November 24, 2022 Thanksgiving Day
It’s the end of the day, and, amazing though it seems sometimes, I have survived yet another holiday without you. It’s funny, but I can make it through a day, looking and acting like I am “OK” (whatever that is in this post pandemic/post death world). But that “OK” is only on the surface. Deep down inside there’s still that empty spot — the place that should have you as a person in it, not you as a memory.
I’m working hard to fully grasp and accept the fact that you are, indeed, gone forever from my sight, but it’s a slow, painful process. In a book I am reading, The Grieving Brain by Mary Francis O’Connor, it says that our brains hardwire those we love into our mind and doing that makes our brain see having them in our life as “normal.” So, after someone dies and they are no longer present our brain just keeps looking for them, because they have been made an actual part of our “mental map system.” That means that just like Google Maps need updating when a route changes, our brain needs to “update” its mental map to show that the person we love is no longer a part of our life. This is more than just a little frustrating to me because it means this whole grieving process has the potential of taking a very long time. Yet, at the same time it feels comforting because it helps to explain why grieving is both confusing and upsetting. While knowing this doesn’t change anything, it does help me shed a little light on an otherwise very dark, cloudy process. All that said, I am working hard to get to where it is that I need to be in order to make the fact that you have died real. Final. Permanent. It’s helpful to know that I just have to hang in there until my poor, grieving brain has rewired itself to where you are no longer an expected part of my everyday life, but, instead, a cherished memory that will stay with me forever.
I can’t pretend that holidays aren’t difficult, that they don’t hurt, because they are, and they do. Holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, are about being together, sharing laughter, and creating new memories. That has all changed since you died 19 months ago. I’m working on relearning how to feel like celebrating, despite the fact that the one person who meant the most to me in life, who I spent my days and nights with, is gone. Gone, not just for a while, but forever.
The advice from psychologists and grief counselors is to “lean into” grief rather than avoid the feelings it brings into play. They say that it’s not the grief a person wants to avoid, it’s the pain that goes along with grieving. Well, no one had to tell me that grieving was painful. It didn’t take long to find that out firsthand. And the oxymoronic thing about all of this is that no one can take the pain of grief away because grief is not just pain — grief is also love. And love never dies.
I am sad and grieve a little more and little harder during special days like today. I’m not sad that you are missing out on these days, because I know you are free from pain and the devastation that Parkinson’s caused, not only to your body, but to your mind as well. But rather I’m sad that I am missing being able to have you here with me: With me to celebrate, to enjoy family time, and to feel like my world has an order to it that is familiar. One that is stable. That makes sense. All these things went with you when you died. Yes, I know that what took 29 years to build cannot be unlearned and refocused in just 19 months, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. T hose 19 months were both the longest and shortest of my life so far. Having patience is nearly as difficult as grieving at this point, it is something that I try day to cultivate more of it. And, while I am practicing that often elusive virtue, I’ll keep in mind these tips on surviving that I found in a recent article I read on the site grief&the holidays.com.
Grieving Dos and Don’ts
- DO be gentle with yourself and protect yourself
- DON’T do more than you want and don’t do anything that does not serve your soul and your loss
- DO allow yourself the feelings
- DON’T keep feelings bottled up. If you have 500 tears to cry, don’t stop at 250.
- DO allow others to help. We all need help at certain times in our lives.
It’s a long, hard, lonely road back to life, but I’ll stay on the path and get wherever it is I am going now without you. And, when I do finally get there, I know you will be there too, not at my side in person, but etched forever into my brain as a wonderful memory and tucked away safely in my heart, always there for me whenever I need you.
Much love always,