My non-smoking, lifestyle pure husband died in late February, body and brain ravaged by non-small-cell lung cancer. This is not the time to share the horror of diagnosis, roller-coaster treatments, and the ultimate descent into an unwelcome and denied death. That part of the story is also his and where I am today is punctuated by his absence. In every facet of my existence.
Like many a bereaved, I turn to the internet to make sense of this process called grief. I am not bowled over by what I’ve found. The eight (and counting) books I’ve been gifted offer only measured solace. But a few ideas emerge and the following observations, presented in no order of importance, are offered as crumbs for those on a similar quest:
- It is almost impossible to supply an answer to, “How are you?” Try asking some variation of, “How goes it today?”
- Someone said that divorce is a death without a funeral and a life full of ghosts. I find myself wishing – desperately – for a visit by a ghost. As for the grief of divorce, I cannot imagine the pain of losing the one you love, except they’re still walking around and perhaps dating someone else. Ye gods!
- Summarized from a therapist writing about expected versus unexpected death (cannot find again to give proper credit; I assure you, not my idea): An expected death is like standing at the shore, rooted in cement, eyelids plastered open and all you can do is watch the coming tsunami. No way to judge when it will hit, no escape, only one certainty: it’s coming straight for you. An unexpected death is exactly the same. Except, your back is towards the water.
- That said, there’s no such thing as being prepared. I cry and it surprises me every time. You knew he was dying, I tell myself, you knew this was coming. During the deathwatch, I even had a moment or two of hope, realizing I would have the chance to redefine my life, start fresh. Those moments seem a thousand lifetimes ago. Only the tears make sense. Only the loss, the absence, the lacuna feels real.
- I recently returned from a ten-day trip. At first, I was exuberant to be away from home and the heaviness of all that is familiar. But as the monthly anniversary of his passing and the return trip loomed, I descended back into anxiety and depression. Staring at one of the most beautiful bays in the Caribbean for four hours on the last afternoon, anticipating returning to an empty house, I had an almost freeing thought: “He’s as much with me here as there; so wherever I go, he’s as much with me here as anywhere.”
- They say that everyone’s grief journey is different, that there is no timetable, no rules, no judgement. But when grief intensifies as the months roll by and the numbness wears off, they will bombard you with suggestions of drugs to take to make your feelings more manageable – for them.
- Sometimes, 15-minutes of weeding counts as eight-hours of accomplishment. Sometimes, eating counts too.
- The best present came from my twice widowed, 96 year-old mother: a down pillow with a blue satin pillowcase. I clutch it every night and wake with my arms around in the morning.
- Get Hospice counseling. And if the first counselor doesn’t jive with you, ask for a reassign. The right mental health professional can make a world of difference.
I’ll keep sharing anything that seems like it might have the legs to walk into the heart of another sojourner. In the meantime, if you’re on the path: making it through each day and night counts. And sometimes, you need to adjust day or night to hour. Speaking as someone five months, one week, and five days (and counting) on the journey.