April 10, 2016 will be the three year anniversary of my husband George’s death.
I’d hoped to feel healed by now—to have emerged from grieving stronger and complete—but most of the time I don’t feel that way. It’s like there’s this sad, little rodent within me that scurries against my ribs when it’s sad or anxious, like some part of me dissolved into this animal after George died.
It usually happens at night, when I’m alone—this little beast asks, “What did we do that was so wrong that we’re alone now?”
I tell myself, “It was not your fault he died. You did nothing wrong. You are alone because of cancer.”
Yet, I feel ashamed—of the waves of loneliness that rush through me, as I think of another night without my husband—of the anxiety that makes me lose my breath when I think of a future without him.
In the media, grief is often portrayed as a self-improvement course that we come out of as better people. Like it’s a class that has a set duration, and by the end of the semester we can get an “A” and move on—there, now I’ve mastered grieving!
In movies, the bereaved wife mourns gracefully, still looking perfect the whole time. After establishing a cute new business, she remarries (within a moronically short amount of time) and moves to a renovated yellow cottage with French doors, a Labrador retriever and a guy who looks like Richard Gere.
For those of us who’ve lost our life partners, dealing with loss is more like a see-saw—now I feel fine, now I know what to do, but later that night I’m sad, wondering how to get through another night without my husband. One day I’m grateful to be in the home I shared with George for over 20 years—with my garden to tend to and the things we collected together—but the next day I chide myself for still being here, when I could be someplace new and memory free.
But—he’d still be gone, and I’d just be surrounded by other walls.
I’m shocked by the desperation I’ve felt since losing my husband. Living without him has turned me into a desperately lonely being, who sometimes I don’t even recognize.
Soon after he died, I wound up with a younger boyfriend who took care of me and cooked for me. He was staying over almost every night, but he got crazy jealous, and I had to end things. Next, I tried a relationship with a rich, older man who let me stay at his mansion, but started berating me for not being nurturing enough. He yelled at me, and I ended that too.
I learned that I couldn’t just cast myself into someone else’s life. I wound up in two emotionally abusive relationships, and I was in them because I was afraid of being alone.
Now I go to evening yoga classes, where I see other people who have families, whose husbands are still alive. Some nights, yoga works its magic to take me outside myself and into a place of movement and community. Other nights, the anxiety squirrel awakens at the end of class to remind me of my empty house.
I tell myself to be gentle with the sad little rodent within. Those of us who’ve lost our mates need to be kind to ourselves. Recovering from loss can take a really long time. I know, because I still get anxious. My mind is often like a sieve—I have ideas, but sometimes they just slip away through the holes. I have insomnia. My energy level fluctuates wildly. Some days I just want to watch movies—and blaming myself for my shortcomings only makes it worse.
It’s better to understand that after integrating this loss, we may be very different than we were before.
I will probably always be more anxious living on my own than when I had George to fix things. But I’m also much more competent at dealing with things, from leaky toilets to taxes. I will probably never be as put together as when I was married, but I’m more empathetic and less judgmental. I appreciate people more. I’ve learned to reach out and to try new things.
For those with grieving friends, please be patient. Please think to include us in things, even though it’s years after the loss. It’s hard to make friends as a grown up.
And to my boyfriend—just because I miss George sometimes doesn’t mean that I don’t love you. There is no competition between you and someone who’s gone. There is only the past and now.
Recovering from loss takes so much longer—and the pain is so much more intense and physical—than I’d expected. Making connections is so much harder. But three years after George’s death, I am so grateful for the 32 years we had together.
Author: Debbie Weiss
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina