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Grief: Doing it Wrong?

For me, blogging has always been a way of sharing things I care about and connecting with folks. That encompasses everything from sexual assault issues to arguments in the SF/F community to just geeking out about whatever catches my interest in a given week.

Well, the focus of my life has been a bit different for the past ten months, and especially so since August 29. An awful lot of my time and energy is spent dealing with the aftermath of losing Amy. There’s paperwork — so much paperwork — and belongings to sort through and online accounts to clean up and close, not to mention the whole single parent thing.

And I’ve been immersing myself in that work, partly because it needs to be done, but partly because it keeps the grief from dragging me down… sometimes.

Maybe it’s my own background in psychology. Maybe it’s having spent almost 16 years married to someone with so much more experience in psychology and counseling. But I keep worrying that I’m grieving wrong.

I’ve attended three sessions at Ele’s Place, where I’m dealing with the most recent death in our group. Sometimes it’s helpful to be in a room with people who understand. Other times, someone will talk about a particular feeling — take guilt, for example — and I end up wondering why I don’t feel that too. What’s wrong with me?

I know everyone grieves differently. I know it’s ridiculous to expect my grief to follow the same paths and patterns as anyone else’s.

I also know grief is hard. I lost my wife and best friend. I lost my partner. I lost the future we expected to have together, all the hopes and dreams and plans… It’s overwhelming, and it’s tempting to lock it all away in a box and not deal with it.

I know that’s not the healthiest approach. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to start attending Ele’s Place, to force myself to face that grief, to work on figuring out how to live with it.

I keep questioning. Why haven’t I cried more? Am I just a cold, stone-hearted person? Is it because I cried so often during the nine months we were fighting cancer, and I’m just exhausted and cried-out?

I realized earlier this year that a part of me was grieving even before we knew whether Amy would survive. (And I felt guilty as hell about that, too.) In trying to understand what the hell was wrong with me, I discovered something called anticipatory grief.

Apparently what I was going through was kind of normal? But it means some of the wounds don’t feel quite so exposed. It’s been just over a month since I was able to talk to her, but it’s been almost a year since we were able to sleep together in our own bed. If grief is a path, I feel like my progress along that path skips around from one day to the next. It’s disorienting and confusing.

The biggest symptom I’m aware of is lack of sleep. I still have a really hard time getting to sleep at night. All the thoughts I’ve been too busy to deal with during the day come rushing back. I roll over and touch her pillow and remember snuggling up with her. I talk to her. I try to sleep, and after a half hour or an hour I give up and read for a bit or find something else to do. And then it’s 6:10, and the alarm is telling me it’s time to get up and get my son ready for school…

Part of me feels relieved that I’m not sleeping. It’s a reminder that I’m not stone-hearted, that I’m hurting and grieving just like I’m supposed to. But I also know it’s not healthy, and I’m trying to adjust things to help me sleep a little better.

I don’t know what I’m doing. There’s no handbook. One therapist says it’s good I’m keeping busy. Another points out that keeping busy is a way to avoid facing those hard feelings. I suspect they’re both right. Everyone grieves differently, and it’s a process that lasts years, if not an entire lifetime.

And I’m basically winging it. Trying to figure it out day by day, the best I can.

From what I’ve learned, that’s pretty much how grief works.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 3rd, 2019 11:07 pm (UTC)
I think it does last forever, yes. But what happens is you learn more ways of living with it. And the process of therapy will help you learn more and better ways of living with it. Seeking movement, so you don't get stuck. Bereavement therapy helped me with that a lot.
Oct. 3rd, 2019 11:16 pm (UTC)
One thing I've become aware of in dealing with losses, and helping friends/relatives, is that the sudden shock loss is more horrific, and casts a much longer shadow. Anticipatory grief if real, it's human, and it makes the burden slightly more bearable. At the other side, it can make the aftermath slightly more bearable. And maybe you did get the crying done--after you had a crying jag, did it really help? Maybe your body is finding other ways to release the pain of grief. (Sounds like the sleeplessness is one of them.)

It sound like you are doing healthy things, and being mindful.
Oct. 4th, 2019 12:51 am (UTC)
The nights are the worst. During the day you can distract yourself. Keep busy. Reach out to others. The nights are empty and cold and you're alone. They suck.

But they do get better. The days do too. And there is no wrong way to grieve. It's like the ocean--it changes color and shape and mood from day to day and week to week, and often catches you by surprise.

In truth, it sounds to me like you are doing it remarkably well, as much as it is possible to do such a thing. Maybe because you have anticipated it, maybe because she was so wonderful, she helped you prepare.

Sending hugs, and lots of love, no matter what.
Oct. 4th, 2019 09:36 am (UTC)
My father died years ago, with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The real true HIM was gone long before he died, but he was still alive. My mother said during that last couple of years, that it was like being a widow, without the benefits. She meant the benefit of being able to completely grieve, and not having to start over every day when she saw him.

You know this, others have said it, and I will too. Your grief is your own, personal and unique and universal, the way your marriage was.
Oct. 4th, 2019 12:53 pm (UTC)
Dear Jim,

Rule 1 - there is no wrong way to do grief. If you find yourself just going back to the study and playing her songs over and over until you cry, that's fine. Cried your heart out before and now you just feel relief? Also fine. Stressing because you suddenly feel free from the horrid, confining routine of chemo and sitting by a sombre bedside? Also absolutely fine. My mother-in-law died after 8 years of cancer and 10 months of a terminal diagnosis. The actual end was sudden and a blessing - she could have slid downhill for another six months - and my father-in-law grieved and mourned her and then suddenly found himself more relaxed and alive than he had for so long. He would not have wished to avoid a moment of the long decline, but now he was past the "when I die", and it was a breath of fresh air.

So grieve as you see fit. Do not be surprised when walking down the supermarket aisle, you suddenly feel a pang of heartbreaking pain at spotting your wife's favourite biscuits that she will never eat again. But also do not be surprised when the pain becomes a pang becomes an ache and then is just ... there.

And do not feel guilty at grieving, at not grieving, at sudden grieving and at prolonged grieving.

I send the care and comfort of a stranger, and the love of a fellow human being. And cat-snuggles. They insisted.
Oct. 9th, 2019 01:49 pm (UTC)
For what it is worth, it looks to me like you're doing grief right, not wrong. I think figuring it out day by day is the way it works. Grief isn't something you can plan out in advance, adhering to schedule where you do the "right" things in the "right" order at the "right" time. I don't think there is a wrong way to do it as long as you're not harming yourself or others by what you're doing.
Oct. 9th, 2019 02:36 pm (UTC)
When my 5 year old daughter asked me if I was sad about my mother's death and I told her I was a bit sad, she asked why I was only a bit sad. I told her that sometimes when the sadness is so big, you go through it in little bits. Much of the grief was had while she was still alive. In a long string of bits.

If you go to therapy regularly, you're busy, but not too busy. Sometimes it's good to deal with it at regular intervals during therapy, but not outside therapy. Sometimes there needs to be space between the bits. What matters more than how is that you are doing the grieving.

It's good to read about you sharing your experience and thoughts. It makes other people who are going through grief feel less like they are alone in this, even when they go through it differently.

Edited at 2019-10-09 02:36 pm (UTC)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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