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.


  1. My prayer for you is imagining Mother God wrapping her larger cardigan around you and sheltering, providing, protecting intimate quiet space for your grief to play itself out however it needs to.

  2. I am touched by your candor in describing how you feel. Now that Dan and I in our just past-mid fifties, I wonder more and more about what life will be like for the other when one of us dies. Financially we're as set as we'll ever be, but it's the emotional side, the heart and soul, that worry consumes me sometimes. I'm sorry you are feeling this for real, but it helps me to see that I am not alone....and maybe it will help you to know that -you- are not alone. You've given voice to some of my own fears and concerns for my dear husband, and I am very appreciative to see it so clearly in your words. Sending you lots of love.


  3. It makes me happy to see you smiling, even as it makes me sad to contemplate your loss. My heart goes out to you, and I appreciate your bravery and openness. Already you've been more open and transparent and giving of yourself online than many people might be in your situation. When I imagine myself in a similar situation, I can see myself closing off those avenues for contact for a while. I'm impressed and grateful to be included, even in a small, digital way, in your process. Love you, Kate.

    1. I sometimes think that asynchronous communication is an introvert's best friend. While I am putting a lot of myself here in public, it means that I can say these things just once and pretty much everyone I want to share with can see what I've said. If I were not blogging, I would have the same conversation over and over and over, and that would wear me out, I think.

      It also really helps to have the comments and 'like' clicks as a way to see how many people are caring for me with their thoughts and prayers.

      I love you, too.

  4. This is as beautiful as all your family's smiles. Adam would want you to keep smiling, and laughing, loving and living. I admire you so much. I hope we can talk soon. Our family is all fighting sore throats and summer colds right now...I hope you escape those sniffles in the midst of everything else you are going through.