03 November 2011

Am I healing?

It is now 5 months since Jane died. How am I doing? Am I healing? Are things easier now?

When Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced her 5 stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance), she meant well but in a way did a lot of damage. Those who have not experienced grief more or less expect us to go through these stages in a linear fashion, one after the other. That means that after a while, we should have reached stage 5: Acceptance.

Well let me tell you: the 5 stages are bullshit. I was never in denial or angry. Nor did I ever bargain with death. I never felt guilty. I feel regret about things I said or stuff we did not do. But not guilt. I accepted Jane's death from the moment she died.

So the only 'stage' left is depression. Well yes. The love of my life, my past, present and future has been taken away. Nothing left but darkness, loss and sadness. So I am depressed. Not suffering from depression. But I am depressed at the moment.

I have good times with people. I have no good times on my own. Ever. But why is it harder now than it was 3 months ago?

Healing happens when you encounter situations in life that you would have faced with your partner and suddenly you are alone facing them. And then you find you CAN live through those situations. And the second time that situation comes around, you will find you can cope better.

I believe this is why I, like so many widows, I found the first few months after Jane's death 'easier'. Those first few weeks and months, I was so engrossed in my loss that I did not really experience life. So I could not heal. Once I started to get back to life suddenly I was shopping and cooking for one, out with friends for whom life has more or less gone on as normal whilst my entire life and future lies in ruins before me. Bit by bit, I came across bits of life that used to include Jane but no longer do.

So instead of an all-covering grey blanket of loss and depression, it has now changed in to a daily parade of sharp moments of shock and loss. In the early days, I expected, and was expected, to cry all the time. These days, I can be 'perfectly fine', actually feeling ok and enjoying something when suddenly, out of the blue, something triggers a memory or emotion. And then I just crumble. And then it passes and I get up again. Until the next moment.

My pain has nothing to do with how long it has been since I last spoke to Jane or how long since I last touched her. Grief is about that one moment, no matter how long after her death, that one moment when I really need her and she's not there.

It is like walking around town, knowing there is a sniper waiting for you. You KNOW he will shoot but you don't know where he is or when he will strike. So you don't know what to avoid, where is safe.

This gives me two choices: I hide from my Grief Sniper by curling up in a ball in my house and never participate in life. This will mean more prolonged but more shallow grief. Or, I go on as normal as possible, knowing I will get hit and that there will be moments of very intense pain.

I choose life.

But please don't expect me to enjoy it yet.


PS: I took our wedding rings to a jeweler and asked them to create this necklace. I love it.


  1. Yes, yes, and yes. That's very much how I have experienced my grief in the 4-1/2 years since my partner died. Rather than feeling like the grief is a sniper, the metaphor I use is that of living on an ice-covered lake of sadness. I'm strolling along, feeling like I've finally gotten a grip on my life, when the ice suddenly gives way and plunges me once more into despair. Each time, I have to claw my way back to the surface and start anew.

    In the naivete of someone who had never experienced such profound loss, I expected the grieving process to be linear and am frustrated when I end up circling back to the same spot over and over. I often feel like my life is standing still and I get impatient and upset with myself that I'm wasting precious time in sadness and inertia instead of living the best life I can. (As an aside, my partner was a "doer" in all things and would not be pleased with my behavior.)

    Like you, the first few months (year?) were easier for me than the subsequent years. During that time, no one expected anything of me and frankly, I didn't care if they did. I wasn't interested in pleasing anyone, living up to any expectations, or taking care of anyone else's needs. I wasn't even interested in taking care of myself. In many ways, it was liberating to just be in freefall, especially after the exhaustion of my partner's years of cancer treatment and the intensity of her dying process. The down side was that there was no one to pick up the slack in my life while I went into suspended animation. The person who had always done that for me was now gone and I felt very much alone in the responsibility of taking care of a life built by--and for--two people.

    As you can imagine, after four years of grieving, people expect that I have "gotten over" my partner's death. Their lives have moved on and they see me acting like a relatively sane and functioning adult. What they don't understand is that there is a part of me that is forever broken and I can never be the same person they knew before. No matter how okay I look on the outside, on the inside the grief is barely scabbed over. As cliched as it sounds, there truly is a piece of me that died with my partner. (I don't think I've ever told anyone that.)

    That said, I can tell you that it definitely does get better. It could be that all the therapy is finally yielding dividends or maybe that time really is a great healer, but when I look back to where I was four years ago, I can see the distance I have traveled from where I started. It's a daily struggle to make the most of a life I never expected to lead, but I know I have to keep trying.

    This long entry is my clumsy way of trying to tell you that, once again, you are eloquently telling the story of what it's like to lose a beloved partner. I recognize myself in so many of your musings and thank you for sharing your innermost thoughts. I know this blog is one part of healing yourself, but it's also healing me.


  2. Tamela again.
    a) I'm abashed that I went on so long with my previous comment. I'm new to blog-commenting and obviously need to work on paring down.
    b) In my experience, going out and trying to act "normal" extended my grief because it involved pushing it aside while I tried to cope with mundane things, while truly delving into it has meant getting to core of myself and having authentic evolution in my life.
    c) Please be kind to yourself. It's a deep hurt and won't heal overnight.

  3. Wow, thanks for your lovely insightful comment. Not too long at all! Keep writing. Sharing helps.

    Regarding your comment about trying to act normal.... I don't deliberately set out to act normal or pretend anything. I go n with life and it seems most of the time,mit does not nclude talking about Jane much. Not because I a, avoiding it but just because she does not come up. If I could have my way, I would deliberately bring her up in every conversation (I think I actually do) but even when I do, it is usually a short comment about somethng we used to do or somethng she used to like. Very rarely is there an emotional conversation about Jane.

    Is that what you mean with 'acting normal'? I mean, I would really like to have more emotional conversations about Jane as I do all my crying alone. Not because I am hiding but because when I am with other people, I seem to be distracted by other things so have no time to dwell or let the emotion sink in.

    This evening I went to a firework display. For 10 minutes, I stared up at the sky. And I thought of Jane. And I had tears in my eyes.

  4. I am feeling for you at the moment, even though my partner has not passed away. My wish for you is never to forget but to find peace and contentment.

    BTW, women never live life linearly. We are rhythmic creatures, ebbs and flows, we follow a orbital path - something science cannot explain. Embrace your rhythm and bring Jane in with you.

    Thinking of you and wishing the pain to pass.

  5. Deirdre, thanks for the kind comments.

    I was glad to read about your recent MRI result. Well, apart from the radiation damage. Make sure that is carefully checked and monitored as Jane had major issues with this after her RT.

  6. For me, acting "normal" meant pretending I was coping, stowing my pain long enough to meet the minimum requirements of keeping body and soul together. "Acting normal" seemed impossible when all I felt capable of doing was curling up in a ball on the floor and wailing like a wounded animal. However, letting go of expectations and being in emotional freefall allowed me to experience my grief fully and even to uncover and resolve old hurts and fears.

    As for talking about my partner (Sherry), I feared my constant references to her would make people uncomfortable if it went on too long. In some instances, that may have been the case. However, I later found out that people sometimes hesitated to bring her up because they were afraid it would make me sad. They didn't realize that a) I was already sad ALL THE TIME and b) the second worst thing that could happen to me (besides her death) was for people to forget her.

    I also found that people who loved her often needed an outlet for their sadness but didn't feel they had a right to it because my grief was--by virtue of my status as her partner rather than "just" her friend--greater than theirs. Crying together was cathartic for us and strengthened many of my friendships, especially with people who were primarily her friends rather than mine. We all miss Sherry and take comfort in not being alone in our loss.

    Another overly long post. Thanks for allowing me the space to talk about it. I'm thinking of you as you journey through your grief and am wishing you insight and support as you find your way.


  7. Thx for advice - I agree and actually looking at getting a consult from another doctor... I really hate BTs but I am glad to be alive and well!