When a loss is “only” temporary, we don’t always allow time to grieve. We “slap ourselves upside the head, ” tell ourselves to “suck it up,” and remind ourselves how many worse situations other people are going through. But how bad does the loss have to be to deserve a timeout for some personal attention?
Exactly one week before Christmas, in a moment of joy, I fell and broke my left, dominant hand. My son was home from college and watching football with my husband in our new “sunken” family room while I made what I thought would be a fabulous dinner. I had just placed three salmon fillets in a baking dish and lit the oven. We moved into our new townhouse this fall, and I am still enjoying everything about it, especially the kitchen.
“Don’t you just love this house,” I exclaimed, throwing my arms in the air while at the same time, stepping down to where they sat on the couch. My sock slid off the carpeted step and I broke my fall with my left hand on the wooden coffee table. Wham! My unexpected winter vacation had begun. I can’t write, can’t drive, can’t knit or quilt. Many of my favorite activities were now impossible.
After the initial shock and pain subsided, I welcomed holiday visitors to our new home with my hand in a cast. I enjoyed the attention and the kindness of my family and friends. They brought meals, took me to appointments, and in the case of my wonderful husband, blow-dried my hair. This wouldn’t be so bad. I went from disbelief to denial in just a few days. Then reality set in.
My friends and family went back to school and work, and I was left with the business of healing. I eagerly awaited the removal of my cast three weeks after my injury. I was not prepared for what I would see: my hand looked like a dead fish and I couldn’t hold it up by itself. An ache deep inside it brought tears to my eyes, tears. I didn’t try to hide from the doctor.
“I didn’t know it would hurt so much,” I sniffled.
“Well, you did break your hand,” he said. His smile was gentle. “I guess we didn’t prepare you enough.”
He fitted me with a removable brace and sent me home for another three weeks of rest. That day, I went home and sat in a chair reading and weeping. I wish I could say each day is a little better, but it’s more like the old “two steps forward, one step back” syndrome. My emotional state on some days has more to do with the slow progress of healing than with any physical pain.
I read uplifting spiritual and self-help books, visited inspirational websites, and talked my dear husband’s ear off. I wanted to stop feeling sorry for myself. Or not. I’ve suffered a loss, a sudden and painful one: my ability to function with two hands and to do so many things I miss, especially my physical independence. Can I have some time to mourn?
I’ve always been a sensitive person. I feel things deeply. So a day or two of tearful sadness is something I allowed myself. It’s okay. I wiped my eyes (with my right hand) and read a good book. Some days, I watch a movie. Right now, a redheaded woodpecker is eating suet outside my window. I have time to sit and watch him. When I’m all better, I will still have that time, if I give it to myself.
We all mourn our different losses in different ways and for different lengths of time, but we are all the same in our need to do so.
Linda C. Wisniewski 2012