Regular readers will remember that I recently lost my dear friend, Ricki, and wrote about it on this site. I was shocked and honoured when her priest and family referenced my words at her funeral. It was a sad day, but a wonderful celebration of a life well lived. Her husband, Terry, is still struggling without her and after yesterday’s post he wrote to tell me he’s been having a tough time recently. I was going to respond directly but it ended up being a long piece about grief that I thought might be helpful for others going through the same thing. So I’m posting it here:
I’d say you were about due for a rough week. I remember once reading a book about grief that described it as a series of stages. Having been through it, I’d say it’s a lot more like a swamp. Sure, there’s denial and anger and bargaining and sorrow and acceptance but they don’t unpack into a row of neat little boxes. Instead we lurch from one relatively stable island to the next, sometimes falling back into the swamp and spending the day waist deep in mud, or feeling like we’re going to drown in it. This is normal.
Moving into sadness might feel like the hardest thing you will ever do but my experience is that tears are the river through the swamp and acknowledging your sadness is the fastest way through it. I know that grief can feel like it is all consuming but somehow we survive it. Even on those days when the swamp pulls us under, we somehow drag ourselves out and keep going. This is a heroes journey and you are up for it.
Opening up to the grief and getting in touch with the present feels like the exact opposite of what most of us want to do. It’s why people use distraction, or avoidance, or numbing themselves with alcohol or drugs. All of these are akin to sitting on an island in the middle of the swamp and refusing to move. There might be times when this is part of your recovery but as a long term strategy it’s self defeating.
Writing about how you are feeling will help. It’s a way of letting your mind know that you are acknowledging all of the emotions that are bubbling up for you. I’d suggest starting a journal and just spending a bit of time each night recording how you felt that day, without judgement. It might not feel like it now, but at some point you will notice that you had a whole day on dry land. Between then and now you will have days of misery. It is what it is. This too shall pass.
The exercises in my book will help you, but think of them as a kind of walking stick to assist you across the swamp rather than a way to airlift out. There are many paths through the swamp and some are more difficult than others, but sooner or later you must cross it. Knowing that there is definitely dry land ahead of you somewhere will help. The swamp is not endless. Just horribly difficult. Get in touch with your own values and what really matters to you. Who do you want to be in this situation? What do you want to stand for?
It’s a cruel time to be made redundant. As if you didn’t have enough to grieve. I can understand why you’re not excited about buying a new car. In the current circumstances it will feel like a chore to even pick it up. This is normal.
When you feel ready, it’s a good idea to find a few group activities that you enjoy. I know the company of strangers possibly feels like the last thing you want right now but that will change. Company is the best antidote to loneliness and all of us need connection to others. Baby steps. Some people find joining a group that specifically deals with grief is helpful and others find it too overwhelming.
Know that your home will transition over time. Right now it is a reminder of Ricki’s absence and a source of pain but as you progress through your grief it will start to become a reminder of all the great times you shared. It’s common to advise people not to sell their home before at least one year has passed. I agree.
I also think getting a referral to a good psychologist is always worth doing when a major life crisis hits. Just having someone to talk to about what you are going through is hugely beneficial. Your GP can refer you for up to 10 visits on Medicare and ten more after that if you still need them (and you will probably still need them).
As a man of faith you may also find support through your church. I know other Christians often say it was their faith that got them through times like this. I do not believe in any god, but I believe in the power of faith and the significant part it plays in the lives of those that have it.
I think when you are feeling most lonely it can help to connect to the common experience of fellow human beings. Everyone alive has either lost a person they loved, or they will at some point in the future. You are surrounded by people that have already been through the swamp and others that are yet to get their feet wet, but who will benefit from your experience. We all die.
You are already a living example of how one human can greatly love another and this has been a significant influence on so many people, including your children. Now you are becoming a living example of how someone survives such a great loss. This is no small thing. If we cannot see examples of how to recover from losing our beloved then why would we ever risk ourselves to that kind of love? If the pain was too much to bear then surely we would hold ourselves apart from love.
I know that you will show all of us that even though the grief is sometimes overwhelming, love makes all grief worth it. The only way to avoid grief is to avoid love, and who would not want the kind of marriage that you and Ricki enjoyed.
My best wishes on your journey across the swamp and know that I am here, out on the edge, to shout out encouragement when the going gets tough. I wish I could wade into the swamp and pull you out but unfortunately grief doesn’t work that way. Each of us must find our own way.
You’ve got this.