“What is in your heart?” she asks.…
I remember my heart and my head three years ago while witnessing my beautiful husband wither, wrapped in the suffocating blanket of end-stage cancer. The first line of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed is “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear”. That was the first line, the only line, I could read and absorb from any book after Brad’s death. Understanding anything longer than a couple lines was like suddenly being expected to maneuver the uneven bars at the Olympics. It wasn’t happening and it continued not happening for months.
At the six month mark I could read bits and pieces for my grief group, but even that required guidance from the facilitator. Just tell me what to do. That would’ve been easiest for me; if someone told me what to do I could then attempt to focus on being accountable to someone other than myself.
No part of me, heart, head or body, was reliable. In the raw newness of widowhood I had to remind myself to inhale, exhale, repeat–never mind eat or pay bills or take out the garbage or read and comprehend something. I was C.S. Lewis-afraid and unable to move much beyond that fear without recoiling back into a whimpering ball. My heart was cold and inexplicably still beating. Outside, I was going through life’s motions, putting on the façade of ‘I’m OK’ to make others less awkward. I would’ve much rather screamed at everyone to “Shut Up” about their inane earthly problems, but habits kicked in and I was mostly “nice” those first months. Mostly nice: my malfunctioning social filter is another topic.
Others already on this unwanted path told me to be kind and patient with myself. I tried to listen but their words couldn’t get through the surrounding fog cocooning me that first year. Eventually, in the odd clearing, some ideas would make it through. Paraphrasing, they said time won’t heal exactly but you’ll get better at riding the waves. You’ll become more accustomed to the nonlinear evolution of life coupled with profound grief. Three-years-ago-me would’ve spewed venom at those people had I been able to comprehend them early on.
But now, perplexingly, I’m starting to resurface. It is as surprising to me as my heart’s continuous and seemingly inappropriate beating immediately after Brad died.
My heart will always squeeze tighter and feel heavier at times, but it’s slowly learning to carry the weight of its own ache. Grief has infiltrated every cell yet no longer feels like an unwanted intrusion. The more light I shine on it through talking, listening, and writing, the easier it is to carry. It has become part of who I am. ‘Grief is love with nowhere to go’ is another frequent line in counseling. Grief had its way with me for a while, it still can, but it’s slightly tamer. Gratefulness I have for the time Brad and I had together is inching to the forefront and is growing equal to the fear. I am leaning in to the realization, had my grief gone away, had I got over it like so many naïve souls suggested, my life and memories of Brad might’ve gone with it. The last thing I want is to forget any of it.
For more guidance, click https://grievingtogether.ca/grieving-library/grief-words/helping-yourself/
We need to acknowledge that this experience of grief and mourning is part of the soul’s life.
There is no love without loss…Your capacity to love requires the necessity to mourn.
-Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.