Still Grieving

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It’s finally clear to me this morning that I am still grieving, that is, I am still processing this end of my first year without Dave. I can hear a resounding “well, duh!” in my head, but it is my heart, my emotion, that has trouble in the acceptance department.

My dreams have included Dave lately, a significant sign of internal processing.

I’ve had a tough time working. Over the last couple of weeks, probably month, sitting at the computer and in my office has not felt productive (although I have been). I have a disconnect going on “between my ears.” (Ha-ha. Gotta love what pops out in writing) Between my ears- the brain, the left and right hemispheres of logic and emotion. Between my ears- the manifestation of my well-being with the angst that is my balance physically. But I think my balance emotionally is what I am really working on. Balance emotionally.

Laying in bed this morning, I defined my disconnect as showing up for others, but not for myself. In my office I am there to do the work outsiders see, yet I sit and avoid, or can’t seem to complete things, or simply not get to the “it” of the day. The work I have in mind is not getting accomplished (that could be because I simply have a big list of great ideas!) However, for appointments and programs and the outside world I am present and competent. Everything else seems like to have flown out the window.

I’m not showing up for myself, I thought. What’s wrong with me that I can’t seem to work? Do I worry that I could be getting depressed? I do.

But actually, I am grieving. And that is showing up for myself. What a relief to think of it this way! What I need is to be conscious that the unwanted avoidance of my business tasks is actually a required focus on me. The desire to sleep is nature’s way (dreams) of processing and healing both my physical self and emotional self. I have not disconnected from others; in fact, I am making more outside contact personally and professionally these days. That is showing up.

This lead up to the end of the first year is tougher than I could imagine. Whereas Dave’s birthday hit me like a crashing tsunami, I feel like this sea of loss is churning up all sorts of cold water from deep ocean waves.

I want to tell myself I am being selfish by doing less outside work, planning some real vacation time, stepping away from the computer, attempting more physical activity and going out for lunch or shopping with friends. This morning I am allowing myself to accept this time I need to transition. The end of the first year is only symbolic. But perhaps it meshes well with my need for deadlines.

The mask of grief is to make that outside world see everything is OK- show up for others. Grief’s inside mask can be one of self doubt and who’s there for me? Grief work is about digging and learning to show up for me. As a widow, the real grief work is accepting the changed identity.

My identity crisis has been churning throughout this year. I have a few unpublished writings exploring this content among my journals. This is the transition of loss. Death is the change agent. Who am I now? Do I like me? How do I show up for myself? Will I tell myself I am selfish or do I tell myself that yes, you are permitted to enjoy life on your own! The answers are intellectually obvious, the acceptance more emotionally challenging. And even why it is difficult to accept enjoying myself is perplexing.

With a partner loss, identity change is huge. From we and us to me and my; from married to widow to single; from beside and together to alone – it begins with the language and ends with the internal acceptance. The lesson is still to learn to love one’s self as much as one loves others and can be loved.

“Show up. Pay attention. Love the best you can.” I wholeheartedly adopt my friend Sophie Lumen’s The Three Pearls creed every day.

What I know

I opened the hall doorway to Dave’s office last week. Now, every time I walk to the kitchen or the family room, I know. I know he’s not sitting behind the closed door. I know I won’t be making his dinner. I know that there are piles of memory and legacy to sort through in the coming year. This is not unapproachable any longer. I have opened the door. His world is now being integrated into my world. His study is now part of my home. This room represents one more thing to do, sort his personal belongings, but I know that will come in time. Rather than hiding the grief, hiding the loss behind this door, I feel better paying attention.

I am bravely claiming my own life, my own identity today. I am paying attention to me. This, too, is a journey. The last time I was on a conscious identity trail I was in my early twenties and getting married. I am no longer. At the time I took his surname as my own. I’ve presented myself to the world longer with his name than with my birth name. Is it still mine? Who am I now? “What’s in a name?” asks Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. Indeed. Below the surface churns the answers.

I cleared my way yesterday as I emptied the drawers of Dave’s old t-shirts, underwear and socks. The most personal items don’t even hold his smell any longer. I filled the drawers with my own, moving some items from the closet to the dresser. I slowly fill the in between spaces with me. I cleared my way to travel, something Dave and I didn’t fulfill together because of his health. I tossed out the clothes from 20 pounds and many styles ago in favor or making way for the new. A plan for a week in the sun means much needed shopping.

It is clear to me this morning that I am still grieving.

2 replies
  1. Tina
    Tina says:

    I can relate totally with your concept of ‘showing up for others’ but not for yourself. I, too, am approaching the 1 year anniversary of losing my dear husband just 6 weeks after his cancer diagnosis, You have captured perfectly the difference between the ‘outside mask of grief’ and the inside mask – I feel like I must put that outside mask on every day when I go to work – just like putting on my clothes! But while I can outwardly function effectively, I feel like the wind has been knocked out of my sails – it’s getting harder to ‘force’ the enthusiasm.

    HOWEVER – I am very encouraged by YOUR courage to claim your own life! Thank you for sharing, and characterizing ‘the sea of loss’ so perfectly. Stay the course – and best wishes for your journey.

    • Joan H
      Joan H says:

      Hi Tina.

      Thank you for your sharing and comments. I extend my condolences to you on your personal loss.

      You are reading, learning and reaching out You are showing up for yourself by being here. Give yourself permission to make the mask more transparent – I do through my writing – as you claim a changed life which will bring you energy and enthusiasm once again.

      Nothing can mask the upcoming anniversary date. That is a ride you’ll have to take. Be gentle on yourself. You are of course invited to our writing community to explore along with others.



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