Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Never the same again

.... and i'm not talking about "widowed life" in the way you might think.

Before Greg died, I was that odd, nerdy, walking factorioum that could remember every appointment I had, every phone number I needed, every card number that I may be asked to use, every birthday, every task, every thing.

In. My. Head.

The events of That Day will never be forgotten, but I have large gaps in memory for weeks and weeks afterwards.

I walked around in a fog for months.  Like I was separated from the world by a hazy curtain that never lifted.  Like I was staring in my own movie.
Clouded. Fuzzy. Detached.

But since That Day, my head has never bean the same again.

I forget meetings and details.  I forget birthdays.  I forget to return phonecalls and e-mails.  I forget what I went to the shop to buy.  I forget my own phone number.  I forget parties.  I forget family events.  I forget so many things.

....and because I only ever wrote things into a diary or calendar so other people would have a copy of events, I never really got into the habit of using one.  So I forget to write things into my diary.

It sucks. 
I feel so embarrassed when even my fail-safe phone alert for meetings fails and I miss something important.
I hate it when I manage to remember something important for days in advance then forget it at the last minute.  The crucial minute.
I hate it when I have to be reminded of something that seems such a basic thing to remember ... and yet I have forgotten its very existence until that point in time.

People say its "old age" or "it happens to us all" or "you seem fine" or "what are you complaining about - I've always had to write everything down or I forget".

But its not "just" any of those things.  This happened virtually overnight.  ...and over a particular night where my brain was required to process information that it will never be able to make sense of.

My brain changed the way it stores information That Day, and it hasn't recovered. 

....and I wonder if I am the only person who has found this to be true.....


  1. I too, was one of those people who remembered everything and never missed a beat. I'm at 15 months, and I forget more than I remember and I'm constantly having to ask people to repeat crucial bits of information. It's kind of scary, but at the same time, part of me just doesn't care. Hugs!

  2. You are not the only one! I know exactly what you are describing. My husband died unexpectedly 10 months ago (still hard to type that) and my brain is malfunctioning too. Oddly, 10 years ago I had a "mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) from a car crash. This grief response feels Just Like That. Our brains are injured! And it IS different from aging or everyday forgetfulness. I have found myself buying the same thing, every day, over and over, as I can't remember having bought it. Who needs 8 boxes of dishwasher soap? They call it dissociative amnesia - hope it goes away someday. It did from the car wreck. But now this just hurts. One more way to hurt. And worry.

  3. Seismic shift, or as you more poetically said:

    "This happened virtually overnight. ...and over a particular night where my brain was required to process information that it will never be able to make sense of."

    I rarely wrote things down either, though my Dear always had his lists. Now, I list...when I remember. And I have said to others that my brain, and what/how it knows? It is different now, after that day.

  4. You are far from the only one. We jokingly call it "Widow Brain" but I do believe in its existence. When my hubby was ill, I could remember every pill he took, dosage, time, every new diagnosis, doctor, date of surgery, etc. I was his walking medical file and instead of refering to the books and books on his illness, most staff just came directly to me to find out the latest news on his health. Now? Now I can't remember shit. I do the fail-safe calendar reminders too, and I still forget it. I say it out loud in hopes of remembering it, I still forget. I may write it down, then lose the paper it was written on. Complete disarray is my brain. Organizational skills are out the window. You're not alone, I just wish it weren't so common for our fragile brains. *Hugs*

  5. yes - this has been exactly true for me. I could remember everything. I could repeat, word for word, things clients had said to me years before, popping up in my mind at just the right moment. Phone numbers, birthdays, everything - right there, arriving as needed.

    Since That Day, my memory is severely changed. And I get that response too - that "oh, it's just aging," or "well, welcome to my world - I can never remember anything." No. This is not aging. And I'm sorry you're memory was never great. There is a significant, self-measurable change in my memory, and sometimes even my general cognition, that happened on that day, as a result of that day.

    It's disconcerting. To know I've lost something that was so normal and reflexive, so basic to my operation in the world. Something in my wiring has been changed by this. The habit, the reaching for it, expecting it to be there, still exists, but the mechanism is no longer there.

  6. I don't know if I'm forgetting more or have just become completely crazed by the idea that I might - I have records on records on records. Calendars and lists and list of lists and this terrible anxiety that I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

    I think it all ties back to the traumatic weeks before his death and my deep,deep dark belief that somehow I could have prevented it if only I had been more vigilent. I "know", have been told, etc that there is nothing I could have done but my soul believes otherwise.

    We are not ever the same again.

  7. No you aren't the only one. After the fog of grief cleared sometime in month three or four, my memory did get better, but it still is not what it was. It's been 15 months since Laura died.

  8. You're not the only one. Really. It scares me sometimes that my brain simply doesn't work as well as it did "before". it's been 6 1/2 years. I was always the agenda keeper, the one who reminded everyone else in my family of dates and appointments. Now I have trouble remembering which key goes into which lock in my apartment. I got a smart phone just so I could set alarms and reminders, so I stop missing appointments. It even tells me when I should leave to get to those appointments.

    Is it old age? Is it PTSD? Is it lingering grief? I don't know. I don't like it. I want my old brain back. But, hell, I want my husband back, too.

  9. It's absolutely true for me too and for every widowed person I've talked to about this.
    My memory was never great, but now it's the worst it's ever been. I have to write everything down or it's instantly gone. Dates, directions, names, times, everything.
    It's a new brain I'm learning to live with.

  10. I definitely believe that you are NOT the only person that this has happened to. I too was very good with names, dates and just remembered things that needed to be done. It is frustrating, and at times...scary! I'm learning to be more pro-active in my lists and calendars.

  11. The leader of my grief support group told us that "Grief is a cognitive disorder" and that helped me to see that it's normal for us to have "widow brain".

  12. Same here, I too remembered everything with out writing it down, now if its not written in my diary its not happening. I even forgot how to spell my own name yesterday!!!

  13. Me too! The theme is common amongst us. I was a steel trap in remembering things and constantly calling, texting, emailing my husband about stuff. Now, and like another responder, I can't remember and sometimes just don't care. Some mornings, I can't even remember what day it is!

  14. So true! It has affected my job. I'm not nearly the employee I was before becoming a widow. It makes it tough when I was a super career woman and now can't hardly hold a job yet have to work to pay bills. Definately Widow Brain.

  15. I can relate to this so well, your blog post and all the comments! It has been almost 7 years, and I remember being very concerned about all the things I forgot. Shock (he died suddenly) and grief and sadness - all the physical effects, how could it not affect our brain? Lack of sleep, inability to eat...it all has an impact. And then the sheer volume of things we have to take care of and think about now that the buck stops here - it's overwhelming and leads to a certainty that so many things will fall through the cracks. I will say it has gotten better for me, and I'm at a point where I feel more on top of things - exercise and sleep have helped. My kids are getting older and they do more. And I have some experience under my belt for managing things on my own. Thanks for writing this. So validating.

  16. I'm right there with all of you. I can't even remember my own name half the time. I was once an hour and a half late for work because I couldn't find my car keys. They were in the freezer.
    I too am embarrassed by this ginormous change in my persona....but at the same time, I'm not. Does it really matter, in the grand scheme of things?? Like Liza, there are times when I Just. Don't. Care.
    I think that almost bothers me more than the forgetfulness.

  17. It has been 4 years for me and I fear my brain will never be the same. I have to say that it is very comforting to know that I am not the only one. Life is very overwhelming at times but if we get up and do our best every day, then we should not feel embarrassed or ashamed. GOD BLESS YOU ALL!

  18. So two weeks ago my best friend called to tell me that her husband had collapsed from "sudden cardiac death." Thankfully, a passerby administered CPR and he was revived, but was in the ICU. I promised her I would come over after work, and - I FORGOT.
    Who does that?
    These are the kind of inexplicable things that happen to me since my husband was killed. Someone tells me something that should catapult to the top of my mind; it bobs there for a bit and then, unbelievably, sinks like a stone and is gone. Maybe our brains have only so much energy, and we use so much of it getting through the day that there's none left over to fuel the other stuff. I don't know, but I do know that it is a direct result of experiencing my husband's death. Like you all said, the change was abrupt and too dramatic to overlook. I don't know why the people around us are so uncomfortable with that truth.

  19. Another post I relate to. I am so glad I found this blog! I put objects places to keep them safe and can't remember where that was. I have been looking for a key I tucked away for a month now. People tell me something they told me before and look at me oddly when I say I don't remember hearing it, but I don't, and I was the person that remembered everything. I write in notebooks to keep track and then can't find where I wrote it or which notebook it's in. I have notebooks all over the house to capture my thoughts when they come because I won't remember. It's frustrating and I get mad at myself, especially when it impacts my kids(lots of trips to the school to bring in things I forgot). But then like others here there are times I also don't care. Sometimes I don't really care about much of anything and it's been almost two years since my husband walked out the door and never came back(he was hit by a car on a bicycle ride). After this much time and so little progress I realize I probably will never get over the trauma of that day or be the person I was before.

  20. It's been 8 years for me and it is still this way, it hasn't gotten any better. It's called widow brain and many of us have in varying degrees. Some of us regain our pre-widow brain, but many, or maybe I should say, most of us don't.

  21. Been there...done that...or did I? I can so relate to all of this. I think we need to be kind to ourselves, this is the most traumatic event ever for us, and no way will anything ever be the same. After 3 1/2 years, I have finally learned to accept this new me, just as I have had to learned to accept that, yes, this is my life, this is how it is from here on. Don't know how I've made it this long, don't really care to remember those early months, just trying to be; won't ever be the person I was. Thank you Amanda, for bringing this topic up, makes me not feel so odd to know others are/have experienced the same.

  22. Thank you so much for posting about this. It has been one of the most difficult aspects of widowhood for me.

    I'm 47 and coming up on two years after my husband's sudden death, and my ability to think, to remember, to organize, is still nowhere near normal. I never had a great memory, but I was very organized and I had "systems" to keep track of everything.

    For the first year I couldn't organize my thoughts well enough to use a calendar or make lists, at all. It was frustrating beyond words. I can do it now, sort of, but what used to be second nature and effortless now requires tremendous amounts of energy.

    I was afraid I was going to ruin a career I loved and had worked so hard at for 25 years, so I talked to my doctor and he prescribed ADD medication. It helps a little. It's a controlled substance so I have to pick up the prescription each month in person from the doctor's office and sign for it, and then sign again at the pharmacy. I have to go in for a checkup every 3 months to get the prescription renewed. My doctor is cool, but I hate the attitude from the nurses -- like I'm some drug addict who faked out the doctor. It's embarrassing, it's inconvenient, and it's expensive.

    I confided to my best friend about all this. She and I are like peas in a pod regarding how we organize things - our husbands were also best friends and they used to tease us that we were twins separated at birth. She has been my rock. At first she blew it off, "Just write stuff down", but then over time when she saw how much I was struggling, how it was affecting my job, and then finally, that it wasn't just a short-term problem related to the initial shock. When she finally got it, she told me she couldn't imagine losing all the tools she relies on to run her life, on top of coping with the death of her husband.

    And then she got scared, really scared. She's been married to her high school sweetheart for 27 years. She got a glimpse of what being widowed is really like and I hate that I now see fear in her eyes when she asks me how I am doing. I regret that I didn't just smile and fake it with her like I do with everyone else.

    So again, thanks for bringing it up and giving me an opportunity to vent. It helps to know that there are others who are having to deal with the same things. I like carolynne72's comment, that in the grand scheme of things, maybe it doesn't matter so much.

  23. Thank you all so very much. I truly thought that I have been going seriously insane. I didn't know that there are others who have "widows brain." After 6 years, I wonder ALL the time how I can still remember the most finite details of That Night and yet I cannot remember how to where I parked when I have an assigned spot at work. It has taken me this long to learn that I have to start using reminders that I never have used before.

    I feel so stupid and like a completely new person and totally alone. I used to be smart. And I don't like this person that I am now and I really don't know how to fix it.

  24. You're not alone, Amanda look at all the replies! I was just filling out a form online, and I couldn't remember my phone number, which I've had for 3 1/2 years. I had to look it up.

  25. Yes, yes, yes. Grief alters our ability to think clearly. To lose a spouse is shocking and overwhelming and changes us irrevocably. Thank you for validating this in so many of us.

  26. Half the time I can't even think. Its been 2 and half years and I still feel like I'm a zombie most of the time. Lately I feel like I just "exist"

  27. Oh god I thought I was getting dementia. Thank you.

  28. Wow! I thought I was the "elder" statesman here and was planning to chime in about how even after three and a half years this has been going on and then I saw a post from someone indicating....6 YEARS LATER! My daughter is going to be so happy to hear this! She's been busting my chops lately about how I can't remember anything she tells me...even while she's saying it. Now I can prove to her that the things that used to be stored and the bandwidth that once existed for such trivial data has been swiped clean...eradicated. Cool! Keeps me in the moment!

  29. Wow, you nailed it. Thank you for writing this. This part of grief/loss is hard to explain to people because it's not something any of us expect. I keep thinking that after my husband died, 3 things happened: I got a hole in my heart, a hole in my life, and a hole in my head. Multi-tasking will never be the same again. But then I think, maybe I was never supposed to be multi-tasking to begin with. Maybe this is forcing me to slow down, be present, focus on one thing at a time. But it's very hard to accept this change in my abilities.