Grief and loss are complicated. Because I’m a “researcher”, I find some weird comfort in reading studies and statistics about the things that transform my life whether for better or worse. I’m always trying to understand. Of course, research studies deal with averages, and just as I’ve learned there is truly no “normal life” there is also no “average” person. The fact that there is a 97% CURE rate for a certain type of cancer doesn’t mean a hill of beans if you are in the 3%. In the world of statistics there are most certainly averages though, and many a statistician earns a living coming up with them. I am not a math person; however, I love to see the little charts that illustrate for me the fruit of years of research. Lately I’ve been “into” reading about grief and how we humans survive it. It’s kind of amazing our capacity to handle as much as we often do. From numbness and disbelief to anxiety caused by separation to depression there are SO many components to grief, and it’s a very personal and unique process for everyone.
Research shows that the 5th month following a loss is the lowest point. There are many ups and downs, but that 5th month seems to be rock bottom for the “average” person. Well, as my therapist likes to remind me (in a very nice way), my case is much more complicated than the “average” person because I experienced many losses in a row. Therefore, if one wants to go with the 5th month thing, I could count starting with Harvey which happened the end of August because that is when I lost my home and stuff. Then I lost my husband in October and my mom in November. There’s been a few more stressors along the way, but those are the big 3 losses, and so if I am average, I should be doing the rock bottom thing from the end of January until mid April. Of course, those average people don’t just jump from rock bottom to hunky dory immediately after the 5th month either. It tends to go up and down for anywhere from 2-4 years (3 years being–that word again, AVERAGE).
WOW! That seems like a long time. Then, on the other hand, it seems like a short amount of time because I wonder sometimes if I will ever NOT cry at almost every song I hear or cry because I am happily singing along to a song that I like, and then realize that things are not the same as they were when I used to happily sing along to that song in the past. Or figure out how to watch certain sporting events on TV (can’t even imagine going to games in person ever again) or go to some restaurants, eat certain foods, read from a kindle paper white, start running again….the list seems never-ending. I have to block out SO many thoughts because I just can’t “go” there. I feel as if my mind has all these doors, windows, and cupboards that I have to keep closed. If I dare open them (which I do occasionally) the result isn’t pretty, and I don’t want to be a mess ALL the time, so I must slam them shut! I often feel as if there isn’t a lot of me left because there are SO many parts that I have to keep closed most of the time. What is even left??? Maybe I’m “average”, maybe I’m not.
My very good friend who lost his wife to cancer a little over 4 years ago told me recently that things got quite a bit better for him after the 4th anniversary of his wife’s death. He also told me that moving into his current home which is located on a lake where they wanted to retire really helped him. It’s HIS house, but he feels that she is happy with it as well. The house that I’m currently remodeling is NOT where my husband and I hoped to retire; nevertheless, it IS where he knew I would end up when he was gone. Despite my denial and pollyannaish attitude, B recognized that he wasn’t going to be around forever. When he would infrequently force me to face reality, he would talk to me about fixing up my grandparent’s house so that I would have a space to live that I loved. He knew that I needed to move back and live near my parents and that it would be the best place for me after he was gone. He also realized that remodeling the house would be a great project for me. He was right about all of this—which, of course, makes me angry because I didn’t and still don’t want to think about what is best for me after he is gone, and I certainly didn’t and still don’t want him telling me what to do!!! Plus, I don’t want to admit that he was right about things……. He usually never did tell me what to do; he just encouraged me in whatever I WANTED to do; that’s just one of the things I miss so very much. AARGH!!! @$#%!!! Anyway, the point is that I hope my experience will be similar to my friend’s in that having a home where I can put the remaining post flood stuff that B and I accumulated together in a place that he approves of will give me some peace.
I am struggling to grieve for my husband and my mom at the same time. It’s just plain hard. Plus trying to be there for my dad as he deals with his grief. That’s hard too. Just as my husband was, my mom was always the encourager in my life. She would always encourage me in whatever I did, tell me that she would help me however she could, and that she loved me very, very much always. No matter what the situation. I miss it. I miss all of it. As crazy as it sounds, I feel that I’ve lost my past, my future, and even my present. I feel that my mom was my past, and it’s gone. My husband was my future, and it’s vanished. Our short stay in Houston and Harvey kind of took away my present because my present was my teaching job and our life in Fort Smith, then it was my caregiver job and home in Houston. It’s all so weird. Surreal I guess is the better word. Never in my life before now have I thought of my life as surreal. I wouldn’t think that surreal is an “average” word, but one never knows until she walks in that person’s shoes.
Of course, my life is also amazing. There was a Facebook post that I saw and shared about how attitude is everything. I FIRMLY believe this is true now more than ever. I can easily wake up and be sad and feel angry about the losses. I’ve done it! But, I can also easily wake up and appreciate the fact that I got to know and love these wonderful people, learn from them, and remember and honor them. The reality NEVER changes. My attitude and state of mind changes dramatically. This is such a HUGE revelation. We all have this ability to control our own reactions and mindset. It is VERY empowering–especially when one feels out of control. We all need to practice and use this wonderful mental ability to our advantage!
For me what is even easier than not being sad is NOT letting a major wreck and traffic on the freeway bother me or let myself get mad at the folks at Sonic for messing up my order 3 times. I sometimes struggle mightily with not getting stressed because I. CANNOT. FIND. ANYTHING. EVER, and once I do find something, I have nowhere permanent to put it. I just keep telling myself that it’s a test, and I CAN pass! I CAN make it until my house is finished! It’s all just a mental game, and attitude is everything!!! Another thing about attitude now is that it is a lot easier for me to see the wonderful in everyday life. I see all the pain more clearly now too, but I try to keep my mind focused on the beautiful as much as possible. It really isn’t all that hard to do…see the good. It just takes some practice to make it a habit to fixate on that which is right with the world instead of what is wrong. It’s a good habit on which to work.
I’m practicing. Grief and loss are complicated. Thanks for all those who are helping me.