My grief journey has gone something like this since my husband died:
I have very vivid memories of planning the funeral and most of the day we laid Tom to rest. It was June 3, 2013. I remember coming home from the luncheon to plants left on our front porch and then boom! My memory wipes out for the rest of the summer.
It’s like a giant black hole in my mind. I can go back to my Facebook wall to jog my memory and remember that yes, we did go on doing stuff and living during those months. However, other than some fuzzy recollections of spending too much time and money on eBay in the evenings and band camp in August, it’s all a blur.
When the school year started up, my memory kicks back into gear, but all I can really conjure up is how difficult the transition to high school was for my daughter. I remember staring at the wall for long periods in those days.
We passed the one year anniversary of Tom’s death, and it was like a curtain lifted from my mind. I didn’t feel like I was walking around in a stupor anymore. However, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
I’ve heard other people say the second year is harder than the first, and I think they may be right. For the first year, you’re in shock. In the second year, it becomes real. This is your life. Yes, you really lived through that. No, it will never go back to the way it was before.
At my lowest point, I told myself I would write a book, and it would end very melodramatically with the line, “This book is for all those who live in the inky black darkness and can never escape – those people like me.” A bit over-the-top, right? But that’s where I was in my life.
So how is it that I can sit here now – 2 years, 8 months and 12 days post-Tom – and feel relatively happy, somewhat stress-free and overall satisfied with life? How did I escape the darkness?
I chalk it up to three things.
I rediscovered reading.
As a kid, I loved to read. As a teen, I didn’t have time to read, but by the time I hit adulthood, I was at it again. One of my and Tom’s nightly rituals was to spend about an hour in bed reading before it was lights out.
I remember exactly when I stopped reading. It was Monday, September 14, 2009. My Dad, who was 74, called to ask if I could give him a ride from the doctor. He had been feeling sick and thought he was too weak to drive. He had never asked me to drive him anywhere before.
To pass the time, I brought along a book, Wolves of the Calla, but couldn’t concentrate on it. That day marked the end of my regular reading habit. My Dad died a week later.
Sure, I tried to read after that. In fact, I spent two years muddling my way through Doctor Zhivago, but it seemed as though I couldn’t get back into the reading groove. I practically gave up after that.
Then, totally by chance, I discovered some blogs about books (Modern Mrs. Darcy being my favorite) that I fell in love with. That made me want to read again, and now I am happily reading most nights.
Almost at the same time I started reading regularly again, I started to feel like I was back in the land of the living. Maybe my mood was already brightening and that made me want to read, but I tend to think it was the opposite. Reading took me out of my head so I wasn’t constantly replaying my own sad story in my thoughts.
Since then, I’ve also discovered podcasts. I listen to them in the car, while I’m cleaning or when I go for a walk. Again, I find they get me away from my depressing thoughts and since I tend to like inspirational podcasts, they give me an extra boost that way as well.
I stopped expecting anything from anyone.
When I hit my lowest point about a year ago, it was triggered in large part because I was faced with a difficult situation, asked for help, was expecting help and didn’t get help. Nothing makes you feel as soul-crushingly alone as that.
Since then, I’ve told myself I’m done expecting help. That might seem like a sad or lonely way to go through life, but it’s actually been a good mindset for me.
Sure, I have good friends who I still call and ask for help, but I no longer pick up the phone expecting them to swoop in and be my white knight. My mantra has become, “It’s up to me to fix my problems.” If a person is unwilling or unable to assist, then it’s not the end of my world because I haven’t pinned my hopes on them.
I started saying ‘yes’ even when I want to say ‘no.’
I like to think of myself as an introvert with extrovert tendencies. Facebook and (hello!) blogging seem custom-made for me because they provide a social fix without requiring me to actually step outside my four walls…or my comfort zone, for that matter.
However, I decided a while back that maybe that isn’t the healthiest way to live. So now…
- When someone invites me to breakfast, lunch or dinner, I say yes.
- When someone invites me to a playdate for the kids, I say yes.
- When someone invites me to a direct sales party, I say yes.
- When someone needs a volunteer for an activity or event, I say yes.
And you know what I’ve found? Even if some of these events exhaust me on a daily basis, they seem to have had the overall effect of energizing me for the long haul. By engaging with others, rather than retreating, I’ve met new, interesting people and strengthened existing friendships. Perhaps more importantly, it’s helped me to stop feeling so alone all the time.
That said, I probably over-commit and am working on making sure I have one day a week in which there is nothing scheduled other than running the kids to school and back,
Am I running away from my grief? Maybe. But I’ve found these three things help keep my head in the present instead of brooding over the past.
What about you? Have you been able to pull out of a dark period in your life? If so, I’d love to hear what worked for you in the comments below.