Sunday, February 24, 2013

Intensive Care


While at Camp Widow West 2012 I bought I Wasn't Ready To Say Goodbye by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, PHD.

I must admit, I have started and stopped reading this book multiple times.

I found that I couldn't get into the book because I can’t relate to a lot of it.

I can’t relate because I should have started reading this book immediately after my husband died instead of 30 months after the fact.

Last week I felt like I was going to to have a nervous breakdown so I started reading it, yet again.
I flipped through a few of the chapters, skipping subjects that I have already been through like wills and financial problems, until I found a subject that I felt I needed help on - understanding the emotional and physical effects of grief (chapter three).

I thought “I’m exhausted, feel like I’m going to completely lose my mind, BUT I should already understand the effects of grief”.

As I was reading I found an analogy that really hit home for me. It says “What has happened here has the same effect on you as if you had gone through major surgery.  Consider yourself in intensive care and treat yourself as if you are in intensive care.” Wow!

I closed the book when I read that, snuggled up in bed and thought "I have gone through major surgery. I have gone through major surgery over and over."

I laid in bed and said it to myself for hours.

What surgery have I gone through?

Well, in theory, I have gone through open heart surgery and brain surgery.

But the doctors messed up the surgeries.

They cut my heart out, then dropped it on the floor. They fumbled around with it, dropping it multiple times, before sticking it back in my chest.  They didn't even wash off the dirt and grime. When they put it back in my chest, it went back upside down and backwards. The doctors thought “Eh, good enough. She will survive.”

Instead of having another open heart surgery I accepted that my heart was never going to be the same.

Brain surgery came next.

I had a large portion of my brain removed. Not due to disease, but simply because my husband died.

The doctors took out the most important parts of my brain. The part of my brain that makes me think rationally, collectively and calm. They also removed a lot of my memories of Seth, and completely removed my memory of the first year of widowhood. They removed much of my short term and long term memory, as well as the part of my brain that gives me balance. I find I have days that I am off balance. I can’t walk straight most days.  I fall down a lot. In fact, I fell twice this week for no good reason, other than part of my brain is gone, and with it, my balance. They removed my patience and understanding for people, and acceptance of people that “don’t get it.”

Once again, the doctors shrugged it off. “She will be fine.”

Yes this is all in theory, but this is what I thought about when I asked myself “what kind of surgery have I been through?”

When I started thinking about my grief this way, it all made sense.

It made me realize I need to start taking better care of my grief. I need to listen to my body and grief a lot closer.

I can’t believe I am 30 months out and am still learning to live with my grief and forever changed body.

Maybe one day I will be able to accept my forever altered heart and brain.

Until then I will continue to treat myself as if I am in intensive care.


  1. Hi Melinda. Your piece really struck a chord with me. I am 11 months into this hell and I have often found myself wondering why I don't think about my wife at all ... why I can't remember her face, her voice, her laugh or for that matter much from our 7 years of life together. I have often wondered whether I am simply a sociopath who never loved my wife in the first place - until I force myself to think about our life together and I know in my heart I loved her more than life itself.

    Your comments about brain surgery are spot on as it relates to me ... I know I am a bit (or a lot) messed up and despite seeing a counsellor I don't feel as though I have made any progress in this regard. It does seem as though an entire section of my brain has been removed. Part of this I think is because I have two kids under the age of 5 that rely on me solely (I have no family within 700 miles of where I live) so perhaps my brain is taking measures to ensure I can carry on and work, run a household and protect my kids.


    1. Hi anonymous, your post felt so familiar to me. I hadn't forgotten my husband, but for the first year most of what I could retrieve was all of my anger at him, mostly for his behavior when he was sick but we didn't know it. I also think I was physically recovering from the strain of caring for him, our two small girls, and my job while he was sick. Now that I am at 15 months I feel like I am really doing the work of grieving (following another very stressful time). I finally signed up for a support group for young widows, which I hope will help. There are so many reasons not to grieve when we have small kids, unfortunately I am finding that it doesn't take away the need to do that work, and it is painful and exhausting, just what I don't feel up to in my life. I hate tolerating my semi-functional brain, fuzziness and lack of patience but they don't seem to be optional. Let's just hang in and find and take all the help and support we can.

  2. Well said!!! That book has been my close companion on my grief journey these two years. I found it randomly at the library when it had only been 3 weeks since losing my Marty. Up till that time I hadn't even thought about getting educated about grief; what was another red flag of how grief stricken I was, because in my life, my modus operandi is always to read, read, read all I can when faced or deciding about something new. Obviously losing my beloved was something I was faced with. I now have read many books. I am an amazon used queen! But "I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye" has been a frequent go back to for me. They have a wonderful list (pg 22,23) that you can copy and give out to friends, about how to 'really' help the grieving. It is a great book when you receive someone elses unfortunate news to share with them.
    You speak words of truth. I too, need to reconsider the ICU.

  3. I have said that Grief is like post tramatic sydrome. You never known when it will hit you, how you will react, it is unpredictable. It is something you will never get over, but learn to live with!

  4. I can relate to this post in a slightly different way and your timing is uncanny. Just yesterday as I was thinking (my brain NEVER stops thinking about him) I had the revelation that even though my husband was the only one in the car that night and there were no other cars or witnesses, in reality I WAS involved in it too. My heart was broken into a million pieces and every square inch of my being is bruised and sore. I'm slowly picking up the pieces of my heart and the bruises are beginning to fade but some days I need to allow myself to hurt.

  5. This post, and the comments really speak to me. The hole in my heart, my life, and my brain...that's how I think of it. I've often compared the effect of grief/loss on my brain to a concussion. I just wonder if I will ever recover, and I feel frustrated by what seem like new limitations on my basic ability to function. But you are right, we need to accept that we have been changed by our loss, and it's important to show ourselves gentle, patient, compassionate kindness as we heal. For however long it takes. For myself, I will return to a buddhist quote that I haven't looked at in a while: "Life is so hard, how can we be anything but kind?" It goes for ourselves, too. Thank you for your post.

  6. I think that this is what has surprised me the most, just how very physical grief is. I am a nurse, and as an educator had taught about the concept of grief and loss many times, but I don't remember if I ever talked about the raw physical pain. After all, I had never experienced a loss until I lost my husband, the ultimate loss. My white picket fence sure came crashing down. I like your analogy, your ICU. For the first time this past w/e I let myself stay in bed until 4pm, I am approaching the one year anniversary of his passing and am just now learning to "be good to myself". Nursing a broken heart is no easy task :-(