As I write this we're full swing into the holidays and I've survived Christmas Day, Boxing Day and am about to head to my parent's house for a large lunch celebration with 20 or so members of extended family. I'm absolutely exhausted, but hanging in there.
I've heard many widowed people say that the second year can be harder than the first, because the shock has worn off and reality has set in. However for me, this Christmas has been slightly easier than last year. I guess it just goes to show that everyone's time line is different and you shouldn't try and measure your grief against anyone else's.
Despite being a bit easier than last year, it was still difficult and very sad. Maybe I felt less raw, or just knew what to expect. The day started off quite well really, as I spent the morning with my parents, my sister and her family, including my three wonderful nephews. We are all very close and they have all been with me every step of the way for past 17-months since Dan died. When the tears start flowing freely, they are generally comfortable enough to sit with me and let me ride it out. I know it hurts them, my dad usually chokes up when I cry and you can see the heartache all over my mother's face, as she feels so helpless to ease my pain. But they know I need to cry and have grown strong enough to let me, which makes a world of difference. So I was doing ok and was able to weep without having to remove myself from the activities or let it interrupt my day.
We exchanged presents and spent the morning snacking on oysters and cheese, my sister and I enjoying our traditional pina coladas while watching her husband and boys playing in their pool. We placed a photo of Dan on the centre of the table and I felt happy and at peace.
When it came time for lunch, by brother-in-law's large extended family arrived and as the crowd started to grow and the mood grew more hectic with kids running around and babies crying, I felt my anxiety level rise.
While Dan's photo still sat on the middle of the table, not one person commented to me about how nice it was to include him in our day or ask how I've been going. The only time he came up in conversation was when I was asked about my trip to Sydney last weekend (to see his family). When I mentioned that it was quite emotional because we had all felt his loss acutely, the topic of conversation was changed.
Someone later asked if I had plans for New Years Eve and when I said I thought it would be too difficult for me this year, she suggested it might be a good way to distract myself. I didn't even have the energy to explain how grief works or why counting down the new year with other couples wasn't the right choice for me. I didn't bother, because I knew she didn't get it - and in truth, didn't really appear interested in understanding how every day was a fine balance between distracting myself and knowing when to push myself and grow through my pain.
There is something incredibly lonely about being surrounded by people who don't understand you or those who ignore the fact that an incredibly tragic incident has forever changed the person who are and the trajectory of your life. No one seemed aware that I was there 'alone' while they all had their partners and children running around. It became harder to connect with my family who got lost or diluted in the bigger group. I started feeling like it was really wasn't ok for me to openly grieve or even talk about Dan. I had to choke down my tears and hide my pain.
I understand that people don't know how to talk about death, I don't blame them for this - because I didn't know how to either before I was forced to face it front on. Maybe they didn't want to dampen their own festive mood or maybe they thought that bringing him up in conversation might upset me. That may very well be the case for some widowed people, who are just trying to make it through the day in tact, and talk of their departed loved ones makes it harder to do that. But I was so deeply hurt that no one acknowledged that he was missing, or that I might be doing it tough.
Yesterday Kelly wrote about how when people don't ask about your life and what you have been up to, you feel offended and ignored and unacknowledged. But then if they do ask, most of the time, you feel uncomfortable telling them about your life and what you have been up to, because they just wouldn't get it.
I felt like she was speaking from my own heart. While being around this larger group of people made a difficult holiday even harder, I'm not angry or resentful about their ignorance to my grief. It really is something that no one can understand until they have lost someone. And even those who have, might have a different experience or personal view on the best way to endure tough situations, so their advice or approach might not work for me anyway.
Today, at my parent's barbecue, there will be another group of extended family on my father's side who I don't see often and who won't know what to say to me. They too might ignore Dan's death or they may feel brave enough to place a hand on my arm and ask how I am, or tell me they've been thinking of me. If so, I will probably cry and things might get awkward - but that's my life now.
I have become comfortable with the crying, I've had to. As have the people close to me. There will always be a barrier between me and those who don't understand. I envy their ignorance or discomfort, because they don't yet know the deep pain of grief. And that's just the way life goes.