Saturday, December 27, 2014

I give me a 9.5

There is an enormous amount of judgment in grieving. Who knew? Not me!

People I love often say: “How are you?”

“I’m doing well.” The silent addition to my statement is…”considering”.

Almost always the response is. “How are you really doing?”

This has happened more times than I can count. Coming from people I know love me and are worried about/for me. I appreciate that, but the unspoken sentiment feels like: You are not weeping openly. You are not lying in bed. You are not sobbing at any given moment. Aren’t you grieving?

Well, yes, yes I am grieving. But walking around sobbing, refusing to get out of bed, not showering, not living will do me no good. My children less good. I often feel as if I’m doing it wrong despite the fact that every book, every person, every counselor you will encounter seems to say: “There is no right way to grieve.”

I wonder what those people would think if they saw me cry when I got into an empty bed at night. Or reach for him in the middle of the night because for a fleeting and joyous moment I forget he’s not there and think he is. Or when I was prepping to host his family on Christmas Eve—something we have done since we moved into this house. We. And this year it was me. There were quite a few brief, nearly silent, but heart wrenching crying sessions that day.

Would the people who seem to be judging me on my grief be proud to have seen me fall apart? Would I have gotten a good score?

It’s hurtful sometimes, boggling at others, and sometimes it’s downright comical. I called someone on it recently. Very quietly but very bluntly (something Jim would have been extremely proud of, he was the person who taught me to say no because…just no--no excuse) “You know, when you do that “how are you really doing?” thing it makes me feel like you think I’m not grieving.

The response was shock, horror, dismay! But it still stands, that a more appropriate response, instead of how are you really doing, would be: Is there anything I can do? Do you need anything? Do you need to talk? If you do, just let me know.

No judgment. Just an offer of an ear or a hug or time.

The point isn’t to belittle these people. It’s just to put it out there that I had no idea, when the daily grief of caring for a dying person passed, and the grief of actual loss began, that I’d be getting scores on my apparent grieving.

Ironically, its Jim’s voice in my ear that I hear when I get all twisted up that maybe I am doing it wrong. I can hear him:

I’m gone. Crying over me constantly won’t bring me back. It won’t prove how much you loved me. You did that every day that I was here. I was your life when I was sick. You gave up everything. And now giving up the urge to move forward—as painful as it may be at times—will not do anything other than suck more out of you. Out of our children.

Staying in bed, not eating, not living will only make it worse. You stopped just about everything to be with me at the end and now, baby, it’s time to put one foot in front of the other. And get back into the life we built and take care of those kids we made and remember how much I loved you. How much you loved me. It never goes away. It’s just shifted to a different level. A different plane. And it’s all good. You can do this.

You can do this…

So in this bizarre, hard, painful, and sometimes darkly comical time in my life, the voice I still listen to, the best advice I still get, is from the man I loved more than I love breathing. The person I built an amazing life and an amazing family with. And yes, the man I am still grieving. Every day. Every breath. Every moment. But he’s the one making me strong, getting me through, and getting me going with taking each day as a new opportunity to live again, for me and for our children. It’s him. As always. Because nothing ever really changes when you’re in love.

**Author's Note: There seems to be some confusion on how that one comment could be deemed judgmental. In that vein, I'm adding some follow up comments I've received that add to my *perception* of being judged. 
"Well...I never *see you react*" 
"I never see you cry." 
"Well, I'm sorry, but *I* have to cry." 
"*I* cry for him every day..."
and so on. Also, while I'm here, for reader edification, this phenomenon seems to be with people in my real life. To date, no one online has ever done this to me. For which I am eternally grateful. xo 



  1. Oh my god. Why do you think 'how are you really doing?' is judgement? Those people may be guilty of assuming they're the one you should feel safe to open up to, but all they're doing is trying to let you know they don't need you to be brave. That may be a mistake on their part, but it's not judgement.

    The judgement comes when it's been a year, or two years, or ten or whatever, and your grieving period is deemed to have gone on long enough.

    Right now people are just trying to look out for you. They are not thinking you're not grieving properly, they just think you're being brave and trying to tell you you don't have to do that for them.

    I feel pretty certain of this, because asking how you're really doing is something I would do, and I sure as hell wouldn't be judging anyone, I'd just be desperate to try and give some comfort when there is no right thing to say.

  2. All due respect, Jo, but *I* am the person in the car/room/restaurant/house with them. I am the person who gets follow up comments (I wasn't going to go into verbatim conversations but apparently, I should have) like: "Well...I never *see you react*" "I never see you cry." "Well, I'm sorry, but *I* have to cry." Etc etc etc. I appreciate where you're coming from, but since you have not actually been there for any of these actual conversations, have not seen facial expressions, or heard tones or seen looks of horror when I say "I'm fine" maybe I'm a bit more in tune with the actual events than you are.

  3. Sommer, I'm sorry, I didn't have the right to write that comment - maybe you are surrounded by judging people, how should I know.

    Either way, I hope you find yourself in the midst of people who can support and help the way you need.

  4. Sometimes, I think grief, like any other strong emotion that accompanies a life changing event, becomes a spectator sport partly because people cannot imagine themselves where you are and they're comparing how they *think* they'd react with what they're seeing. And I suspect it's partly because some people are judge-y and think that unless you're reacting in the way they imagine they'd react, that you must be doing it wrong. For what it's worth, I'd give you all the points. You're doing what you need to do for you and your kids, and you're doing it how you need to do it.

  5. Sommer, only you know what you and your kids need. Other people may mean well but the truth is that grieving is an extremely personal thing. There's no one way to do it. There's certainly no right or wrong way. And, as I'm sure you know, even how you feel about it can sometimes change hourly. While it's nice that others are trying to get you talk or trying to let you know they're there for you, that can really feel like criticism, and whether they intended to criticize or not, it still feels bad. My father passed away several years ago (pancreatic cancer) and I remember so many "helpful" friends and family members telling me how I should feel, how I needed to talk, what I should be doing/feeling/thinking. All that did was close me down more. I grieved plenty I just chose to do my mourning in private. I cried in the shower, on long car rides, in the kitchen alone at night---just because I didn't call friends and sob on the phone didn't mean I was doing it wrong or not being honest about my feelings. Trust yourself. Know that you're doing things the way you need to. And trust the advice your husband is still whispering in your ear---you know he's right and you know how well he knew you. And don't be so hard on yourself with that 9.5. From every post I've seen you make I'd say you earned a 10.

  6. On February 13, it will have been four years since the doctor told us "I'm sorry" in that sterile, white waiting room. And my mom still gets asked "How are you doing?"

    She asks me if she should be over it. And I tell her "God no." He was her world - her everything. Her first love, her first lover, and her best friend. There's no getting over it. It might get a little easier in the day to day things, but a love like that is magic. You don't get over losing magic. She talks to him. She argues with him - claiming it's the only way she'd ever win - and yells at him for leaving her.
    I do the same. I have long talks in my car, listen to the music he taught me to love, and even dance with him in my mind. He was my best friend. You don't let that go, and you certainly don't get over it.
    There is no should in grieving. However you choose to do it is what's right for you.

    I haven't lost my soul mate - hell, I hate to say I've never even found them - but I am always here to lend an ear. Skype doesn't have long distance charges. Just ask.


What sayest thou?