Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Experience With Despair

I am normally a pretty optimistic person, although I've had my share of disappointments and frustrations in life. Still, nothing could really prepare me for the full-on despair that comes with grieving a spouse. In How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, Therese Rando does a good job of describing what awaits the new widow/er:

Besides feeling abandoned, you may feel sad, low, or blue. Pleasurable activities may no longer be enjoyable, and you may become apathetic and slowed down, with no energy or motivation. You may brood about the past and be pessimistic, if not hopeless, about the future. You may lament about your situation and how you have been victimized. Tearfulness and crying are not uncommon. On some occasions you may desperately want to cry, but find you are unable to do so. In your intense grief and depression, it will not be at all unusual for you to feel out of control, helpless, deprived, depersonalized, despairing, lonely, powerless, and vulnerable. You may feel that your life is meaningless and even that you, yourself, are worthless. Self-reproach, shame, and even guilt can occur. Feeling so inadequate frequently causes you to feel, in turn, childish, dependent, and regressed. While this is understandable in light of the major loss and the profound psychological injury you have sustained, you might begin berating yourself for feeling less than competent. This can cause you to become inappropriately angry at yourself. If you are like other mourners, too often you will underappreciate just how much you are affected by this traumatic loss. It is bound to set you back emotionally, physically, and socially for quite a while. [pg 38]

In my case, many of these points played out over the weeks and months following Deb's death. Here's an especially poignant example:

I have a really annoying klaxon-style alarm clock. It has to be, or I won't get up. I've tried waking up to the radio, but my subconscious seems blissfully happy to sleep right through any music or talk-shows ;-) So, like many, I've settled for a rather obnoxious-sounding, very loud electronic beeping. Usually it never fails to get me out of bed, just so I can turn the darned thing off (it is purposely set up across the bedroom ;-).

I think it was one morning about three or four months after Deb died that the alarm went off at 08:00 a.m., and I woke up, but I didn't turn it off. I just listened to it. For the next three and a half hours! I just lay on my back, staring up at the ceiling, listening to this jarring alarm, and thinking, "life is pointless."

If you are newly-bereaved and reading this, you might become a little apprehensive about what you could be in for. Here's what's important to understand about this: it wasn't the low point of my grieving. In fact, I wouldn't even say that the full gravity of my situation had hit me yet. The low water mark was still months away.

As you read books on grieving, you'll quickly find the "steps" of grief, and denial factors in prominently as step number one or two. This always really bothered me. How could I be in denial of Deb's death? I held her hand as she breathed her last breath. I sat in the front row at the funeral. I was last to leave the casket before interment. My bed was empty, her clothes were given away, and her spot on the couch was conspicuously vacant. How could I possibly be in denial?

What I have come to understand, looking back now over the last 21 months, is that I was in denial that my life had completely changed. See, even three or four months in, I was still thinking that I would get through this grief stuff and move on with my life and do all the things I still wanted to do. I didn't understand that grief is for life. A good analogy is like learning to live with diabetes or an amputation. Conditions like these aren't going to go away anytime soon. However, that's the point of the analogy — we can learn to live with grief. My goal in writing this blog is to give you enough tools to not only live with grief, but thrive with it. I now consider grief to be a friend of mine (not a very friendly one at times!), a friend that has a lot to teach me about myself, relationships, and what it means to live.

No comments: