There is that moment in your grief journey when you stop because you are tired or curious that you haven't seen the country side while traveling. You look at the landmarks and wonder how the fuck did I get here. I was just there then. Now I am here. Why? What happened?
Hey Doc Brown time to return to the future. August 7, 2011 Donna died. We were married for 28 years. Add another five years for living together and breaking up. January 2009 Donna was diagnosed with Stage IV terminal cancer. From January 2009 to August 2011 I was Donna's caregiver and the docent for her death.
I began grieving when Donna was diagnosed simply because this story would have no happy ending. On August 7, 2011 I charged at my grief full speed balls to the wall. I wanted to understand it. I became a sumotori to push it, pull around the circle of my life in doing battle to understand. I embraced my grief to see if its darkness held light. Was there something to learn from my grief.
Learn? Before I talk about what I learned let me share what others have learned.
Their Take On Grief
Mark Liebenow writing at widowersgrief.com. Liebenow is a well regarded author and essayist, and poet. You can learn more here.
Liebenow recently published a post titled 'The New Normal'. He addressed that period after we have been assaulted by the death of a loved one. That period immediately following death where all hope was lost and we look at the oven and want to put our heads in. Liebenow describes that as a degree of normal, shopping, cleaning, cooking, hanging, etc.
Liebenow goes on to list and explain how we may have changed. I think this quote sums it up nicely.
Hopefully we no longer feel like a victim but a warrior because we have battled tremendous forces and survived. We understand our emotions better, and we feel ourselves transforming into someone different, perhaps someone we’ve always wanted to be.
If you hop to his post you will see what I mean and how he captures grief post acute pain clearly, we are no longer the same, we know death can come at anytime, our priorities have changed, friends are the ones who were there, and more.
Another post about what others have learned is 'Do We 'Move On' From Grief, or Does it Stay With Us?' This was in Hello Care written by Caroline Egan. Egan goes into a great review of the TED talk by Nora McInerny who I believe is one of the most important voices for grief. This quote says it all:
Nora McInerny says when we experience grief, it doesn’t leave us, it becomes a part of who we are. We learn to ‘move forward’ carrying our loss with us, but the memories of that person and the ways they changed us always stay with us.
There is so much more on grief and what we learn and do with it. So much more.
My Take On Grief
Did I really move forward? Is there a New Normal for me? No, I ache. I speak aloud to Donna at home. I miss her and love her even more. After eight years the acute ache has dulled. What is not dull is the clarity of my vision on my memories, Donna, me, us, and love.
My windshield may be streaked with dust, dirt, and bird shit. The distance down the road is a lot shorter than the distance in my rear view mirror. Oh that image in the mirror looking back at me is as clear, concise, and shines in the brilliant sunlight. I see who we were, what we were, and how we were. Yes past tense were but so present today.
And that my friends is not holding me back because I am more capable of love and knowledge and my potential then since Donna's diagnosis and death. I am once again moving toward becoming the person she loved into being. I accept myself in my current state and know that my capacity to love and be remains. It is not broken.
This state of mind and heart is not some random moment in my grief journey. It is not some planned step by step program. It is the organic nature of grief and is because if we charge at our grief to seek knowledge and light we may a future. To be clear it is just plain old fucking hard. Worthwhile. Hard. Painful.
I did not surrender myself to the tears and lock myself in my room (though in all honesty some days that was my only option). I read, wrote, podcasted, and talked. I was single focused and boring AF, grief, loss, Donna, hurt, rinse, wash, repeat. I was all that nearly 24/7. Over time I didn’t just react to my loss with painful grief I began to see through the eyes of a widower. Through the ears of a loved one and lover. I wrote a book, Donna, A Memoir of Love and Loss.
I am not fully healed. I am not this amazing widowed warrior. I am just a husband who's wife of 28 years died prematurely. My grief and pain was not any greater or any less than others. I was my grief and it hurt. Over time the data is clear grief heals and moves away. The memories remain and they hurt but the abject grief subsides.
All my work on my grief, my loss, my wife, us, Donna, and me let light into the wound. This work created a resonate and visceral memoir Donna, A Photo Memoir of Love and Loss. Readers have told me that the book was important to their own memories of loss and brought them back in a way which guided their current emotional state.
For me all this work and the writing of the Memoir became my reconciliation of the grief, memories, Donna, and my life going forward. I am much more able to put in place