Along about the second year, definitely going into the third and then the fourth…I just wanted to scream at people.
Not in anger, but in shredded grief and pain…
Why can’t you just let me be sad? Why does it feel like I must defend myself against you? Why does it then feel like I have to defend my grief even to myself? Why does it feel like I can’t just feel what I feel, be whatever I am? Why must I expend all this energy defending my right to feel all that this is? Why is it not okay with you that I can’t find my feet and I’m feeling so disoriented that my stomach continually wants to heave its’ contents? Why are you trying to make me feel like I’m doing something wrong?
Why can’t you just let me be fucking sad?
These are a mere sampling of the piercing reactions that took up so much space in my heart and soul and mind in the first years of grief, in reaction to all the well meaning mostly discussions that people would have with me. To me, really, because they weren’t seeking discussion with me as much as they were telling me where they thought I should be with this, or how they thought I should be with this.
Grief, I mean.
How I was grieving vs how they thought I should be grieving.
They didn’t realize this is what they were doing, of course. At least, I hope they didn’t realize this is what they were doing.
Whether that was their intention or not, shaming is how I heard every word.
And every word from them shattered me more, because I, and we, already judge ourselves so much, when we grieve.
Am I grieving too much? Too little? Am I “okay” too soon? Not “okay” soon enough? What if I break down in public? I’m so exhausted…should I go out or not? They expect me…does that matter? Can I just get in bed and pull the covers over me and not go out for a year? Is that okay or not? Does that mean I’m depressed? Am I depressed? Should I go on medication? I don’t want to go but I’m going to go so that I can show everyone that I’m “okay” even though I’m not okay by any stretch of the imagination but I don’t want them to worry so I’ll go. If I talk about him, how much is too much? How much is not enough and then they wonder if I’m forgotten him? I need to get back to work for distraction/money/I’ll lose my job but I’m so exhausted. I can’t function but I have to. Hold the tears back. Okay, now cry. Breathe hard…
All these questions, and ten million more, are questions and doubts that we hold already in our hearts, when we grieve. And then well-meaning people voice them to us and this widow thing becomes more impossible, more unbearable, than it already is.
I knew I didn’t have to defend my grief, or my right to grieve, of course, even though it felt like I did. My grief would not be denied; it streaked through my DNA and took up residence and I wrote about it and made my writings public so that grief wouldn’t kill me. Which was, and always is, a risk, but it was one I had to take, or vaporize into a mist of non-existence.
Here’s the thing. It is normal to grieve. It is normal to grieve hard. With tears, with tearing of hair, with a closet full of black or a closet full of color as we scream our rage and defiance to the skies. It is normal that exhaustion set in that we think results from the strength of our emotions but is really a more holistic exhaustion that comes from, well, all that is grief. It is fucking normal to react however you react according to your situation, your history, your relationship, your background…your everything. It is NORMAL.
It was somewhere in my fourth year that true acceptance set in with me. Not acceptance of the death, which is what we’re told acceptance is all about. Acceptance, for me, wasn’t about the death. It was about my right to grieve in whatever fucking way I needed to grieve, for as long or as short as I needed to grieve. When people, possibly in true ignorant fashion, seek to instruct me, now, on proper grieving, I say to them thank you for your opinion, and continue on my way.
The ever popular anger stage of grief…which isn’t actually a stage of grief at all, but a step in the process, as written by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, for those who are DYING, having nothing to do with the grief of those left behind so for god fucking sake, people, can we get rid of that..is, I think, anger at those who shame us as we grieve. Yadda, yadda, yadda, give them that they love us, want us to be okay, want us to be, ultimately, who we were before, so that they can feel comfortable with us again.
To which I say….bless you! in the same manner that Whoopi Goldberg, as the nun in Sister Act, said bless you to the guy who was going to blow her head off at the end of the movie, and she wanted to curse at him but the Mother Superior was standing right there and being a fake nun and all, instead of fuck you she said bless you!
I was angry a few times but did my best to respond diplomatically to those who were outright cruel in their words. Diplomatically because I’m not one to be cruel in return, and because, initially, I was in such shock, and it’s only as I look back that I see the intensity of my shock, that I didn’t fully realize then. Diplomatically because if I’m not a cruel person.
But what I wanted to say to the family member, who was very close to Chuck is…how dare you bring your bullshit to this sacred space we have created for him? How dare you bring your darkness to this man who is leaving all that he loves behind him? How dare you try to sully his memory with the ugliness that you hold in your heart? Keep that to yourself; there is no place for it here. Ever. Take your doubts and your guilt elsewhere. Not here. Never here. And…bless you!
And to my friend who was loved by Chuck, but who decided, 3 years in, to take confidences that I’d shared with her about the family member and make them her own and cast her own darkness into them and onto them and throw them at me…the friend who told me that I needed to settle down and get a job instead of gallivanting around the country, dragging my husband’s name through the mud…you clearly never knew me, and you most certainly didn’t know Chuck, and, quite simply, you betrayed him because of the darkness you carry in your own heart and in your life and that’s not on me or him, so…bless you!
At 5 years in of this widowhood, I don’t know what I’m doing, mostly, but I’m totally confident about doing it anyways, whatever this is. I don’t give a grand flying fuck about other’s opinions about me or how I’m doing this. I focus on Love every damn day so that I don’t lose my fucking mind because, guess what, folks? In spite of the grief shame you sought to cast upon me, I’m still grieving! You didn’t make things better for me…surprise! I miss Chuck so damn much it takes my breath away…yes, even 5 years later! My nights are unbearably lonely and I reach for his flag that I was given and I trace the stars on it and I clutch it close to my body, with the same passion that I used to draw him close to me. My heart hurts and it aches and I feel numb and I feel disconnected in every way…so I get up every damn day and I wear something pink and I go out and I find the Love.
I find the Love, wherever and however I can. And I miss him and my vision literally blurs with tears that I must live without him but the tears don’t keep me from seeking out Love…wherever I can find it.
You know what I do with my grief, all you grief shamers out there?
I fucking find the Love.