Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Just When You Thought It Was Safe ......
...... it's suddenly not.
I have always described grief and grieving as standing in the ocean. In the beginning I wasn't able to keep standing because of the relentless pounding of the waves. They came at me one after another. It felt as if I were in the middle of a a typhoon, or a hurricane. I've been in the middle of a hurricane since then ..... and I think it still applies.
I couldn't withstand the waves ..... they kept knocking me over and pulling me under. It was all I could do to try to reach above the water line and get a breath before I was pulled under again.
In the beginning all I could do was dog paddle and barely keep my face above the water.
And then the water started calming down. The waves still came, but they were a bit further apart. Some days I was able to get to my feet ...... and even stay standing through a wave. Not always, but some days.
And then more days.
I grew stronger with the passage of time. I stood easier. The waves still came, but they were rarely able to knock me down.
They'd knock me off balance, to be sure, and they'd threaten to pull me under with their force and pull, but I managed to stay on my feet.
Strength takes time.
It cannot be rushed.
It cannot be purchased.
It cannot be borrowed.
It has to be earned.
We are each earning strength with every day that passes ...... and finds us still here.
When we notice that we're stronger and that the waves are less frequent, we think that we're on the mend (so to speak). We think that we'll start feeling better and better.
And maybe, at close to a year, we may start to believe that the waves have gone.
But, contrary to popular thought, grief does not disappear on the day you hit the one year mark.
The tears do not automatically dry up because of the passage of 365 days.
The pain does not fade out after 52 weeks.
A broken heart doesn't heal in 12 months' time.
In fact, for many people, the pain gets worse after a year.
The depression gets darker.
The tears flow quickly.
I wish I had known that.
I wish someone had told me that the shock that numbs you during the first year (to some extent) is the thing that disappears at one year. The numbness that most likely helped you survive, leaves your heart unprotected and exposed to the pain of the holidays and special days.
I wish I had known.
I wouldn't have thought that there was something wrong with me.
I wouldn't have thought that I'd feel that way forever.
I wouldn't have wanted to die so very much (a little, probably, but not as much as I did).
One day, at around 17 months, I walked into my therapist's office. I broke down and asked her what the hell was wrong with me. I was at one and a half years, why didn't I feel ANY better? Why was I still depressed and sad and not "better"?
She got up, looked through her files and then pulled out this sheet and handed it to me:
And I felt like I had been understood by someone ....... by whoever made this graph. I felt validated and I knew, in that moment, that there was nothing wrong with me. I knew that, without a doubt, I was normal.
And that felt great.
Look at that graph. The bottom line represent the passage of time. The line on the left side represents the intensity of grief upon the loss of a spouse (or maybe anyone, though I think it's really for a spouse).
It starts on the day your spouse died. See how high the intensity is? And how high it stays? Yes, it goes up and down, but not very much. The grief is intense, but then at around the 10 month mark or so, it gets less intense. Not a lot, but a bit.
And then ...... here's the part that made me feel like a huge weight had been lifted from me ...... look at the 15-18 month mark. Check out how high the intensity level spikes on the graph. It goes up higher than it's ever been before ..... even in the first days. It takes a huge spike. And the grief hurts ...... a lot.
But ...... here's the part that made me feel hopeful: it spikes to its highest point, yes ...... but then it drops almost as quickly as it spiked. And it drops a lot. It goes far lower than its ever been since that day. And then it stays down.
Yes, it spikes at some times, but those spikes are nothing compared to the ones that came before.
It's at that point that you know you will survive.
And it's at that point that you'll realize ...... that the water is a bit safer than it was before.
But until then, those of you who are still in the toss and the pulling of the relentless waves ...... know that we are here. And that we've been there. I want to take your hand and hold you up, above the waves.
I want to give you my strength, but I can't. You have to live through this, and so earn your strength. But I'm still here, as are the rest who've made it further on this road. And we are cheering you on. You are loved. You matter. And you will survive ...... even on the days you don't want to.
It won't be long ...... before you'll know that it's safe to go back in the water.
I'll see you there.