Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Invisible Man

I walk around most days feeling utterly cut off from this world, like an outsider who doesn't fit in.

A simple task like shopping for groceries becomes a painful and depressing chore. Not that I loved shopping before, but then it was about rushing home to prepare meals together with my husband, Mike. We would occasionally invite friends over on the weekend. The whole day Saturday Michael would be in the kitchen creating some beautiful and delicious dessert. He would have me cutting up vegetables, setting the table, anything to assist him creating something fabulous. But my main contribution was to run out to buy all that we needed for these meals. What was then also a chore, was done with love. It was done in anticipation of evening hosting a gathering with the man I loved. These days the shopping carts weigh a ton. I am made to push it through a maze of couples doing their shopping together. I am made to see the smiles on their faces, or hear the conversations with their spouse on the other end of their phones. This experience causes my heart to sink further into my chest. This experience causes my spirit to fade away.

As a widower I go through my day with a significant piece of me missing. I can pass by people with little notice. I feel invisible. Some may sense that a person is there, some might even catch a glimpse of the former me. On occasion someone will speak to me, but it is in a language I don't easily communicate in. They may not realize that I only truly recognize the language of grief. Everything else sounds very foreign to me. I may nod, or return a vague smile, but it is only my way of being polite. For me to really feel recognized I need for my reality to be recognized.

I think we are not taught to recognize grief. When someone has lost a significant loved one, for me my husband, the grieving does not end at the memorial. It continues on through the night, and stays for months and years. It's hue colors all that we see. Our rose colored glasses are forever lost. We are astonished then when other's are unable to recognize it. How can this be? How is it that others are not concerned that our vision of the world is now so diminished? Don't they see that the sun has lost much of it's shine? People may think they see me, but they don't. I am an invisible man. To see me is to recognize my grief. To recognize my grief is to take a step toward my darkness. How scary is that? What if you should step on one of my feelings, causing my healing wound to reopen and bleed?

We are not very well versed in the language which the grieving hear and understand. Before losing Michael I had a limited understanding of the language. I had lost relatives who meant a lot to me, whose lives were significant. But I didn't quite understand how the loss was felt by those who expected them home for dinner, or by those who now had someone missing from their bed. The language of the grieving speaks in the present, but is at it's core, tied to the past. None of our words escape the nuance of loss and pain. Although my outer shell appears unchanged, or looks familiar, it is not. I am forever a changed man. If you can't see that I am still grieving then what you see is a one dimensional illusion. This illusion works to get me, and you, through the day. Yet when spoken to by those truly versed in grief, the illusion goes away. Standing before you, I will become present, no longer far away.

We have all had the experience of travel, with the challenge of being in an place where a different language is spoken. We might attempt to learn the language, or just remind ourselves of our general knowledge from past experiences. What we often find is a welcoming response to our feeble attempts. The people being visited usually appreciate that we are trying to communicate, and don't worry about mistakes. The grieving are the same.

Don't worry about making me feel bad, it can't get any worse. If you see tears in my eyes, you didn't cause them. Don't try to cheer me up, I need to feel this. Don't be afraid to mention Michael's name, I still need to hear and say it more than you know. Our life together ended, but it hasn't disappeared. It is worth a few tears to be able to walk through it with you. Sometimes the best way to convey your concern is through a gentle touch or a hug. You don't have to invest a lot of time. Sometimes a quick sound-bite like "love you," or "thinking of you," is all I need.

Remember, if you are thinking of my loss, then likely so am I. If you want to help me along, to make me visible, an attempt to speak my language will pull me out of where ever I am. What the grieving are familiar with is isolation. While life must go on for everyone else, recognize that the life I had did not.

For now, I am the invisible man.


  1. Dear Dan,

    I somehow came across your writing a couple of days ago and so identified with the thoughts and feelings you were expressing.

    In your latest post you mention the trips to the supermarket and the sense of being invisible. Perhaps its not surprising that the everyday, ‘ordinary’ moments are the ones that tap into our well source of grief so readily.

    My sense of desolation in supermarkets started before my partner died. Having been in the habit of doing the grocery shopping together, we were on holiday to a place we had often visited, a few months before my partner, Chris died. To get to the main high street from the river where our boat was berthed, there was a steep hill. We set out for the supermarket as we had done many times before, but on this occasion Chris stopped part way, saying that he wouldn’t be able to make it that day. We agreed that I would go on alone and we would meet back on the boat. Off I went to the supermarket knowing, the chances were that we would never be able to go shopping together again. I cannot really find any words to describe how I felt at the time, so I wont bother trying.

    It’s similarly hard to describe how going shopping felt from that point on. Much as you described, shops busy, full mainly of seemingly happy people, usually together, me, feeling desolate, invisible, but also OK because at least Chris was at home.

    Chris died 6 years ago, and like you, I became a changed person. On one ‘level’ I knew this from the time of his death, on another level I seemed to be in denial of this until quite recently.

    Your posting has made me aware of how I still carry a sense of loss around with me, especially it would seem when I am shopping, which perhaps explains why I find it difficult to find the motivation to visit supermarkets even now.

    I am touched by your eloquent posting and hope my comment acknowledges a shared experience.



  2. Paul,

    Thanks for sharing your ongoing experience with grief. I'm sorry to hear that you have been through this, but grateful that these connections help each of us. I do appreciate the time you took to leave your comment.