Is This Normal?
Until now, I've had very little experience with loss. I say this even though my mother died when I was twenty three. We had a strained relationship at best and I hadn't spoken to her in almost a year when I found out she passed away. To be honest, I wasn't even sure where she was or who she was living with at the time. I had reached a point where I decided I couldn't be involved with her anymore.
I grew up in a dysfunctional environment. My mother was an alcoholic and was sick most of the time. We moved from house to house, school to school, step-dad to step-dad. I had a lot of responsibility at a very young age. My siblings and I mostly took care of ourselves and each other. When I was eleven, I was able to live with my Dad, which was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.
I still visited my mother after that, mostly to see my little sister, even though I hated going there. She continued to criticize and belittle me. She still bullied and intimidated me. She kept drinking and using drugs. I felt obligated in some way to be there, not realizing I had a choice. I didn't know I could decide whether or not to have a relationship with her. As I became an adult, I started to distance myself more and more. Everything about her triggered me. I started knowing that it only hurt me to hold onto her. And finally I stopped contacting her altogether.
When I found out she died, I felt guilty for not falling to my knees. I felt like I should feel something but I didn't. I felt numb. I wondered if there could have ever been a time when we could have had a normal relationship. I regretted not making more of an effort, even though I knew it wouldn't have mattered. I felt motherless, but I had felt that way my whole life. Now it was official. I think I had already let her go years before. I was preparing for the time when she would be gone. I never really had her to begin with. So I sat with my brother in his apartment, drinking coffee and staring at the TV, waiting for something to come over us. But it never did.
When I was a teenager, a friend in the grade below me died in a motorcycle accident. A car ran a stop sign and hit him, throwing him from the bike. When I heard the news, it was shocking. It was the first time anyone I knew died and it was the reality check for all of my friends and me that people our age don't live forever. We attended the funeral. We cried. We sat around and told stories about him. And then we went back to school and back to our lives.
After high school, my first boyfriend and two of his friends died in a freak accident. It made the headlines and top story on the evening news. It wasn't so much a surprise that he died, because he lived a carefree and dangerous lifestyle. But it was surprising how he died and that he wasn't alone. The story drew a lot of attention and the funeral home was overflowing with friends from all around who came to pay their respects. We had a few gatherings to remember him. We cried. I visited with his parents. And after time, we all continued on with our lives.
When my husband died by suicide three years ago, I was in shock. I was confused as to how this could have happened. None of us had any idea it was a possibility. I felt guilty for not knowing he was suffering. I wondered if I could have done more. I assumed I would be overcome with grief but, outside of that, I wasn't prepared for what I would feel. I expected the emptiness. I expected the sadness. I expected feeling his absence. But to be perfectly honest, I was surprised by all of the emotions that took over from there. I didn't expect to feel panic or fear or disappointment. I didn't expect to feel anger. I never expected to feel resentment or envy or relief. And I would have never believed that grief could last this long. There has always been a part of me that expected, at some point, to dry my tears and be on my way.
I've questioned myself an awful lot on this journey. I've wondered if I was reacting the same way other widows were. I've mistaken grief grenades for setbacks and have seen feelings as problems. I've been unsure of how I should be doing this and where I'm supposed to be. I've lost confidence and trust in myself. I have been defeated and frustrated. I have felt like I was the only one. I couldn't imagine this was how grief was supposed to be. It never was before.
As I found grief groups and fellow widows on social media, I found that grief comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it looks like denial and buffering and avoidance. Sometimes it looks like a river of tears. Sometimes grievers dated immediately. Some could hardly get out of bed. Grief looks like depression, anxiety and PTSD. And in so many posts I would read, there seemed to be a common theme. We all wanted to know we weren't alone.
"It's been three months and I can't stop crying. I feel numb. I'm up all night. I sleep all day. I should be over this by now. I started talking to someone new. I never want to date again. I feel guilty. I feel lonely. I'm afraid of forgetting him. I don't know how to move on. I'm overwhelmed. I don't know what I'm doing. I'm not ready to go back to work. I hate him for leaving me. I don't know how to move on. I still fall apart all the time. I've lost most of my friends. I get jealous of other couples. I don't want to live without him... Does anybody else feel this way?"
Maybe it doesn't matter what the title of our relationship was. If we shared blood or last names. If we had a certificate to prove our commitment. The length of time we were together or how well we knew them. Maybe it says nothing about our relationship whether we feel nothing or everything. Maybe it says nothing about us as people whether we dwell or move on. If we lost our husband, wife, sister, mother, child, or friend. We all grieve differently yet we all hurt the same in a way.
The first thing I say to people who have lost someone they love is everything you are feeling is normal. Because nothing about it feels okay. It feels unnatural and out of control. It feels like you must be doing it wrong. It feels like you're the only one and nobody could possibly understand. If feels like you're going crazy. It seems like you will feel this way forever. And you're convinced you will never be the same.