In the beginning, in the first edges of my grief, my heart felt like an open wound, and in the midst of the pain and shock of those first few days and months after the death of my husband, there was little I could do to close it.
My heart was open to the world. I didn’t have the energy or the wherewithal to shut it down, to protect it, to close the door on it. My heart was broken open and all the pain and love that I carried for him seeped out into the universe.
Gone was my customary shyness. I needed and accepted the kindness and embrace of those who knew of my sorrow. I spent more time in the company of others. In the early days, the scales were taken from my eyes, and I saw with such clarity the tenuousness of the life all around us. I had no shield from this truth. It was with me in every moment.
Something happens when a loved one is lost, particularly if the loss is sudden and unexpected. In an instant, we let go of all that we once held true: any certainty about our stability on this planet, the delusion that we have some kind of control, the idea that whatever we hold dear is going to last. All of the beliefs that keep us grounded in this life are shattered, and suddenly, there is no solid ground on which to stand.
It is a terrifying place to be, this place without grounding.
That fear can move us in many directions. Some people shut down in the face of it. Some people hide and go within. Others fall into depression and despair.
Me? I became wide open for awhile. I held my heart in my hands. I shared the depths of my pain without filter. I held onto those around me and let them lift me up. I told more people I loved them. I lost my fear of rejection. It didn’t matter, then, what I received in return. I wanted those around me to know how much I cared. I wanted them to know that they mattered. I didn’t wait for a response. I didn’t need one.
That was in the beginning, in the early months of my grief, when the knowledge of death was fresh and immediate and raw.
But it has been a few months, now, 14, to be exact, and in those months, my grief has lost its sore and seeping edge. I have covered over the open wound. I have found my filter again. I have wrapped my heart in a blanket. I have become more careful with my feelings. I do not share in the way I used to.
Perhaps this is a necessary step. Perhaps it is not reasonable or helpful to walk around with an open wound. But I don’t want to lose this edge, completely. I don’t want to return to my melancholic, isolated self, who was reticent with others, afraid to reach toward them, letting the possibility of rejection keep me from expressing my love.
This weekend, I drove to the beautiful moors in North Yorkshire, near Whitby, saw a friend’s brilliant performance in a play, met up with another friend, and walked amongst the blooming heather in the hills. This is not something I would have considered, in my previous life, before the death of my beloved. I would have hesitated. I would have thought my presence an inconvenience, at best, an intrusion into someone’s schedule, only tolerated out of politeness.
I am so glad I made the trip. I delighted in seeing her, up there, on the stage, and I was happy I was there to show my support and appreciation of her. I loved visiting with my other friend, who has been away with her family during the holidays, and who I have not seen for weeks. The walk through the moors was stunningly beautiful, a feast for the senses, and I loved sharing it with my friend.
My heart is not as open as it was in the first few weeks and months of my grief. I don’t experience the deep lows and wrenching pain that was so much a part of those early days. I have fewer moments of soaring joys and great insight that early edge brought me, as well.
Most days I am somewhere in the middle, and perhaps that is as it should be. Perhaps it is good to protect ourselves a bit. Riding that roller coaster of emotion and passion is exhausting.
I have not lost my edge, completely. I am acutely aware of the temporary nature of all things around me, able to reach toward others from time to time, always sitting with the ever-present knowledge of his absence, an empty place that cannot or perhaps should not be filled. It is where he belongs, in me. It is my memory. It is how I keep him with me, alongside me in this journey.
I don’t want to claim that this experience has changed me for the better. I won't be one of those people who so superficially finds ‘the blessing’ in an experience like this. Losing my husband in this way was horrible. His loss has created a great void. His absence from this world is a tragedy. I would not wish this on anyone. I would give anything to not have had to go through it. I would give anything to have him here, with me, his wide, generous heart intertwining with mine, opening me, little by little.
But it has changed me. I will never be the old Tricia, again. I don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing. Perhaps I don’t need to put a value on it.
It just is.