I was in so many ways destroyed by John’s death, literally brought to me knees, or more accurately I was brought even lower than my knees, as I spent nearly every night of that first winter after his death curled in a ball, huddled next to a kitchen cabinet sobbing, lost, scared, lonely, and absolutely bereft. At that time, I never wondered how I would move from that spot. I never thought about what road I would travel to stand upright again or what avenue I might seek counsel so that my laughter would reach both my ears and my heart “someday” in the future. Those early months on the floor were dark, both outside winter dark, and inside bleak and hopeless.
Sometimes now, so many long months out from those early days, I hear about how brave I was or how wise I was to do this or that, but that is on the outlier side of early grief that I hear this and to be honest I did all sorts of things you weren’t suppose to do in the first year and then some as I desperately clung to reality and to the small sliver of sanity that had not been snatched away when I was handed John’s personal effects and told he was dead, never coming home.
Today, after being applauded by someone not touched by grief on my bravery and wisdom of my early days, I felt it was important to share all that I “did wrong” so early on, because quite frankly the advice about what to do and not to do in that first year after the death a loved one was absolute bullshit for me. What I felt I needed to say today was that everyone’s path back from the early on shattered days of initial impact is different and they are all appropriate and okay. They are all valid ways of coping. And although it is nice to hear that I was brave or wise or any other kind adjective, I have heard as many times or more that I had lost it, dropped my basket or became self-centered and non-responsive to others needs. It’s probably all true to some degree but what I think is important is that I don’t really put much stock in any other person’s idea of how I did or even now how I am doing now, even when they are complimentary I let the comments roll off and away. I do this because they are truly only glimpsing the actuality of my world, they don’t and can’t really know it in any deeper way. In truth only the person doing the grieving can really say how well or not well they are doing, or how correct or incorrect any action is for them at any given moment in time. Grieving is incredibly individual.
Still, in my own grieving, as time eventually gave way to small respites from the hopelessness, I picked myself up off the kitchen floor, and then again off the same kitchen floor again and again, until I stayed off the floor more than not. I knew I had to move, to do something, that my world could not continue in that way, that I could not continue in that way. I was reminded then that my grandmother sold the house she had lived in for fifty years that my grandfather built a mere three months after he died. One morning after waking up she said to herself, “I cannot live like this anymore. I cannot be this sad, in this place anymore. It’s time to leave.” I had very much the same epiphany the spring after John died and so 40 weeks, nine months to the day of John dying I moved out of our house and I have not-for-one-minute missed that house or regretted the move, even though I was told over and over again to wait the full year to make that decision or I would regret it.
To be quite frank, early on I did all kinds of things wasn’t supposed to do in my “altered grief state” I changed jobs nine weeks after John died, I sold my house, I made big and lasting financial decisions, I dated, I even launched a business. I also did things I knew I needed to do that others approved of as well. I found a good grief therapist, joined grief groups, journaled, and most importantly kept the lines of communication open with those closest to me so they could know when to come lift me up and out to keep me from falling too far into the sea of sorrow that is so all consuming in early grief.
In short, I did what I intuitively felt needed to be done, for me and me alone. Others walking their own individual grief paths will surely follow a different way, authentically them and equally brave and wise. This makes each one of us, destroyed in so many ways by loss, brave and wise and very much teachers for those around us who will inevitably have to travel some sort of loss of their own someday.
Over two years later I am still listening to that intuitive voice. After almost two years of going strong - I stopped. I heard my spirit call to me that I was in a safe space with my grief and that I could be as still as I wanted and needed to be, and that even in the stillness I would not be consumed by grief and John’s death, but instead, I would be further healed and strengthened by facing it, gently, full on and with an open heart. And it may seem very backwards to the outsider to move and change so much early on and then to sit still later, but that's what I needed to do, that is what my heart and soul told me to do, and in the face of all the advice of what I should have done early on and what I should or shouldn't be doing now I turn my head away and close my ears to it all, that way I can better listen to the only voice that truly knows what will be healing for me, the only voice that honestly matters after such devastation, the only voice that could reach me in those early days of desperation-my own.
If you find yourself walking this grief path with advice loudly being thrown at you from every conceivable angle, I hope you know that it is perfectly fine and actually good to close your ears to it and follow your own inner compass. As I have said before, I really believe that each griever knows what will best help and what won’t. May we all have the courage to walk our own grief paths as authentically as can. May we all find solace in our own ways, in our own time.