Giving Grief Its Due

Just days before my fiftieth birthday last  April, my beloved dog Tanner became gravely ill. He was diagnosed with a rare, terminal condition and died in June.

My friend Suzy helped me bury Tanner in my backyard, right by some special lilies I’d planted in memory of my husband. Adam also had died of a rare illness, a relatively rare bone marrow cancer called Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia, in May 2003.

In between losing Adam and Tanner, I lost my mother, as well, to complications from strokes she suffered at a family reunion on a beach in Maine in August 2005.

With three major deaths in five years, my grief has been profound. Sometimes it seems endless. And because these deaths occurred in such a relatively short stretch of time, just as the pain was beginning to soften from one loss, the next loved one died.

Yet for all the sorrow that has been telescoped into these last few years, I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of giving grief its due.

Grieving takes time. Grieving takes energy. Grieving takes courage.

I have been amazed at grief’s power to affect every part of my being-physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

In early grief, an extreme fatigue wraps around me like a blanket I cannot throw off.  Some days, I crawl right back into bed after having just eaten breakfast.

Sleep doesn’t necessarily bring respite. The tears flow even then. And my loss seems even louder as evening comes and the quiet magnifies the emptiness.

The simplest chores take Herculean effort. The figures in my checkbook just won’t balance. Items I never misplace disappear into thin air. My words sputter and stop mid-sentence.

“Grief takes up a lot of space in my head,” I try to explain to friends.  It’s the only way to depict how my brain wrestles with a reality so devastating that it seems incomprehensible-that my loved one no longer breathes on this earth.

And my heart? Who knew it could break so many times and so sharply and into so many pieces? And that emotional pain creates a fatigue that surpasses my extreme physical exhaustion.

Contrary to popular myths, I don’t “get over” my grief in a week or two, after a month, or even following a year of first anniversaries.

But thanks to hospice bereavement groups, some wonderful books and friends who’ve walked through loss ahead of me, I’ve learned to live with grief as best as I can. I slog through it, in fits and starts, in bewilderment and clarity, in sorrow and in grace.

It is a much longer, harder process than popular modern culture would have us believe. It feels that as a society, we’ve lost touch with the wisdom and rituals and reality of death that our ancestors understood.

The difficult truth is that the healing comes through the grieving. The respite after the tears. My laughter is jumbled in with my sorrow. The same poignant memories that stab with heart-aching longing also hold the warm, soothing comfort that eventually flows.

Gradually, very gradually, over months and years, the gratitude for the life we shared takes up more space than the grief. It is hard work to heal. Personally, I don’t “get over” my loss. Why would I want to get over a love so sweet and maddening and dear?

I do, however, learn to live with the loss, to move forward in my life, in what friends call a “new normal.” And I’m let in on one of humankind’s deepest and, in this culture’s, often unspoken truths:  facing death changes life forever. How often we forget this reality. Yet how differently we might live, and treat others, when we remember.

Helene J. Powers, a freelance writer and educational consultant who lives in Florence, MA, contributes frequently to www.fiftyshift..com, where this essay first appeared.  She can be reached at hjpowers@verizon.net.

Share

3 Responses to Giving Grief Its Due

  • Dear Sally,
    I want to extend my sincere condolences for the loss of your husband and for taking time to comment on an article. You are so honest about your grief and I applaud you for recognizing that your journey has taken you into many different directions and back into grieving. Unfortunately, there is no escape from grieving, you can ignore it or mask it but as you discovered it eventually rears its ugly head until we face it. So you are doing it even though its hard, uncomfortable and downright sucks! You are recognizing that as a widow you lose your partner and your identity as a couple and for me in addition I lost my business partner. It’s been difficult for me and all the other widow/widowers I talk with. So you are not alone, not that it brings you alot of comfort at this very moment, but I will encourage you to see a local grief and/or widows group in your area, there can be much comfort in being with others who are walking this journey too. There are great resources if you click on my resource pagelink here. You are welcome to email me anytime for any reason.
    Hang in there Sally, your kids need you and one day you will find the purpose and passion for life again.
    JoAnne Funch

  • I’ve been widowed for two years last June 4, and its been a time of such heartbreak and emotion for me. I am 41, have two children, 6 and 14, and have dealt with not only the loss of my husband, but my life as a wife as well. My father also died in January 2008, and I’ve had to really try to come to terms with what I want in my life now, and to grieve over the loss I have had. I’ve tried to run from widowhood with dating, dieting and overdoing, and I’m finally learning to allow myself to grieve my losses and be O.K. with my life and letting nature progress in its own time. Thank you for contacting me.

  • So much Truth in the Statement, your life is changed forever

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Note: Commenter is allowed to use '@User+blank' to automatically notify your reply to other commenter. e.g, if ABC is one of commenter of this post, then write '@ABC '(exclude ') will automatically send your comment to ABC. Using '@all ' to notify all previous commenters. Be sure that the value of User should exactly match with commenter's name (case sensitive).
 

Heartache To Healing StepsJoin our community of support, inspiration and hope!

You'll also receive my guide: "Steps From Heartache To Healing" by filling in the form below:

icon icon

icon icon

Click Image For Details