Monday, November 12, 2012

The Facts of Life


Dave's death catapulted me into a phase of self-discovery like nothing I've experienced before.

Alive, his presence allowed me to look away from myself. I looked closely at our marriage, because it was so important to me, and I looked at him constantly, especially when he was sick because I loved him. I looked at my job and examined every facet of it, obsessively. I looked at the future I expected to have and could imagine it quite easily.

What I didn't really look at much was me. The inside of me. The dark, deep-down and hidden bits of me that were so convenient to ignore.

Sure, I processed my grief around my mother and father's deaths. I knew I had some "issues" that many people raised by an alcoholic do and many who lost a mother very young experience also. I knew I was terrified of losing Dave. I was working on all of that in therapy. But there was so much more inside.

When Dave died and our marriage as I knew it evaporated in front of me and my identity was blown to bits, leaving me to sort through the pieces, I had no choice but to examine the dark and deep parts of me that had been exposed. I had to, for the first time, deal with my fear of being alone as a woman, my perfectionism and how it keeps me prisoner, my neediness, my somewhat warped money and work ethic beliefs, my doubt in the power of myself. It was all there waiting and after the first year or so of widowhood had passed, and some of the shock had begun to burn off, I started to see it all more clearly and I finally couldn't ignore it.

Throughout this journey, the pieces of myself I've been trying to heal and sort out and fully understand for the first time almost seem to come together under one theme, but I've struggled to figure out what that theme actually is. It's like I can see the common thread out of the corner of my eye, but when I turn to look at it head on, it slips back into the periphery and I can't get a really good look at it.

I could sense that it's all related and that it's all about my attachment to the stories in my head, but I could never quite grasp it all.

While it's more complicated than one simple answer or common thread and no one book can ever fully encapsulate the complicated labyrinth of human emotion, a book I started last night felt damn close.

The Five Things We Cannot Change seemed to fit snugly into a gap I had in my understanding of how all these issues of mine come together. It helped make very clear and simple what had been swimming around, unorganized, in my head all this time.

Richo states that there are 5 core facts that we all face but usually live in denial of and this denial is what causes us the undo pain we experience.

These facts that will find us over and over again in life are:
1. Everything changes and ends.
2. Things do not always go according to plan.
3. Life is not always fair.
4. Pain is part of life.
5. People are not loving and loyal all the time.

What I really like about this is that Richo proposes that these truths are not actually the bad news they seem to be. It's actually the struggle against them that is the source of our troubles.

I know that the pain I feel and will always feel at the loss of my husband won't be remedied the minute I really grasp this concept. I understand that grieving is a separate sort of struggle entirely. However, I do think that at some point, I can cause myself much more pain than necessary by pushing against these facts and trying to deny them.

When I feel my worst, I notice my thought patterns actively push against these facts. We were supposed to grow old together. Why did this happen? It's not fair. I don't want to feel pain. Why do people leave me? He died too young, we didn't get enough time together. All valid points and feelings, of course and completely understandable and human, but they feel like arguing with a big, stubborn, omniscient creature (I picture it as an ogre) who keeps all the answers locked within itself just to piss me off. 

However, when I turn my thoughts to Yes, he died. It is and was horrible. It was unfair. NOW what? is when things begin to turn the corner for me. That's when I begin to imagine that there might be a life after this for me. There might be a way to do something good in this world because of my pain, not just in spite of it.

And, just as important, nothing is permanent, so why cling to it?

Don't cling to this particular pain, because it will pass. Don't cling to this particular moment, because it will be over, too.  Let go and let be.  

That's when I start to find a still, calm center within the chaos of my mind. That's when I might be able to zoom up and out of the shell my soul is inhabiting and look down from far above at this life I live from a different perspective. Amongst all the other pain in the world, I'm not alone in loss and grief. We are all able to withstand terrible pain and have been doing so since the beginning of our species' time on earth.

Also, there are facts just as important, but not included in that list. Like there will be incredible joy and beauty and miracles. There will be amazing lessons to be learned only by the trial of pain and loss. There will be wisdom and sunshine and babies' laughs and shouts for joy.

Each of us go through it all if we live long enough. We all experience every one of those five facts and along the way we get to experience all the wonderful facts too, that glow extra bright when held up next to the dark.

I've only read the first chapter of this book so far, but I have a feeling it's one I'll reread again and again.  There is something comforting about confronting and even trying to embrace these truths. I believe that it's tricky in our society to talk about the truths without coming off as a Debbie Downer.

But that's where the misunderstanding begins and where the struggle against the truths starts. 

Facing the truth of life isn't negative, it's brave and if we all can look squarely at the facts (no matter how scary or sad they might be) and talk about them, maybe we won't feel so alone in our pain.

It will expose them as utterly common and unavoidable parts of a life so they can't fester in the dark and become scary unknowns or shameful secrets.

Maybe it really says something about me that a list of facts that some might categorize as depressing actually made me feel better (That's why I'm most likely paying for my therapist's new car!), but it did and maybe it might you.


  1. Yes! I can't help but think when I suggested this approach on this blog many months ago I received a very light (but smart) tap of - easy for you to say comments!
    However, I know it is not the least bit easy. But I also know without acceptance we just suffer and suffer and suffer.
    Grieving and accepting are not opposites. They can walk side by side.
    i grieve the death of my beloved husband deeply and daily BUT i have learned to accept it as a fact of my life.
    Because if i get in that spiral of "why him? why us? life is cruel?I will never ever be happy again?" I really don't want to live at all.
    The truth is - death is a part of life. We must accept that to really live.
    I just met a woman who told me her 20 year old son died ( 25 years ago) I felt a stab in my heart and immediate fear for my children. I asked her how she survived it - and she said "you just do. You are changed. You suffer but if you can you live. " She said the first time she laughed after his death she burst into tears - at the thought she could still laugh and that she had thought all happiness had died, and that she laughed at all.

    We need this message so much Cassie.
    If we are to carry on we must have hope.
    Thank you for providing it.

    1. I was nodding and "mmm-hmmm"ing as I read your comment. As I was proofreading this post I even had my own self-critic saying "Easy for you to say". I know that in my darkest moments there's nothing easy about accepting. It's a lifelong process but I can torture myself or not and I hope over time, I choose NOT more often.

  2. Thank you. I also agree that many have trouble with the facts of our reality and don't really want to hear, but the truth is, this is my life. The fact is I AM alone; the fact is I make all the decisions; the fact is I do all the errands; the fact is I am a single parent; the fact is I may be alone the rest of my life; the fact is I have to figure out my financial situation myself; the fact is there is nobody doing life with me; the fact is I go to bed alone every night and wake up the same way; the fact is I haven't been "held" like he used to hold me since he died; the fact is I don't really believe anyone else when they say "It's all going to be okay."
    I have decided that there is no explanation for those who will never understand and am trying to quit trying to explain.
    I also agree that acceptance is key to the journey, but acceptance is a process that takes time. I could fakely say at this point, I accept that this is my reality - but that is not the truth; but what I can say now is This IS my reality, and that is progress. I imagine acceptance will come in due time, but it cannot be forced or cajoled. All I can do is get out of bed everyday, tie up my shoelaces and start walking. As I face my grief and loss everyday in a million ways, I move forward toward acceptance, I just know it!

    1. Exactly. It's not something that happens in one fell swoop, I don't think. It happens in tiny steps and there's no reason to force it. It would probably be unnatural to skip the denial phase. It's an essential part I'm betting, of the process. I think there's a part of me still waiting to wake up from the nightmare.
      But, there's another part of me that can see that the way out is through and accepting would mean less fighting.

    2. YES - that IS the truth! Have to move through to get out! Love the expression "move through" rather than "move on". I doubt I will "move on" but I know I will "move through" carrying Marty in the special place in my heart that he will hold forever - he moves through with me! Thanks:)

  3. Cassie,
    As usual, your deep thoughtful words and eloquence at describing your feelings hits home for me and so many. As I read Richo's list, I agree and know it well BUT I loved your added list of experiences that evoke joy and hope; I thank you for that wise woman. I been having a difficult time of late, with Tim's 3 year anniversary just passed so the grief has been outweighing the joy. I have made my own list in the past and will review it with the gentle reminder that I am and we are not alone in our pain. And our goal is that we don't buy our therapists a Ferrari ;-)!!

  4. "Amongst all the other pain in the world, I'm not alone in loss and grief. We are all able to withstand terrible pain and have been doing so since the beginning of our species' time on earth."

    Have to keep focusing on that, I am so not alone and this is the normal progression in everyone's life. If you are born, you will someday die. We just tend to think that it won't happen to us or those around us until we are much older. When it unexpectedly does, we suddenly are faced with a new reality, one we want no part of, but have no choice in. My husband once took a photo of a tombstone: death is a debt to nature due, I've paid mine and so must you. How true.