Today it is thirteen months and 3 days since you died. Some moments, your death still does not feel real to me. And, other times, the realness of your death is so apparent I feel nauseated. This is grief in all it's unapologetic glory.
In the early days when you died I couldn't even breathe. I'd gasp for breathe and I'd rock back and forth, holding my chest, in an effort to encourage the air to move from my lungs into my body. For months I struggled desperately, day and night, to soothe my broken Soul. I remember I'd stand in the kitchen and I'd clutch my chest as I cooked dinner because I thought my heart was going to explode into a million pieces when it broke. I remember thinking that grief was cruel because it forced us to endure and survive this deep aching pain. I knew full well that my heart wasn't going to literally reduce to fragments - even though it felt like it was. Those early days of grief were completely gutting. And, I am glad that the raw intensity of those first four months is behind me. Somehow I survived.
As much as I never want to feel the pain of the early days again, I do wish I could go back and tell my newly widowed self what I have learned about grief. I'd tell her that in order to survive she does not need to do anything - except breathe. (Which, I know, is easier said than done.) I'd let her know that the shock and numbness she feels is there by design; and, I would tell her that she is not to worry about being in a daze. I'd tell her that the laundry and housework are not a priority. I'd wink and let her know that she won't have any memory of these first four months after his death, so she should feel free to let it go. I'd also brief her about the fact that she can't rush through this. I'd say with authority, that there is no way to side step this pain because there is no "cure" for grief. Grief isn't a disease that you are magically healed from. Grief is a journey that lasts your lifetime from what I can tell so far. I'd continue with the advice, knowing full well, my sleep deprived self would not really understand or absorb much of what I was saying because her mind could no longer process anything. She was consumed with trying to make sense of the fact that Mike was dead.
At this point, in my made-up (but all too real) scenario, I'd make us both something to eat because I know that she is on the "widow diet". I know that she has probably only had coffee all day. Once I got her fed, I'd tell her I notice she's lost more than her smile, she's lost weight too. I'd remind her to eat everyday. And, I would tell my freshly widowed self that she needs to start wearing makeup again, and I'd tell her that doing her hair is not as optional as she thinks. And, then, I'd hear her laugh... and it's magic.
As a new widow she needs to know that she should try to lean into the pain and absorb the ache into her DNA. I'd let my frazzled self know that when your person dies you are reduced to a state of infancy. And, I'd smile and I'd gently brush the strands of stray hair from her eyes; then, I'd tell her that she's normal. And, I'd promise her that she's going to be okay. I'd remind myself to tell her that death is a trauma. And, because of the trauma Mike's death caused, she has forgotten how to soothe herself. She will need assistance with the basics: breathing, sleeping and eating. I'd recommend that she surround herself with only compassionate, loving, people who don't try to "fix" her. These people who simply walk along side her as she grieves will become her lifelines. They will carry her on the really hard days in the year ahead. I'd gently tell my newly widowed self to be patient and settle into her feelings. I'd remind her to smile more, even if it's just for a fleeting moment. I'd let her know that, in spite of herself, I heard her laugh today - and it was magical.
And, finally, I'd stop and hold her for longer than most normal hugs last.
And, then, I'd look far past the glazed, "deer in headlights", look in her eyes,
I'd look straight into her Soul and I'd whisper to her "you've got this".
Photo credits: @heidi_the_untold
Somehow I've survived this surreal experience of out living Mike. I have learned that in order to survive his death I had to undergo a sort of re-birth, and this process is still ongoing. I've come undone and I've been unhinged for the better part of this last year. But, alas, I've arrived here, in this moment. I've emerged exhausted and a bit disheveled because...
This past week, Mike, Shelby and I put up our usual Halloween decorations in the front yard. For some folks, the idea of putting a graveyard in your front yard once a year might be tacky or in bad taste. We have no idea what our neighbors think - though none of them decorate at all for Halloween so they probably care very little. Some people take offense I’m sure, because they have lost people they love and think it is rude to make light of that. Well, not us. We have a lot of dead people, and so I feel we have every right to make light of it. Or to put it better… to bring some light to it. Because there should be light let in on death, don’t you think?
That is my favorite thing about Halloween-time… it is a chance once a year to literally put death right out in the front yard. For that one month, I feel a little bit freer to put it out there to the world that, yes, death and darkness are a part of my life and I am actually very proud of it. Prop gravestones and skeletons my just be for fun, but for me, they have always held a deeper meaning.Read more
(Above) A traditional cemetery celebration on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
This time of year reminds me of just how important magic is. While life holds it's own magic, death certainly holds an even more inexplicable magic all it's own. Not in the sense of tricks and jokes, but in the sense of wonder and possibility. Now, I know not everyone cares as much about Halloween as I do, but it has always held a special place in my heart. It’s a time of year when society accepts both kids and adults acting like children: decorating our houses with creepy spider webs and skeletons, dressing up in silly costumes, carving pumpkins with fun or scary faces. It helps all of us, should we partake, to be invigorated with a sense of wonder and magic... something we so easily forget in our day to day lives. And I find it no coincidence that the holiday that does this the most for so many, is so heavily focused on death.
It’s also a time of year when I feel closest to my mother and my other loved ones that have died. She loved the fall. That first cold front that came in each year invigorated her, and though I can’t remember much from the 9 years I had her, I do remember the essence of that feeling. I remember the feeling of her excitement. I remember a feeling of magic and warmth and creativity and possibility.
My mother’s death day happens to be the day before Halloween. And my dad, who is also passed, has his birthday the 29th, the day before that. And the third, Drew, loved Halloween as much as I. So there have always been personal losses that connect this time to death for me in a big way. In an odd way, it is wonderful, because it feels like so many others are celebrating their own loved ones around this time with their own customs such as All Soul’s Day and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and it has given me new ways to celebrate my dead.Read more