It is over five months since my sweet husband Peter died and I am beginning to find a modicum of normalcy. My dinner dates have slowed down but my lunch plans are still going. Yes, I am "demoted to lunch" a bit, although I don't blame my friends, it is more on my part, since I am able to cope with staying home more. The clocks still stopped for me on August 1st, but time marches on for others. I still tear up seeing couples holding hands. I still sob at movies where couples kiss. But most of all, I still miss the unconditional love I so luckily had for 47 years.
On the whole, I am doing pretty well. The writing has helped immeasurably and the responses to my blogs are treasured, so please keep them coming. After my first blog I got this amazing comment about physical pain: "What surprised me was the physical pain ... the grief was so deep and so bad it actually caused physical pain. Nobody understands ... I didn't understand until you go through it. It's an exclusive club." Another reader said: "My chest hurt so badly even weeks after losing my high school sweetheart and husband of 38 years that I actually went to see my doctor. She assured me after checking that my heart was actually fine, but explained that the depth of my pain was commensurate with the depth of our love and that in time my chest would stop hurting. For some silly reason, that mere matter-of-fact statement that acknowledged my pain was real helped me muddle through the next few months. Eventually my chest stopped hurting, but we, who have buried our spouses, all know our hearts will never be whole again."
I need to know that Peter's loss means something in this crazy world. I need to know that I can give back to others by talking openly about my loss. Grief is not a dirty little secret any more. I am giving voice to others who need to let out the pain and come to terms with what has befallen us.
The other day I was blindsided by a neck spasm that immobilized me. I broke down screaming for Peter saying "where are you when I need you?" Peter was the best caregiver ever. His solace alone could heal me and his support bolstered me. I was faced with the question of how could I heal myself? I started to research grief and all it entails and realized that health is affected by deep grief in so many ways. M. Katherine Shear, MD, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and director of the Center for Complicated Grief says: "Close relationships help regulate our daily psychological and physical functioning. Their loss ... typically leaves people feeling out of control and disoriented."
I also realized that I needed help. My doctor is astoundingly supportive and saw me immediately, which is solace in itself. He kept texting me to see how I was doing. Hey, I defy you to find a doctor like this anywhere! Then my friends jumped to my aid, calling, texting, taking me to appointments and being there for me. This filled the practical void but then I had to come home to an empty house and an empty bed and make it through some tough nights on my own. But, I continue to slog through the morass of grief with neck pain, back pain, but most importantly, the pain of loss.
I find the following quote hopeful from Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, expert on grief and dying: "The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same; nor would you want to."
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.