Grief is so much different than I ever imagined it would be. Sure, I’ve been sad before. I am not sad. I’m devastated. I didn’t know Grief could go this deep. I didn’t know a person could hurt this much and survive it.
I guess I assumed, like most people, that becoming a widow was crying and wearing black and pining for a lost love. That it was piles of tissues and drawn curtains and people bringing food. That, someday, you recover. I wish I had been right.
Grief isn’t like that, at all. I mean, those things are part of it but such a small part. For me, at least. I’ve been trying to find a way to explain, even in part, what life with grief this heavy is like. So, I’m going to try.
The first days of grief are surreal. I have yet to find words to describe the pain that comes with hearing that your husband has taken his own life and is hanging inside your home. How do you describe feeling your entire life shatter and feeling yourself die with them?
When they told me, I collapsed to the ground. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t hear or see or even comprehend what was happening around me. I think I was incoherent mumbling things. I may have been screaming. I don’t know. I just felt the searing hot agony of the words “I’m sorry ma’am. He’s inside and deceased.”
It was like something we’ve all seen in movies or on tv. Something that may even have made us cry. Except this wasn’t a movie. This was my life. My sweet, beautiful husband was hurting enough to end his life and I didn’t know. I couldn’t help him. He was GONE. DEAD. SUICIDE.
I remember being on my knees on my neighbors living room floor minutes after they told me he was dead. I was rocking, arms wrapped around myself, wailing. Screaming. Hyperventilating. Holding myself so tight, as if I could hold all the shattered pieces of myself and my life together. The pain was white hot. I never imagined pain that excruciating was possible. It was breathtaking.
They told me not to look out the window because they were bringing his body out of my house. They were taking him away. He was dead. I was never going to see him again. I was never again going to touch him. I was never again going to hear him say my name. My love, my life, was on a gurney and being loaded into a van to be taken to the morgue. Even typing this is making me moan with the pain of it. The tears are hot on my face as I try to tell you how this feels.
I couldn’t sleep or eat for weeks. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t think. I needed help to do EVERYTHING. I begged for my friends and family to let me die. I spent so much time on my knees, begging, wailing, screaming, sobbing…hoping I would wake up and it would just be a nightmare. But it was real.
The coroner called me that first night, telling me when his autopsy would be. The people for organ donation called me a few minutes later to tell me they were going to take his eyes and skin and bone marrow and to ask me some questions. Can you imagine a phone call like that, hours after you found out your husband died?
I wasn’t left alone for a moment those first few weeks. Maybe it was a month. I was rarely left alone for weeks after that. Everyone was afraid I was going to kill myself. They were right, I was going to. My friend Nate, who is almost solely responsible for me being alive today, told me recently that he was even afraid to use the bathroom for fear that I would die while he was in there.
I was in a fog of pain, rage, unspeakable grief, fear, despair and desperation. I don’t remember most of what I did or said in the first few months. I planned his funeral. I made arrangements for his body. I bought flowers. I wrote his eulogy. I spoke to hundreds of people. I don’t remember nearly any of those conversations.
It took months before I could sleep or eat. I literally cried all day every day. My body stopped functioning normally. I didn’t go to the bathroom. I often threw up what I could manage to get down. I was diagnosed with “broken heart syndrome” aka cardiomyopathy. It’s when you’ve had a severe emotional shock and your heart temporarily stops beating correctly in one section, forcing the other sections to work harder. I was also diagnosed with trauma induced amnesia and short term memory loss.
I had no energy. I couldn’t do anything for myself. Just showering took everything I had. I couldn’t even walk across the house without needing to sit down. I couldn’t remember anything. I couldn’t even get my own groceries or do my own dishes.
I would end up screaming and crying many times a day. I wanted to die so badly. I wanted to die more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. I hated everyone who was making sure I was surviving. I felt like they wanted to me suffer.
Then, one day, about 2 months in…everyone left. My house became my tomb. I wasn’t well enough to be left alone. I would lay in the middle of the floor, screaming, sobbing, puking. Snot and tears and slobber and vomit all over my face. Fighting that hard not to kill myself. I would hold one of Bobs shirts or pictures and writhe in agony.
I had panic attacks every day, at least once a day. Full on panic. Chest pains. Hyperventilating. Sobbing. Screaming. Sometimes vomiting. Sometimes it would take me hours to pull myself out of it. Sometimes I would be catatonic. I would lose hours just sitting and staring out into nothing.
My hair started falling out in clumps. My digestive system stopped working. I had hives almost every day. My body hurt so much that my clothes felt like fire. I still wasn’t sleeping. I was barely eating. And I was alone.
People sent me messages to say they were thinking of me. Reminding me to drink water. Making sure I was alive. I appreciated them at first. After a while of only getting “thoughts and prayers” messages, I started to resent them. I needed people with me in person. But everyone was too busy. I felt abandoned. I felt like I was alone in a sea of grief and darkness. I felt so small and insignificant.
I remember telling someone that I felt like a tiny toddler who was floating in the middle of the ocean, at night, in the middle of a hurricane. I felt so tiny and helpless and it was almost impossible not to drown. I was so fucking scared. I was scared to live and scared to die. I was in hell.
I read his suicide note. I cleaned his pee off the garage floor. I packed away his clothes. I threw away the chair he used to stand on to tie the rope he hung himself with. I read his journals. I threw away his toothbrush and his razor. I visit his grave.
I’m 8 months in now. I still can’t really think. I’ve learned coping mechanisms to help me keep track of things. I have nightmares every night. I have panic attacks a few times a week. I cry most days. I’m always overwhelmed with the competition between the anxiety and depression. I have stretches where I can’t eat or sleep.
I’m lonely and scared every day. I’m so very , very angry all the time. I need people to help me and I don’t know how to ask anymore. So many times I’ve asked and got nothing but silence. I’m sick of empty words. I often hate everything.
I have moments where I’m almost happy. I have moments where I feel something other than pain. I am grateful for the help I have had and the love I’ve been shown. It’s really so very hard to be positive sometimes. Bob is gone forever and I hate it so much.
People think that the worst is over after the funeral. They couldn’t be more wrong. The worst is just beginning after the funeral. As the shock wears off a bit and the reality of everything sinks in is when you need people the most. I am likely looking at years before I’m even anything close to normal.
I am in counseling. I’m reading everything I can about grief and recovery. I have severe PTSD. I have a traumatic brain injury. My hair has turned white. The path is a long, long one.
I have hope for the future. I have hope for happiness and success. I have a purpose. I have focus. But it is quite a struggle.
If you know someone that is grieving, go hug them. Go sit with them. Take them a cookie or some tacos. Take their garbage to the curb. Do their dishes. Mow their lawn. Just sit and hold them while they cry. Hold their hand. Take them for a walk. GO BE WITH THEM IN PERSON. Don’t say you understand. Don’t say it will get better. Don’t say their loved one is always with them. Don’t do it. Just say, “I love you. I’m here. I’m sorry.” And then be there. Don’t send a message. BE THERE! They need you and they don’t know how to ask. They don’t know what they need. All they can think of is needing their loved one and it’s impossible. So, they don’t know what else they need. BE THERE, for fucks sake. Nothing you’re doing is more important, I promise. Don’t make excuses. You may save their life.