Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grief: Why Is It So Hard To Understand How I Feel?

I didn't realize the post about other people being unable to understand our grief would be a series.  I thought I had it handled.  Like many aspects of grieving all you have to do is think you have it handled for it to come back over and over again.

I talk about it.  I write about it.  I am surprised when people who are close to me don't understand that grieving doesn't stop.  They don't understand that it is always one of the layers of who I am.  Hello.  I'm writing it again.  My daughter (who is 38) did a very good job of supporting me when my husband died.  Then, most sadly, her best friend was killed by cancer.  Now she understands.  She knows that no one will ever replace him.  She knows that things will happen in her life that she will want to share with him and she is heartbroken that she can't.  She looks at her daughter and thinks of how she wanted - and he wanted - to be there as little Gwendy learned everything new thing.  Gwendy will only know him through stories and pictures.

I didn't start with this in mind - is it possible if you haven't experienced death that matters yourself you cannot understand?  I hope not.

I wrote in a previous post about my good friend who I sat down and asked to stop saying "We create our own reality."  and "Everything is all right,"  because in my life that makes me sad.  I didn't create my own reality.  If my husband could create his own reality he would have beat cancer rather than die from it.  With Artie dead nothing is ALL right.  It can be partly right but never ALL right.  I felt good that she respected what I said and changed her behavior.

Then, one friend went home and I was joined on this lovely in many ways trip, by another.  We were sitting in a restaurant having a delightfully sinful dinner of hot chocolate and pastry.  It had been a long day of touring and I was tired.  If I wasn't I might not have jumped at her quite so strongly.  This lovely older man sat down at a piano and began to play.  The first song he played was As Time Goes By.

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is still (just) a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by

And when two lovers woo
They still say: I love you
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by

Moonlight and love songs - never out of date
Hearts full of passion - jealousy and hate
Woman needs man - and man must have his mate
That no one can deny

It's still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by

Artie used to hold me in his arms, sing that song in my ear and we would dance.  He was very rhythmical and I am clunky.  We called in thug dancing.  I shared this with my friend.  I was surrounded by memory. In my head I was struggling. I tried with all my skills to roll my memories back and make myself feel as loved and happy as I had in those moments.  The memory kept coming back to the pain of the present moment.  Never again will I dance with Artie.  Never again will he sing to me (and listen to my off key singing).  It is over.  Done.  Time has gone by and my husband is dead.  "Go back into the happy column!" I silently ordered the memory as the music played.  Out it popped again into the painful column.

At that point my friend said, "I'm so glad that all your memories of Artie are good ones."  What?  How did she get there?  She said, "Because you cherish him."  I was astonished.  I asked her, "Do you read my blog."  "Yes."  But still...she doesn't understand.  I apologized after because I didn't let her off the hook.  I told her the following. 

I make a point of saying over and over that I want to remember my husband as he really was - not as some fictional idealized creation.  I remember the beautiful moments.  I also remember the screaming, the lack of understanding.  I remember turning away from him when I should have turn towards him.  I remember when he did the same to me.  My first thought when I found out he had cancer was, "Wow.  We really messed that up."  We did have a perfect love but we had an incredibly imperfect marriage.  I cherish him.  I regret all the moments we threw away because we were both damaged people and were too often very bad at expressing our love.  All my memories aren't good ones.  The beauty of our love  -  what I cherish about it - is the fact that in spite of anger, disappointment etc... it is steadfast.  Even death can't touch it.  We made a promise, "Nobody leaves.".   Forgetting the bad memories would dishonor that commitment.  It would dishonor the miracle of someone loving you not at your best - but at your worst.

The second part is that if you are truthful you might not have all good memories of whoever has died.  The reason is that some times the good memories hurt.  The good memories accentuate the loneliness, the waiting, even the despair.  I have talked about techniques to get those memories into the happy feeling place they belong but it isn't always automatic.  Now, almost four years later when I think of living Artie often and many memories make me smile - I still at times - like listening to that song get hit by flying pain arrows.  

When we left the restaurant I thanked the gentleman for being so delightful.  I said, "You played a song my husband used to sing to me when he was alive."  The gentleman was quite happy to receive a compliment and asked me what song it was.  I said, "As Time Goes By".  I left the restaurant to that song.  I live my life to that song.  Sometimes it's a good thing.  Sometimes it's a terrifically lonely thing.

Then my friend - who I hope if she reads this knows I love her (and if you think it's you it could as well be someone else) saw my new apartment for the first time.  I am grateful for my new apartment.  It is a beautiful and cosy space.  She said, "I'm so glad things are better for you."  My poor friend.  I said, "My husband is still dead.  Nothing is ever better."  I don't even mean that in a bad way.   

All I want is for people to understand that I am now layered.  In one of those layers always lies pain, loneliness, sorrow and sometimes anger.  It's not my only layer.  I have many layers.  I have many happy moments.  I especially adore my granddaughter.  I arrange my life to have happy moments.  I do more now than when Artie first died.  I have accomplishments I am proud of.  That is why I call it Alive With Grief.  I have taken many of my resistant parts that want to stay dead and be with my husband and taught them how to appreciate and find joy in the present.  Should I have faulted my two friends for making the mistake of having a good time with me, seeing me laugh with genuine feeling, and then thinking that I am better or things are all right?  My truth is I never, even for one moment, forget that my husband died and without his being here in his physical body I am forever wounded.  Even if I remarry I will be wounded.  If I forget for a while with my conscious mind, my unconscious mind and my body remember.  

Being so deeply wounded is because I was given the gift of loving deeply.  Our tour guide - a wonderful woman said, "Queen Victoria made mourning into an art."  I thought, but didn't say, "That's because when the tour is over you will go home to your husband.  If he dies - then you will understand."

So...a short post turned into a long post.  I will keep speaking out.  It's my job.  I want to be understood.  I also want my close friends to remain close friends and if you don't understand this basic part of me you don't know me.  I want to be known so much I am known by strangers.  Often, it is the strangers who understand.  I want my friends to understand too.  

I honor the struggle each of you go through every day.  I honor and acknowledge the pain and the loneliness and the stumbling.  I also honor - and hope for life to be there as well.  We are like flowers that push their way through rough ground.  Purple flowers I saw growing through ancient stone castle walls.  A bright yellow dandelion growing in the small space in between sidewalk paving stones.  A brilliant pink flower emerging from a prickly cactus.  Those are our moments of happiness.   I know how hard the ground can be - may the amount of flowers it produces ever increase and surprise you.  May, in flowering, you have those many moments of happiness that your beloved dead would want for you.  xo 


  1. JAN one has said it better.....others just want to push it aside and remember......wait til it happens to them. And I think the dying really wish mainly for two things; that you know that they loved you AND that you do not forget them!

    I won't forget Barney!


  2. Thanks for writing your blogs Jan!!! I relate to what you say. It is like what I think and feel has been put down on paper.