One month ago, Peter, my husband of 47 years, died of a heart attack. When I married him at the age of 23, I knew I had found the person who would cherish me unconditionally in sickness and in health. We met on October 17, 1967. I was wearing a rabbit mini-skirt and go-go boots. He was wearing khakis and penny loafers. It was love at first sight. We were engaged two months later, and married two months after that. I knew I had found the man who wouldn't stop pinching my ass (even though I am deficient in that area), who wouldn't stop reaching for my boobs (I am much better in that area), and wouldn't stop saying that he had lived life fully with the woman he loved and had no regrets -- and that was before Zoloft.
What fascinates me is that women today are more open about the pain of childbirth than they are about the pain of grief. We used to hide the reality of childbirth, but now we talk openly about ways to help each other cope with the pain. Years ago we talked in hushed tones about cancer as the "c" word, never wanting to say it aloud and give it credence. Plastic surgery was another unmentionable subject but today we talk openly about our fillers and scars. Even anti-depressants were taboo subjects but today, people proudly talk about their doses of Prozac and Lexipro!
Grief is the new taboo. Few people openly talk about the agony of grief. I get daily calls from well-meaning folks asking how I am. I have learned never to ask a widow or widower how they are doing. Sheryl Sandberg began this conversation in her beautiful treatise 30 days after her husband died. She said, "When I am asked 'How are you?' I stop myself from shouting, 'My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am?' When I hear 'How are you today?' I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day."
For me, it is how am I doing this minute! There should be a pain barometer for grief. Doctors inquire about your back pain all the time. Is it a five or a seven today? I was amazed when a friend said to me, "I know exactly what you are going through. My mother died six months ago." What people don't realize is that the loss of a spouse is different. When you lose a parent, you have siblings or family members to comfort you. When you lose a spouse, you lose your life partner and are alone.
The hardest thing about grief is to see life going on. People all around me continue to do their daily routines. The stock market keeps functioning; meteorologists predict the weather; time marches on. I cannot understand how I have lost Peter and the clocks have not stopped.
My friends circle me like a posse. My dear amazing son and his family are here. My brother, Peter's sister and all my friends are rallying and bringing food, caring for me, hugging me, and crying with me. All of this is a great comfort but where is Petey to hear the stories? How can I go on without my partner?
For my own sanity, I started to journalize on Day Eight. "Day Eight and it is worse. I start on Day Eight because I can't start on Day One. No one who has lost a spouse can start on Day One. I don't know how to move, or react, or sigh, or even breathe. I have lost my spirit and the pain is unimaginable. It hurts like a knife in my heart. It cuts through my soul and I don't want to be here without my love. I wake each day like the movie 'Groundhog Day,' reliving the pain of my loss. I go to bed on drugs to ease my anxiety only to be jolted awake in the early morning hours to my new painful existence."
I finally saw a grief counselor two weeks after Peter died. She was comforting and nice and had lots of tissues. I tell her I have been demoted to lunch as in "Oh, let's have lunch, Laurie, and talk about Peter," instead of "Oh, let's have dinner, Laurie, and talk about politics," which is what people used to say when we were a couple. She doesn't laugh at my jokes but realizes that I need humor to get me through this. She asked me to describe the pain. I say it is like a weight tied around me and I feel submerged in water and can't get to the surface. Is that a description or a pattern of torture?
The strength of my grief is so pervasive that I feel it constantly without respite. When my son called yesterday, I was having one of my heaving sob moments and admitted the depths of loneliness and sorrow to him. I carry this burden around without choice. Oh, how I wish I had gone first to avoid feeling excruciating angst. But then my sweet love would have had to endure this pain, and it would have killed his heart. I wish I weren't just "Jew-ish" and believed in an afterlife. I envy those whose religion comforts them through the pain.
Today, I got a thoughtful note from a mother at my grandchild's school telling me some lovely things she saw in my marriage. Then she changed gears in mid-sentence and suggested I see a Medium to ease my pain. I told her I would see an "extra small" before a medium.
No one should look at grief before they must face it. But we should be prepared for its effect on our life. Maybe if we talk about it more, it will lessen the pain when it happens?