Grief. Grieving. Words loaded with the most intense jumble of feelings that have ever been.
We don’t reach middle age without experiencing loss of some sort. I’ve grieved for the end of marriages. I grieved when my father died. I grieved the slow loss of the man I had loved since I was 15 when dementia began to transform him into a disagreeable person I did not know.
Then he left under ugly circumstances, and my mother died, and my youngest child left home—all in a matter of weeks. Then the man who had been my husband died. It was a rough time. I grieved the loss of so many roles that had defined my daily life. Of course, I knew they would all be part of my life; I just never expected them all to come to an end at the same time.
I grieved heavily for the unexpected death of my mother. I grieved because there was nothing I could do to save her. Now I was no longer anyone’s daughter.
I grieved as I helped my “baby” go off to study abroad, knowing she’d never really return home again. There would be no more cups of hot chocolate after her concerts or watching for the porch light to be turned off. My years of “mothering” were over.
I grieved for the death of a man I thought I’d grow old with. I grieved for the ending that came in such a complicated fashion. I grieved because I couldn’t be there with him at the end. I was no longer a wife or a caregiver; no longer a member of another extended family.
At the beginning for me, it was raw pain attacks alternating with stunned silent numbness. It was too much and impossible to tease apart. I was a walking zombie by day. Nightfall brought the tear-soaked pillow. It took two years to recover and feel semi-normal again; two years to begin moving ahead toward a new life as a different person.
Mourning and grieving is like an onion, I’ve decided. It’s an ongoing business of peeling off the layers, crying as you go, reaching a stable point and resting there a while. Then, something leads you to peel off another layer, to process something still lingering that needs to be faced and examined. And so it goes. One layer at a time. Sometimes when you least expect it, a layer gets ripped off, exposing stuff you thought you’d already dealt with and tossed into the trash, but no. If you decide to uproot your life to start a new one somewhere else, you get a fresh new onion to deal with. And you alternate between the damned things wondering what the hell you were thinking, before realizing all the old stuff is part and parcel of the new onion.
But forward you go, processing and suffering, but learning to laugh again and appreciating all you’ve learned and all the people who pulled, pushed, and loved you along the way. And the scars heal, and the sadness becomes less intense. The grieving never truly ends, it just fades into the shadows most of the time. I’ve learned to ignore it when it calls my name and choose distraction when possible. But every now and then, it catches me through a dream or a song on the radio, or a memory that comes when I least expect it. And sometimes I just succumb to it and trust my tears to wash it away until next time.
Finally, last year, as I sold, donated, or packed up the last of everyone’s belongings (my past, present, and future!) and prepared to sell the dream house I had designed and helped build, I mourned all I was leaving behind, and all the memories that would never be made there.
That last part is what my grief comes down to. The future I had planned was suddenly erased. The life I had envisioned for myself was not to be, and I don’t have a clear new vision to take its place yet but I am creating a new life trusting that wonderful things lie ahead!