Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Grief: No no no - No More Normal

Why do we always want know what is normal?  Perhaps that is completely the wrong question.  The medical profession and the helping professions are taking normal and making it such a narrow category that very few people meet their definition any more.  When my daughter was little she often didn't behave the way people wanted her to.  Now she would have oppositional-defiant disorder.  I have good moments and bad moments.  I once had a psychiatrist prescribe lithium for me.  I read about it and quickly threw it away.  Having normal mood swings is not bipolar - as anyone who genuinely is bipolar would know.  Now they have made grief into a mental disorder called "Complicated or Morbid" grief.  The measuring stick they use to determine this is ridiculous.  How long should grief last - 6 months?  When i know and you know that it lasts as long as it lasts - often forever.  Grief can lead to depression and PTSD but grief is not depression or PTSD - it is...well, it is grief.  When you love someone and they die - it hurts.  It hurts every day for the rest of your life.  The question is not how long does this hurt last - but whether or not you are capable of turning it - as someone wrote on my Facebook page - from your enemy into your companion.  My grief for my husband - my missing him - my longing for his physical presence - will be with me always.  Will I use that grief to enrich my life or let it oppress me?

We don't even acknowledge that what is normal is different for different people.  Normal for a small child is different than normal for a teenager which is different from normal for an adult which is different from normal for an elderly person.  Normal for a healthy person is different than normal for a person with a chronic illness.  Normal for a person who has never experienced deep grief is different for someone who has.  What I find now that I have so much contact with grieving people of different ages, religions, nationalities is that everything we think is not normal - is.  Do you feel angry - sad - numb - lost - like you can't breathe - like you are going crazy - having trouble sleeping? - feeling good one day then hit with an unexpected wave of grief - and on and on - guess what.  That is all normal.  People all over the world are feeling the same things.  Maybe in different ways and different proportions - but whatever you are experiencing - someone else is too.  The people who tell you to move on or that you are stuck - or that what you are experiencing isn't healthy or normal are in the dark themselves.  They don't know that grieving people take to lying about how they really feel in order not to hear things that are hurtful - in order not to be rejected - or medicated - or fixed.  Ask the person who thinks you are grieving too much if they got a phone call in five minutes that their child was killed in a car accident - or their husband or wife - when they would get over it.  I did that once to a man I know - he started to cry.  I had to comfort him for something that hadn't even happened.  He stopped trying to make me feel better.

The question isn't whether or not what I am doing is normal.  The question is whether or not what I am doing is allowing me to live the life I want.  The past almost five years have been a continuous spiral up and down of learning how to be more productive - how to have more and more happy moments - how to be more fully alive with grief.  Staying in bed and staring at the wall (this fifth year - as I had been warned - is full of a lot of despair - although since I have tools now to deal with it a little better) actually works for me in small increments.  I find it helpful to spend time with my grief.  It doesn't work for me if I do it all day every day.  I have never lost the feeling of great sadness every time I return home knowing that my husband will not be waiting for me.  It occurred to me that maybe this is something I can change.  I'm not sure how yet.  I have the ability to change things - I have done it with other things.  Most of my memories now make me smile instead of cry.  Most places I walk past that we were together make me think about our happy moments.  When I see an advertisement for boxing or tennis I remember how much joy my husband got from watching then instead of cursing things for going on without him.  My eating is still weird.  My sleeping gets off track.  I get confused between wanting to die to be with him and wanting to live to do everything else.  I remind myself that what is a long time to me on Earth is a blink of the eye in terms of eternity.

I don't want to be fixed.  I don't want to be happy all the time.  I don't care if I am "normal".  When i see what normal is - sometimes I laugh and wonder why anyone would want that!  It is like wanting to be ordinary when we are all really extraordinary - in our own ways.

I was watching a soap opera of all things and someone said something like we disrespect the life of our loved one if we let their death mean more to us than their life.  It made me stop and think.  It is not so much what my husband would want for me - or even what I want for myself.  It was - yeah - that's it.  Do I not somehow do a disservice to all the happy times and fighting times and loving times if I remember them with pain instead of joy?  Can I not look at our love - constant - enduring - splendid - even if our relationship was sometimes troubled and less than it might have been - with clear eyes not shadowed by grief?  That's wrong.  In some ways grief sharpens the way I remember Artie.  I don't take anything for granted any more.  I can treasure our moments together even more than I did when he was alive.  The fact that there are no more of them in the same form makes them more precious. I was given - am still being given so much by my husband - am I rejecting those gifts if all I do is feel sorry for myself rather than feeling blessed and grateful?  My husband's life mattered - it still matters - more than his death.  How can I embody that?  How can I live that?

I am not there.  I will never be there.  I don't even know where there is.  However - I can continue every day to do the best I can to take this monster grief and tame it so that I ride on its back to many magical places I would not have gone without it.  Missing Artie, loving Artie, feeling somehow not whole without him - yet at the same time never letting the darkness dim the light - never letting my grief diminish the power of what we had and have.

If you figure out how to do this easily...let me know.  Until then - I described it as driving a car on a multi-lane highway.  One lane will always be grief - but may we all have ever more lanes - and when we drift or drive deliberately back into the grief lane - may we learn how to just put on our signal light and turn the wheel so we can move again into which ever lane is best for us.

Almost five years later I have a rather magical life.  I don't talk about it that much because I write about grief.  It is a life I have worked hard to create.  I am ordinary in many anything I can create - you can too.  Do I always feel the magic - no.  Do I feel it more often.  Yes.  Did grief gentle down - yes.  Most days.  Throw out normal.  Oscar Wilde said - "Be yourself.  Everyone else is taken."  It's been quite an effort to even imagine a Jan without her Artie (he says I am never without him - but you know what I mean) but there is one.  I'm learning more about her every day.  She is the woman my husband loves.  Here's to you being you again - not a "normal" you - but a newly discovered ever growing you.  Not being there yet maybe...but finding moments of life and happiness breaking through - finding the unbearable bearable - breathing when you cannot breathe - doing it all because you would not be grieving if you had lived your life without experiencing love -  as far too many people do.  With love. xo


  1. That made me cry and nod in agreement all the way through.

  2. So inspiring and true, I am still in shock, 5 months for me, I can't imagine 5 years :'(