My gentle widow-sister Suzann sent me this book on the second anniversary of Cliff's death, and I have to say that this gift was perfectly timed, for it allowed me to reflect on the stages that I have been through (and still re-visit ... as we know grief is not a linear experience), it confirmed that projects I've been planning and wanting to fulfill were actually positive, cathartic and helpful ideas. Healing even. And it gave me further suggestions to help myself to heal more (by that I mean attain balance and happiness in my life again ... not recover/get over it/get better ... because we are painfully aware that losing our spouse is not something that we can "get over"). IMHO, this gift was also perfectly timed because eighteen months or two years ago, I wouldn't have been capable of reading it ... I remember only being able to concentrate on short paragraphs at a time (which was why "Companion Through The Darkness" was invaluable to me soon after losing Cliff).
The author never patronizes, rather she draws upon her own experience, sharing with honesty, interspersed with verbatim from other bereaved people to give real examples of what we may feel, think or behave like during each "stage". There are poems and inspirational quotes throughout. Additionally she explains the psychology behind some of our fears and reactions, along with statistics from academic studies, and she is careful to remind us that every one's grief experience and timeline is unique, then explores reasons why some people "get stuck" at one point of their grief, and how the nature of the loss (e.g. violent death, suicide, sudden death) can impact and complicate our grief.
There are sections at the end of the book on:
"helping children and teenagers"
"useful resources" - music, books, movies, art, photography, organizations, writing, dance, etc.
and a bibliography.
I found the format of listing the following at the close of each "choice" or chapter/stage particularly useful:
"what we need from family and friends"
"what is normal"
"what can I do?"
"what is my active choice?"
The seven stages and choices that accompany them are:
Impact: Experiencing the unthinkable - To experience and express my grief fully (again and again)
Second Crisis: Stumbling in the Dark - To endure with patience
Observation: Linking Past to Present - To look honestly
The Turn: Turning into the Wind - To re-plan and change my life to include but not be dominated by the loss
Reconstruction: Picking up the Pieces - To take specific actions
Working Through: Finding Solid Ground - To engage in the conflicts
Integration: Daylight - To be willing to make and remake choices
I am without doubt at the "Observation" stage but have started dipping my toe in "The Turn" too. I've made some progress in my heart and mind, having approached or reacted to my loss on a primal level, spiritually and intellectually. I've expressed myself, reached out to others who are bereaved, got my career back on track, worked out my new "budget", bought a car and travelled (Australia, Singapore, Europe, USA). Learned and grown, found coping mechanisms and grieved so deeply that I thought I would never crawl out of that deep, dark place. Discovered that some friends are fair-weather, how important blood is, that I can still hear Cliff's voice and follow his advice, that I've also lost my fear of everything ... apart from spiders and driving on ice. One of the most important lessons I learned was that I had to embrace the pain, to fight it is futile and harder work. And grief is more tiring than anything else on this earth. That those who haven't been burned by its flames say the most fucking stupid things, but that after a while you just laugh (and sometimes in their faces). I've almost managed to swallow that bitterest of pills - asking for help. And accepting it. I have learned that there are always deeper darker depths to which you can sink. That I will survive this. That grief is physical as well as emotional - and I have the diabetes meds to prove it. That the line between sanity and insanity truly is as thin and fragile as the stuff that spiders spin their webs with. That the crap that people moan about and obsess themselves with is jack-shit and meaningless. That love is stronger than death. That love is eternal. To be kind to myself. After a year I even had sex again ... to prove that I could. Then discovered that I couldn't expel him from my body in doing so ... because he is firmly attached to my heart and soul. And always will be. I've acted irrationally, and participated in adrenaline-soaked activities ... just to feel alive ... sometimes to dare death ... and laughed contemptuously whilst doing so.
But one huge thing remains - my home, my routine. I'm "normal" at work, and socialize at weekends, visiting a couple of close friends. At home it is as though nothing has changed. Everything has remained as it was that day. Santa's still displayed from two seasons ago. A mug and dish and sweet wrappers left by him in the bedroom. I use his toothbrush on business travel and all this clothes are still folded ... waiting to be put back in his wardrobe. His tools are still laying as he left them ... and god help anyone that touches those. As I walk around my home, cruel reminders taunt me. In this respect, I have stood still for two years. Two fucking years. Waiting for him to come back, because he never let me down, not once. I've rejoined humanity ... but only at work, only on my irrational and widow-brained terms.
I now need to start "doing". Otherwise I will "get stuck". I need to organize all those sentimental photos, pieces of paper, concert tickets and precious memories into albums and scrapbooks, so that I am assured they are there for me to look through. But when I want to. Not because they are there haunting and hurting me. Then his clothes. His tools. Get the house finished and be mature about it ... rather than letting myself succumb to illness each time someone is due to help, so that it can be delayed. Then my home will be a little more like my heart - full of him still, but on the whole, "controlled" ... allowing myself time and space to grieve when I must.
Then I will have choices. Options. I can commit to plans. Entertain. Live again ... instead of living in this time warp of January 2009. Have the home that he worked so so hard to give me, instead of living in a shrine. He'd have hated that.
I choose life.
Scary, but exhilarating.
I'm under no illusion. Making active choices and carrying them through takes courage and it will be painful. But my beautiful strong husband did that too many times in his life, even as a small child. And for me not to would be wrong. He'd understand if I didn't. But he'd be disappointed.
Thank you Suzann, from the bottom of my heart.