January 2, 2013
2012 will always be the year that Dave died. Now that it is 2013 I am truly on my own. And it hurts. In a lot of ways. And I am the only one who can take care of me. In a lot of ways.
It hurts. My hips are in a constant state of aggravation. The wear and tear of life and climbing the stairs during Dave’s caregiving left me with a diagnosed hip impingement. A cortisone shot got me through the holidays in 2011. What a relief! And every since I’ve tried to will some extra joint padding to grow, worn shoes that are more orthopedic than cute and stretch, pull, or lightly exercise a change for the better. And they still hurt. I am the only one who can care for me. I don’t have to wait until I get climb the stairs again, do I? What a relief if I just go ahead and call to get a shot now. Take care of it.
It hurts. The void. I’ve been trying to sort out this transition into 2013. Some of the pain is the passage of time, but what I really feel is a void. Holidays and traditions make a widow feel lonely, but lonely is not the word for me. As I get comfortable back in my own singular skin I’ve recognized that I need to be around more people. Dave and I were hermits together. But just being around people isn’t the answer. I have a void. Those hours between 6 and 10 pm need nourishment that is more than people in a room. It is the lack of connection that is missing. To care for this will take more reflection, experimentation and acceptance.
It hurts. The roller coaster of getting on with my life after a loss. Good days. Bad days. Tears. Laughter. The paradox that there really is a part of me that wants to wallow in loss, yet that is not my style. I am rather practical and independent; I always have been. I’m sure Dave loved this about me. There is a part of me that fears happiness because that is not very honorable is it? Is happiness a betrayal? A twinge of emotion thinks so. Yet my current happiness springs out of love, not fear. It is just hard to trust. Being happy, and being responsible for my own happiness, is the ultimate caring for myself, which perhaps is new for me to take on consciously.
I wrote my journal end-of-year reflection just after Christmas in anticipation of looking backward on 2013 as I straddle the personal along with the business of understanding, coping with, and coaching through grief. It is a voice mostly for myself, but noticeably aloud in arm’s length perspective. Here is my entry:
Last month, as I officially moved though the first holidays without my husband Dave present, I personally acknowledged the traditions and basically chose to not worry about them. I say officially because I think I began processing my holiday grief in 2010 when he had his terminal illness diagnosis, and 2011 when I wasn’t sure we would see the start of 2012 together.
No stress, no plans, I figured. I would do “it” if I felt like it. I would go with the flow, I decided. I felt incredibly fortunate to have only myself to please, at least that is what I say to myself, as the family is grown. I set some criteria for minimum participation in meaningful ways. I gave myself the first gift of the season by focusing on my own grief. That was the best idea ever!
But before that happened, I remember telling my daughter that I just wanted to slide past December and into the New Year. She responded that she felt like that too, except, that would mean she would be saying her dad died last year. I lost my breath on that one. Changing the calendar adds a year marker onto our losses. At some point in the year, counting means one becomes two, three becomes four, or ten becomes eleven years since… For us, that begins on February 15. Time slips past us, like it or not, ready or not.
As a person who like to plan and look to the future and beginnings, I like a New Year. I don’t make resolutions per se, but I like re-upping my vision for life. I like the end-of-year review. I like being able to say “that’s over, whew” or I was “happy to have done this.” This year is so foreign to recognize that Dave’s death is slated as last year’s event. I’m glad it’s over, but not. I don’t mean this in a cold way, but as a matter of fact.
My lesson of 2012 is big. It’s big for me and also for what I know in order to help others through their grief. Changing my context of life from” we” to “me” has brought both intellectual and emotional challenges. The shift moves from who I have been (wife to widow, partner to individual) to who I want to be (what’s important, my values, my dreams) because I am here, now. This shift is required of me by my circumstances, but I have the choice to change or stay. The key I have found is by honoring “both intellectual and emotional” grief processes.
Death is a change agent of “was” to “is” to “will be.” How long it takes to travel this road varies. My big lesson is that we cannot simply think our way through grief. We can think the theories and knowledge and steps and actions. We can analyze normal. We can state he or she is gone. We can shrug our shoulders and say it happened. We can label it. We can talk and talk and talk.
We cannot simply feel our way through grief, either. Going into a deep dark place of angst, numbing the pain, telling our stories of how only this person fulfilled our lives. Living on feelings from woulda, coulda, shoulda. Memorializing, ritualizing, and enshrining. Focusing on only gratitude and faith. All of the feelings can only take us so far through grief.
We have to think about how we feel and we must feel the things we think.
If we do one, the other, or neither, our grief can erode our quality of life.
My husband died recently. My dad has died. My grandparents are all on the other side. Beloved pets have died, too. There are more deaths of people I love still in my future. Each has had a very different impact on my life. Losses accumulate and shape our human experience. But until we pour out the feelings of grief into thinking about our present life, we just might remain in the pain of what “was.”
2013 holds forth great promises for me. Actually, I hold forth great promises for me. You can call it a resolution, or a goal or whatever you want. I think I’ll just call it taking care of me!