For years, my wife and I would pick a destination to go to on vacation. Often a national park or amusement park, but it was often that we would pick one destination that we could drive to. These were times when we would be in the car for hours, listening to a book on tape and gabbing about random stuff. Until we bought a car with navigation my wife was the navigator. She was responsible for the roadmap and pointing out directions. She would drive only during long stretches of straight highway when there was no plan to get off. We would stop at a rest stop, trade places and she would drive a couple hours to another rest stop. The pattern worked and made sense. She was the guide, often dealing with my random detours on trips by adjusting the plan.
For the last month, I have been walking a path without a roadmap. I am lost and often concerned that I am going down the wrong way. What is worse, I don't know where I am going. My guide is gone, and random detours seem to lead to very scary places. I have read grief webpages, looked at various things about dealing with the loss of a spouse, and I have to say, they make it seem like there is a path. There isn't. Within 5 minutes of my wife's passing, some would say I was in acceptance, I had skipped over many of the other normal stages and gone right to the end stage. I was already making plans, making sure other people were okay, calling financial planners and starting paperwork. 3 days later, I slipped back to depression, then my mind started playing tricks on me. I heard the toliet flush up in our bedroom (caused by a leaky valve that I already knew about) and waited for my wife to come downstairs to join me. I would wake up at 3AM to her asking me to get her Tylenol to deal with her fever only to find no one there and seeing the Tylenol bottle sitting on a shelf staring back at me. I even woke up once with a thermometer in my hand rolling over to take her temperature. Denial was my new normal for overnight. If there truly are 5 stages and they map out some sort of roadmap, I seem to be stuck in an endless loop of going through the stages. Waking up in a fog of denial, getting angry when the realization is that she isn't there, bargaining with the world to let me have her back just for 1 more day, becoming depressed that there is no way this would happen and slogging my way through the day anyway until I accepted that yes this is real. My roadmap is a circle, and at the moment I don't know how to get out of it.
The fact is I do not believe in this, that there are distinct stages or that we progress through them in some understood way. Instead I feel that I will float across different parts of grief as the moment moves me. That while I am still rather new at this, my sways from moment to moment will be more pronounced, but with time, healing and adjustment, the sways will likely become less pronounced. This won't mean that I won't have a sudden deep swing due to some triggering event, a butterfly floating out in front of our house to land on our car, or the swan across the street coming up to my lawn suddenly triggering memories of how much she loved nature. While I am accepting this is true, I still wish there was a roadmap, some way to get a triptik to a destination less painful. A way to mark off on the trip that I had completed my stop in various unpleasant locations that were necessary for me to move on to the next. If my mind could simply grasp that yes there was a place I would eventually reach if only I have the strength and fortitude to get through these stops, I would be much better off.
While I won't try to compare my grief with any other person's, because honestly I can't say you hurt less than me, it is a documented truth that middle aged people take the loss of their spouse sometimes the hardest. We are more likely to fall off our path and in dangerous ways. I believe the fact that I know this, helps me to watch the edges and avoid the pitfalls a little more. I know that if I allow myself to slip too deeply into the ditch I won't be able to get out and continue my path forward. And so, when I start to find myself falling off course, I reach out and talk to someone. Sometimes a friend, sometimes a faceless person on the phone bank of counselors available to me, and sometimes by gabbing randomly with people in the WV chat room. And probably much to the surprise of my family and friends, I have posted several times on Facebook. More times than the last 5 years combined in just 2 weeks.
So no there isn't a roadmap, I can't just check off landmarks as I go and know I am getting closer. But I still believe in many ways, my wife is still sitting beside me in the passenger seat pointing out the right turns, the direction I have to go, the visits and stops I should make no matter how painful and supporting me on my path. The road ends somewhere, and when I get there, I know my wife will wave me on my way as I move forward without her, but when I need her again, when I truly need my navigator, she will be there sitting in her normal place telling me not to turn here, and randomly gabbing about what is playing on the radio.