I was recently asked by a fellow blogger to write for her about a fresh look at grief, which is exactly my current situation. I hesitate to share anything because I know how it feels to be preached at and told how to feel or what you are about to experience following the death of a loved one. In reality, it is drastically different for each and every one of us, so it is irrational to think any of us can define how another person will grieve. So I will not claim to tell you how you will feel but rather share from my heart to yours my own personal experience with fresh grief.
When grief is new we are tormented with guilt, sadness, devastation, and overwhelming feelings of helplessness. I wandered around in a haze for days completely unaware of who was near me or how much time had passed. From the moment I got the phone call with the news that Zach was gone it was as though my soul left my body and all that remained was an empty shell of a person going through the motions. Looking back on it now, I question if we made the right decisions, if the funeral really was the way Zach would have wanted it, if I expressed enough gratitude to the people who showed our family such immense support. Obviously decisions need to be made fairly quickly after a death but it is a nearly impossible thing to ask of mourning people who can barely focus on breathing in and out. It is an odd time to be forced to go through the motions when these are decisions based on the loss of someone’s life, but we go on auto-pilot and just do what needs to be done. It really doesn’t matter if we were capable decision makers before because grief leaves us helpless, irrational, and brain-dead.
Although it is mostly indescribable, fresh grief for me feels like a new wound or that there is a gaping hole where my life once was. So how can I describe grief that is fresh to you? By telling you it is like waking up from a four year coma with no idea of who you are, no idea of who anyone is, unable to recognize anything around you. Or maybe it’s better to say its like waking up one morning blind, deaf, and unable to taste or feel as you once did because nothing is the same and you are unable to absorb anything around you. Or I guess I could simply tell you it is like being hit with a sudden onset of a fatal disease which leaves you paralyzed, crippled, and weak. But one thing I can definitely tell you what grief is not. Grief is not an injury, like a broken leg, which you can recover from quickly as long as you take it easy for a few weeks and limp around. It is not a subway that you can hop on at stop one “Shock Avenue” and get off at stop seven “Acceptance Boulevard” like many people assume from those seven stages of grief we all have shoved in our faces. And it is definitely not a journey that has ever been experienced before because it is unique and personal to YOU; this is your journey and no one can do it except you. No one, myself included, can tell you exactly how you are going to feel when experiencing fresh grief, nor can anyone predict how you are going to feel, think, react, respond, or recover. But I can tell you from personal experience that it is unpredictable and often relentless. I wish someone had told me that.
The best quote I have come across so far during this process is by Edna St. Vincent Millay who wrote, “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” During the day I find myself wandering around lost, numb, and oblivious to what is going on around me but at night the hole becomes crushing and I fall deeper into it. Sometimes the depth of this hole surprises me, scares me, devastates me. Sometimes it feels like I am endlessly falling and cannot find my way back to the surface. Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe you wonder if you are losing your mind. Maybe you feel utterly alone in how you are feeling because no one has ever felt this way before. I did. I do. I felt like I had gone totally crazy, that I had lost my mind. I never thought I would be that person whose identity was so entwined with my soul mate that nothing of myself was left after his death. I never thought I would be that person who would continue talking to him after he was gone just because I have grown so accustomed to sharing every thought with him. And now here I am. I have no appetite, can’t bring myself to eat, don’t sleep much and if I do I have horrible dreams, can’t focus, cry almost incessantly, and talk to Zach whether it be a random thought or a prayer for his guidance and comfort. This all leaves me feeling like nothing is normal in my life. But I have come to the realization that there is no “normal” when it comes to dealing with a fresh grief. Life has become a sudden state of chaos and upheaval, and that by definition means nothing is normal. So how can we pretend that there is any one state of “normal” for grief?
I think all we can do is get up every morning and try to figure out what our new state of normal will be because we know that we can go never go back to the way things once were. Reaching that point of being willing to explore what your new state of normal will be is an entirely other battle and one that I cannot tell you anything about because I am still trying to do this myself. Maybe I cannot really tell anyone else how to feel, think, or go through this process but I can be the voice to tell you what no one told me; you are NOT crazy and this is perfectly normal…. as normal as fresh grief can be.