For those of you interested in getting a better understanding of the depths of grief, I will do my best to describe the state of my mind over the last few weeks. I’d also encourage everyone to read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. I’ll warn that it isn’t light reading, and within it he plumbs not only the depths of grief, but the depths of his own faith. C.S. Lewis writes the following in this book:
I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history…There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I’ve already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn’t a circular trench.
If I’m honest, I had MANY misconceptions about grief. I may still have some. To me it feels as much like I got off one terrifying roller coaster called Cancer just to be forced onto another unexpected and very different one called Grief.
I have missed Francis more deeply today than I have for a couple days. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why I feel that way, I just do. I also have no idea what I will feel when I wake up tomorrow morning. Will it be another day like today or will it be like the last two? This pain of loss isn’t a straight line, it’s more like a zigzag across the page of my days and weeks.
I also had anticipated that, coming from a family of criers, I would cry a lot daily. I expected that I would be an emotional basket-case who wouldn’t be able to get out of bed every morning for a number of days, weeks, or (Heaven forbid) months.
What I wasn’t expecting has been just the opposite. Getting out of bed isn’t a problem most days. I just seem to move slower than usual, and have to work hard to motivate myself to throw back the covers and move.
It’s what I can only assume C.S. Lewis refers to as the “laziness of grief.” He even went so far as to say, “I loathe the slightest effort.” There are some mornings, though, that I do loathe getting out of bed. I do so because alone with my grief in bed is terribly depressing, and seeing Couper’s and Riley’s little faces makes me feel closer to Francis than I do alone in bed.
This morning also was the first time I’ve cried since the funeral service. It’s as if I had cried out all the tears I had in me on that morning two weeks ago. I was all dried up. Even today didn’t seem to be as much crying as I would have expected after the drought. It was no more than I’d cry during the Publix Mother’s Day commercial.
My experience of grief has been typical from the literature I’ve read. I probably should have read about it before I was in the midst of it if I was hoping to be better prepared.
C.S. Lewis explains his experience with grief this way, “At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting.”
I can identify with his sentiment completely. It’s as if the energy I must exert to stay alert enough to carry on normal everyday conversation is so taxing to my body that the easier thing to do is to allow the veil of fog to descend and just nod and smile. For the first time in my life, I feel as if I have difficulty processing simple conversation.
I find that I actually have to stop someone saying something important and ask them to start over so that I can really focus. My mom is probably tired of telling me things twice before I actually comprehend her question about things like Couper’s or Riley’s lunch or nap. It seems so easy a thing to answer, but it feels so difficult for my grief-stricken brain to process.
Everyone says, “Take it easy. Relax. Give yourself a break.” This is great advice. It’s also frustrating because it is such difficult advice to follow.
For the last 14 months, I was what Francis referred to as the CEO of the family. I knew or learned the answers to all of the questions about the kids, our routine, Francis, his medical needs, etc. I made sure we didn’t miss any instructions, medications, or appointments. I was a cheerleader, instructor, nurse, and advocate in addition to being a wife and mother.
I was a professional woman who found great joy in my job before we moved to Tallahassee. I then transitioned to being a stay-at-home-mom to Couper first and then caregiver to Francis before welcoming Riley to our family. It wasn’t my first choice, but it was what was right for our family and me at the time.
I miss working. It is no secret, and Francis and I discussed it with each other a lot. If things had been different, I would have gone back to work well before I was pregnant with Riley and Francis was diagnosed with cancer.
Because it wasn’t the right decision for our family, I didn’t go back to work. Instead, I poured my skills into caring for our children and Francis, and managing all things Gibbs. I turned that role into my job for more than a year. Now it’s as if I’ve been let go from that job.
I feel like I shouldn’t be so foggy. I kept things together at work and at home. I feel like I should be able to pull it together now and function like I would normally, grief notwithstanding. I get frustrated and irritated with myself that I can’t do so.
But like C.S. Lewis, I’m feeling mildly drunk or concussed on a regular basis and there’s nothing I can do to change that. And, just when I think I’m through that particular part of the journey, I walk right back into the fog.
I’m sure that the deep loss I feel today is not the last time I will feel this way. I know I will feel the fog of grief for many more days, weeks, months, and possibly years. It’s yet another stop on this roller coaster ride of grief. It may be different than I expected, but it’s all part of the ride.
Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through the woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath. ~Lewis Thomas, physician, educator. Dictionary.com Columbia World of Quotations. Columbia University Press, 1996.
I hate semicolons. Don’t know how to properly use them. You won’t see many, if any, here in this blog.
I feel as though I’ve just experienced a semicolon in my life. I hate them there too.
We started this blog as a way to be frank and honest about what has been going on in our lives after Francis’s cancer diagnosis. I didn’t realize just how fitting the name of this blog would be to my life.
I have said good-bye to and buried my best friend and love of my life. I now begin to figure out where to go after this hated punctuation mark.
If I’m honest, I’m struggling to catch my breath and see the start of the path ahead.
The chaplain from Big Bend Hospice came for a visit a few weeks ago. Francis was able to join us briefly before heading to bed and leaving us to chat further. The chaplain asked me what inspired my honesty. I told him that I have nothing pretty in my life behind which to hide. I also told him I was worried about losing that honesty in the midst of my grief.
This blog has been a way for me to share what’s happening to us. It’s also been an avenue for me to steal a few moments and process my own thoughts. I hope to be inspired to continue to do this. I also hope that through the blog I can hold on desperately to the honesty that was helpful to me and to others.
I’ve spoken to people who have been grateful for the words I’ve written, and I’d love to be able to continue to be a help to those who read this. As I grapple with processing my own loss, I plan to use the blog to write about what my life “post-semicolon” is like. It will be my own, and without a doubt unique in the path along which it takes me.
To kick it off, I can only reflect briefly on what the first week of grief has been like.
Once Francis passed away and in the days that followed, the house was a flurry of activity. The drugs, medical equipment, and removal of his body all had to be addressed.
I had gone to the funeral home a few weeks earlier to make preliminary arrangements, so those decisions were already completed. There were still hundreds of decisions, if not thousands of decisions, to be made.
There were emails, phone calls, texts, Facebook posts, and visitors that had to be faced. There was a trip to Jacksonville and a service and celebration that had to be planned.
In all of this activity, I didn’t have time to face the fact that Francis was really gone. I went to bed exhausted and my mind was racing the moment I awoke with all the items I needed to check off my to do list for the day. The next day was just a repeat of the previous.
Then, the day of the funeral arrived and I couldn’t get motivated to get out of bed. I felt like throwing up all the way to the cemetery, and felt crushed by my grief at the service with Francis’s coffin sitting before me – a painful reminder that our lives had gone so terribly off track. I was exhausted by the time the public celebration of Francis’s life was set to begin that afternoon.
Somehow, I was buoyed by the hugs and well-wishes at the celebration of Francis’s life. That continued into the evening, spent with family and friends.
Since that time, I’ve struggled to really understand this new stage of grieving for a lost spouse. I move from a sense of denial that Francis is gone to an intense awareness of my aloneness. I often feel that I should be a crying, broken mess because that’s how I have pictured grief.
Perhaps though, my perception of grieving is a bit off. More often I feel as if I’m just lost. I wander through my day without a real clear direction or motivation to do much of anything.
I’m sure the tears will come, perhaps often. I’m sure there will be tear-free days as well. There will also be days filled with laughter with Couper an Riley. All of these things are okay. I just need to understand that the grief I feel today is all part of the process.
After all, the rest of the path follows this semicolon, and I don’t know what the rest of the journey holds.