The Silent Language of Grief

The so-called five stages of grief are so ingrained that most people think that’s all there is to grief. You deny, you get angry, you feel pain and guilt (and sometimes you bargain for the return of your loved one), you feel depressed, and finally, you accept. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? A brief checklist of stages, and then you get on with your life.

But grief is not that simple. First, those stages were described by Kübler-Ross to show how people come to terms with their own death and perhaps that of a loved one. It bears little resemblance to how people grieve after the death of a long time mate. Sure, we bereft have moments of anger, times of depression, some feelings of guilt, but most of us undergo a completely different set of stages, such as shock, bewilderment, hopelessness, loss of identity, anxiety, panic, isolation, loneliness, yearning. (For most of us, not anger or guilt but a vast yearning to see our mates once more drives our grief.) We also have physical changes to cope with that aren’t addressed in the Kübler-Ross model, such as immune system deficiencies, stress, dizziness, nausea, changes in brain chemistry, hormone disturbances, loss of equilibrium, and a higher death rate from all causes than non-grievers.

Still, whatever stages of grief a person goes through, there does come a time when you accept the truth deep in the marrow of your being — he is gone forever. You think this acceptance signifies the end of your grief, but do you want to know what often lies on the other side of acceptance? Heartbreak and tears. Sure, there are times of peace as you become used to your aloneness, but acceptance feels like another death, and it needs to be grieved. (It’s one thing to know he’s never coming back, and another thing to KNOW it. This acceptance is why the second year of grieving is often worse than the first year.)

Grief is a way of processing information. We know our loved one is absent, but is it possible to comprehend how very gone he is? To understand the nature and finality of death? Perhaps not, but by feeling the pain of separation and releasing it through tears, we can come to accept (however unwillingly) the idea that our loved one is gone from this earth.

It’s been sixty-nine weeks since my life mate — my soul mate — died of inoperable kidney cancer, and I still have bouts of tears. I was always a stoic and believed in facing reality, but this is one reality I cannot comprehend. I try to conjure him up in my mind, but he is forever out of reach. Forever gone.

According to Voltaire, “Tears are the silent language of grief.” When we have no words to describe our loss, when we have no way of comprehending the incomprehensible, all we have left are tears to communicate to us the depth of that knowledge and the depth of our loss. And so I weep.

I Thought I Was Through With Grief, But Grief Wasn’t Through With Me

I’d planned to stop writing about grief. Someone I respect said, “There comes a time when it’s healthy for one to move on and drop the grief banner. It comes at different times for different people and it is an important part of the healing process.” I thought I was at that point. I’ve been getting on with my life, living each day as it comes, dealing with the loneliness, seeing the whole of our shared life rather than the terrible end.

For the most part, we had a good relationship. We were friends, life mates, and business partners. We helped each other grow. We never expected the other to fix our individual problems, though we often took each other’s advice. We didn’t cling, demand, or base our relationship on unrealistic expectations. Together we provided a safe environment where each of us could be ourselves. We supported each other in any way we could. And we enjoyed being together.

Long-term illness, however, skews a relationship. Over the years, our world kept getting smaller and smaller, trapping us in a life where neither his needs nor mine were being met. In that constricted world, small betrayals loomed large. Small disagreements seemed insurmountable. And there was guilt galore. After he died, I worked through all of those leftover problems, came to a greater understanding of our relationship and what his ill health had done to us, and finally realized we both acted the only way we could in such an untenable situation. I also dealt with the soul searing pain of loss, with the confusing physical symptoms. (Like falling in love, falling in grief causes changes in hormones and brain chemistry, and creates incredible stress, but unlike love, you can’t regulate those changes with sex. Unless you’re into necrophilia.)

I thought I was through with grief, but grief wasn’t through with me. There was no great realization, no lightning bolt of discovery, just the truth settling into my soul: I’ll never see him again in this lifetime.

Seems an obvious conclusion, doesn’t it? I’ve been saying for fifteen months that he’s gone, though I always accompanied the statement with a bewildered remark about not being able to fathom the sheer goneness of him. And yet somehow, someway, in the dark recesses of my mind, I felt as if we were on a break, as if I’d come to take care of my father for a while, just as I did for my mother, and soon I’d be going back to our life. It didn’t help that, when I drove away from our home for the last time, his car was sitting out in front as it always did when I left. (I’d donated it to hospice, and they hadn’t yet come to pick it up.) Nor did it help that I’d made this same trip, stayed in this same room several times before.

I’ve often listened for the phone, hoping he’d call to ask me to come home as he’d once done, but now I know the truth, I feel it.

Eleven months ago I wrote: I dread the time it hits me deep down in my soul that he is dead, that I will never be going home to him, that I will never see him again. Well, this is that time. There are no more issues to work through, guilt to suffer, or blame to lay. No more feelings of being rejected or abandoned (as if it were his choice to leave me). There is no more stress or gut-wrenching pain. Just pure and simple heartbreak. And silent tears.