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Silence and Solitude-Necessary Companions(and Champions)of My Grief Journey

When John died time stopped, the world stopped, well for me it did anyway. When it lurched forward and knocked me slightly out of my shocked state there was a difference in what types of stimuli I could handle, could manage to be around. I’ve always been an introvert and enjoyed the quiet of outdoors or soft music. The TV, in my life, has most often been a noise maker that grated on my nerves and psyche but after John died even the smallest sound, the quietest word hurt-it hurt to hear anything.

I think that is because so much of how a person feels is exposed and raw when their loved one is wrenched away from them, all five sense are raw and easily irritated.  Still, I was surprised to find that not only did I not want to be around anyone but when they did come to offer words of comfort or to commiserate that they missed John too I sat there wishing I could yell, “shut-up, just shut-up your voice, your energy in the room, your actually physical presence is too loud and is grating on every raw nerve I have”.

I needed to be alone; I needed to be in silence. I think perhaps the news of John’s death sent my internal self into a constant keening, a wail that followed me from bathroom to kitchen to sleep. I’m not sure even now, sixteen months out, that is has fully subsided. I still cringe when over stimulated. Even now, when I find myself in large crowds or loud places I am overwhelmed; I still find myself racing for the exit, rushing through the parking lot to the sanctuary of my locked and quiet car.

I have appreciated the silence and solitude of a rich internal life for a long while, well before John died, but now the loss of John was so loud, so needy that silence became a necessity, not a luxury. I simply could not function anymore as much from the physical and emotional effects of grief, as from the emotional demands of listening internally to that grief as well.

Here was a super surprise for me though; I couldn’t listen to music anymore. I have always been drawn to and found peace from music, but in those early days it to was too much. It took two to three months before I could really listen to music again and then I could not listen to music with words. Native flute CD’s, deep cello music and meditation landscaped noises were all I could listen to. I was near the end of ten months out when I finally could listen to Norah Jones’ soft voice and occasionally enjoy a slightly more upbeat song. Even now with an IPod filled with thousands of songs I go again and again to the same seven or eight CDs that bring some sort of internal solace and have not-one-word. Still, over a year out, the loud hurts. Still, words are often too much.

It was the same with reading. And avid reader early on I could read grief books but nothing else. And even those books were definitely a struggle. I certainly could not read a “normal” book, a story or even a how to book. The words on the page were actually too loud too. Those silent words on the page were too much external stimuli for my ever agitated internal world. With such a loud internal self still trying to make sense of loss and how and what that meant for my daily life, for my long term plans  and dreams, for loneliness every night, those words were too loud as well. I believe this is because subconsciously I was and am full of words and sounds. Those words are bereft, anger, disbelief, hurt and great confusion; those sounds are wailing, screaming, sobbing hiccups and the sound of my ineffectual feet kicking the foundation my internal universe for revenge for taking my husband from me. Now, more often, it is the quieter sounds of shallow breaths and tears falling, quieter now, but still loud enough to block out much of the external world.

It’s better than it was, it really is, this internal disquiet has soften some, the ever chugging washing machine agitator has slowed and I do now sometimes feel contentment when I hear the soft croon of a sultry jazz song or smile at the sound of the robins- who are here way too early for us-singing early on some mornings and I can find guidance and solace from the words on a page again-most of the time.

This year, this horrible year of too much everything entering in and seeping through my grief fortress has been so very, very hard and during it silence and solitude have been the only tools which have consistently helped me through. This year, this terrible year, has not led to many lessons or aha moments but through it, because of it,  I have an even deeper respect and appreciation for silence, quiet solitude and the healing it facilitates in my life 

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Comment by Mstexan on February 25, 2014 at 10:11am

Flannery, wanted to let you know, too, that I also experienced wanting to be away from people, I couldn't read, couldn't listen to music, couldn't watch a movie, couldn't go to a restaurant, a movie, or out anywhere, except work (where I had to go) or the the grocery store (where I would wander about, trying to figure out what to buy and for what reason I would buy it).  I also found that after about a year and a half, I could start to read (but I can remember only very few of the story lines of the books I read, even now).  I'm still working on music, which was a big part of our lives.  I am able to watch movies now and can go out to eat by myself or go buy groceries. I have ventured out and met some of my fellow widows/widowers in other locations; however, I still spend most of my time away from work in solitude, which I would like to change, but I also treasure being alone.  It's a conundrum!  I will be at 4 years in April of this year.  I hope you take solace in those things that quiet your mind, but also can restore the things in your life that you love like music and reading.  Take care of yourself!


Comment by oceangirl on February 24, 2014 at 2:52pm

This was so thoughtfully said, and I can relate to so much of this post, flannery. I will tell you this - at about a year and a half, maybe longer - I could read again. Thank you, G-d. Because, like you, I was always an avid reader, and for this to leave me? It will ease, slowly, very slowly. Silence and solitude were my friends, as well. And still are, at 5 1/2 years out. Music also helped, eventually. I feel for you - and I hope for you. Marsha

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