I feel like I’ve been in a rut for more than a month now, since Dan’s first anniversary. I’ve had days here and there where I’ve been able to smile and actually mean it, but in general, the pain has been very deep and the ache for him, overwhelming.
The grief has been so relentless that it’s started messing with my head and making me question if I was doing something wrong. If I’d gotten stuck in it some how. Was I doing enough to keep moving forward?
I mean, I know this dance well by now, the three-steps-forward, two-steps-back tango. I know I need to keep my expectations realistic and that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I know that I can’t project manage my way out of this, yet in the dark of the night when the tears won’t slow and my heart feels like it’s going to stop beating from the sheer agony, I forget that this moment will pass and I’ll take steps forward again.
I just don’t understand why I’m this hard on myself. Losing your spouse in such tragic circumstances, so young and early into our lives together, would have to be up there with the one of the most terrible experiences anyone could be forced to endure. Yet I can’t seem to give myself permission to stumble.
As the weeks pass and I continue to put this pressure and expectation on myself, it has started to mount into feelings of guilt and inadequacy. I worry that I’m bringing everyone around me down and taking up so much of their energy with my constant state of fragile melancholy.
So this week I spent a lot of time contemplating how and why I’m so hard on myself. I think that sometimes I have trouble understanding the difference between accepting that there are going to be bad days where I don’t want to face the world; and just wallowing in my sorrow to the point where it becomes an excuse not to try anymore. I know I have to be gentle with myself – but where is that line between acceptable self-care; and just using my grief as a shield against anything unpleasant or moderately challenging. Does that make sense?
Don't get me wrong, I know there's no set answer. This pondering is more rhetorical than actually looking for a response. When I think about my grief and whether I'm 'doing it right' - there is no fair bench mark to asses myself against. Because everyone's grief is different.
I can't look at what seems to be working for a friend and try to apply it to my situation because we're not fighting the same battle. No one can actually tell me if I'm grieving appropriately because it's MY grief, I'm the only one who knows it and feels it, so I'm the only person who can truly answer that question. That's the crux of my conundrum ... I don't seem to trust myself to make that call!
On Thursday, the psychologist who runs a local suicide bereavement counselling program and support group that I became involved in a couple of months after Dan died, called me to check in. I told her that I’m doing ok, but was struggling with this concept of ‘am I grieving appropriately’.
I confessed to her that some days I just don’t know what to do with myself. I just sit in the loneliness and cry for hours and think ‘I’m so sick of this sadness, I don’t want this life for me. I hate this pain. Despite the fact that I’ve been carrying it around with me for 13 months, I still have such a long road ahead of me and it’s just not fair.’
She replied that of course I’m sick of it, of course it’s not fair. My husband died and how else am I supposed to feel? It doesn’t mean that I’m broken or there’s something wrong with me. I’m grieving and it’s horrible. She pointed out that everyone around me is giving me more acceptance and understanding that I’m granting myself.
She reminded me of the progress I’ve made since those first few months. I don’t cry at work as much; I’ve travelled; I’ve taken up new hobbies and made new friends.
She pointed out that while I have bad days, I also have good days. And on those good days, while I might take steps to keep life simple, I don’t use Dan’s death as an excuse for a free pass.
Being reminded of that really helped. I actually think I’m going to print it off and stick it to my fridge. Widowhood is such hard work. So many life lessons all being shoved in my face at the same time, it’s exhausting and overwhelming trying to take it all in.
Plus, my memory isn’t the best right now so I forget a lot of things… like the fact that it’s ok to be this dreadfully sad and that there will be more good days.
If only I could have that breakthrough and learn to trust myself. Like my counsellor said, if only I saw what others saw - and if only I gave myself the grace and compassion that was being shown to me by the people around me.