Is anything ever really broken? It’s rhetorical, but relevant.
Last time I really wrote it was about evicting the elephant in the room who stood in my way from moving forward, from releasing some pain and traveling onward. I published it exactly 12 months after he died. The process of writing it wasn’t cathartic, but saying it out loud was.
But I don’t think I’ve really moved on from there. They say the second year of widowhood is harder than the first, though I’ve heard no mention of year three, four, five etc etc, which makes me a bit skeptical, if it just keeps getting worse then I’d kinda like some warning. But year two has so far definitely given me a run for my money, and I’ve only recently realised why…
When Brett got sick, I stood up, I opened the window, let some fresh air in, and, holding hands with everyone who needed me, I lead them forward one step at a time, trying to go slow enough for those who needed it, and fast enough that no one got ahead of me. I didn’t stay in bed for days when he died, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t feel like I could; there were six very little hands reaching for me, and their need was greater than mine – isn’t that motherhood summed up?
If I think back to the moment when I told them that their daddy had gone to heaven, my stomach heaves. If I think back to the very moment when he left this life, I lose my breath. If I look at photos I can’t stand up. So I don’t. I don’t think about those moments or revisit our memories, because those six little hands still need me, their need hasn’t lessened, in some ways, it’s greater now than it ever has been, and if I stop and explore what those moments really mean, and remember how they felt, I will not be able to get up off the floor.
When a death or a trauma occurs, you work out pretty quickly how to cope, and that looks different for everyone. Some people need months in bed, some people need escapism, some need to literally escape, some bake, garden, paint. I just kept going, it was the only thing I knew how to do. And herein lies the problem with year two of widowhood…
Someone cleverer than me once said ‘if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.‘ I have valued that phrase for so long, and used it in my professional life to inspire change and forward motion. The coping mechanisms I’ve been using have kept me alive, kept the kids fed, kept the pantry stocked (most of the time), kept me engaged in life. But, if I was on the Dr Phil show right now, he’d say “and how’s that workin out for ya?” It’s not. Those coping strategies that innately felt right 12 months ago, aren’t cutting the mustard anymore, because to move onward from this point, I need to focus on me (which feels sooooo wrong). I haven’t addressed the trauma of watching my husband die, I haven’t learnt to be vulnerable in grief, I haven’t revisited and metabolised the moments where my heart swelled, exploded and landed back together the wrong way round.
I haven’t ripped the bandaid off, and there’s a festering wound underneath that is about to go septic.
The problem with coping mechanisms is that they work, until they don’t, and if you continue to rely on them when they’re not working, they turn rogue and come back to bite you. They go from being coping strategies to coping defenses, and every good thing you’ve done while you spent all that time coping, starts unraveling and hell breaks loose in your heart, and your mind, and you feel more broken than you ever have.
That’s me right now. In pieces, broken, but still shielded from the pain/hurt/growth by the defensive tactics I put there to protect me. Or am I actually not broken, just so different that I don’t recognise myself anymore?
For 16 months I have stood up and soldiered on, accepting that this is our life now, occasionally pissed off, always cynical, very tired, but upright. And now, it ain’t working; my ability to get up is compromised. I imagine it’s times like this when addiction starts, or when hasty decisions seem good at the time, or even when depression finally convinces you to end it all. Thankfully none of those things are my story. It’s a turning point, a fork in the road, an opportunity for me to grow some more, but letting go of what has held me together is scary as fuck, because up until this point it all came naturally, instinctively, and now I need to actually choose a path for MYSELF, not for the kids, but for me. I feel like I have to get naked and start stitching my clothes onto my body from scratch. I’m voluntarily inviting vulnerability, which, nope, nuh-uh, nosirree is not my thing.
Grief is a complicated monster, and there a million reasons why some people don’t make it from one end to the other, but six little hands – slightly bigger than were 16 months ago – need me. They need more than I have been able to give, and they deserve more than I have in reserve – so, something needs to change.
The awful, real, deafeningly epic thing that happened needs a little poke, the wound needs cleaning out before it can heal. I need to theoretically put maggots on my broken skin, the visual makes you shudder, right? I know I will be a new version of the old me at the other end of this grief journey (whenever, if ever it ends), and I know I may always be broken in some way, but hopefully broken will come to mean different, rather than crushed beyond repair.
Widow out, I have a bandaid to rip off.
Widow in Wonderland - on Facebook