At first, you count the hours you’ve lived since he died, then, after you’ve survived twenty-four or forty-eight interminable hours, you being counting the days. Eventually you move on to counting weeks, months, years, and even decades. To the uninitiated, this counting seems as if you’re dwelling on the past, constantly reminding yourself of your sorrow. But the truth is, it’s a recognition of life — your new life, the one that was born the day he died. It also tells your fellow travelers where you are on this terrible journey in the same way your age tells people where you are in life’s journey.
When I talk about Saturday, my sadder day, and mention how many sad Saturdays I’ve survived, it’s not the number that makes me sad. Nor is it the day that makes me sad. It is the onset of sadness that makes me realize what day it is. The sadness is a subconscious, visceral reminder that I once loved, once was loved, once shared my life. Since I now count my grief by months, I often have to check my calendar to find out how many Saturdays I have mourned/celebrated that shared life. The number is merely a street sign, the name of a crossroad so others know where I am in relation to my grief. I don’t need the number. I know where I am — I can feel it.
I used to worry that I was putting myself in a bad light by all this talk of grief, that I might seem weak or even pathetic, but the more clearly I see this journey for what it is — not just resetting your internal clock but resetting your life — the more I understand the importance of showing the truth.
We live in a civilization that reveres positive thinking and positive thinkers. We admire people who bear their sorrow with a smile, who swallow their tears and talk brightly of their future. Perhaps they are admirable, perhaps they are in denial, perhaps it is their nature. But it puts an intolerable burden on those who have to push their grief deeper inside so that no one faults them for it.
We need people to show us a way to grieve, to show us their pain and their healing; otherwise, how are we to know what is the truth of grief? So often, the bereft feel they are crazy because they’ve never seen/read/heard of anyone who experienced such symptoms as theirs. We’re so ingrained into believing that Kubler Ross’s stages are the blueprint for grief, that anything else is abnormal. But in my experience (talking to others who have lost their mates), her stages are mere blips in the spectrum of grief. Other stages are much more prevalent: physical pain (not just emotional), bewilderment, yearning, seeking. And counting.
Counting isn’t really a stage. It’s more that we are aware of the ticking of our internal clocks, the clocks that were reset on the day he died.