Disclaimer: I’m not a counselor. Not even close. I’m a warrior widow and survivor of the worst grief can throw at you. These are just my observations. If you’re in crisis please seek professional help.
A Grief Recovery Post
“They say time heals all wounds, but that presumes the source of the grief is finite”
Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince
Have you ever worked hard to achieve a goal, only to have someone tell you that the worst part is still ahead? That’s what happened to me last year as I got close to Dan’s one-year deathiversary. As hellish as the first year AD (after Dan) was, I’d already started hearing that the second year was even worse. Are you kidding me? I barely made it through the first one alive, so this wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
I’ve watched the Widows ahead of me, my mentors and biggest advocates, seem to struggle even more as they reached this 2-year milestone. My theory is that both we, the grieving, and our friends and family, believe we should be “better” after the first year.
SIDE NOTE: Can you believe some people actually congratulate Widows on making it to the finish line? Or tell her that she’s survived the first year so can survive anything? Wrongo bongo! Folks, file that under What Not To Say and accept that Years 2+ still suck. Oh, and for the record, saying something like that to a W is a total cop out. We know it really means, “Whew. So glad that year of being there for you is done. Really glad I don’t have to grief with you anymore. Peace out.”
So, as I get closer to that date (T-26 Days for those of you keeping track), I’ve been bracing myself for the worst. We are all different, but when I see a trend I tend to accept that some things just are.
Instead of being upset about these dire warnings, I’m relieved. I’m the kind of person who likes to know what may be ahead. Just ask anyone who has ever tried to navigate while I’m driving. (Recovering control freak, remember?) It’s one of the reasons I was so frustrated no one warned me what to expect with grief, and why I share that information with new W’s and their friends and families. Forewarned is forearmed, or something like that.
The Non-Timeline Timeline
I can’t stress enough that there is NO grief timeline. The Kübler-Ross 5 Stages of Grief model may have been the worst thing to happen to the grieving, since it implies that grief is linear and finite, but that’s a post for another day. However, as unique as our grief journeys are, some things are common enough it helps to be aware of them. So here’s my quick rundown on what MAY happen and when.
In the Beginning
The first few weeks you’re still in shock. You’ll be busy with funeral arrangements and will usually be surrounded by people. Most of those people will disappear after the funeral. That’s when it gets messy. Being suddenly abandoned to be alone with your grief is like falling through the trapdoor to hell.
Your first few months as a Widow, you will still be in shock, even though you’re in the worst pain of your life. Yeah, your brain is protecting you and you are still in shock. Just like when your brain makes you fall down when your blood pressure gets too low, it shuts off your ability to process the feelings completely. It’s the only way we survive. You will get your tenses confused between past and present. I often mixed them in a single sentence! The first time someone calls you a Widow to your face is a shock. Same goes for referring to your beloved as your late husband.
You may or may not seek grief counseling. (For the record, I champion grief counseling for everyone, and as soon as possible.) Insomnia, depression, PTSD, social anxiety, lack of appetite, excessive drinking, suicidal thoughts (including accidental suicide risks), physical pain and foggy widow brain are all common. Yeah, the $hit no one warned me about, which is why I’m sharing it with you.
When the Shock Wears Off
Somewhere between months four and seven, the shock starts to wear off. I know it’s hard to believe that you’re still in shock because of all the pain, but it’s there. Your brain finally begins to process and accept that he REALLY isn’t coming back. Ever. Any progress you think you’ve made will go out the window. You may be surprised that you’re back to crying all the time. This is totally normal. Textbook, even, according to my grief counselor. That doesn’t make it feel any better, but I found it mildly reassuring to know I wasn’t bat$hit crazy and probably didn’t have a brain tumor.
If this time frame happens to coincide with the holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries, it’s exponentially worse. If you haven’t sought out grief counseling yet, now is the time. I hit that shock wear off right around the five-month marker. It was also at the first anniversary of my Dad’s death, my birthday, our anniversary, and the holidays. My favorite month of the year was now known as my month of hell. If it weren’t for my grief counselor, I may have thrown in the towel.
If you’re still suffering from insomnia and aren’t getting good nutrition, your brain chemistry has changed. This exacerbates everything else. You will feel like you’re backsliding. You’re not. You may feel like you’re losing your mind. You’re not. This is when things can get REALLY ugly, and friends, family, and employers need to understand this part of the grief process.
One Year Later
Then you cross the one year mark and think to yourself, “I did it. I hated every f@#$%&g second of it but I did it.” It’s the worst, most painful anniversary ever. It’s both the day they died, taking life as you knew it with them, and the day you own your survival. You didn’t think you’d make it, but you did. You survived. And that survival is something we usually can’t bring ourselves to celebrate. It’s a confusing day, to say the least. (I have vague recollections of wearing a tiara, but I use dark humor and widow snark as a coping mechanism.)
And time continues to march forward. Another birthday passes. Then an anniversary. Then Christmas. And another New Year’s marks another year where they weren’t alive for a single day in this world.
And somehow the pages of the calendar keep turning and you reach the two-year milestone. That’s where I’m at. All I’ve heard is that it will be bad. Worse than the first year. Who knows. It doesn’t feel that way right now. In fact, I feel pretty good. Happy. At peace. Hopeful. Although in recent weeks I’ve felt that grief muscle memory starting to flex, so am prepared for the worst. (Remind me later to tell you about the Memorial Day Meltdown of 2018.)
So heads up Team Lisa. It ain’t over yet. This could be a tsunami of grief or a tiny wave lapping at my feet. I won’t know til it gets here. What I do know is it will be okay. Like the big waves that used to knock me around when I was a kid at the beach, I’ll turn into the grief wave to lessen the damage. I know I’ll get through it fine, just as long as I permit myself to feel the feelings. I know that the people I love will still be there with me, no matter what. And I know that it will pass, at least until the next grief milestone gets here.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Can’t say I know what will happen tomorrow
I can’t say I know if it’s joy or sorrow
I can’t say how long I’ll stand at the line that I’m towing
But I’ve got a good feeling ’bout where I’m going
All you see, a world so full of need
And all I need is a pocket full of seeds
Sunflowers shooting up to a sky that is glowing
And I’ve got a good feeling ’bout where I’m going
Prayed for rain, it might not come
Can’t save the day, save someone
I can’t say if the flowers will keep on growing
But I’ve got a good feeling about where I’m going