Jilly D.

Time to Mourn

In Grief on November 28, 2010 at 2:25 am

Grief happens to you. Hits you upside the head, knocks the wind right out of your sails, cuts you off at the knees, weighs on your chest heavier than a two ton truck, presses down on your shoulders and wracks your brain. Grief is feeling your heart break. Grief washes over you and there is no controlling its emotional force: the flood of tears.

Grief inflicted itself upon my soul uninvited and unwelcome. Grief slipped into my life on a stealth mission. It took me hostage and shook me down.

 Grief isn’t something you do. It’s something done to you over which you have very little power. You can try to manage your responses but your bodily reactions don’t allow your mind any real control over the matter. The knots in your stomach. Grief grabs your appetite and spits it in your face. Why bother eating? The tension in your head and neck and shoulders hold the stress. Your fascia – the goo that holds our bones, muscles and organs together under the skin – is inflamed and irritated. Keeping it together leaves you achy all over.

Grief is the shadow death casts upon those left living. Grief is a physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual wallop. Yes, the death of my loved one feels like a spanking for which I examine my conscience for the sin that evoked it. Grief can bring along its’ relatives: guilt, the “what ifs” and shame. Grief makes me feel naked. Every nerve is exposed and raw. Sensitive to the touch, the shadow, the memory. I’m ashamed to be a widow; it’s a status assigned not elected. Not my choice. I resist, but it is futile.

Grief makes me regress to who I am at my most infantile moments, a complete baby about everything. Irritable and fussy most of the time. My patience, good manners and other small virtues got sucked out of my soul. I take up most of the oxygen in the room just trying to breathe without sobbing.

Grief offers me denial and dissociation as my best weapons of self defense. Even though my intellectual brain knows there is no chance Sam is going to call me collect from Bolivia where he escaped death somehow, I continue to fantasize. Sometimes I feel him in the room, in bed, with me. If I do everything exactly the way he would have wanted it, my good deeds still will not be mystically rewarded with his return. But it gets me through week three and the third month and even the thirteenth month. Denial continues to work until I’m ready to integrate the reality of death.

Dissociation is another powerful saber in my survivor’s belt of weapons. Separating one’s affect from one’s reasoning is the psychological process of dissociation. As I called 911 I dissociated: my emotions were running extremely high but I knew intellectually I could not let my hysteria interfere with what needed to happen. So I was very cool, calm and collected on the telephone so the emergency personnel could get a quick read on location and situation at hand.

Denial and dissociation are terms most psychologists use to describe psychological dysfunction. But in the context of bereavement, they are defenses against a complete psychotic breakdown. Both denial and dissociation are considered common “symptoms” of grief. But aren’t symptoms just as often as not side effects of our bodies and selves trying to heal on their own? Scabs often itch; just before the skin has fully healed underneath. Time, I’ve been told, is the big healer.

Grief is a rite of passage for me. I see the other side only vaguely: fuzzy, warm and light. Perhaps I need my eyes examined. I know I need my head examined. Grief is the long dark tunnel in which you simply keep running forward; looking for an encouraging glimmer of light. You are forever changed by grief. There is no going back.

On the other side of this ritual called grief lies mourning. Mourning is what you do to manage grief and overcome sorrow and sadness. Mourning is the melancholy of lost love. Tributes and legacies, old photographs and sweet memories are the stuff of this next phase. Mourning comes when I stop fighting against the darkness of his death.

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  1. Jill, My heart breaks for you to read this. I am so sorry for your loss of Sam and now your dear friend. Your words are beautiful and helpful for me to read now, as I learn to navigate my own grief that feels more confusing than expected.

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