I expected to have this “grieving thing” wrapped up within a year. The way I saw it, I was 47 and probably had less years ahead of me than behind. I was willing to grieve (like I had a choice…), but I was counting on a sort of a statute of limitations, a timeline of grief that had a very distinct end point, after which I would feel free and wonderful and excited about my future.
I knew women who were still grieving two, three, and four years after their husband died. To be honest, I saw them as rather self-indulgent, maybe a little weak, and most likely, self-involved.
A friend warned me. “Be careful, Mie. We become what we judge.”
Within a short period of time, I came to see instead, that it was I who was ignorant, uninformed and more than a little arrogant.
Newly initiated into the world of grieving a partner, I had no idea what was to come. But four years later, I was still working at sorting out my marriage, widowhood, and still trying to figure out who I was. And, I missed Mike. Not every moment, not every day, but yes, I still missed him.
When Mike first died, I experienced a surprising mix of relief and shock.
The shock was, of course, that he was actually gone. After 10 years with cancer, maybe I should have expected this, but after so many years, one just assumes that it will go on forever.
But even more important is the fact that it is virtually impossible to prepare for what it feels like to have a loved one gone. It is impossible to prepare for how it feels to face an empty bed, phone calls that for a moment you think are his, the car in the driveway that has you believing he will momentarily walk in the door.
It is impossible to prepare for a feeling or an experience that one has never had. It simply can’t be done.
The relief I experienced (relief that because of shame and my own misunderstanding I shared with no one) was that I finally stopped being afraid that he would die. I did not have to be afraid of what it would feel like. I did not have to be afraid of waking up that first morning without him. It had already happened, I was feeling it, and the first morning had come and gone.
No longer did I count his breaths at one or two in the morning, paying attention to the rhythm, holding my own breath during a particularly long pause, and then exhaling in relief when it came, wondering if his next would be his last. For a short while after Mike died, my sleep was undisturbed.
But little by little, as shock and relief abated, grief methodically and deftly wrapped its tentacles around my neck, and seven months later, had me gasping for air. I had never known such fear, pain, loneliness and desperation. For a while, I doubted my fitness as a mother. As old fears calmed, they were replaced by new equally virulent fears. Each day, just when I thought I could not feel any worse, I discovered new holes in my heart, new aches in my chest, and my head swirled.
Would I make it? Would Anneke (7 years old) survive? Would she thrive?
Would I be a good single parent?
Could I pay for her college?
Would I be able to make up for the loss of her father? Was I supposed to?
Would I ever be happy again? Would I ever again “be with” a man? So much for being done in a year.
It took 4-5 years for me to come to terms with the whole experience, and to become fully calmed. I was not in agony for all of that time. Far from it. Much of that time I was in school, traveling, and always caring for my daughter.
But I have come to see that there is a sort of a timeline when a woman has lost her husband. It is just not the timeline I had planned on. It is longer and bumpier.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t add that life now is also far better than I expected. It truly is. I wish, way back then, that I had known that this was coming. But then again, if I had known, knowing me, I wouldn’t have done the work.Tags: grief, hope