Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Avoiding Grief

I have been avoiding this post for two weeks.

Or trying to anyway. The content has been here, it’s the writing I’ve been trying to avoid. This, of course, has been part of an attempt to avoid something of a much greater magnitude. Namely, my grief.

It’s been over three years. I’ve managed to resume a sense of normalcy for my daughter and myself. I’ve even tried my hand at dating again. I have what I would consider to be a relatively content life, especially given the circumstances. So why in the world have I been actively grieving the past two weeks?

I should take a moment to clarify that statement. I have never ceased grieving over my wife’s death. I have just felt over the last 12-15 months that it has moved from an active state of grief to a more passive one. I miss her just as much now, but not in the raw, broken way I did during those first several months and into the second year.

So in a moment of naiveté I guess I allowed myself to put my guard down a bit. I got comfortable. I became passive in my grief. Then I was slammed back into the rocky crags by yet another pounding wave of active, self-exposing grief. And as has been the case over the past three-plus years, I was completely blindsided by it.

I should have noticed the signs. We had a particularly nice visit with family over Spring Break, but I was more aware of my wife’s absence during this trip than I have been at any other time in the last year or so. It seemed that everything reminded me of her. The visit to her stone was especially poignant in that my daughter asked for a moment alone, then went to the car so that I could have some time by myself. She returned from the car just at the moment that my tears began to flow, though she had no way of knowing that since my back was turned to her the whole time.

We returned to a flurry of activity and I thought I could bury myself in all the trappings the end of the school year brings. The first week home was especially busy and stressful, but by then my sleep cycle was out-of-whack – another sign of things to come. Many widow/ers have mentioned the issues with sleep cycles, but again, I was naïve enough to think that once this evened out initially, the erratic patterns would not return. But for the better part of two weeks my sleep cycles were wildly out-of-control. One night I’d be up till the wee hours before sunrise, and the next I’d be asleep on the couch soon after sunset.

Then there was the dream. I have mentioned in previous posts that I have seldom dreamed about my wife since her death. And all of my dreams thus far have been overshadowed throughout by an impending sense of doom. This dream was different. But I think I’d like to go back to the impending doom dreams again.

I don’t remember much of the actual dream itself. What I do remember are the last few fleeting frames – glimpses of beauty I have not seen in a very long time. When I awoke I truly thought it had been real. And in that foggy, pre-dawn moment, my reality came crashing down around me all over again.

I felt a bit like the Time Traveler’s Wife, a woman who spent her life constantly holding on to her love, knowing he would disappear, and often waking up with the realization that he had. I left the dream holding on to my love, and woke up knowing that she, too, had.

It is never easy to be blindsided by grief. I have mentioned here before that every time I figure out how it is going to manifest itself, it develops a different pattern for doing so. I’m serious when I say that I’d like to return to the impending doom style of grief-related dreaming. At least in those dreams I am already aware of what has happened and the fact that I am powerless to change it. I prefer that to being handed a glimpse of hope and waking to find that it cannot be attained this side of Heaven.

That happened on a Saturday, the week before last. The weather was beautiful, so I threw myself into several hours of yard work (or as I like to call it “yard therapy”). I transplanted flowers into a new bed (the one with the birdbath I’ve shown in previous posts), weeded for several hours in other beds, and even dug out the space where I plan to eventually hang my hammock. But apparently my yard therapist needs a raise. None of that work provided the payoff that a job well done typically yields. But I guess it was worth a shot. And at least the yard was starting to look ready for the season, which was an improvement over the house.

I generally keep a clean house. Now, that doesn’t mean that the dishes are always washed immediately following a meal, or that I don’t miss a week cleaning the bathrooms, but as far as cleanliness goes, I’d say we do okay. It’s definitely nothing that would land us on an episode of Hoarders (I watch that too, Dan), even when my daughter has toys and artwork strung across the entire living room.

But that week I let the housework go. Completely. I washed clothes and dishes on an as-needed basis, but nothing else got done. No sweeping. No vacuuming. Certainly no dusting or mopping or cleaning of bathrooms. But by Sunday I realized that it needed to be cleaned regardless of my emotional state, so after church I put on some cleaning music and my daughter and I spent the afternoon cleaning up our respective messes. And several days later it remains in a state of relative cleanliness.

I need order. I seek calm. Chaos has no place in my life. And three-plus years after the most chaos-inducing event I’ve ever endured, we have managed to come to a place of order and calm.

But that does not, by any means, make us untouchable. Rather it makes us vulnerable in increasingly penetrable ways. It takes us from a long series of relatively normal days to erratic sleep cycles and haunted dreams, interrupted routines and binge sessions with a large bag of M&Ms.

It is grief. It is raw.

And it is my reality.


  1. It all seems very therapeutic to me. I find it interesting though, that what used to bring comfort, or satisfaction in a good job, doesn't quite work right now. Gardening is what has always worked for me, but these days there is no draw. I'm still trying to figure out what exactly I like to do at home to relax, or have some enjoyment. It all seems the same to me. One things doesn't feel any better than the next, aside from my writing.

    Reading about your lapse into deep grief is something I keep finding myself surprised by. I know it is still all very new to me, but I continue to be surprised when it catches me off guard on what I thought was a good, or easy day.

    The sleep issue has always been a problem for me. I'm a big time insomniac. These days I feel very tired, but I don't have the will to sleep. I still sit up late at night, and pay the price for it the next day. Sleep has become an unpleasant reminder that Michael is gone, and that I am alone.

  2. it has been over 3 years for you, SSSF, a little over half a year for Dan, and 14 months for me. none of us are at the same point on this journey yet, if it were truly a road we walked on, i think we would all be able to see each other and wave. it would be a tired wave, but a sense of camaraderie would be evident.

    the surprise return of active grief is something i had heard about. using the ocean as a metaphor for grief, i have been told that during the first year, you are numb. it doesn't feel numb but, as the woman said, "trust me, you are." the second year, which was what she was addressing, "hits like a ton of bricks. everyone expects you to do that whole better thing - you think you're supposed to be better - but the reality is just beginning." this widow told me that as time goes on the wavelengths between active grieving get further and further apart as you move further and further away from that shoreline where the death happened. but, as waves do, they will find you upon occasion and you simply have to ride them out. hang on for the ride as it were.

    this widow was a woman who writes to me after she stumbled across my own blog. she has been widowed for 11 years. why was she reading a blog about active grief? she said, "because the 11th year anniversary hit me like a metal bat and my heart was the ball. i wanted to see if there was anyone out there who was in my place - so far away from the day it happened and yet still feeling the affects. and i found you. the rookie. so it helps me to read your stuff and then email you with my own experiences. God forbid anyone finds out i'm out here at the 11 year mark and still treading water."

    i thought i would share her words in the hope that it helps you deal with this current situation. i hope it helps Dan if he should come back by here. helps anyone who happens by.

  3. This is a very timely post. I recently had my own experience with raw grief. Out of nowhere. In front of a lot of people. Very embarrassing. I was going to post about.... because it took me by complete surprise. The only bad thing is, I was intoxicated at the time. So I dont know if I will post about it or not because I dont want people to think I have a problem... :/

  4. It has been 2 and a half years since my husband passed and I am soon to be married again. The raw grief still hits me, and has recently hit me after I tried on my wedding dress for my first fitting. I haven't had a good night sleep since and can't stop thinking about my late husband. Although I know that I am making the right decision it is still so hard to let go. The pain is still so real and I hate when it all comes back to me.

    I have a close friend who has been widowed for 10 years and she said as the years go by it doesn't happen as much but it still does and the pain of it all is always the same. It scares me to think that for the rest of my life I will have moments of those feelings. I do pray however that each time I can recover from them faster.

  5. I understand every nuance of these posts. It's been 27 months since my husband left me a widow. The ocean analogy is appropriate. It strikes when you think you have things under control. I can be just telling my daughter something sometime, and all at once my voice will crack, and the endless supply of tears come yet again. There is no end to them. Helluva time..

  6. Oh the dreams! I also haven't dreamed much about G (it's only been 81 days since he died) but the one dream I had, he showed me where his injuries had healed and that he was OK. I begged him to stay but he wouldn't and I woke up to one of the worst days of my journey so far. hugs