The last line of traditional wedding vows is "til death do us part." If you're like me, you probably didn't think much about those words when you said them. When you're young, in love, and just starting your life together, you think your future will last forever. Death is the furthest thing from your mind on your wedding day. But when you lose a spouse, those 5 little words suddenly have meaning, they become real. I learned their meaning after Eddie died. Death had parted us; it had disrupted and ended our life as I had known it. There was no longer a future together to look forward to. My identity, purpose, and place in the world had suddenly changed, and I had no idea how to handle the change.
The motto or slogan for Alcoholics Anonymous is "one day at a time." I soon realized that was how I would have to approach my "new" life also. It was too painful to even think about the future because of the emptiness I felt. Instead I had to focus on surviving one day at a time (sometimes it was one hour or even one minute at a time). In the beginning I felt like I was just existing rather than living. My grief was overpowering and consumed my life. It took all of my time and energy. I realized that nothing in my life had prepared me for the feelings grief would bring. There were times when I tried to suppress my feelings, to hide from them, or to ignore them. I would tell myself that I wasn't going to think about what happened, I wasn't going to be sad, I wasn't going to cry, but of course that was impossible. I found that my feelings were going to come out whether I wanted them to or not. God gave us our emotions along with the ability to express them. Keeping our feelings bottled up inside isn't healthy. Releasing our feelings and emotions through tears and even anger is beneficial both physically and mentally. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Matthew 5:4
There were many times early on when I felt like I was stuck in the grieving process, like I couldn't move forward. There was no straight path from the beginning stage to the ending stage of grief. It was more like working my way through a maze. I would go forward for a time, then have to turn around, retrace my steps, and go backward. Most of the time I felt lost and like I would never reach the other side. Going on with my life meant adjusting to so many changes and coping with so many new things that there were times when I just wanted to give up. That's when I realized there is another step or stage not listed in the grieving process - apathy. I went through a period where I didn't care about anything. I didn't care if my hair was fixed, if I had on makeup, or even if I got dressed. I didn't care if my house was clean, if my refrigerator was empty, or if my laundry was done. There were times when I didn't care if I saw or spoke to anyone all day.
In addition to this period of not caring, I also experienced what one of my books called "grief spasms." Just when I would think I was making progress and beginning to feel a tiny bit better, without warning it would hit me all over again, and I would have a meltdown. I would burst into tears for what I thought was no apparent reason. I would become angry, sometimes to the point that I wanted others to feel as badly as I did so they would understand what I was going through. This made me think of the scene from the movie Steel Magnolias where Sally Field says "I don't think I can take this. I just want to hit somebody 'til they feel as bad as I do. I just want to hit something. I want to hit it hard!" I didn't understand why this was happening, but I eventually realized there didn't have to be a reason for these breakdowns. They just happen - it's all a part of the journey.
At some point I knew I couldn't dwell on my loss forever. I couldn't ignore it or pretend it didn't happen either. I had to find a balance between the past and the future. I had to accept that Eddie was gone but I was still alive. I needed to start making decisions about what parts of my life should stay the same and what parts should change. I needed to find some form of hope if I was going to recover. I read that recovering doesn't mean going back to what was before, but going ahead to something new and different. I was going to have to relearn how to live. I didn't have a choice in the loss I had experienced, but I had a choice in going on with my own life. It was going to be a struggle to regain control of my life, and it was going to take faith to continue dealing with the pain along the way. "I will turn their mourning into joy, and I will comfort them and make them rejoice." Jeremiah 31:13