As I walk through this process of continuing my own life as a woman with roles as a daughter, a sibling, a mother, a wife and a friend… despite a family member’s death, I see yet another layer of heavy emotions piling on top of my disbelief and sorrow. It’s not that layers are coming off and falling aside. Oh no, the layers that are accumulating, until I can barely breathe. I am finding that I don’t have time to accept or manage or “shake off” the effects of one before the next layer is there, ready to smother me.
There are so many layers… For me, it started with disbelief, followed by sorrow, consumption, and regret and where I am now: grief. I’m guessing the last layer will not be one of smothering but rather release, when acceptance arrives.
Not quite halfway through my drive to see Barbara before her final breath, my husband called to tell me she was gone. Broken, barely able to speak, he advised me to return home. We didn’t make a decision during that brief early-morning call, and I found myself loading up the rest of my son’s and my things and continuing our journey as though there had never been another option. And, truly, had there been? I determined to arrive in time for the wake, tasting my salty tears as I drove, not surprised that she had passed before my arrival, yet at the same time disbelieving.
After the wake, I assumed a support role, as is my nature. Oppressive sorrow at every turn, we did our best to move forward together that week, the entire extended family. Then it was time for our little family unit to drive the 3-day trip back to our house, and we tried to enjoy it for the sake of our young son. We drove, we talked, we took pictures, we listened to music, all the while the disbelief mingling with sorrow.
Consumption and Regret
Back home, my husband unwillingly returned to work. And then, alone with our son, Barbara’s image filled my every waking and even sleeping moments. All consuming, her face shone in front of me, with her mischievous eyes and the laughter behind her smile. I wept some more, daily, consumed with her loss. During that week, regret seeped in and I found myself wondering, “Did I show her enough appreciation?” “Did I make sure she Skype-d enough with her grandchild?” And so forth.
And now…. add grief to the mix. Oh, yes, I have already sobbed many times with sorrow at her passing. But this… if not for my little one requiring me, I would be incapacitated.
Here is what Russell Williams in the Healer’s Library Forum had to say on the difference between grief and sorrow:
Grief is the name for the intense debilitating/crippling/numbing feeling of sadness that accompany loss – any sort of loss. It can be loss of a job, a relationship, our hopes and dreams, loss of face, betrayal, loss of friends and loved ones. There may be other emotions accompanying loss eg guilt, anger, regret.. hopelessness, depression etc
Sorrow a feeling of deep distress caused by loss but also by other life issues disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others. It has a wider continuum of intensity – from low to high. When high, and triggered by loss – I regard this as grief.
The grief is overwhelming. I go through the motions of living – grocery shopping, taking Little E to the library, preparing meals – as though walking through sludge. Weighted down by grief, it is as though gravity pushes me down. Such effort it takes to hold in the sobs (who has the leisure to cry uncontrollably for days on end with a little one around). I literally cannot catch my breath sometimes. My little one does not understand the hyper-emotional state of his parents.
I hate that there are “steps” to grieving. I hate that Barbara is a statistic. I hate that cancer continues to take people away. I hate that there is no way to keep oneself from it, that everything from cigarette smoke to pollution to pesticides to drinking water and soil to technology has cancer-causing agents. I hate that corporations care only for the bottom dollar, from companies that dump waste into the ground to insurance companies. And, just to be clear, I also hate that I lost my undergarments since our return. At this point in my grief, nothing in my world is good or right. Save my son, who keeps me alive, bringing me both irritation (for who has any patience right now) as well as joy. Yes, he alone can still cause me to at least smile, even right now, at least a little bit.
Speaking of nothing being right … it would be wrong to leave out the popular 5 stages of grief as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined so many years ago. The stages have since evolved, according to her co-author David Kessler (see blog here):
While my layers do not line up with theirs, perhaps they run parallel to them. At this point I do not care to inspect what line of thinking or feeling I might coincide with, but rather I wish to explore, in the moment, these surmounting layers. Upon exploration, I hope to discover healing for myself as well as (hopefully) a sense of companionship for you, my readers, who have been here or are currently experiencing something similar. Know that you are not alone in your grief. Know that others truly do understand. Recognize that while the pain remains, the ability to go on also remains. Even at this point I would venture to say that joie de vivre can be made, perhaps in honor of a loved one, if not in and of itself, for the sake of joy itself.
What have your layers been? Have they been similar to mine? Are they more in line with Kübler-Ross and Kessler? What have you implemented as a daily routine to keep yourself present in your life? Have you been able to enjoy life again, and if so, how?