does not come with an instruction manual. Things happen to a widow that most people never even realize could occur. Planning ahead for these eventualities sounds like a great idea on paper but far too many people either don't do it or can't afford it. Funerals cost a lot of money, even if you go the least expensive route. And even though the funeral home personal try very hard to sound sympathetic, they are still making a sales pitch and that somehow just insults you. Trying to make decisions and to deal with that during the first confusing days of loss is like trying to breathe underwater. (And by the way, the death benefit for a deceased person in the U.S. is $255 but you have to apply for it. Many people do not even know that is something they are entitied to under Social Security. How did they come up with $255 anyway? You can't even buy funeral flowers for that these days.)
When a spouse dies, a two income family loses one of their financial sources. If the husband dies, it is sometimes the greater income and so that can be a dramatic change for the one left behind. Even if there is life insurance, it can take many weeks, even months to collect. I know several widows who lost their homes because they couldn't make the house payments, had their cars repossessed and their health insurance cancelled because they couldn't keep up, while they waited on benefits to be paid from pensions, both private and the military.
Many widows suddenly find themselves as single parents. Dealing with their own grief and that of their children, too, is a burden nobody should have to bear. Many parents try to take on the pain of their children, so that they (the kids) don't have to suffer and that adds weight to their own grief.
Families and friends will gather around you in the first days, weeks and months after your loss, but eventually, they have to go back to their own lives and they grow impatient with your neediness and so become even more distant and infrequently in your life.
I guess the most obvious loss of a widow is that of husband or wife and all that means in a relationship. One of the things I hear repeated among my widowed peers is how hard it was/is to sleep alone in the bed they shared with another person for so long. Even the simplest thing like cooking a meal or washing clothes takes on a while new meaning because those mundane, routine tasks that are part of every normal day suddenly serve as constant reminders of what is lost, what is no longer. We choose a partner to build a life with, to create a family where there was none before. We invest our heart and soul into that relationship and it becomes part of who we are, what weaves the very fabric of our lives. Having that torn away by death is like tearing the skin from our bones, leaving us naked and bleeding from the wounds. I guess that is why people refer to getting through grief as a healing pricess.
So I guess that explains a little bit of where my head has been for the last 6 months or so. Two steps forward and one step back. I have been trying very hard to reclaim some semblance of normalcy in my life and I am itching to get my hands back into the earth. It is what I consider to be my most effective healing balm. Like Margaret Atwood said, "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt." I am looking forward to smelling like dirt again.