Chronic Grief

Chronic health problems are not uncommon. I know people with chronic back pain or chronic bronchitis, for example. These are things they live with every day. Yes, some days are better than others, but it’s an ever-present debilitation, always. These people are damaged in some way, but I marvel at their strength to get up and function normally. They go about their jobs and lives as routinely as they can. Sure, they may be in treatments or physical therapy. They may take medications, but they get up and function as if they don’t have a problem, most of the time. That is admirable.

I told you that so I could tell you this:

I’m in a Facebook support group for people who have lost someone they love to cancer. It’s a very specific subset of individuals, and it is overwhelmingly populated by caregivers who have lost their spouse or life partner to cancer. I was regretfully welcomed into this group when my wife, Lynn, passed away, March 06, 2020. 

Here, we do our best to comfort each other and be present for someone while they grieve. We share stories, we complain, we bolster someone when they are thinking of giving up. It’s a good place for me to be right now, and the people are kind and caring, even though everyone is dealing with demons of their own.

Some people in the group have been without their loved ones for years, and they are still grieving the loss. They do not seem to be in pain to the same degree as those who are dealing with only weeks or months since their loss, but I think that’s a deceptive appearance. I believe they have adapted and simply carry it better. The feelings of loss, sadness, and despair are still very present for them. They are living with chronic grief. I admire each and every one of them. It is the bravest thing in the world to get up each day, with such feelings of loss, and go about the New Normal.

A few words about grief – there is no time limit or expiration date on grieving, and it’s not the same for everyone. Even specific losses by the same person are different. I lost an uncle who was my father figure, growing up. My brother died a hard death with mental illness a few years ago. I’ve lost beloved dogs and cats. I have grieved, mourned, and cried for all of them, and to this day, I miss them all dearly. None of these experiences compares to the awe-inspiring grief I am feeling from the passing of my Lovely Lynn.

And I truly am in awe of my grief, like a child seeing the Pacific Ocean’s waves crashing violently on the rocks for the first time, I am in absolute awe of despair’s crushing power. It’s unlike anything I have experienced in my 56 years of life. I am a broken man.

Like so many people before me, I have to learn how to live with chronic grief – I don’t expect my grief ever to be less. I must learn to carry my chronic grief and push on through my workaday life, and like someone with back pain wouldn’t try to lift a heavy box by themselves, I’m not going to push myself to address emotionally stressful situations alone. I will get some help with difficult things like that. And I’ll get therapy and exercise because it helps me feel better. And I’ll continue to work on being kind to myself.

One day, maybe years from now, you will see me wince just the slightest, and then I will continue as if nothing happened. That will be me, dealing with my chronic grief. But today, I scream out in pain. I have a ways to go.

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