Yesterday was the four month mark of my husband’s passing. I’ve always considered it an anniversary of sorts, but recently read a post about a woman who reached the one-year mark of her husband’s passing. She accurately pointed out that the word “anniversary” makes it seem as if it’s a celebration, which this is clearly not. So I’m going to stick with the word mark, which seems innocuous enough, even though there’s a whole subtext of misery and unhappiness, in this instance.
In some ways, these past four months seem to have passed rather quickly. Perhaps that is simply because I wander around in a daze and not exactly present most of the time. In other ways, the time has also seemed a lifetime, with each new day seeming to bring a new challenge trying to adjust to this strange, new existence.
It occurred to me that I have also been marking two dates – one being the date of my husband’s passing, but the other being the date of his heart attack. Each is quite significant on its own, but together they are brutal, much like a one-two punch from the heavyweight champion.
As each month passes, it seems that I barely catch my breath from remembering one event before the next one comes up right behind it, being only a two-week span between the two dates. The first date, the day of my husband’s heart attack, is a difficult one to get through because that is the day when my world came to a screeching halt. It lead to days on end spent at the hospital, barely sleeping, barely eating (although I’d be OK if that byproduct returned…), and learning much more than I ever wanted to know about all things medical.
Less than 2 full weeks later, his body just couldn’t hold out any longer, and his organs quickly shut down. As I stood alone in the hallway just outside his room quietly sobbing, his heart beat its last beat and he was gone. They allowed me back into the room to take as long as I needed to say my goodbyes and I could do little more than lay my head on his chest and hold his hand for the last time as I waited for our oldest daughter to arrive. With tears streaming down my face, I alternated between “I love you” and “why?” and “I hope you’re finally at peace”.
Strangely, that constant fluctuation of emotions is exactly how the past four months have been, with some moments feeling more difficult than others to get through. There are more “good” moments these days, even though reading my blog you might think I spend all day every day a tearful, broken shell of a woman. While those moments are definitely there, and there seems to be no relief when I’m in the midst of them, there are more moments of laughter and smiles each day.
Perhaps it is because of the moments of despair and uncontrollable crying that I’m able to smile more often. It seems each crushing moment of heart-wrenching grief is there solely for the purpose of the emotional cleansing necessary to truly purge myself of all the negative emotions. That’s not to say there won’t always be some level of sadness that accompanies thoughts of A and our life together. That’s not to say I’m even close to “healed”. And that’s not to say that I won’t feel differently next week, tomorrow or even in an hour or two.
But for every time I empty my grief tank through an emotional meltdown (even temporarily), I’m clearing the way for it to be filled with something more positive. If it is never empty, there just isn’t room for much of the good stuff.
Think of it this way; when you bring your car in for an oil change, they completely drain the engine, catching all the sludge and gunk that builds up before refilling it with brand new oil. Between oil changes you can add a quart or two of new oil, but this can’t be done indefinitely or your engine will eventually most likely stop working properly (or even altogether) from all the build-up.
In much the same way, there are times when I allow myself a few tears before giving myself a mental shake and moving on, simply by virtue of necessity regarding location and/or activity (because a complete meltdown in the aisles of the grocery store or while driving on the turnpike is simply not the best laid plan). But at home, alone, when the mood strikes, I let go and fully give myself over to the pain. It’s extremely arduous when I’m in the depths of it, but the weight lifts tremendously as the sobs subside and I somehow feel lighter. More free. And it become easier to breathe. At least until the next devastating moment hits.
One of the promises I made to myself at the start of all of this, was to feel everything, no matter how painful. I never wanted to be held back and my journey through grief made longer simply because I was trying to protect myself from the anguish. It’s not going to just go away on its own if I never fully feel it; it would only lie in wait until some unsuspecting moment in the future and attack me then.
I’ve seen it time and again with people going through many different life struggles. They bury the hurt deep inside only to have it one day dig itself out, grab them by the shoulders and shake, forcing them to deal with it anyway. At least this way, I feel I have some semblance of “mastery” over it. I know I’m not really in control of my grief, but I can somewhat manage it by dealing with it rather than tucking it away for too long. Not allowing a full-on meltdown at the mall is quite different from never allowing myself to feel at all.
So I’ll keep emptying my tank as often as it takes and refilling it with the laughter and fond memories of the man I still miss like mad every day, until one day I realize I’m not having to drain it quite as often because the emotional sludge is collecting much more slowly.
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