I posted this on Facebook on 4/27/14 for family members shortly after my nephew, Frankie, died...
Sheila, Mark, Josh, Gena,
I know that everyone's grief is different and that your experiences will not be the same as mine. I don't know what it's like to lose a son, a brother, or a fiancé. I don't know what it's like for YOU to lose Frankie. I only know what grief was and is for me.
I found it very helpful to read other's experiences. Although different, there are many commonalities. So I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts from my experience. I'll try to do this from a practical view rather than emotional (although there is no removal of the emotions involved in grief).
If there is anything here that hurts or upsets you, I apologize. That certainly is not my intent.
Here's a couple of things I had written before...
This a couple of months after Jackie died:
And this a year after Jackie died:
and some snippets and links to things I found meaningful and helpful:
And my "list" (in no particular order)...
- Your daily "to-do" list
1. get up, 2. survive, 3. go to bed.
If you can check them off, you had a good day.
- Not only will you grieve what was, you will grieve what was supposed to be.
But you know that.
- There is no time line and there is no finish line.
In the early days after Jackie's death, I naively expected that in some reasonable amount of time I would "get over it" and "get back to normal". It didn't take me long to realize just how naive that was. There is no getting over it and normal has forever been changed. Grief has it's own life span and in many ways, it will be there as long as you are. You should not expect things of yourself nor should you accept the expectations of others. Your timeline is your own.
- There is no right way (or wrong way) to grieve.
There's only your way and whatever way that is, how ever long it is, it is right.
- There are no stages of grief.
There isn't some neat formulation of grief where you move from one stage to the next until you are "healed". Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the "5 stages of grief" (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) decades ago. Although you will very likely feel those emotions, there will be many others as well and they will not be a in any kind of order nor will they be single or fleeting occurrences. Unfortunately, many people accept this as the de facto standard of what we're "supposed" to go though in our grieving. It is not.
(I like this from the article: "Your love, and your grief, are bigger than any stage could ever be. The only way to contain it is to let it be free.")
- People (myself included) will say the wrong thing.
We will say things that hurt you or make you angry. Just remember that we are not doing so intentionally. We say things because we love you and desperately want to help ease your pain. We don't know what you're going through and we don't know how you hear what we are saying. Many times we just don't know what to say.
- You are alone (but you're never alone).
Your pain and grief are uniquely yours. No one can ever fully grasp what you are going through. It is incomprehensible (often, even to you). You are alone. But yet others have been through their own grief and do understand, at some level, what grief is. And still more love you and will stand by you and support you. You are never alone.
- You are most likely in a state of shock.
And will be for some time. Think PTSD. Be aware of this. Don't do anything permanent without being cautious and aware of what you're doing. You may regret it later. Take your time. Think and re-think your decisions and actions.
- Sometimes effect comes before cause.
There were many times that I would, seemingly spontaneously, start to cry before the thoughts that made me cry became conscious to me.
- There are many sources of guilt and regret.
Most are irrational and unfounded. Don't beat yourself up. Don't hurt yourself even more.
- Beware the 9-month recurrence.
Your time will vary but it is common to "relapse" after some months. Around that time after Jackie's death I felt, in some way, that I hit my lowest point (it was not, really) and things turned really bad for a while. My therapist explained that this was the point that I started to come out of shock (started to). Of course, also around that time, many people will think "you should be over it by now". They would be wrong.
- You should not "be over it by now".
If anyone actually says that to you, you are quite free to spit in their face.
- Therapy is good.
But it is not intended to cure, it is intended to help.
(and you are not crazy)
- Widow's brain.
Not necessarily the right phrase but I think it has to do with both shock and that your mind is so consumed that your thinking about ordinary day-to-day living can be, well, flawed. I know I often felt flakey or foggy, very forgetful and, at times, thoughtless; that I couldn't think strait. I had (and still have) a hard time concentrating. This can be a big source of stress. I've told the story before, shortly after Jackie's death, of standing in the grocery store looking at cat food. Before, I would just get the same food that Jackie always got. But on this occasion, they didn't have it. I was "caught in the headlights"; I didn't know what to do. I was looking at all of the cat food thinking "what would Jackie buy" and I just didn't know. I couldn't make a decision and there I was standing frozen in the store, crying.
- speaking of stress.
Dealing with stress and frustration is hard. You are most likely in a weakened state and sometimes the smallest things can bring you to your knees (i.e. cat food). So, try to offload and avoid that which you can to ease your burdens. All those people that say "if there's anything I can do...", give them something to do. Recognize that certain situations, actions, events, etc. will bring stress and find ways to help yourself through it. Plan ahead when you can. Find stress-relievers and ways to escape. Be gentle with and take care of yourself.
- the second year is (easier/harder).
- This will change you.
Probably more than you think. And, in some ways, for the better. I would never say that any loss is a good thing and there are some things that we just don't need to learn, but you will learn and grow from this.
- Grief is not a disease to be cured.
It is your love turned inside out. I've said many times, "in order to take away my grief you'd have to take away my love"™. Grief is a part of you now. You will learn to live with it, you will adapt and grow and change, but you will not be cured of it. It won't go away.
- Learn to love your grief because your grief is love.
I know that doesn't sound right, but... I said this at Jackie's funeral - "The pain that is tearing my heart apart... is Jackie." It is the love that I had and still have for her and she for me. The pain now is only part of the joy then (if there was no joy, there'd be no pain). When all I have left is the pain, I want to hold it, embrace it, and love it.
- But If I let myself feel my emotions, I won't be able to function.
(I'm quoting here) ... "The thing is, we're much more likely to NOT function, actually, if we block our emotions. Research shows that we're much more likely to get anxiety, depression, eating disorders, even become violent, if we suppress our emotions." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juET61B1P98 (this, I think, is really good)
- Feeling your emotions is not weakness.
In fact, it takes courage and strength to embrace and live those emotions. Allow yourself to feel what you're feeling. Give yourself time to cry. Crying is good, it's healing, therapeutic, and, in some way, respectful and honoring.
- There is nothing bigger, more important, more meaningful in life than love.
Everything else is noise. Live in Frankie's love.
To quote Dennis Miller, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.
If you don't, I encourage you to start journalling; writing to your future self. I did not, but now I wish I did. I think it can be healing and your future self will appreciate it.
I Love You