In the last few months I’ve reconsidered what surviving loss really means. According to the Cambridge Online dictionary, “surviving” means continuing to live or exist after the loss of…and you may insert whatever your own personal loss equates to here: husband, wife, partner, child, sibling, job, and so forth. All dictionary definitions are similarly vague, and lead to more definitions. Live. Exist. Huge words; huge concepts. And I’ll admit to being completely stymied as to what these words really mean.
I live. I exist. But I keep thinking there has to be more to it. I should be doing more. There’s so many things that I haven’t done of late. I should be working on my dissertation, on my blog, on my website. I should be socializing more. I should be exercising more. I should be taking better care of my health and diet.
And, surely, after all these days, months, years, I should be grieving less.
But the truth is I’m not. In fact, the past months have been hell. My sadness blankets me, and my mind’s foggy. And even the most basic of daily chores have all become “shoulds.” And on the darkest of days, I’ve felt that I am just not going to make it. Considering I’m trying to help others through grief, this paralysis has been terrifying and sobering.
Realizing pharmaceuticals are sometimes the only way the sharpest pains are dulled, I’ve trusted my genetically disadvantaged serotonin levels to my doctor–a wise move. However, like grief, one solution does not fit all, and so the trial and error of the right anti-depressant is, for me at least, trial and many errors.
Several other seemingly small events have transpired lately, though, that have clarified some of my foggy thoughts. Firstly, I read Joan Didion’s, The Year of Magical Thinking. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for several years, but I think only now have I been ready for the message. It’s an excellent examination on personal love and loss. Didion mentions “pathological bereavement” and I recognized that I was experiencing many of the symptoms. Pathological bereavement often occurs when the deceased and survivor have been dependent on one another, unusually (which is often the case in long term care). This lead me to make a long overdue appointment with my therapist, and he, in turn, suggested some other books and exercises that have been useful.
But far more useful were these two very simple words of advice, he not so much offered, as demanded:
There is absolutely no place in grief for “should.”
It’s now three years since Roger died and still there are days when I don’t know how I will get through the day without him. For months I have been beating myself up thinking that I should be feeling better. I should be coping better. I should be crying less. I should be happier by now. Surely, after all this time I should be so less sad.
When the reality is I am exactly where I am meant to be.
There is no right or wrong in grieving. There only is.
Grief has a life of its own. It can’t be channeled, or quelled, or fastened. It ebbs and then gushes, whimpers and roars. It’ll leave you raw, fragile, broken. And then you’ll have days, weeks, when you’ll finally feel a little better, followed by days, weeks, and months when you won’t. There only is.
Accepting this helps.
Phillipe Aries wrote: “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.” There’s no advice that can change this. There are no words that’ll lessen this. There are no amount of “shoulds” that’ll change your visceral reaction to this emptiness. It is what it is. And you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.