Someone told me today that it’s time that I move on with my life. It was in response to the honest answer I gave when he asked how I was doing and evidently, it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear.
This came from someone who neither had the right to offer me unsolicited advice, nor the past experience to have any basis of understanding of what I’m going through. The level of pain, despair, and suffering that one endures through a circumstance like this is incomprehensible – until you experience it for yourself.
Though this was one of the worst things someone’s imparted on me since Ted’s death, it’s far from the only detrimental statement.
Minutes after the funeral, I was holding our baby and the flag that the honor guard presented to me with a look of sincerity and sorrow that I will never forget. Despite the murky sea of shock I was swimming in, I had the cognizance to realize I would never get over this; I would never be the same. But when I made that statement, almost to myself, it was met with one of the most common platitudes spoken to someone who has lost their spouse: he would want you to be happy.
As though it’s my uncertainty of what Ted would have wanted that’s preventing my happiness.
How about the fact that I’ve lost the love of my life? Or perhaps the fact that my innocent child is now fatherless? If not those, then the loss of the present that we worked so hard for and the future we dreamed of? Could those be reasons that I’m entrenched in a level of sorrow that’s not comparable to divorce, the loss of a friend, the loss of a grandparent, or even the loss of a parent for an adult child.
Those are all horrible losses, undoubtedly, but they are not the same. Yet for some reason, so many are unable to resist drawing comparisons, telling me how I should handle this, and discounting my need to grieve.
When I tell people I will never be as happy as I was six months ago, they give me a placating look that says aw, they all say that be they eventually find happiness.
I feel like I’m screaming in a tank of water, and no one hears me.
Yes, I recognize the fact that I may find happiness again (though, if this situation has shown us anything, it’s that there are absolutely no guarantees), but this loss is now the backdrop of my life, the lens through which I view my future. No matter what happens down the road, nothing can erase the fact that the life I dreamt of has been taken away from me and the family Eleanor was going to grow up in has been shattered.
When someone says that God may have a great man in store for me, they may as well be telling me, you might find a really nice replacement husband for yourself and replacement father for Eleanor.
Suggesting that a new man in our lives will fill the gaping hole that’s been torn into our hearts is as absurd as telling a mother who’s lost her child, you can have another one.
People are simply not replaceable, so why say this? Is it a total lack of understanding, or are statements like this borne out of hope that if something as horrifying happens to them, it won’t be that bad?
Spoiler: it’s that bad.
The only way to get through grief it is to experience it. You can’t shelve it, you can’t ignore it, you can’t rush it. If you want to come out to the other side as a healthy, fully functioning human being, you have to work through each stage, and it’s a long and all-encompassing process. It affects every aspect of your life: emotional (obviously), but also social, physical, mental, and spiritual, and there are no short cuts.
People foolishly hope that I’m doing “a little better every day.” No one wants to believe that it’s actually going to get harder before it starts to get better. But the way our brain protects us from tragedies, especially sudden ones, is to buffer us with shock and denial. As we’re able to process the first little bit of the horror, our brain takes in a little bit more and begins working through that.
With a loss as complicated and all-affecting as this, it could take a year before I have processed the entire loss. All the while, my anguish grows as my hope for the future diminishes.
In one of the earlier sessions with my grief counselor, I revealed my devastation for Eleanor. How is this loss going to impact her? What is it going to feel like when she sees other children playing with their daddies and she has to accept the fact that she’ll never get to play with hers? My counselor urged me not to take on that part of the loss just yet. I had enough to carry and my overburdened heart wouldn’t bear much more.
But so many people want to hurry this along. They see me exercising and getting back to work and want to assume I’m much better. They think that after the first year, things will be “back to normal,” but the reality is that I could be in the trenches for years to come.
When I do get to the other side, things will never be the way they were, I will simply have a new normal – which will always be less than what it should have been.
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