Friday, October 26, 2012

It's Not What You Think

To show you how little I knew about loss, I thought that the first year after my husband's death was going to be the hardest time that I would ever have to experience.  My thinking was something along the lines of  "If I can get the first year under my belt, then each year after that will become easier to handle."  Right?

Guess what? Not. Always. True.

Grief is always full of surprises and just when you think you have it under control, you don't.

The first year was so raw with emotion for me and such a blur of just getting through the 365 days of it, that the whole idea of my husband's death, the finality of it, didn't really and truly sink in at all. I thought about it, cried about it, read about it and even went to a support group for it but it still was a concept that danced all over the place and didn't settle in.

But the second year was different.  For me, the second year was harder than the first because it painfully confirmed for me over and over again that he wasn't coming back.  Ever.  That this was it and it's not like he's gone on a very long trip.  And then the second year also forced me to stop playing all those mind games with myself and face up to my new life. 

But what happened to me may not happen to you.

I know it sounds like a cliche, but it's still so true: everyone has their own grief journey to travel and no two journeys are the same.  There is no right way or wrong way to grieve.  There is only your way.

I'm not making this up.  It's really true.  Your reactions and experience with grief may be very different from mine and it's totally okay and normal.  It's normal because our relationships are different, our experiences are different, our emotional DNA is different, our religious beliefs are different and our expectations from life and the person we lost are different.

Unfortunately, no one prepares us for those differences. We may watch someone we know experience grief and we think that person's experience will be ours too.  But that isn't always the case.  I lost a husband.  Someone else may have tragically experienced the death of a child or a wife or a friend or a parent.

As much as we may want one and search for one, life does not provide us with a guide book on how we should grieve.  We all process pain and loss differently. 

We grieve because we love.  It is because we love that we grieve.  We care and we emotionally connect to other people and when that person is taken away, it is a shock that can take a long time to process.  On the surface, you are handling things, you take care of daily responsibilities and you go through life automatically.
But underneath, you may be a mess.

By the third and fourth year of grief, you think it's going to be so much better and sometimes it is.  I have two friends, they live in completely different cities, they don't know each other, they are different ages and both have lost spouses.  The woman has children and grandchildren and lost her husband suddenly in a tragic car accident.  The man has no children and nursed his wife through a lengthy illness until she died.
Both have told me they are surprised by the fact that they continue to grieve during their fourth year of loss.  They are active, positive people trying to change and rebuild their lives because both of them socialize, take classes and work.  They meet a lot of people but nothing has ever clicked.

So they forge forward, as I and others do, together, trusting that time will heal us as we journey to renewal and new opportunities.

It's what we know and we keep doing it until it gets better. 

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