When I found out my husband died by suicide, I was absolutely devastated. Although there were signs that I can see clearly now, I didn't have a clue it was even a possibility at the time. There were a chain of events leading up to that night that were concerning. His behavior at that time was out of character for him. It was confusing and had me feeling a little stunned. It was like watching a plane falling out of the sky, spiraling down and crashing to the earth. He just wasn't himself. Nobody he knew understood the gravity of what he was struggling through. We were all completely shocked by his death.
I remember having to tell his parents, and then my son, that he was gone. I remember the constant flow of phone calls and texts coming in. I remember friends and neighbors coming to my door to bring food and fold clothes and take out my trash. But the details of daily life are an absolute blur. I was working full time right away. I was solo parenting. I was trying to process what had happened but just couldn't wrap my head around it. I would tell the story to whoever would listen over and over again, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Everyone was so patient with me. They probably wanted to scream.
I found therapists for my son and myself right away. But I also felt the need to find my tribe. I love my friends but the truth is they didn't know what to do with me. The idea of a grief group sounded daunting. I wasn't sure I wanted to sit in a circle on folding chairs pouring my heart out to a group of strangers. So when I realized I could turn to social media I was thrilled. When I began my search I was surprised, and a little broken hearted, to see so many different groups. There were groups for loss of a loved one, there were groups for loss of a spouse and there were groups for specific types of loss. And because I'm me, I joined them all. * Not recommended.
It was a relief to find other people who understood. We were different ages, married for a different number of years, had lost someone we love in different way. But we were all grieving. It was refreshing to read posts and to learn that it wasn't just me. I wasn't the only one who was furious. I wasn't the only one who worried it was my fault. I wasn't the only one with PTSD. I felt less alone. I felt connected.
It was freeing to have a space that was uncensored. There were emotions, stories and thoughts that I would never have wanted to share on my personal page. Raw, honest, inappropriate, transparent truths that only these people could understand. We supported each other. We lifted each other up during firsts and holidays and anniversaries of deaths. We compared notes. We made each other feel normal. We sent virtual hugs.
After the initial ether of finding commonality started to fade, it began to become a bit too much. Belonging to several grief groups started to feel overwhelming. I was on grief overload. These groups hold thousands of members with constant posts in each group throughout the day. It came to be every time I picked up my phone there was death, despair and mourning. There were pleas for prayers. There was resignation. There was tragedy.
Unfortunately, not all groups were filled with positivity. One group had much more doom and gloom than the others. There were so many widows who were stuck. Here they were, ten years later, still crying every day. It filled me with dread. So much sadness. So much grief. Widows wanting to join their spouses in heaven. Women not knowing how they would ever move on. I started to notice a reoccurring theme in their comments. Year two is so much worse than the first year. I started to panic. How could anything be worse? This was the most gut wrenching, horrific, anxiety inducing experience of my life. And it was going to get worse. I couldn't do it. I wouldn't survive. I would fucking crumble.
At some point in my grief journey, I had decided to just put my head down and make it through the first year. I had myself convinced that something magical and transformational would transpire at the one year mark. An award. A parade. A certificate of completion. Something. And then I could move on. I figured it was enough time to grieve without appearing to recover too quickly. It was enough time to heal without appearing to be holding on for too long. Naturally, I was trying to get a gold star in grief. And here my fellow widows were, bursting my bubble. *Spoiler alert - there was never a parade.
I decided that I had to just put the whole thing out of my mind. All my denial skills finally got their chance to shine. Everybody grieves differently, I told myself. There can't possibly a formula or a blueprint. My husband and I were separated for almost a year before he died. That should have counted as the first year. And the year after he died would be my Year Two. Done. I couldn't handle anything else.
As the first anniversary of his passing stared to draw near, I started to slightly unravel. The panic attacks were coming more frequently. My digestive system went on strike. I was losing so much hair. I felt this pressure to feel and act a certain way on that day. If I'm being honest, like most occasions in my life, the anticipation was much worse than the actual event itself. My son and I quietly slipped away to our favorite getaway. I posted a funny story about my husband on social media. We kept to ourselves and spent a few days completely unplugged. Then it was back home to wait for my certificate in the mail.
It was a bittersweet time. I wanted to celebrate the milestone of having survived a whole year without him. But I also felt extremely disappointed that nothing seemed to change. I started to should on myself about being "further along than I was." I would question the normalcy of my grief and compare myself to other widows. I would see others doing great things and would feel like I was behind in my progress. I felt like the timer went off and my time was up.
Somewhere into that second year, I finally realized what everyone was talking about. It wasn't that it was worse. Nothing came up from the ground and swallowed me whole. There was no mental breakdown or apocalypse of any kind. The worst had already happened. It was that now shit was real. There was no more widow fog. There were no more firsts without him. There was no longer a memorial to plan. There weren't any more legal, financial, or other issues to keep me busy. And I had stopped drinking so there wasn't even wine to keep me numb. There was less processing and more accepting. So much reality. And now I was expected to handle real life on my own.
It was about halfway into year two that I joined a life coaching program for widowed moms. I didn't want to stay stuck in my grief but I didn't quite know how to keep going. I wanted to try to move forward but felt so much guilt. I was starting to see a glimmer of hope that I might be able to find some peace. I wanted to learn how to live life again but needed someone to show me how. I've gained so many useful tools. Not only in grief, but in having compassion and grace for myself and in helping my son through his grief as well.
I used to hate some of the cliches I would hear but it turns out most of them happen to be true. Grief is not linear. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It comes in waves. You never reach the end. It will always be a part of you. But one of the most valuable concepts that I have been given is duality. I can miss my husband AND love my life at the same time. It has been over two years that he has been gone. I still have anxiety. I have rough moments. I feel worn out. My grief is complicated and exhausting. I am growing. I am learning and I am healing. I have bad days. I have good days now too. This has been a long and challenging journey and I don't expect it to end any time soon. I have to constantly remind myself that I can do hard things.