Grief: Defragmenting and Making Room for Something Wonderful

A had an interesting exchange with a facebook friend yesterday. She responded to my Gathering Patience for the Lonely Years Ahead bloggerie that I posted a couple days ago, and then she responded to my response. When I worry that I’m showing weakness by all my talk of grief,  I think of the people I’ve met who would have remained unencountered if I hadn’t let my vulnerabililty show, and I know I’m doing the right thing. Here’s the exchange:

PB (quoted from blog): A major loss in one’s life, such as the death of a long-time mate, often changes a person. For almost twenty months now, I’ve been saying I’m no different than I was, but lately I can feel a small change. It started with his long illness, developed during his final agonizing weeks, and came to fruition in the months since his death. This change? Patience. An ability to wait.

FBF: That patience will serve you well, Pat!  When you are coming out on the other side of the grief process, you will know that you can get through anything — including a long, painful wait.  I lost my partner in 2007, and it took four years to come to terms with it all, but I am now not in a hurry for ANYTHING! Before losing him, I could barely wait for my luggage at the airport without getting impatient. And the long years ahead don’t have to be lonely; you can never fill the void he left, but you can shift things inside, “de-fragment” and make room for more love than you could ever anticipate!! I’ll say a prayer for you tonight and wish for you love overflowing!

PB. I keep coming across that four year mark. It seems to be how long most people take to come to terms with it all. Which means I have a very long way to go. I’m looking forward to being where you are now. I can tell that your outlook was hard-won.

FBF: Yes, it was a long and arduous process, but there is no way it can be avoided.  Those who bury the emotions that come with profound loss (or simply ignore them) never come out on the other side. Rolling around in that mud smells rancid, looks terrible, feels slimy and dries crusty — but when you eventually stand up, take a shower and throw away those clothes (or bleach them and fold them away in a drawer) . . . it is no longer possible to be bothered by a little scuff, splotch, scrape, rip or splatter — never, ever again.  🙂

PB: The main shock for me was how long it takes. I thought two or three months would be enough. How naive of me! But in my defense, he’d been sick so long that I thought I’d already gone through all the stages of grief. I hadn’t a clue what an amputation it would be. Thank you for your comments tonight. I hadn’t realized how much I needed a bit of encouragement today.

FBF: Happy to give encouragement; I know what an emotional quagmire this can be. As time goes on, most of our friends and family who have not been through this amputation don’t understand why we are still wallowing.  They think we need to “snap out of it.”  Right now, I imagine the majority of the patience you have acquired is spent dealing with well-intentioned loved ones trying to rush you along in your grief process. Bless their hearts. 😉

Actually, the only person trying to rush my grief process is me. I get tired of relentlessly looking forward and trying not to dwell on the past. I get tired of the ups and downs, the sideways shimmies, the grief bursts, the rolling around in the emotional muck. I’ve always tried to keep myself on an even emotional keel, but unless I want that keel to be one of sadness, I have to keep going through the process. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about hurrying through grief to see what was on the other side and my disappointment at discovering that nothing wonderful waited for me. The truth is, I am not through with grief. I am not yet on the other side. During my good days, I think that I am, but then comes a hard day. Yesterday was such a day.

Not only was it Saturday, my sadderday, but I posted an excerpt from A Spark of Heavenly Fire here on my blog in preparation for #samplesunday on Twitter. Posting an excerpt should have been an innocuous, pain-free task, but this particular excerpt is one my life mate/soul mate and I worked on together. I’d write the scene, read it to him, and he’d tell me if it worked or not, then I’d rewrite it and read it to him again. I must have rewritten it at least ten times. It was my first real bit of violence, and I wanted it to zing. I felt very close to him when I posted the excerpt, remembering its creation. I felt as if we’d been together just a few days ago, and the thought that he is dead got to me.

Although today marks the twentieth month since he died, I’m back to my new normal, even felt a touch of “possibilty.” But days such as yesterday show me that I need patience for the long haul, patience while my psyche defragments to make room for something wonderful.

Gathering Patience for the Lonely Years Ahead

A major loss in one’s life, such as the death of a long-time mate, often changes a person. For almost twenty months now, I’ve been saying I’m no different than I was, but lately I can feel a small change. It started with his long illness, developed during his final agonizing weeks, and came to fruition in the months since his death. This change? Patience. An ability to wait.

I’ve never been a particularly patient person. I always open mail as soon as I receive it. (It used to mystify me how my late mate could let his mail sit for days without any inclination to see what the sender wanted.) I immediately begin to read books when I get them, open packages of snacks when I return from the grocery story, check my email first thing in the morning.

Well, I still do those things, but I am more patient with life’s vagaries and people’s foibles. There is no person I prefer to be with above all others, no place I want to be. If I have to stand in line at the grocery store, I simply wait without tapping my foot or wishing the line would move faster. If someone tells a long boring story, I simply listen without trying to edge away.

I’m not sure this is patience so much as resignation. When my mate died, he detached one of my connections to the world, and this connection has never been replaced. There’s something missing in me, some synapses that doesn’t spark, as if I am at one remove from the world. It’s possible this feeling of reserve comes from a new awareness of death or an awareness that life is not as it seems. Life isn’t all about shopping and what’s on television. It’s not about cars and clothes and things. I always knew that, of course, and because of it was already one step away from the everyday world.

My mate and I were not materialistic people. We lived in a world of ideas, of books, of films. Learning, research, discovery, growth were important to us. He used to say we were bad for each other — since we had someone to share these unthings, we had no reason to make a concession to the materialistic world. Though he’s dead, I’m still unable to connect to such a world. In fact, with my disconnect from him, I am now two removes from the so-called real world.

I’ve built new connections, made new friends, experienced new places and activities. I’ve become more aware of basic connections, such as the way my feet connect to the ground, or the way air flows through us, around us, connecting us one to the other. I’ve grown more empathetic and sympathetic. But still, there is no great attachment to any specific thing or any specific person. There is only me, and wherever I am, there I am, so there is no reason to be anywhere else.

This could change in the next few months, of course. I am almost two-thirds through my second year of grief, and the second half of the second year seems to be a limbo, a time for settling into this new phase of life, a time of gathering patience for the lonely years ahead. (The first half of the second year is often a time of re-grief, of having to deal with the horrible realization that even though you managed to get through your first year without him, even though you passed this test, your loved one is still dead. It can be a time of catastrophic pain.)

I’ve managed to come this far, and I will continue to manage. I’m from a family of long-lived people, so it’s a good thing I am learning patience (or resignation). I will need it.