“Where have you been? Don’t you think it’s time you started joining people and doing things? It’s been a looong time now.” These are things I personally hear and things I know are being said about me through the grapevine since John died. He died a year a half ago. It’s strange how everyone has an opinion about what I should do and when. For many the fact that it’s been a year and a half means I should have started to really move on after the year mark was over, that I should be like a train gaining speed and entering life with gusto again.
The truth is I have always measured strongly on the introvert scale, I am as at home being by myself as I am anywhere else-except maybe when I was with John. When John and I began dating he too was amazed and somewhat confused by my lack of desire to join something or go out and be with the group preferring most times to be just with him, or if he was scheduled to be gone, being content to be by myself. Early on in our relationship he urged me to find a group, try new things, join a club, always urging me, cajoling me and sometimes in frustration pointing out that when he was over scheduled with evening activities that he felt guilty about leaving me alone so much. This became a back and forth till I joined a once a week choir for a semester. I won’t say it as an epic fail, but half way in I was hostile that I had signed up for it and that every Tuesday for the next many months would be spent there instead of anywhere else I could think of being. It was the last time I’ve done that.
After a year or so together John came to believe me when I told him that I get great and satisfying joy and recharging of my batteries by engaging in solo or limited people activities such as reading, hiking, cooking, gardening or putzing around the house listening to music. I recharge alone, and really that’s the only way I can recharge. John was more of an extrovert, he recharged and got excited from group activities. In that way we were quite different. But ever the compassionate husband and avid researcher, John came to understand better that I am literally wired to be an introvert. He soon became my loudest champion of solo recharging saying to me frequently “honey, you’re not taking enough time for yourself” or “maybe instead of coming to my show every night, you come only once. You need to have some time to play in your studio.” He came to see that look of overwhelmedness that came over me after we had been out too many nights in a row or for too long, at those moments he would lean over and softly whisper, “over-socialized huh?” and I would bend my head and quietly say “yes” he would squeeze my hand in reassurance and then would make our excuses quickly and we would soon be back home, alone on the couch in each other’s arms. Once he understood my wiring he never once made me feel bad about it, in fact he encouraged the exploration and self- acceptance of it.
When he died I knew that I would retreat. I knew it would be incredibly hard for me to be nearly as social as I once was with John. Not only am I not generally bent to go out a lot in large group settings but now I was devastated by his death and it was all I could do to get my teeth brushed and the dog fed. I understand the concern of others, wanting to reach out to me, wanting me to join them and I am so grateful for the invites and the love and I hope they continue as I do join every now and then, but I hope that others can understand that John’s death has created an even deeper need for retreat and isolation, that silence and solitude have been the only spots where solace and sanctuary have been found. It has also allowed me to slowly, so slowly, come to acknowledge that he is dead, he is not coming back and that everything has changed. My self-imposed and wanted hermitage has been the only balm for a beaten spirit.
Still, I understand the concern in other’s eyes and I feel I need to reassure them that I have reached out when necessary. I have sought companionship and conversation when I am lonely, I still go to book club, I email my best friend many times a week. I am not in a complete bubble. I do engage in life. But as any introvert would tell you the level to how they engage versus an extrovert is vastly different, the tolerance for it is simply not the same, and while grieving I have found that it has become even more intensely difficult to engage in when I am not required too. You see, all day I have to wear the socially acceptable face of someone who is not deeply sad and lost and scared. I keep that social face on at work to make it through the day, in the grocery store-where I often want to burst into tears because I miss him so there, at family functions because I don’t want everyone staring at me thinking, “yep, she’s finally dropped her basket”. But wearing that mask is completely exhausting because it is a lie, even if it is a necessary lie that I tell world to make my engagement with it just a bit easier, because it puts others at ease, which makes my interactions with them easier. In solitude I can wear the truth about me and never feel judgment, in silence I can hear my own soul softly whispering to me urging me to acknowledgment and bravery.
It’s taken me awhile to not care about what other’s think of my way of grieving. It took me some months and the complete acceptance and encouragement of my friends and therapist to help me be strong enough in myself and certain enough in my process to understand that each person, each griever, in their heart, in their blood, in their very bones knows what is going to help and what will not. I hope that as we each wander around in the thick forest of grief that we grant ourselves light in whatever way we need it to come to us. I hope that we will reach out when we need to and retreat when it’s called for without ever feeling judged our guilty about it. And that we live in whatever space we can find comfort and solace in no matter how those around us feel about it.