Friday, April 10, 2009

On the Limiting Effects of Grief

Before I launch into the main post, I want to take a moment to wish everyone a happy Easter. Also, please check out the polls to the right of the screen. You have come to know quite a bit about me – now it’s my turn to get to know a little something about you! Since I’m a technological dinosaur (which I’m working on, but the new gadget I desire is currently out-of-stock at my local cell provider), I will not be posting for somewhere in the neighborhood of ten days or so. Who knows what posts my thoughts will provoke in the meantime…
Following a large-scale disaster or tragedy by any number of means, it is common for the news media to throw around words like “aftershocks”, “fallout”, and “aftermath”, to name a few. Each conjures up a similar image, none of which is pretty. But one thing we don’t hear people talk about is how these words can be applied to personal tragedies. Again, the images are not pretty. Nor are they the same for everyone. Nor are they confined to the few I feel compelled to discuss in the paragraphs that follow. But they are real. And they are painful. And they are crippling to some extent, be it large or small.

I have always had a passion for the written word. Whether my skills are average or superb has always taken a backseat to how I personally feel I have conveyed my thoughts, feelings, and viewpoints regarding a given topic. There is a certain thrill in engaging the pen and paper (or now, more often the computer screen and keyboard) and seeing a composition come to fruition literally before my eyes. Being the word-nerd I am, in high school and college I excelled in English classes and struggled to do well (though I did for the most part) in math classes. My hard drive holds a plethora of poems, stories, essays and the like and I have notebooks full of them from the “dark ages” – that time I can scarcely remember before I owned a computer.

But very few of those writings are from February 2007 to January 2009.

It seems that along with my wife, death also consumed my ability to express myself through the written word. My thoughts and emotions often came to my extremely organized mind in a jumble and try as I might, I was more often than not unsuccessful in unscrambling the mess they had become. The rare occasions when I was able to do so usually consisted of a serious crying spell and an extreme level of raw emotion, much more than I was comfortable allowing myself to feel on a regular basis at that time. But for the most part, I was unable to produce much of anything.

Over the past few months, these skills have slowly begun to reinsert themselves back into my conscious mind. And I have felt a sense of release that I have been building up to for two years. I do not, at this time, believe that my writing has returned to the state it was when my wife was alive, (and this is not a cheap ploy to fish for compliments, so please do not take it as such) but it’s starting to. And it is.

And I hope it will continue to.

Another great passion of mine is reading the written word. I wish I could say that I was into reading great classic novels or profound works of literature as I have enjoyed the ones I’ve had the pleasure of reading, but that’s simply not the case. When I read, I like to escape into someone else’s life for a while, even if things in mine are going just fine. So I tend to stick primarily to authors whom I believe are good at writing fiction. I will spare you the boredom of reading a listing of them here, but I tend to like legal, political, and psychological thrillers and have found more than one author whose new releases are hard to pass up.

For over a year after my wife’s passing, I found it incredibly hard to concentrate on almost every work of fiction I put before my eyes. I managed to sob my way through several books on death and grieving, but much like reading the blogs of other widow/ers does now, they served to ease the sense of loneliness and abnormality I felt during those early months. Ironically when I was visiting with family, I was better able to concentrate, but even then I found myself reading biographies and works that leaned toward descriptions of real people versus fictional characters. About six months ago, I was able to finish a book by a favorite author completely for pleasure. And it was completely fictional. And it was a completely wonderful feeling. Now between reading blogs and the subsequent works of fiction through which I’ve plowed, it’s a wonder that I find the time to do normal things like work and clean house and play with my daughter. But I do.

And I’m certain I will continue to.

The loss of my ability to concentrate on reading and writing left me with an excessive amount of time to fill once my daughter went to bed each night. Since I was also largely unable to sleep at night (which I’ve found is extremely common among widow/ers), it was hard to know what to do. Some nights I would talk on the phone, which served to help me reconnect with other friends and family members I cared about in addition to taking my mind off of things. But on the many, many nights I refrained from conversation, I generally found myself staring mindlessly at the tv.

Even then, the limitations of grief were evident.

I have never been particularly drawn to shows with a medical theme, but I have not often shied away from them either. Even before my wife’s death, especially just prior when we found ourselves spending an increasing amount of time in doctor’s offices and hospitals, I would skip past them and continue to search for something that did not take place in one of those settings. (This holds true for books as well now, which is why this genre was not listed among my favorite in the previous paragraphs.) It mattered not if the show was a comedy or drama or if it was real or fictional, if it had a medical theme, I wanted no part of it.

This became increasingly true for me after her death.

Nowadays I still skip them and continue my search (though my nighttime tv viewing has decreased drastically now that I’m spending so much time writing and reading blogs), but every once in a while I’ll have the fleeting thought that I actually used to enjoy this or that show. It’s not enough to make me flip back to it, but I think it may be a sign that someday I’ll be able to look at one without replaying real-life events simultaneously in my head.

One day I hope I’ll be able to. But I’m just not there yet.


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I

    would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have

    enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. I totally "get it". I really enjoyed writing songs in my life of before...but I can't seem to get one to spill out of my head.

    My wife had seizures, the ugly overdramatic kind you see on TV. I have thought of grief similar to that. Death being the seizure itself, then the disorientation and weakness that follows being this journey through grief as life gets pieced back together, or at least I hope it will.

  3. Easter - Thanks for continuing to read. Feel free to comment as often as you like.

    The Widower Dad - the pieces do eventually fall into place, though I don't think the completed puzzle resembles the picture on the box afterward.

    Hang in there. I trust that your song-writing ability will return just as my writing has finally begun to. Frustrating though it may be, like everything else, it will probably just take time.

  4. I can relate. Medical shows took a long time to come back for me -- and even now they can pall. Who needs to live a fictionally harrowing drama when you have lived through your own real life one?

    Finally after some years I came to enjoy Hugh Laurie in House. Although it might just be for his elegant capture, as a Brit, of his Chicago medic character. Even the accent sounds pretty authentic to me -- but tell me if I'm wrong!

  5. Roads- I used to enjoy House as well. I always enjoyed watching him take the symptoms and determine what rare disease was killing a person, usually just in time to save his or her life.

    That's the precise reason I can't watch it now. When my wife needed a real-life House to save her from complications related to her mixed-connective tissue disease, there was not one to be found.

    About his accent... it's better than most people I've heard who are from Chicago and the Midwest. The only one I've heard that's as good/better is also a Brit, but I can't remember his name. I just know he played Bill on Still Standing.