Surviving the Unexpected

Grief, after the initial shock of loss, comes in waves . . . When you’re driving alone in your car, while you’re doing the dishes, while you’re getting ready for work . . . All of a sudden it hits you — how so very much you miss someone, and your breath catches, and your tears flow, and the sadness is so great that it’s physically painful. — Nicole Gabert, Lessons Learned in Life

It has been a long time since I could sit down and write here, and I have missed it. There have been a lot of crazy things going on in my life lately and even though I have not only wanted to write, I have also badly needed to write, but was just stuck. I am in the middle of the 14 days I have been dreading for a long time — the one-year anniversary of my husband’s death. It was one of those deaths that were expected, sometime, but certainly not when it happened. I have spent the last year going over and over things, trying to understand his death, which is problematic, because sometimes there IS no understanding, just acceptance. So, instead of sharing some of my own writing, I am going to share some of the wonderful things from others that I have read that have helped me get this far.

Since Brian died, I’ve been reading a lot of books on grief and grieving. Two of my favorite authors are Beth Howard, (“Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie”), and Megan Devine (“It’s OK that You’re Not Ok: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand”). I highly recommend both of them. Beth Howard’s book is, as the title says, a memoir, and Megan Devine’s is more of a “how to” guide for surviving grief. Though they come at grief from different vantage points, both books are full of gems that are helping me navigate the stormy seas of grief.

One of the things that has been happening to me lately is that I have been plagued by what Beth Howard refers to as “grief bursts: the sudden and overwhelming onset of grief.” On page 107 of she talks about the events surrounding her first Thanksgiving without her husband, Marcus. She was getting ready to go have the traditional Turkey Day dinner with friends, and was proud of herself for how well things were going. Then, as she was grabbing her car keys and getting ready to walk out the door, this happened: “Oh, I should have seen it coming, should have known it was going to happen, should have been prepared. I felt a sudden stabbing in my heart. Tears shot out from my eye ducts without warning. My mouth dropped open to release a silent scream. My knees buckled and I slumped down on the floor, my forehead pressing into the wood, rolling back and forth the way it had done on the concrete in Texas the night Marcus died. The tears raced out so fast and forcefully I thought I might vomit. Forget the turkey, some kind of electric carving knife had found its way into my chest.” And right there, struggling to right myself from a grief burst is where I have been way too many times lately. They come without warning, seemingly out of nowhere. In addition to these unexpected bouts of deep grief, the anxiousness and sense of being stuck in a hopeless situation and having no way to alter that has sporadically reappeared as well. Sometimes, I almost feel like I am literally unable to function properly. How do we deal with episodes like this? How do we learn to live with them constantly lurking somewhere in the shadows, waiting for the opportunity to pounce on us when we least expect it? I think Megan Devine sums it up well when she writes: “Acknowledgement is one of the few things that actually helps. What you’re living can’t be fixed. It can’t be made better. There are no solutions. It’s OK that you’re not OK. Somethings cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”

Maybe we don’t heal by convincing ourselves that some day the pain will fade; that we’ll return to our former selves and reclaim the life we used to have. Maybe we will heal when we accept that it’s OK never to go back; when we stop trying to use the broken pieces to rebuild the old picture and instead create a new one. ~~Daniell Koepke

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