The Progress of Grief
All you and I can do, when faced with the tragic loss of a loved one, is put one foot in front of the other, and take baby steps to return to the world of the living, the world that, obscenely, doesn’t stop, when our world has fallen apart. Perhaps today you’ve managed to take a shower and put on some clean pants! Or perhaps you’re further along than that (yay you!). Where ever we are in our grief journey, there is always some progress we can make.
Evidence of My Own Progress
Recently, I filled out the final page in my journal. It is my third completed journal since my husband Bob died suddenly in 2015. This last one was larger than most and held two years’ worth of entries for me. It spanned from November 2016 (one year, three months post-Bob) to November 2018 (three years, three months post-Bob). I decided to look back at some of the earlier entries during my morning reading time over several days (which is part of my Miracle Morning practice).
I was simply amazed at the emotional progress I’ve made in the past two years. At the beginning of the journal, there were so many entries that began with, “I’m so exhausted…” or “I can’t take the pain of missing you.” Entry after entry I read in the beginning of this journal was filled with so much raw grief and pain. And yet, even in these dark times, I also managed to sprinkle in a lot of gratitude. I wrote how I was grateful for the simple progress I’d made, like taking a walk outside or cooking a favorite meal. Then, later in the journal, I wrote about much bigger steps I’d taken, like setting up my online dating profile! Boy, oh boy, do I have a lot to say about that adventure! But that will be a separate article altogether.
My Romantic Progress
Around the time I began dating there are journal entries that describe the anticipation of my first post-loss kiss and everything I felt when it had actually happened.
Like many widows, I experienced a lot of anxiety about my first date (I nearly vomited beforehand, just so you know) and my first kiss. I wondered and wrote about whether I would feel guilty or if I would burst into tears after that first kiss. Can you imagine if that had happened? I debated myself on several pages; should it be with a new man who knew little of me and my love for Bob? Or should it be with someone that I knew and who knew my story – someone who would comprehend the weight of the moment and not run for the hills if I did start to cry, but instead, who would tenderly understand why I was crying?
I explored the options of who that first kiss would go to among the eligible candidates in my life at that time. I wrote about the very handsome, single co-worker who didn’t know I existed (at least not romantically). Next, there was the long-time friend who happened to also be a widower (his wife died four years before I was widowed). But, since he was nearly 1,000 miles away, that wasn’t very likely. Finally, there was the very attractive, bad-boy acquaintance (also a widower) who was once a business associate of mine. We had only communicated electronically but quite flirtatiously. He was more than 2,000 miles away. And I am thankful for being that far away from that potential trouble!
I fantasized about kissing all of these men. In the end, my journal reminded me of my progress. When I was truly ready for my first post-loss kiss, it happened. Actually, I should say they happened, because there were many kisses that first time. Those first post-loss kisses were romantic and sultry. They were deep and long-lasting, like the kind Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis describes to Susan Sarandon’s Annie Savoy in the movie “Bull Durham,” which is one of my all-time favorites.
Those kisses weren’t accompanied by guilt or longing for those lips that I was kissing to belong to Bob. I was surprised by that! And I was glad those lips belonged to the man I was now kissing (yes, I met him online). I was very attracted to him. And he was, thankfully, highly skilled at the task! I did not burst into tears. I relished the moment of being held and touched romantically again, after so many months of despair and loneliness. The timing of those kisses was perfect. I knew I had made progress in the romantic-readiness department.
I Hope You Never ‘Get It’
Sometimes, people try to comfort us in our loss, but their words and actions, unfortunately, are quite insensitive and hurtful, even if not intentionally so. When this happened to me early on, I would be so hurt, and I’d get pretty angry about it. I would always think, “they just don’t get it.” And, I have to admit, that sometimes I was so hurt that a little part of me would want them to ‘get it,’ which is awful because we all know what it takes for someone to really ‘get it;’ it means that they have to suffer a devastating loss as I did. As time passed, I realized it was wrong to hope for people to get it. Of course, I don’t want anyone to experience what I have.
Now, when someone says or does something insensitive about my loss, I don’t take it personally (that’s thanks to The Four Agreements, one of my favorite books). Instead, my thought is, “Isn’t that wonderful – that they don’t get it, because they haven’t experienced the pain and loss I have?” I hope they never get it. Because to ‘get it’ you have to go through it. But I know, in the end, everyone will ‘get it,’ because eventually and unfortunately, everyone will lose someone they love.
Progressing to Paying it Forward
But, as I move through the journal where entries describe friends’ experiences with losing loved ones in these two years, I feel my progress as I read my hopes and prayers for them to heal, and recount my desire to support them through their losses. For me, that is a startling indicator of my progress; having the emotional capacity to put aside my loss and grief to comfort others as they grieve their dead loved one. It’s devastating to me that they now get it. I know the years of suffering they’ll endure as they process their grief.
In comforting these friends, and (only) when I’ve been asked for advice on how to embark on this path, I explain that, for me, ‘to grieve’ was an action. I didn’t want grief to just happen to me haphazardly. Bob’s death is what happened. The grieving part would be the action I would take. In my experience, to really grieve required my participation. It required me to seek tools that fit me and my situation. It required me to learn how to use those tools and apply them in the right situations. Surviving Bob’s death depended on my willingness to participate in the grieving process. My active participation yielded remarkable results in my goal to live my best life. I never thought I’d be able to survive without Bob. And yet, here I am, doing quite nicely, thank you very much.
Tools that I sought include; a grief group through a local church; regular appointments with a grief therapist; lots of journaling (obviously); following Michelle and One Fit Widow on Facebook and really embracing that community and allowing it to embrace me; reading countless books on grieving and rebuilding my life; and lots of self-care like eating healthier foods, deepening my yoga and meditation practices and exercising regularly. That’s a lot of work and it’s been exhausting at times! But, rejoining the world of the living with joy and gratitude is worth all of the work, heartache, sweat, and tears.
Progress during the (so-called) Happy Holidays
This Thanksgiving, which began my fourth holiday season without Bob, was honestly…easier, but, by no means easy. I didn’t experience anxiety leading up to it. I was able to enjoy the company of my out-of-town family who were house guests for the week. I, of course, thought of Bob, which I do each and every day. But, when I did think of him, it was about something funny or sweet that he did. And those thoughts were not accompanied by tears.
When my family and I sat down to Thanksgiving dinner there were a few tense moments. To be honest, I thought they were trivial and that people were being too sensitive. And I felt some anger about those moments knowing that whatever minor detail of the day that might’ve gone wrong, or whatever sharp comment someone had made, they paled in comparison to the fact that Bob was dead and not sitting by my side at dinner. For a brief few moments I felt alone and insignificant at a table of 14 people. And I DID feel like I was going to lose it and burst into tears. But I took some deep breaths and didn’t…until later when I was home and alone in my bed. Fighting back an emotional outburst in circumstances like that is real progress.
After my out-of-town family left the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it was time for the Christmas season to begin. That meant decorating the tree that my brother-in-law and nephew put up for me (more gratitude!). Bob and I loved decorating our tree together. We’d look at each and every ornament and talk about how it came to be ours. Bob’s favorite ornament is a small blue porcelain plate with an image of Santa and a short excerpt from “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” on the front and back.
In 2015, I distinctly remember feeling like I could barely breathe when it came time to put up my tree, which was only three months after Bob died. I considered not doing it. But, through tears, my family reminded me of how that wouldn’t fly with Bob. And they were one hundred percent right. So, one of my sisters and my nieces came to the rescue and did most of the decorating for me that first year. It was difficult, emotional and beautiful. I will always be grateful to them for that day.
This year, I decorated my tree all by myself. I smiled and thought of Bob with the placement of each ornament, especially his favorites. I listened to Christmas music while I did it. And honestly, I enjoyed myself and the results. For me, that was huge progress, I’d say. Wouldn’t you?
From Progress to Dreams
As I flip further through that journal, my entries aren’t nearly as sad as the earlier entries. The progress I’ve made is still evident as I express gratitude for walks in beautiful spring, summer or fall weather or for fun times spent with family and friends. And then…there is the first entry in August of 2017, about my dream; to create my own podcast!
This is a dream I had swirling around in my head for several months. But it wasn’t until I was at a One Fit Widow (1FW) Adventure Weekend in Bozeman, Mont., that I had first uttered the words of my dream out loud. It was the first night of the weekend. Michelle had asked us what we would do if we could walk away from our jobs and do anything we wanted to do. My hand shot up, and I blurted it out; I wanted to create my own podcast. Throughout the weekend, I got amazing encouragement to pursue my dream from Michelle, Keith and many members of our tribe (that’s what we 1FW adventurers call ourselves).
Michelle also encouraged us to take baby steps toward our goals. She asked us, “How do you eat an elephant?” And, then she answered, “One bite at a time.” That question and her response to it have played over and over again in my head during these past 16 months.
I had worked on a few podcasts in the workplace but I had no idea how to get started. So, my dream lay dormant since I was so busy with work. Then I got a big push, no, shove from the universe; earlier this year, I was laid off from work! I have to say, I was not disappointed. I was excited. I was excited about being given the gift of time to work on my podcast, among other things.
After taking some time to get a few things in order (like preparing to sell my house), I made my dream come true. I recently launched my very own podcast. I had no idea what I was doing. But, I figured it out. I’m on iTunes (as well as, Podbean and Stitcher) people! You have no idea how exciting that is for me. I shed tears of pride as I received email notifications from the various podcast platforms confirming that my show – my dream – was up and running. For me, that’s amazing progress. But, I’m not done. I still have progress to make and many things to learn and try in this new life that I didn’t ask for, but am so grateful for.
Yes, there are bumps or major potholes in the roads of our lives. Some will slow you down, some will completely rock your world and knock the wind, and nearly life, out of you. There are no guarantees that we won’t suffer and our lives won’t be very difficult at times. But those rocky roads remind us to cherish our loved ones and our own lives. And each adversity we face and overcome is a reminder of the progress we’re capable of making, even in our darkest moments. It’s the baby steps we take to move forward from those bumps that matter. It’s the shower we manage to get in or the meal we
Written by Guest Contributor Many Faber
Mandy Faber is the host of the upcoming podcast Dedicated to the Dead, available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Podbean. You can following the podcast at Facebook.com/dedicatedtothedead, Instagram (@D2Dpodcast) and Twitter (@D2D_podcast). She is also the founder and president of the Classic Craftsman Foundation, which provides financial assistance to people studying the construction trades through the Robert Faber Memorial Scholarship. You can follow the foundation at Facebook.com/ClassicCraftsmanFoundation, Instagram (@Classic_Craftsman_Foundation) and Twitter (@ClassicCraftsm1).