If there’s anything I have hesitantly learned over the past 2.5 years since Dons death, it is that grief is always changing. Always. Sometimes that is a comfort, and other times, it’s a huge pain in the ass.
It is a comfort because it is important knowledge to keep in your back pocket, on those days or nights when you feel as if you are in so much pain, that you might actually die. If you can pause the horrific pain for just long enough to remind yourself that you probably will not feel like this tomorrow – that can be helpful.
It is a pain in the ass because it feels like every single time you finally come to grips with or get used to having a particular emotion, the grief takes it somewhere else completely, and you don’t feel it anymore. Instead, you feel some other, weird version of it, or something totally different, something you are not at all familiar with. And even the “different” part is not only different, but different for each individual person going through grief. Often times, there really isn’t anyone else who understands what the hell you’re talking about when you say: “Two days ago I was bitter and angry at all younger couples, the ones that are newly in love. Today I’m over that, but now I’m pissed off at anyone who has been married for 50+ years! Next Thursday, I shall despise all squirrels, because they get to live, and my husband doesn’t!” Yes, these emotions may sound completely ridiculous or exaggerated, but they are neither of those things. They are very real and often very isolating and scary for the person sitting inside of them, waiting for them to become something else.
The constant shifting and changing of grief can be very confusing. You feel one way, then another, and another, and another. You can stay in the same bracket of emotion for as long as a few weeks or even months, or as little as a few hours! What’s worse, is that each emotion is so strong and specific, that you often feel like some hyped-up version of Sally Field’s character in the classic movie Sybil, because there is no way that a sane person with only one personality, could experience all of these many layers of feelings, on a loop, over and over and over again, for such a long period of time. Until my husband died, I never knew , for example, that there could be so many different variations of sadness.
There is sadness that is solely about missing them, and nothing more. There is sadness that has other things attached to it, such as guilt, fear, and panic. There is silent sadness, that sits inside you for days, while nobody else notices. There is “crying and driving” sadness. There is “must run out of the room RIGHT THIS SECOND because I’m going to burst into tears” sadness. There is sadness for you. Sadness for the one who died. Sadness for your past. Your present. Your future. Sadness from watching a TV show, or commercial, that isn’t really about the TV show, but about your new reality. There is sadness for all the people who will never know your loved one, and more sadness for all the people and things your loved one will never know. There is the kind of sadness that seeps out when you are hearing another widowed person’s story, for the first or the hundredth time, and it finally just hits you. There is the sadness that is so visceral – so raw – that it stops you cold in the middle of a NYC street, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people, and you just sob. There are many more kinds of sadness, but sadness is only one of a billion emotions, and each emotion has it’s own list of variations, so if I sat here and went through them all, you might not have time for all that. You, dear reader, might actually have a life. So I think you get my point.
Sometimes these shifts in grief emotions are completely sudden, coming out of nowhere and assaulting you. Other times, they are so subtle, it might take someone else to point them out to you by saying: “But I thought you were feeling better the other day when I saw you.” “I was. And now I’m feeling worse.” To be honest, it’s a little jarring to never know what to expect from your own brain and heart. One minute you are feeling pretty mellow and calm, and the next, you want to poke yourself in the eyeballs with ice picks just to distract yourself from the fact that your husband is actually still dead.
I think the perfect way to describe these ping-pong feelings is this: About a half an hour ago, I sat down to write this piece for my book. Except that it wasn’t this piece. It was a completely different piece I was going to write about grief, called “Don’t forget Your Hat.” But now, that piece will have to wait a few days, because the instant I started to type, something completely different came dancing from my fingertips. Suddenly and without warning, I was writing and typing about the ever-changing emotions and many faces of grief. Why? Hell if I know! That is just where my grief-infested mind took me. And in an hour, I will travel somewhere different. That’s just how it works, whether you want it to or not.