Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"What-Ifs ....

                                          picture from here

.... get us nowhere."

I'll type it again.
"What ifs get us nowhere."
That's a direct quote.
From my sixteen year old son.

He texted that to me the other night, minutes after we'd had a heated exchange of words.
He had said some things that I thought were beyond disrespectful.  And I told him so.
I also told that him that he would never, ever have said things like that if his dad were here.
To which he promptly turned away and went into his room.

And thus, the text.
Only, before he wrote that, he wrote,
"He's dead, that sucks, but it's the past.
What ifs get us no where."

I think I may have sucked all of the air out of the room and into my lungs when I read those words.

But I've been pondering them.

"He's dead, that sucks, ...."
Yes he is.
And yes that does.

".... but it's the past."
Ahhhh, those 4 little words say so much to me .... and hold a lot of powerful emotions.

For my son, it's true.  Mostly.
He did die.  That is the past.  My son has the rest of his hopefully-very-long-life ahead of him ..... two years left of high school and football and pretty much breezing through his classes.
Then college.   Oh how I loved my college years.  I so look forward to seeing how much fun he has in college.
And then ..... who knows?  His future is a blank canvas at the moment, just waiting for him to add some color to it, to dabble in different mediums, to make of it what he chooses.

"but it's the past."
For me, those words felt like a cold knife slicing into my heart.
Because for me, it will never feel like "the past."
It still feels like Jim's death is the past, the future and very much the moment.
Not that I'm grieving him the same way as I did in the past.
Thank God.  I know that neither my body or mind could not have held on to that kind of grief much longer ... and survived.

And I am moving forward in my life.  I am happy.  I am content.
I am finding pieces of the "before Janine".  Good pieces that, when added to the "after Janine" make for a better person.
But .... they are still only pieces.

Jim will always be with me.
As will his death.
For me .... it will never be "the past".
It won't define me, in a negative, "woe is me, the keening widow" way.
But it will define me as to why I am who I am, why I think the way I think and why my heart feels the way it feels .... more tender, more compassionate, more quick to express love.

And I know that, for my son, Jim's death really isn't "the past", either.
It will certainly define him, as it will all of our children .... as to why they are the wonderful people they are.
Part of that is because of Jim's death.
And much of that is because of .... Jim's life.

Though I know that Jim, and his death, aren't really "the past" for my son, and that he used those words in an emotional moment, I know that they also hold a grain of truth.
The deep, painful, gut-wrenching, life-pausing, paralyzing grief ..... is "the past".
But the things we've learned, the compassion we've been shown and now have more of, the time we don't take for granted, the very many "I love you"s ..... those will continue on.

But one thing is definitely certain .... and yet sometimes difficult to get past .....
"What ifs get us nowhere."

I think my sixteen year old is wise beyond his years.


  1. Very timely post Janine. I kept feeling these feelings, and thinking these thoughts all afternoon. I recognize that my "it" happened in the past as well, yet it too very much feels like today. And yes, I have to admit that it is nowhere near the type of searing pain that cut through my body, and sent me falling to the floor.

    I started wondering if I'm just clinically depressed, and because of that, perhaps I will not be getting back to a better place emotionally. Tonight I was looking at some photos on my laptop, and came across a very personal photo of Michael, lying on the beach, staring into my eyes. I said to him that I still loved him very much. I became angry so quickly, wondering why I got so little time with him. Then I just as quickly shook myself, and said similar words; These why's get me nowhere.

    It's very frustrating, because I want so badly to be further along on the happiness trail. Lately I keep thinking that perhaps I'll be stuck in this place until someone new catches my eye and opens my heart back up.

    Who knows.

  2. Janine, you know I think all that you said is correct. Our grief is much different than that of others, even our children. I was just thinking about how people who have not suffered the loss of their partners will never "get it", I lost, my mother and brother young, but losing my husband is much different- I am not getting over it as quickly as I did for them and I do not think I will. To most people, this is seen as a tempory condition, but really it is a lifetime sentence- we will never be the same! We will move on and go on to have more normal lives and feelings, but the dealth will always be there. As for Dans, above posts. Dan I too have been hard on myself thinking how I should be further along, but I realize I must give myself a break, I lost my best friend, husband and my future all in one shot. It took 15 years to build that relationship so it will take tme to heal( but not 15 years, but looking at it this way makes me think I have made a lot more progress than I give myself credit for)

  3. This is an interesting one, Janine. You may, of course, choose whether or not to delete my comment or keep it posted!

    You are right when you say that it is different for your son. It is. It most certainly is. Our children will never feel what we feel. Neither will they understand exactly what we feel, and that is perfectly ok.

    For them, life moves on too. And your son is 16 now, so his father has been dead for a quarter of his life. That is a very long time in kid years. My son is in the same category.

    David talks of his father now and then. He has his own memories, and they stay there, but his life is in the present. You know? I have made it quite clear to all the kids that their Dad was human, and had his failings too, because I do not want them to try to live up to impossible and wrong standards, you see. And heaven knows, I refuse to make him into a saint. He wasn't. He was simply a man. My husband and their father. Who we all loved very much and who loved us in return.

    When I talk about Geoff, as I did when I told David that his father would have been SO proud of him when he heard he was graduating from uni, it was absolutely true. Geoff would have been bursting with pride. However, I want them to look ahead, taking with them their memories. I don't want them looking back, because we cannot change the past. I wish we all had magic wands, but we don't.

    I don't expect my kids to think or feel the way I do. They cannot. It makes no sense. There are times, when I look at Missy, and I say, in front of her parents - oh, your Grandpa would have adored you, little one, and Andrew may say, Dad was a champion horse (they used to ride on his back as he crawled around the floor) or something like that. For him, and his brother and sister, Dad IS a part of his past. Not his future, except in the memories. And you know, I am perfectly ok with that.

    For me, and for you, it is different. Our kids are not bad or wrong to see their Dads as a part of their past. In a way, it is healthy. They are looking to the future, not back. They carry with them the important bits, after all.

    For us....well. You know that I have not had a chance to start grieving properly for Geoff yet and it is five years in 2 weeks time. What I feel is in no way remotely similar to the way I felt when my father died. It is a black hole at times, and I feel like I am drowning in the water in that hole now and then. You know what I am talking about, because we have walked this path together for years now.

    So be re-assured, my friend. We will all survive, and our kids will too. On the plus side, they have remarkable Mums! With strength we could not have imagined we could develop or need. Their way of grieving may mean it is over now. Let it be. They are unique, and lovely kids, and their ways are right for them.

    And as for us - well, we will get there. Battered and bruised, but heading in the right direction. And those two men up there will be looking down and grinning, and muttering to themselves about how proud they are of how far we have come. (And that they always knew we were Bull-headed Women, Not to be Trifled With!!)
    Lots of love
    PS (SHRIEK WITH LAUGHTER) Do you know what the word verification is? burrid ("buried" to me!)

  4. Janine, what a great post. I remember soon after my husbands death someone saying to me, "the would haves, the should haves, the could haves" are pointless and rob you of energy you don't have. Exactly like the "what ifs". This proved to be good advice for me. However, I was with my husband for 31 years of my 53 year old life. That past will never escape me and I am glad. I don't want to forget or ever stop cherishing the relationship we had for so many years. Hopefully, the grip that this grief has over me will continue to lessen so I can carry the past forward with me in a good way.

  5. WoW!

    This is a powerful post Janine.
    Most especially this " I know that neither my body or mind could not have held on to that kind of grief much longer ... and survived."

    It is so true that grief has to shift and change because if it didn't we wouldn't survive. I told a friend that those first six months I was certain it would kill me - emotionally or physically. Maybe both or maybe I just wished sometimes it would, it was that painful.

    I have a few moments every day where I wonder "if only . . . we had found the tumour sooner . . . it was operable. . . I had paid more attention. . . I had . . . . it spirals then, there is no changing anything. What is done is done, what is undone remains undone. It is too painful to go there and gives no hope to dwell in the undone.

    And then this " But it will define me as to why I am who I am, why I think the way I think and why my heart feels the way it feels .... more tender, more compassionate, more quick to express love."

    EXACTLY! This is what I have noticed more and more. I see old couples and I think "bless you" I want them to have every moment. My heart is broken open and I find I judge less and less the actions of others. I think what a tenuous journey we are all on - how much we need each other to survive it.

    I live - because my JIm has died and I carry memories of him as tenderly as I can so that I always = have them and in some ways also have him.
    Thank you for this post.

  6. My sons both believe that their father died, too bad, and its over. He doesn't exist anymore, except in memory, but they don't dwell on it. They say that they mourned his death as he was dying from cancer over 6 mo, but that is their job, to move on in their lives and away from their parents and so the loss of a father is not comparable to the loss of a spouse. They will form their own family units someday.
    I lost my Dad to cancer when I was 23 and my brother to a tragic car accident when i was 27, and for me those losses were not even close to the pain of the loss of my spouse. Because my spouse was my whole life.
    And Dan, I've been depressed for 6 mo, and then I realized I'm in the depressed part of grieving, and to just let it be. I suffer from depression anyway and have been on meds for years. If it got worse, I would see my MD to adjust my meds. I think it's always a good idea for anyone who is grieving a great loss to check in with their MD for a physical.
    My sons are 28 and 34, and the oldest and his wife are expecting my first grandchild this month, which is very bittersweet for me. The thing about grief is the emotions. You think you are feeling okay, and then you get whammed with very strong emotions out of the blue. What a ride it has been.

  7. I read these posts and think, wow, I wish I could say this has made me a better person. I don't know when these "good emotions" are supposed to kick in but I can tell you I'm not feeling them. The people who have treated me like crap, don't want to even try to see what I am going through, don't want to think it could be them, say how they would do things differently and continually tell me how I need to get out, get a job, volunteer...those people can expect nothing from me when they need compassion. BIG FAT ZERO...ZIP, ZILCH, NADA...And this is where the bad me really comes in to play...I think I will almost enjoy watching them go through this terrible nightmare from which there is no waking up, no one there to cuddle you and tell you it's was just a dream. Yeah, that's me. Bitter to the bone. Wallowing in self pity, as someone said to me....Oh, it's all well and good to say, yes, I need to be less sad, more active, healthier....not so easy to put in practice. My husband was my world....right or wrong that's the way it was. I spent 30 years knowing him....more than half my life. And people expect it to be over in one year, two, three.....a time limit? More like a life sentence. I can't let go of him..I can't think of anyone else ever being to me what he was. He wasn't a saint, as someone pointed out,, saying I was trying to make him one. He was a decent kind man who didn't deserve the hand he was dealt. I look at people much older than him and think, why not him? Why did my loving God not take someone much older, whose "turn" it was to die? I know he would not want me to be unhappy, he was so worried about how I would get along...

    I don't want to feel this way. I take antidepressents and the world is not any rosier. "They" say I am not doing my grief work....I didn't ask for this....I have to "work" at feeling happy? Just when I think I can deal with it better, it comes back again....and stays longer than it is gone. I don't know what it will take to ever be happy again, I only know I am tired of feeling like this. People say suicide is a "cowards way out". I don't think so. I think it takes a lot of guts, because I sure haven't been able to do it. And I have thought about it a lot. That is the only way I see to end this miserable life I exist in.

    Kudos to you who have actually found a better you in all will never happen to me.

  8. To Anon above, who doesn't think she's compassionate:
    I'm so sorry that you're in that cold, dark place. I wish I could help you believe that you won't always be there.
    I am more compassionate than I was before, but that doesn't mean that I'm an angel, or that I'm not sometimes bitter and angry that Jim isn't here, or that this is now, STILL, my life. I will never "get over" this. But I better. I no longer desire, nor plan, ways to kill myself. I have made it over that part of my grief. I am now, and will always be, on antidepressants. I don't consider that to be a good asset, but it helps keep me alive now. And Jim would want that, he would expect it of me.
    Please know that it took me a very long time to get here. I think I still have a ways to go.
    As do you.
    Please be gentle with yourself. And kind. And patient. You deserve that. Your husband would want that for you.
    And even though you don't, I believe that you'll be here one day.
    I'm cheering you on.
    And so is everyone else around here.

  9. *** that was supposed to read, "I AM better." A whole different meaning. :)

  10. Janine, this was an absolutely and powerful post. Tried to explain to someone just yesterday how I felt I was moving forward but that "it" (my husband dying) could never totally be in the past. You are so much more articulate than I can ever be! I may just borrow your words and show them to this person, they say just what I was trying to say.

  11. So much has been expressed in these posts, and I empathize with everyone. I'm at 20 months and just beginning to see a glimmer of light. I have not been able to relate to finding a "new me," though. I was an extremely happy wife and mother and liked the "me" I had evolved into. One thing I learned to watch out for and hold fast was when other people started telling me what I should be doing. You've all heard it...move on, let go, take classes, get a hobby etc. This stuff can be very confusing and leave one feeling burdened, and it's so important to either set boundaries with people or develop the ability to ignore them. They do not understand, therefore are not in a position to give advice. I don't let them into my head anymore, as they are not in my shoes. I take one day at a time, seriously, I do not look into the future because I am not ready to, and it works for me. Janine, I know exactly what you are talking about when you shared how you felt after your son talking about it being in the past. It's like having a bucket of cold water thrown on you. We don't live in normal time. I have no idea why, but I have experienced it also, the past and the present coexist. We are in a different place. Like all of you, my spouse lives on in my very cells. And I still have a relationship with him, and I always will. And it's OK. To the lady who spoke of suicide, I can tell you that I had thoughts at one time, not of killing myself, but of how nice it would be to fall asleep and never wake up. I think we all go through that for a dark period of time, but it goes away. We want to find our spouse, and in our insane period the only way to do that is to die also. Please know that you will come through that and out on the other side, and your desire to live will return. It takes time. I don't like my life right now either, but in my lifetime I've learned that you never know what's around the corner, for better or worse. So please try to hang in there.

  12. I am fairly new to this site. I have recently started reading every post from the very beginning - I am currently up to July 2009. Janine, I like the way you write and express things that I feel.

    My husband, Allen, was killed in a car accident on May 13, 2009. He was stopped on an interstate in traffic, and an 80-year-old man hit him at highway speed. I was notified by a cop at my door, only one day before he was due home from that road trip. He was 47, and we had only been married 7 years. I was 56 at the time. We were each other's second chance in life, and we really did get it right. Our time together was the best time of my life.

    Over 2 years later, I'm worse in many ways than at the beginning. I have barely anyone left who can listen to my pain anymore. I can't be around our friends because they won't talk about him anymore, and seeing them all so happy when I lost what they still have, is so hard. I don't wish unhappiness on them, I just want more understanding. I struggle with the idea of just letting all those old friends go, but not wanting to lose anymore of my past.

    I wish I had more hope than I do. But I'm actually a lot more like the above post by Anon. Angry and bitter, and tired of having to always put on the mask and pretend I'm better, and listen to people tell me what I "should" do. I am grieving Allen's loss, and the loss of the person I was with him.

    We met on an internet biker newsgroup, and today I have been going back into the archives, and reading things we both wrote back then. I was almost shocked to see the ride reports where I shared our wonderful trip stories with the group - that person is so different than who I am now. I have read many posts here that refer to being a different person afterwards, but it was so clear to me today reading those posts.

    I have not sought out other widows in person, as many of you seem to have done. I've been resistant to the idea that I have to find new friends, because the ones I have, as much as they care about me, will never get it. Thanks to everyone who writes here. My guess is many more people are reading than actually reply. Thanks to Janine for this post that made me finally write something about myself.

  13. Dear Anonymous who is struggling to find any good feeling in the dark place you currently find yourself...every time you make it through the day you've taken a tiny step towards finding a personal reason to keep stepping forward. The hardest part for me after Phil died was finding a reason to live that mattered to me. At first I worked my way through the day for my kids. At other times I did it because I thought it would be wrong to waste my life when Phil had his so brutally taken from him. And then very slowly, one day at a time, I found my own reasons for facing each day. I found myself in the mess of grief and tried to get to know the new me that emerged from the ashes of loss. Hang in there Anonymous, the sun can shine again for you...even if you don't believe in the possibility. We believe it for you, and will keep believing. So, when life gets really dark, look for our candle.

  14. Michelle - that is so true.
    To Anon above - I am the person talking about the "older couple" blessing. I do understand that darkness. I have been there sometimes for weeks. I have been there when I see couples "we" used to socialize with - living their life, laughing, teasing, talking about their dreams. I have asked why. I have felt bitter that my husband of 36 years died at only 56 years old. I have laid on the floor and thought I will never get up again. I have thought about suicide. For an afternoon I went through a plan. I don't believe it was courage I believe it was a desperate grief that made that idea seem like a solution.
    Then - I made myself look at our pictures. I looked at our family - my children, our grandchildren.
    I remembered the things my husband told me about the life "after" he died and what he wished for me. I made myself go over the apt where he was told he had a terminal brain tumour and his overwhelming grief to hear he was going to lose his life. What that drive home was like. How we cried and held each other long into the night and every night until he died.

    And as painful this journey is - I know we must carry on. Why? Because as Janine said - we don't know what is around the corner, Because those times of desperation will shift. Because we are needed. Yes! I believe that. Some day someone is going to need you and it won't be the ones that are not there for you today. It will be someone else who you are going to touch in ways you can't see today. I know it. I believe it with all of my heart.

    There is a reason you are here. If it isn't clear today, that is okay.
    Trust yourself to know that you have something beautiful to offer, even if it is the knowledge that you have survived. That is enough and so are you.

    All good things to you =
    Come back here.
    This blog saved my life.

  15. Diane J -- I'm so glad that you wrote, though I'm sorry that you have a reason to visit this blog, and to write. It took 2 full years before I even began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, it's a very long tunnel .... but it does get lighter.
    I know that one of the reasons I've see some light is because of all of the friends I've made since Jim died. Because Jim died.
    Of course we don't want to make new friends because of this.
    I think we're all "resistant" to many parts of this "after". Hell, I came into it kicking and screaming and trying to dig my heels in. But here I am, whether I want to be or not. And I've been resistant the entire time.
    I think I made it about 6 months, or less, when I realized that I HAD to find some young widows. I didn't know any. I didn't want to know any before that. And I certainly didn't want to be called a "widow". I hated that word.
    But the thing that I resisted suddenly became a need. A hugely powerful need. I HAD to find someone who understood. Someone who didn't need an explanation of why I physically could not eat. Someone who knew that going to a party or out with friends would not make me feel better.
    So I just started asking around. People know people. And God put the one widow I had noticed a few months earlier (but hadn't met) at a table next to mine one night at a restaurant. And I thanked him for that "miracle" (because it was for me .... and for her) and I grabbed that opportunity with all the strength I had. And so began what we call our "Circle". Now there are around 12 of us. We love each other. And we each look forward to that weekly night when we get together and laugh and laugh and laugh. Sometimes we cry, but more times we laugh. Because we "get" our dark, widow humor. And the sorrow. And the desire to end the pain .... to stop living. And everything else. I don't think I'd be here if it weren't for all of my "after" friends .... here, through my computer, and in real life. I'm glad that you found this site. And I'm glad that you now feel safe enough to "talk". My hope for you, and for all of us .... is to see that there's someone ahead of you on this road. Someone who's been on it a bit longer .... and that you see they are still here. And that maybe they've made it to the spot on this road where they started living more than just existing. I hope that you, as I did, fix your eyes on the person ahead of you .... and think that if they can get that far, so can you.
    We are here for you.
    Keep coming back.

  16. I'm revisiting this post and all of the comments written yesterday, and I really want to express my thanks to Janine and Michelle for providing this forum, sharing from the heart, and always responding to those who are so in need. Having a spouse die is truly one of the most difficult experiences we can ever have, and I cannot imagine anyone going it alone. We need peers, those who have walked the walk. It is essential. Just as we did not understand it before it happened to us, and probably reacted the same way as we now accuse others of doing (when we felt safe in the cocoon of our marriages) we now need those who join us in our grief. This is such an important place to land, to share, and to find others who get it. Thanks again who all of you who make it happen.

  17. Thank you for replying, Janine. It helps to hear that others have been "resistant" to the realities of this "after". I saw a therapist yesterday for the first time. It was gut-wrenching to go over it all again to someone new. She said it's not unusual that most old friends and family cannot go any farther with me in this grief. After two years, this fact is what I've been avoiding, and I guess, fighting. I have two invitations to events with our old friends coming up this season, and I'm trying too hard to make myself go. It's exhausting to try to hold on to something that is over. I do feel very alone in this, and very out-of-place even when I am with friends and family. But, I think I have a little insight into why I am resistant to making new (widow) friends - I think I'm afraid of committing to a new friendship, as I'm afraid to commit to volunteer work, etc. - I'm afraid I won't follow through. I also have a lot of guilt that I'm not doing anything with my life - I hear (read) many widows say they are motivated to not waste their lives because they want to honor their spouse's life. To think that I'm not honoring Allen, makes me feel even worse about myself, which makes it harder for me to do anything...never-ending circle. I don't like who I am without Allen. I will keep reading here. I definitely don't see that light yet. But thank you, again.