Over the last few weeks and months or so, I have been witnessing a lot of very deep hurt and pain, coming from my friends in the widowed community. A lot of my widowed friends have been collectively hurting lately, and it is sitting on my heart like a great big boulder. When people you care about are in pain, and all you can do is sit there and stare at it, it is a really awful and helpless feeling. It literally makes my heart hurt.
Of course, there is the everyday pain of losing the person you loved most in this world, but that pain is there every single day, every time you breathe. Some days, that pain sits in the backdrop of your life, mildly making itself known here and there, but generally allowing you to live. And other days, that pain does a 14-hour non-stop drum solo on top of your heart, pounding and pounding at you rudely, until the only release you have from it’s grip is the possibility of sleep. That is the pain caused by losing someone to death.
We all know about that pain. But what I am witnessing is different from that pain. This pain I have been seeing a lot of lately, mostly comes from the judgments of other people. It comes from having to listen over and over, for years and years after the loss of the life you had, to clueless people and their words of unhelpful, baseless opinions. It comes from the sheer exhaustion of having to constantly explain your choices, your emotions, and your heart. It comes from feeling like you have to apoligize or justify the love that you will always have for your person that died. It comes from living in a world where grief has an expiration date, and where you are made to feel shame for loving and honoring your person forever.
The pain also comes from another place.
It comes from us.
It comes from inside.
It comes from us putting judgments on ourselves.
It comes from the bruises and the wounds that we create, every time we beat ourselves up, yet again.
This type of pain is self-inflicted, repetitive, and it is the hardest kind of pain to stop.
The very second that you become widowed, everything inside of you changes. Everyone around you is living their life, and wanting you to join them in being part of the living, but every single cell inside of you is screaming and wincing and uncomfortable. These cells that live in your bloodstream are not the same cells you had only minutes ago, when your life partner’s heart was still beating. Somehow, in that same exact second that your spouse or partner’s life ended, the life you knew ended too, and all the pieces of you that were once there, came barreling out onto the floor, exploding instantly. You are now left with these new cells inside of you, and you don’t recognize any of them. You aren’t even sure how they got in there, but you certainly didn’t invite them. Nothing feels familiar at all, and you are on this darkened road with no way out.
The people who are living their life tell you to join them. They ask you to go forward with them. They beg you not to get “stuck” where you are. But as you look around, you realize that you no longer have the same eyes anymore to look with, and your mouth feels different too. Come to think of it, these are not the legs you had yesterday, and these are not the same fingers and toes and kneecaps either. None of this feels like who you were before, and the inhaling and exhaling of air feels foreign now too, and you’re not sure if you remember how to really breathe right at all. Even the thoughts inside your head don’t feel like your own, and you suddenly feel very easily confused. You feel like a prisoner inside your own body, and you just want to get out. You feel itchy and dry, and you want to crawl out of your own skin. But where would you go? Where could you possibly go, that it would ever stop hurting this much? Everywhere that you go, they are still dead. Everywhere that you go, you are still here, inside this thing called hell, where you are now alive and they are dead. You are floating inside of a black cloud, trapped, and you don’t know who you are or why you’re here. You don’t know anything that you knew just minutes ago. Not anymore.
So this black cloud of paralysis lasts as long as it lasts, and takes as long as it takes. And during this time of intense, overwhelming pain and grief, most of us do things or feel things or make choices that we are not proud of. We make these choices and have these feelings, because we are not ourselves. We are living inside this foreign version of ourselves, and so we no longer possess confidence, and we no longer know how to follow or trust our own intuition about things. We only want the pain to stop. So these choices and feelings and doings are all things that are born out of immense hurt and inconceivable loss. They are born out of making any and every attempt to somehow escape or fast-forward through this horrific grief inside of us. And these actions and thoughts and choices weigh on our souls. They step on us and try to hold us down underwater, when we are already drowning from the death of the person we love. They torture us in the night, in the day, and in our hearts. And they continue to torture us for months. Or years. Or forever. The only thing that can make them stop torturing us – is us. The only way to stop this pain, is for us to make the decision to forgive ourselves. It takes a lot of time and a lot of realizations and a lot of courage to forgive ourselves, but we cannot truly shift from existing to living, until we do.
Please forgive yourself.
Please forgive yourself for maybe not being the best wife or husband that you knew how to be at that time. Or for not telling your person who died how much you love them, or what they mean to you, or how they changed your life. Please forgive yourself for not seeing the signs of an illness that you couldn’t possibly know or see at that time. Forgive yourself for being so shell-shocked by grief, that you still can’t remember the last few hours or days of your own husband’s life. Please forgive that you didn’t say good morning that day, or that you were fast asleep while your husband was collapsing at work on a cold floor, alone. Please forgive yourself for feeling pissed off at life, or at God, or at your beautiful person who died. Please forgive yourself for wanting, more times than you can count, to die, and to no longer have to exist in this pain anymore. Forgive yourself for the dark thoughts – the ones that you wish you could make go away, and the ones that you became friends with, and didn’t ever want to go away.
Forgive yourself for the thoughts you don’t like to think about. The thoughts you have had of pure jealousy toward others who have lost differently than you. Forgive yourself for feeling jealous of the couples who shared a lifetime, or 50 years together, or even 10, before one of them died. Forgive yourself for looking at old people and feeling rage because you won’t ever know a life of growing old together with your person. Forgive yourself for being jealous of your own wonderful brother, because he gets to keep his wife, and he gets to have the house and the family with two kids and the life that you were supposed to have too. Forgive yourself for hating your husband’s father because he was a shitty dad, and because he didn’t tell his own son he had a heart condition that has no symptoms or warnings. Forgive yourself for all the times you snapped at people who were just trying to help, or for the hundreds of times you cried in the car while on your way to work, or ran to the bathroom in the middle of work because you couldn’t stop the hurt. Forgive yourself for expecting too much from friends and family, or for being shocked and disappointed by the lack of empathy people have in general toward your loss.
Please forgive yourself for the choices you made in the months and years after your loss. The ones that you keep harboring over, and harming your soul over. Forgive yourself for not being a good parent or daughter or son or friend or sibling or whatever else – to the people in your life, when you lost your person to death. Forgive yourself for having no clue whatsoever, how impossibly hard this would be, and for not feeling like you have the strength or the care to do it at all. Forgive yourself for over-eating. Or drinking too much. Or using drugs or other things, in a veiled attempt to get out of the pain, or pretend it wasn’t there at all. Forgive yourself for not knowing or caring that none of those things would help you, for not realizing that the only way out is through. Forgive yourself for abusing your body – either intentionally or unintentionally – in the many ways that you may have done such a thing. Forgive yourself for the poor choices you may have made, in the throws of living with death inside your being. Forgive yourself for the relationships you entered into for all the wrong reasons, at all the wrong times. Forgive yourself for having too much sex, or no sex at all, in trying to find yet another way to numb that pain. Forgive the wrongdoings you may have done to others that you care about, while you weren’t living inside your actual self.
Forgive yourself for looking in strange or harmful places for what you thought might be new love. Forgive yourself for falling for something that wasn’t what you thought it was or might be. Forgive yourself for getting trapped in your own agony, and for spiraling out of control after losing the love of your life. Forgive yourself for not listening to yourself, and for following the mantras and the cliches of others who told you their opinions of how you should live your life. Forgive yourself for getting involved too quickly, or for any actions you took that made you feel like you were “dishonoring” the person who died. Forgive yourself for not doing things the way that they used to do them, or for feeling like maybe they should be alive and you should have died instead. Forgive yourself for not caring about living. Forgive yourself for questioning everything, and for abandoning the things that no longer serve you or that you no longer believe to be true. Forgive yourself for changing your feelings about what God is or isn’t, and know that life-altering deaths are the biggest reasons for these feelings to change.
Forgive yourself , forgive yourself, forgive yourself. For all of it.
Now you can begin to live.
About two months or so after my husband’s very sudden death, I was having lunch with my best childhood friend at a restaurant nearby to my apartment. She asked me how I was doing, or how I was really doing, and I said something to the effect of: “Not good, actually. Just going through the motions, but it’s so awful.” She looked at me with tears in her eyes, and she said with fierceness and confidence: “Well, I happen to think that a parade should be thrown in your honor, every single damn time you decide to roll your ass out of bed and take a shower.”
At the time, her comment made me chuckle, but now, four and a half years later, I know that she is absolutely 1000% right. She is right about all of us. Anyone who loses someone that they love to death – whether it be a spouse, partner, friend, sibling, parent, child, or anyone else that is a piece of your very heart. Now I know, because I am living it, that what my dear friend was saying, is that whatever you do or don’t do, following the loss of that person you loved, you are a goddamn hero.
Do you hear me? YOU ARE A HERO.
Living with the death of someone you love, is the most excruciating, horrific, unimaginable thing you will ever face.
here you are.
You’re doing it.
Maybe today was the day you moved out of the home that you both shared. Or maybe you opened a box that you werent ready to open a week ago. Or maybe you were going to donate some of their clothing or precious things, but you couldnt go through with it, so you drank a glass of wine instead. Maybe you found the energy to shower this morning. Or you called out of work because your soul needed to hang out under the blankets of denial instead. Or maybe you made it through a grief-trigger or a moment of panic or anxiety. Maybe you cried nonstop for 5 hours before you were finally able to pick up his cremains from the funeral home. Maybe you decided to donate his organs today. Maybe you stood over your kitchen sink for 45 minutes, trying to decide whether or not it made sense to throw away that last can of soda that she opened but didn’t finish. Maybe you didn’t decide today. Maybe you need more time with that one. Maybe you started a new job or left an old one. Maybe you had to drive your other children to school today for the first time, knowing that your child who died would not be in that car. Maybe this was the first Wednesday that you attended a family function without your brother being there. Maybe you decided to try making the apple pie today – the one that your mom used to make for so many years, before she died. Maybe you listened to a song today that threw you into grief hell. Maybe you opened the door into their bedroom today, and were able to sit on the bed where they often sat. Maybe you changed something in that room, or maybe you thought it was best to keep leaving it the way it is. Maybe you brought flowers, or your beautiful self, to your wife’s grave today. Maybe you got a haircut today that your husband might not have liked, or you took a risk and did something new and different , that you maybe wouldnt have done in your other life. Maybe you washed their favorite pair of socks today by accident, and then you were horrified when they no longer smelled like him. Maybe you went to the store and bought the deodorant that they used to wear, and got in your car and sniffed it over and over again like a lunatic. Maybe you took a step forward today, only to be knocked backward again. Maybe you kissed someone else for the first time since your partner died. Maybe you ran away somewhere to get away from your pain. Maybe that worked for awhile. Maybe today you finally didnt feel guilty for throwing away their toothbrush. Maybe you watched your daughter or son get married today, while your own heart was breaking in half, because their father or mother isnt here to see it. Maybe you tried a support group today. Maybe you made a different choice. Maybe today was the day you decided, and KNEW, that living your fullest life, is the very best way to honor the one you had with them. Maybe you need more time.
But wherever you are in your loss, in your process – know this:
You are a hero. You are a rock-star. You are an amazing and wonderful thing.
Even when you screw up. Even when you make awful choices. Even when, even when ………
You are doing this.
You are living through this, and with this, and inside of this.
And even if the only thing you can make yourself do today is roll your ass out of bed and shower, you are my hero.
Don’t you forget it.
Forgive yourself. Rid your mind of all the shit that keeps you beating yourself up.
Live in color.
And then throw yourself a Parade.