Tuesday, July 9, 2013

unusual grief

I don't think of myself as a maverick, but I've come to recognize that I'm not entirely normal, either. From physical things like my pear-shaped, short-waisted body and my food allergies to life choices like buying raw milk but not buying paper towels, I'm in my own space, dancing along to the melody of my own flautist.

The thing is, though, I don't go out of my way to be different, so it always comes as a surprise when someone points out that I am.

Grieving the death of a loved one is an intensely personal process, dependent on a variety of variables: the degree of relation, the suddenness of the death, beliefs about the end of life, previous experiences with death, the presence of a support network, and the personality of the mourner. Nevertheless, stereo-types and expectations about how the bereaved will behave in the world are ingrained and strong. A young widow whose husband died unexpectedly in the prime of life should, apparently, be hysterical when the police tell her what happened and thereafter be visibly distraught with tears on her puffy cheeks. Also, she should, apparently, be unable to smile. I clearly fail to uphold this stereotype.

Adam was my husband, but he was also my best friend partner alter ego. He complemented and completed me in so many ways that I'm reeling as I try to figure out how to be those things for myself. I feel like half of my soul has been torn away. I feel physically and emotionally raw like I am made of the tender new skin exposed after a burn. Despite the heat, I find myself reaching for my summer cardigans. I have frequently caught myself overlapping the fronts of these sweaters across my chest and then folding my arms to hold them in place, especially when out in public, especially in conversation with other people. I'm not cold. I'm exposed.

But most of you don't see that. You see me wearing black, but smiling and laughing. You see me cleaning my house and hosting a joyful celebration of Adam's life rather than a somber wake.  What you see is me coping.

Adam's death was my worst fear. I am living my phobia come true.

The first summer that I lived at Rambling Farmhouse, Adam had to make a short business trip, and I remember being struck by how isolated I was. "If I were to scream, no one would hear me," I realized, a sobering thought for a girl who grew up in a compact neighborhood where I could watch the neighbor's television from my bedroom window.

I worried incessantly every time Adam traveled, which was often. We developed rituals. We said "I love you" every morning and every night, even when we didn't like each other. He called or sent a text as soon as he arrived at his destination and right before he left to come home. Still, I worried. Adam finally said, "So what if I do die? It's going to happen someday. What will you do?"

We talked about the answer to that question a lot. We purchased life insurance, we invested money appropriately for people our age. We discussed that we both would donate organs and tissues if we could, that we both would be cremated, that he wanted his funeral to be a celebration of the life that he had lived, that each of us expected the other to keep living.  What you see is me following the plan.

I laugh and smile every day because my children and I are alive and healthy, because Adam made sure I had a good plan that will allow me to keep living, because life is beautiful.

I cry every day because I miss my other half, and he is never coming home again. You'll forgive me for not exposing my ravaged soul in public.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


I find myself thanking people a lot lately. I am aware that I don't have enough energy or hours in the day to deal with all the aftermath of a death. I don't really even have much brain.  Making phone calls, planning the service, and then participating in the celebration that Adam wanted his funeral to be drained me to empty. And now, there's paperwork to do.*

What I do have are friends and family who are generously and freely offering up their time, energy, and brains to help me. You have taken time off from work and been away from spouses and children, you have traveled from the east coast and from the mountain west. You have sorted and searched through mail and bills, you have cleaned my house, you have played games with my children. You have patiently listened while I talk through decisions slowly because you understand both my doubts and my need to be in control. You have held me while I cried.

You are amazing. I pour out my gratitude to you in abundance.

*Lots of people keep telling me the paperwork can wait. Some of it probably can. But I can't relax until I feel secure in terms of finances in general, but also in terms of my ownership of things like houses, vehicles, and bank accounts. So, paperwork. Don't worry. I'm taking it one thing at a time. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

don't wait for tragedy

Jenny, one of Adam's oldest friends, brought me several pots of perennials to display in the church and then plant in the yard. My friend Josie came Wednesday to help me with the planting. After days of sitting at the table sorting paperwork and crying on the couch, it felt so good to do something physical again. My body needed that. I even made it until late afternoon before realizing that it was exactly one week since Adam's crash.

Josie and I had a wonderful day. We used to garden together more often, but we'd fallen out of the habit in recent years, and that's a shame.  I'm grateful that Adam brought Josie and me back together in the dirt again, but I'm resolved not to wait for another tragedy before spending quality time with friends.

As friends who hadn't seen each other in ten or twenty years re-met and found their friendships, one of the refrains of the weekend seemed to be, "We should have done this years ago." It shouldn't be a funeral that brings friends together again.

A veritable flood of cards and letters has flowed into my hands this week. They tell beautiful stories of interactions with Adam, of his importance in other people's lives, of the happiness visible in me because of him. I have cried beautiful tears over these words. I wish they could have been tears of joy. I wish I could have shared them with Adam.

Don't wait for tragedy. Tell your loved ones how important they are. Tell your colleagues how they inspire you. Don't wait.