Years ago someone I worked with was diagnosed with brain cancer. His wife blogged about the grief of knowing she was losing her husband, the father to their very young son.
Back then, Lydia was so little, if not just born (I can’t recall) but I had so much empathy for this young family. My heart hurt for their toddler who would never know the loving and caring man his father was first-hand.
But, what struck me and opened my eyes (even more) was after he died.
His wife proceeded to ask where to take or donate the portable commode. The wheelchair. The shower/bathing equipment. The other necessities to help her husband who became disabled and incapable to care for himself at the end.
Often, we think about someone dying and their struggles but very few times do we think about the details of those struggles. That this able bodied man now depended on his loving wife for EVERYTHING. Is it ignorance or just lack of knowledge? I’d like to think with my big heart, for me, it was just lack of knowledge.
I failed to think about this man’s loss of functions and her caring for him daily. All of those things I didn’t know because I hadn’t lived it.
And it was humbling as I thought how the wife had to take care of all his needs. But ones I had no idea about until he was gone. And ones she never shared while he was alive – or not that I remember. They were theirs together, behind closed doors.
Recently, a family member we haven’t seen since Lydia’s funeral stopped by. When the conversation got more serious they said “we called after the funeral but never got a return call so we figured we weren’t needed.”
I was stunned. This is the second time someone has said this to me. I always think when I hear this – “my daughter died and you thought you weren’t needed?”
Which made me explain only a snip-it of what happened behind closed doors after she passed.
My husband cried A LOT in the first few months. My strong, burly, boulder swinging husband….cried. He looked through her pictures on the edge of the bed and cried. Father’s Day was particularly hard as I handed him a remembrance box and I heard sobs.
He took us to the grave often. I had to finally tell him that all I wanted to do was dig my little girls body up and visiting did nothing for me. The look on his face was as if I sucker punched him. And I instantly felt bad he had to go there alone because I couldn’t and wouldn’t anymore.
Once at a party, we sat down with someone Tom didn’t know and somehow the conversation went to Lyd. He sat at the table of this cookout crying with a complete stranger. It was hard and awful for me to watch – to see such a strong person in so much pain.
And then the tables reversed and I started to really grieve. About 3 or 4 PM each day I would lose my shit. I would sit at my desk and cry, just thankful if I didn’t have a conference call. My husband would walk in and I would usually have red, blood shot eyes.
And then it got ugly because he was starting to move out of the severe grief stage and I was just moving into it.
One day he started yelling how all I do is cry and I never ever get out from behind my desk to say hello when he walks in the door.
I realized then it wasn’t me per se he was mad at, but more that she wasn’t there anymore for him to greet her with hugs, kisses and tickles. He missed her. All he wanted was his little girl to take the stresses of the day away with her laughter.
And because I had become so emotional, he felt I was a mess and I needed help. And I, in turn said that timetables for grief are different for everyone. Just because it didn’t hit me until month 3 doesn’t mean the timing is wrong. He felt like a roommate. I said I didn’t care – I was sad and I was allowed to be sad.
Then we rounded year 2 of the anniversary of her death.
My anger started in about March – just a few months shy of the second anniversary. I knew it and even mentioned to my mom on the way home from our annual Door County that I was just more angry.
I found myself screaming at my kids about keeping the house clean. I would later retreat to my room to carefully get myself in check and wonder how I got here. Guilty but yet trying to find some rational reason for me yelling.
It wasn’t fun and I’m so self aware I realized I needed to find a way out. Find a way THROUGH. I didn’t like this stage but it was so damn hard to not be angry. Why her? Why us? Why me? WHY? WHY?
That Mother’s Day was the first time I found myself screaming in prayer in church at God. And then I knew I was seriously in a bad place. Screaming at God? In prayer? Really?
But, then – right around the anniversary of her death my husband got angry. His patience was thin. He was rude and short. To be honest, we probably both were and the combination was lethal.
And all I could think about was our kids. What would they say when they were sitting in a therapist’s chair when they were 30 years old “my mom and dad…they were just pissed at the world – they were so mad she was gone and they took it out on us. They yelled and got mad at the littlest things. Didn’t we mean anything to them? Couldn’t they see WE were still living?”
And I sat down with Tom to try to get through it.
The conversation wasn’t easy. It went something like…
Me: “You are angry…and mad and yelling all the time. You speak rudely to me and I can’t be around if this continues.”
Him: “Fine. Then leave.”
Me: “But, I don’t want to leave. The kids and I love you. We WANT you in our lives. And I’m angry too. I hurt too. But, we need to figure out how to get through this…for ours and their sake.”
“Oh, so it is OK for you to be angry but not me?”
“No…the difference is – You, right now, this is NOT the man she made. She changed you and you can’t let her death keep you mad. She loved us and we loved her but we need to get through this anger stage and figure out how to manage it. For our relationship and for our children. ”
(him choking up, near tears) “You are right, I AM angry. She was one of the loves of my life and she’s gone. I can’t bring her back and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it and it hurts like hell.”
Silence. Me holding back tears to once again see this man hurting so badly and not being able to fix it.
“Let’s work through this…we CAN work through this. I’m mad too. I love her too and I miss her too and I’m angry too. But we can’t be angry forever…it doesn’t do anything to bring her back. So, let’s figure this out or we have to figure out how to do this on our own – without each other. But, I don’t think that’s what either of us want.”
“I love you and the kids too and I don’t like being like this. It just hurts.”
“I get it…if anyone gets it – its me…so let’s move forward. Differently.”
Beyond the struggles there have been the in-depth conversations about what is important in life.
Dreams to pursue because you only live once. How I told him after she died that should I find something I can be passionate about, it was now MY turn to do what I loved. What made me feel purpose.
Who we want to invest our time in because bad energy is wasted energy. And we use most of our energy just moving forward.
What nonsense and drama we don’t want to filter through our lives anymore.
What matters to us. To our kids. To our family unit.
We laugh. We joke. We talk about her and we still cry about her.
You get it. These conversations (while I leave a lot out) haven’t all been easy. The emotions haven’t always been the ones you see when I am smiling on the outside.
But many might be shocked at what conversations we’ve had. How intimate they are at times and with emotion – good, bad or different – we lay it all out on the table.
The point is this: Never assume you know what is going on. Never think that you understand or can begin to understand the depths of grief.
As I said this weekend to a few girls – loss is loss but what happens behind closed doors is something you’ll never be privy to or understand. It is different for everyone. It is something you can’t even pretend to know.
Society loves the hero story. They see people crumble but they find it hard to even think someone is still living in the depths of despair. They want to see the rising of the weak to become better than ever before.
I’d say for our family – we’ve embodied that vision society has quite well. Tom has opened anther business. I work in a field I am completely and utterly passionate about. I am raw and open about the challenges of grief but yet moving forward valiantly. Tom and I are good – we talk. We work through things. We love each other. It seems right to the world. And for the most part it is truly our story….right now.
But, you have no idea what has gone on and goes on behind closed doors to get here.
I told my husband what the person said about not getting a return call so thought they weren’t needed. I then followed up by saying I told them how hard it was for us after she died. He quickly replied “it still is. Every day.”
I’m thankful my husband and I can have our candid conversations. It is real. Raw and sometimes super hard. But, we’ve built this foundation of being honest with ourselves and sometimes saying or hearing things that aren’t easy. But that’s what has got us through. And I’d like to say her love and lessons showed us how to be who we are because everything about her life and her death are real.
Grief is forever. It doesn’t have a timetable nor does needing support for that grief. As much as it may the appear the journey is OK or that someone is all put together – don’t assume you know what’s going on behind closed doors. It is work, love and all the in between to get where we are each day. Rising. Doing. Being. And most of all still remembering.