You just never get over some grief. You learn to live with it by your side. It changes (thank God) and the intensity diminishes with time, but it never goes away completely. Grief is unique to every person. Some things are universal and considered “normal,” but every personality processes grief differently.
As I’ve gone back to read some of the journal entries I wrote in the first months after my husband Tim died, I was surprised at how dark and sad they were. There was a big difference in my writing while Tim was ill and after he was gone. I find myself wanting to water the entries down, making myself sound less crazy than I really felt, but I have resisted the urge to do so.
I have met so many courageous people, especially those for whom the loss is very new and fresh. I find myself repeating the same things to them. “You are NOT crazy. You are NOT having a nervous breakdown.” Keeping the writing honest and raw is necessary, if it is truly going to help people who are wading their way through their own journey.
I will give you a short synopsis of our story. Tim and I were married in March of 2001. Tim had three children from a previous marriage and we brought one son into this world together. In April of 2010, Tim began to have some strange sensations in his side. On May 7, we found ourselves facing gallbladder cancer, rather than a simple gallbladder removal as planned. Five months and one week later, my husband died. As you might imagine, those five months were the most difficult and horrifying time of our lives, but it was also an extremely beautiful time for us.
Tim’s original prognosis was one to two years. During his first weeks of treatment, tests gave us every indication that the treatment was going well. After his CAT scan, however, we were devastated to discover that the treatment had not worked and the cancer had spread everywhere. At this time, we made the difficult decision to switch from curative care (chemo) to palliative care (hospice and comfort care). Tim was prescribed steroids and for the next month and a half, we were shocked to see him acting almost completely normal. He worked until two weeks before his death. Tim passed away quietly on October 14, 2010. Here are some of my journal entries during the first month of grief.
It has certainly hit me that our journey is far from being over. It has significantly changed and taken a deep, deep turn in the road, but it is still a journey.
I’m all over the place; sometimes ok, then sad, then able to function, then lonely, then angry, then warm with Tim’s presence, then utterly lost, then feel like I’m going to have a heart attack, then feel like I’m moving on, then feel like my heart is aching and it will never stop. Mostly, I just keep swearing that I hear Tim walking in the door or in the room and I just can’t for the life of me wrap my mind around the concept that he won’t ever physically walk through the door again.
In this way, the journey hasn’t changed from the journey of dealing with a terminal illness. I am learning how to tolerate opposing feelings, just like accepting the diagnosis alongside feeling gifts pouring out on us. I still feel loved and supported and blessed beyond belief, while at the same time saying that every tiny inch of this SUCKS. It all sucks.
I’m still trying to grapple with Tim not returning home to me. One night I was out for a while and almost panicked, feeling like I needed to get home right away because Tim was waiting there for me. I knew it wasn’t true, but I couldn’t shake the anxiety I didn’t want to disappoint him by not being home for him. This falls in the irrational category. Knowing it is irrational doesn’t change the feeling. Understanding on an intellectual level that Tim was not home and no longer needed me to care for him did nothing for the panic I was feeling inside. Sometimes the distance between your head and your heart is immeasurable.
I’ve decided the answer to the question “How are you all doing?” is “Ok”, provided that everyone knows that the grief process TOTALLY STINKS and you feel empty most of the time. But that is all within the scope of healthy grief, so that is why I say we are “ok.” We’re just going through what we need to go through.
Today was another day of complete chaos and running around and not really accomplishing anything. Will I ever feel ready to go back to work? And yes, if you are detecting a small window of pity-party being opened up, you are correct. I figure I’m entitled though.
My son Frankie (age 8) and I went to a Halloween party last night at Gilda’s Club (a cancer support center). Frankie was very ambivalent about going but he did just fine. I, however, did not fare so well. We entered a room, and I realized it was the room that Tim and I had been in together. There was the couch we sat on, and I could swear I could see him sitting there, alive as could be, telling the group how he planned to shatter the statistics. It took my breath away. Luckily, I’ve learned to keep anxiety pills in my purse so I didn’t ruin the night for Frankie.
There are often these kinds of surreal experiences. I knew he couldn’t actually be there, but I could have sworn he was. It’s the times that I am not expecting or anticipating having a difficult time that seem to be the hardest. It’s the shock or surprise of the trigger that gets to me. Walking in that room and having a vivid memory was not something I prepared for. When I think something is going to be awful, often it’s not half as bad as I thought it would be. This particular night, it was definitely the surprise throwing me off.
I was driving home wondering why I was so blue and empty inside. I reviewed the day and was grateful that nothing “bad” had happened—no surprises, no bad news, etc. So I was confused as to why I was so terribly blah... it was a huge “aha” moment for me. May sound crazy to you, but I actually had to remind myself that in spite of not having a specific incident to be upset about, I have indeed lost my companion, my spouse, the man who was interwoven throughout my entire life. It was a “DUH” moment—I am in grief! I had to give myself permission to feel crummy, even though I was grateful that the day had been productive.
Not a whole lot to report, just a serious case of the blahs. I am feeling empty, numb. I could probably stare at the wall all day but I guess it is good that I have a family to take care of. When you are a “Type A” personality, driven and extremely active, discovering you can sit and “stare at the wall,” is very startling. I didn’t think I was capable of doing such a thing.
There are times when the grief is raw, when it’s as painful as it gets. There is no way to soften it or make it better. You just have to go through it, and going through it is excruciating. But remember what I said at the beginning, it does get better.
(Taken from “Life After Death, On This Side of Heaven”)
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Darcy Thiel, MA is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in NY State. She earned her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. Ms. Thiel is a couple and family therapist in West Seneca, New York and has been an adjunct faculty at Medaille College in Buffalo. She is also an accomplished speaker and presenter on various topics throughout the Western NY area. She is the proud author of Bitter and Sweet, A Family’s Journey with Cancer, the prequel to Life After Death, on This Side of Heaven. To learn more about Ms. Thiel, visit her website at www.darcythiel.com or marriageandfamilycounseling.net.