I don’t usually post things from further out on the grief timeline.
There’s a reason for that.
When I was first widowed, I hated anything that was written about “later.” I didn’t want to hear how things got softer, or that they lessened. How could they? How could that possibly happen?
Not only did it seem unlikely, it also felt offensive. That I would ever be able to go about a “normal” day, live a “normal” life, was horrifying.
A nightmare inside a nightmare.
And in many ways, I still feel the same way. I miss those early years.
I don’t miss the constant flashbacks, or being hurled to the floor in pain. I don’t miss feeling like an exposed wound, open to any available onslaught. I don’t miss the nausea, or the panic attacks, or the nightmares. I don’t miss the craziness inside family relationships, or the ultra-sensitivity I had to feeling excluded or judged.
But I miss the presence of grief. I miss feeling Matt close, our life still so close. I miss being stripped down, unable to care about anything outside of my tight sphere of love and grief. I miss the time I had to just be present with myself, wandering the beach for hours, or taking off into the woods.
I miss having everything be this.
My biggest fear in those early days was not that I would always feel this way, but that I wouldn’t: that this would just slip away, fade off into the sunset like any other thing.
For many people, myself included, moving past those early days can feel like a betrayal, not only of the one you love, but also of yourself. Was the wound not deep enough? I mean – if after a few years, I can just function like a somewhat average person, at least some of the time, what does that say about, well, me?
At five years out, I’m sometimes horrified at how “fine” I am. How normal.
I know I couldn’t be any other way than I am. Grief takes its own course – I can no more make it stay the way it was than I could make Matt stay.
I hadn’t meant to type that, but there it is.
Grief changes however it changes. It changes both in good ways and in some ways I wish it wouldn’t.
In my own early days, widowed people a little further “out” would tell me that grief gets different. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t become meaningless. It just gets… different. They said this with a catch in their words, a shift in their cadence. They were careful.
These days, I now find myself being careful.
When I talk with someone in new grief, I don’t typically say anything about later unless they ask. If they ask, I tell them that grief doesn’t end, just as love doesn’t end. But like love, grief changes.
In those early days, it’s like someone threw a gigantic backpack at you, heavy and unwieldy, full of sharp things poking out everywhere. You can’t put the backpack down, nor can anyone else help you carry it. Everything hurts. Each day, a new sharp piece emerges. You think you’ve found ways to carry it, and it throws you to the floor anyway.
With time, you learn your backpack: you know where the biggest, sharpest pieces are, and you learn how to move so they don’t hit you as hard. You understand the weight of it. You’ve adapted to its presence in many ways. You know each other well.
That’s really the only thing time does: it doesn’t heal anything, it just lets you get acquainted with your loss. You become accustomed to the load.
The sharp things won’t disappear, but you’ll know where most of them are. You’ll develop skill in how you carry that load.
As you get used to shifting the weight, there are things you’ll be glad to be free of.
And yes: there are things you might lose as you get accustomed to your grief.
This is why it’s hard for me to give a pep talk. I mean, for one: pep talks aren’t really my style.
But seriously – if, like me, you find the notion of grief “improving” to be deeply offensive, hearing about how grief changes is not going to be welcome or useful.
If you’re looking to hear that it gets better, well – I can’t exactly get on that bandwagon either.
None of this is easy.
Grief, like love, is endlessly complex. Grief, like love, shifts and changes – some things you want to stay, do not. Some things you want to back off stick around for far too long.
What I will say, what I can say, is that grief is yours, and it belongs to you. It will change, as will you. There’s a trade-off (one you can’t force) between the good parts of immediate grief and the less-focused, but gentler grief as it ages and shifts.
So much of this is out of our control. What is in our control, what is always in our control, is how we companion ourselves in this.
Things will shift and change – mostly for the better, alongside some things you wish would stay the same.
You are where you are in it, inside your own heart.
Wherever you are in your grief, whatever your timeline, please know that you are doing the best you can. And if you feel like you aren’t doing the best you can for yourself, please know you can start again any time.
If you are early in your grief, I’ll be the one telling you – carefully – that it does get different. If you’ve been living this grief for awhile, I’ll be the one beside you wondering – carefully – what it means to get different.
We’re in this together.
How about you? How has your grief changed, for good and for not-so-good? If you’re early in your grief, what parts are you afraid of losing as you get more familiar with this load? Let us know in the comments, or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you.
AND: registration is open for two writing courses – one online, and one in person. Please click on the links for more information, and I’ll see you soon.