If you have lost your spouse during this time, I am so sorry. My lovely wife of 30 years, Lynn, lost her life to cancer on March 06, and we went into lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus ten days later, making me stay at home, with reminders everywhere that Lynn is not here anymore and never will be again. To not be able to hold a gathering and celebration of her life. To wake up every morning and sleepily reach over in the bed to touch her and then realize she isn’t there. That is a special hell. So if you’re going through your version of this, I sympathize, and I believe this experience is unique for everyone, but I also think there are similarities. I’d like to share my experiences with you, with the hope that it might make you feel slightly better, slightly less alone, or somewhat less in despair.
First of all, grief is the right thing to feel after losing my wife. It’s correct to grieve during this time. In truth, I was grieving her all through the chemotherapy treatments and then through hospice, before I started grieving in earnest when she died. The sorrow was less when Lynn was still present. I could hold her and kiss her. Once she was gone, the despair cranked up to 11.
Things people say to try to make me feel better are minimal at best. Often, people unwittingly say something that makes me feel worse or angry.
I’ve had several people tell me they know exactly what I’m going through because they have a mother, father, or close relative, who died from cancer. I don’t diminish their despair, and I know losing a loved one is difficult. I empathize, I do, and I nod understandingly, but inside my head, I’m screaming, “YOU DO NOT KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I’M GOING THROUGH!”
I’m not trying to make out like I’m special – many others have done this before me, and I’m just doing what I can do. Still, unless you were the primary caregiver for the person you love more than anyone else in the entire world, daily feeding them, changing colostomy bags, helping them get dressed, taking them to never-ending doctor’s appointments and chemo sessions, and finally, helplessly hold their hand as they take their last breath, you do not know what I’m going through. You can’t, and if you wonder if I envy your nievete, I do. It is the darkest enlightenment.
Human beings are both emotional and rational beings. They have a sort of equilibrium between emotional and rational. When one goes up, the other goes down, like a seesaw. When grieving, the swings are jarringly radical.
Grief does strange things to me. It crushes my heart and soul. I am stunned by its depth and power. It hijacks me, incapacitates me, demands my full attention, and it does it multiple times a day. Sometimes it’s because of a trigger, like seeing Lynn’s wedding rings on the dresser, but other times, despair comes out of some dark, masochistic corner of my mind.
I’ve learned to let despair happen. I’ve tried to suppress it, and that does not work. I’ve attempted to run, and that does not work. Let it happen. Feel it, in all it nightmarish devastation. I let it wash over me and through me, and eventually, it passes. It does, and I can collect myself, wipe away my tears, and move on.
There is also a constant, dull ache in my heart. It’s emptiness like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I feel very alone. That, too, I’ve learned to accept and just feel it. After Lynn died and early on, I tried to cheer myself up. I’d buy myself things I didn’t need. That doesn’t work. I did discover that going for walks in the morning or evening does help, so there’s that.
I’ve also learned that voicing my feelings out loud helps. I usually am not saying it to anyone, just to myself.
“I miss you, Lynn!”
“I feel so alone. I’m empty and depressed.”
“I’m so angry right now.”
As they say, “The only way out of pain is through it.” It helps me acknowledge my new normal. I think emotions must not be denied and must be felt. I let them be what they are. In some small way, this honors Lynn. I’m saying how important she was to me and how much I loved her.
I mentioned earlier that I bought myself things I don’t need to try to feel better. The desire to feel better can push you into unhealthy decision-making. Several times, I nearly bought a new car when I have two vehicles, and both are perfectly fine. I almost adopted another dog when I have two of those, too.
Something I do need that I can’t give myself, I need to know I took good care of Lynn and didn’t let her down. I need to know I’m not crazy. I need to know I’m going to be okay. I lean on my loved ones and close friend, unsuccessfully trying to not expose how broken I am, but I rely on them to tell me these things. And they do.
I’m going to keep going, which is nothing special. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other, but it’s the only way I know how to move forward. I’m going to work on being kind to myself. I’m going to remember to take deep breaths. And I’ll continue to be stunned by my emotions because right now, eight weeks after my wife passed, I should be. Grief is like an emotional concussion, but I’ll heal. Despair is a marathon, but I will pace myself. My whole world seems empty, and everything I do seems pointless. What I’m shooting for is the day that’s not the case.
I am going to KFG.