The last several years have been very difficult to say the least. Don’t misunderstand, I am NOT dwelling on it, and I have lifted myself out of a very dark place, but I am processing and sharing those feelings and thoughts in the hopes that; perhaps, I can help someone else and save them some misery.
See, my husband got sick. He wasn’t hit by a car or didn’t fall off a ladder. He got an ear infection. Undetected for God only knows how long, the infection ate its way into his skull; devouring a significant portion of the mastoid bone behind his right ear, and was dangerously close to infiltrating the cranial cavity. If that had happened; according to his specialist, it would have morphed/changed/turned into meningitis and it, quite literally, would have killed him. There would have been no course of treatment. There would have only been funeral arrangements.
That’s not being dramatic. That’s being honest and realistic. And we didn’t know how close we had come to that moment until we were thrown into the aftermath we have now.
See, that ear infection…that illness…caused my husband, my partner of now 14 years, to die in ways that weren’t physical. Because of that ear infection, he has been left with a host of conditions including TBI…traumatic brain injury…and he will never be the same. His memory has been severely impacted as well as his attention span and cognitive processing. For a man who has always relied on his intelligence, this has left him devastated beyond words. He has experienced a personality change, and there’s a difference in how he handles stress, tension, pain, etc. He doesn’t get violent; which is certainly a side effect for TBI survivors, but he suffers from other issues like extreme irritability; depression; anxiety, and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Add to that the myriad of physical ailments, and it really does a number on your psyche.
So that’s the background.
So why did I title this “Mourning the Living”?
Because while those things happened to him; TBI happened to us all..the whole family: him, me, and our children; our extended family, and our friends.
I “lost” my husband…or who he was…and now I have to get to know this new man who I have a history with. It’s an odd situation. One filled with resentment; anger; love; passion; tears; insecurity; doubt; hope. Literally, in the matter of a couple of weeks, my husband was taken from me and a new man stood before me. His confidence rattled; insecurity magnified. He has to learn a whole new way of living; surviving within a set of limitations he neither asked for nor wanted. It has changed us all.
But I never thought of my own journey as one of grief until I got so deeply immersed in a dark tunnel that was bereft of light or hope. Every day was a question of whether I would even get out of bed or if I would make it through the day. Although I am a chicken shit,and I never would have carried it out, I devised a number of ways I could commit suicide as painlessly and quickly as possible just to escape my new reality. Everything was negative. Everything made me angry. Everything ate at my core and made even daily tasks harder than hell.
In the blink of an eye, everything I knew was gone, and I was given no warning; no chance to process or prepare for. Hell, yes, I was pissed off. I wanted everything to be back to normal…to be as it was…as it will never be again. I mourn my husband of before and while grieving for him; I have this “new” man I have to learn about all over again; with new personality traits; new desires; different motivators and stressors, and everything else. I never got the chance to say goodbye.
It is so hard being in this position where; physically, everything appears to be the same…to be normal, but emotionally, mentally…it’s all different. How does one learn to process that? Sorry to say, but there is no way to process that will work for everyone. I had to hit the absolute bottom of my resolve; of my own psyche, before I could find my way of processing. For some, counseling works (even grief counseling, or so I have been told). I isolated myself and vented on social media. I DON’T recommend that! You tend to lose a lot of friends that way.
I started to read…a lot. And I started with the Five Stages of Grief (it was highly suggested to me from members of a caretakers support group, whom I cherish with all my heart). With this book, it all started to make sense.
- Denial and isolation. “The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.“
- Anger.”As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.”
- Bargaining. “The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–
- If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
- If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
- If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.”
- Depression. “Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words.
The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.
- Acceptance. “Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.Loved ones that are terminally ill or aging appear to go through a final period of withdrawal. This is by no means a suggestion that they are aware of their own impending death or such, only that physical decline may be sufficient to produce a similar response. Their behavior implies that it is natural to reach a stage at which social interaction is limited. The dignity and grace shown by our dying loved ones may well be their last gift to us.
Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.”
It’s taken 2 1/2 years, but I am finally at the acceptance stage. Once I hit that stage, I was able to incorporate new coping mechanisms into my daily routine. One of those things was meditation. I began to take time for me…to get right in my own brain. I needed to do that. I needed to let go of all the people who had let go of me (regardless of why). I needed to let go of the anger, negativity, remorse, loneliness, and I needed to start embracing the positive; the newness; the journey, and the unknown. I couldn’t travel the road before me…before US…until I let go of the past. I haven’t forgotten it as it’s an important part of why I am who and where I am now, but I could no longer permit it to dictate my attitude.
If you are a skeptic like I was, you will probably scoff at the idea of positive thinking, but like attracts like. If you surround yourself with positive, you will receive positive. If you surround yourself with calm; calm comes easier. I handle stress differently. I don’t wallow in the problems. That doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge them or get upset about them, but I don’t allow them to rule me. I am in control of the problems,not the other way around.
My journey is far from over, and I will slip. I will get angry and resentful and sad, but I will not allow those emotions to linger. I will experience them and then send them on their way so that there is more room for positive emotions which will help project us forward towards a new, simplified, exciting and unknown way of living. I no longer see this as losing the past, but more of an opportunity to have a new beginning.
Here’s to new beginnings.