I have just finished a five-week "intensive outpatient program"-- the only option I had other than an inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. I have learned a tremendous amount about myself and my grief over the past five weeks. I know now that during the first five or six months after Kevin's death, when I thought I was working through the grieving process, I was really in shock, numb, and just surviving. There was so much to do--legally, financially, pragmatically. I got stuff done. But I don't have clear memories of that time, so I know that I wasn't really processing what was going on. The winter passed, then the spring and the summer. I thought I was doing okay until the school year started (I'm a principal) and reality set in. I was malnourished, because I had not been eating much for months. I was sleep deprived, because I haven't slept more than two hours in a row for months and months. I was exhausted. I was a mess. The reality of my pain became obvious to me only when my physical body began to shut down.
I have had a lot of time--hours and hours of group and individual therapy-- to examine what was happening to me. I learned that I really didn't want or need advice from other people, even well-meaning help. I was angry at all the people who said they would "help" but never took the next step. I was bitter that all my previous friends seemed to disappear after Kevin's death. I felt so, so alone. I wondered if I died if anyone would even notice. I unraveled all the layers of emotions and thoughts that were bottled inside me, and I learned that what I really wanted, what I desperately needed, was some acknowledgement of my suffering. I needed empathy.
I learned that I have to find ways to get this need met. It won't just happen, because most people (at least those in my world) don't know that I need that. Comments about how "strong" I am simply made me mad, because I knew that I really wasn't strong at all. I wanted someone to say it was okay to feel weak right now, and to encourage me to take the time I needed to get stronger. No pressure, just support. Empathy.
Over the past week or so, I have been practicing asking for this. I have disclosed my pain to family and close friends-- they seemed surprised that I had allowed myself to sink so low. But more importantly, my efforts to reach out to others has, in fact, brought me closer to others. And, surprise, they have been amazingly supportive. I am hopeful that now I can begin to move through the grief in a healthier way. And maybe, someday, I will learn how to be happy living in a world where all I have now are memories of my wonderful thirty year marriage to my very best friend.