Monday, December 28, 2009


I´m feeling numb
Originally uploaded by mypurplesky

This afternoon I went to meet with a friend who was in town for a few days. Like myself, she too lost her husband to cancer earlier this year.

My friend was staying at a hotel downtown, so rather than drive across the city, I decided to take the train. It is actually much faster and more convenient than taking my car. As I climbed the stairs out of the underground station, I found myself smack in the middle of hundreds of shoppers and tourists. Going through this part of the city is always a bit intimidating, as it is the epicenter for tourist who are catching the various modes of transportation available her in San Francisco. Going through this mob today was even more daunting than usual.

It's not very often that I venture out of my home these days, other than for work. I find that my preference is to stay in as much as possible. I make it sound as if I am home a lot. The reality is that I am running around, driving about, in many directions during the week. Besides work, there is family therapy, electric guitar lessons for my 11 year old, my therapy, my son's therapy, our grief support group, and my Friday evening drive to pick up my 16 year old from his residential school 45 miles north. Okay, so maybe I'm not at home much at all.

My point is this, although I am a very busy single father once again, it is not that often that I find myself in the midst of such large concentrated groups of people. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I will go out of my way to avoid groups of people, large or small. I'm not exactly sure why this is. It's just part of the phenomena known as my reaction to grief.

Now I guess you could say that I'm not the most social person anyway, but this hasn't always been the case. I think that being so busy with my kids over the years, then often being more home bound because of Michael's medical needs, has led me to socializing or being out of the house less and less. It never seemed to worry me too much, but lately it seems to have taken on a very different feel.

Coming out of the underground, and entering the sea of people brought about an increased awareness of how I see myself as intrinsically different than other people these days. I know it's a theme I've discuss again and again, but just don't feel like I am part of the land of the living. I fear that this is partly from my need for isolation. I don't want to see happy couples together. I don't want to see all the smiling faces. I don't want to be reminded of what it felt like before losing Michael. Right now I don't care to be happy. I don't care to even pretend to be slightly amused. It all just takes too much effort.

I suppose I'm a bit of a zombie, although I'm not much of a meat eater. On each given day I feel either more dead, or more alive. Is my cup half empty, or half full? I haven't lost all of my humanity, I am a very sensitive chap, but I have lost my desire to interact with most of humanity. I do enjoy my time with my kids, but some might argue that they can be less than human at times. It just takes so much energy to be social, unless the social context is framed around my current reality of grief. I think most people understand this, they probably just don't realize how strong of an issue this is.

It's funny, but there was a period of time that Michael and I seemed to watch one zombie movie after another. There was the classic 'Dawn of the Dead,' the hilarious 'Shaun of the Dead,' and the last one we enjoyed together, 'Fido,' a campy throwback to 50's era films about a boy and his pet zombie.

I never said that Michael and I were the intellectual types.

Where was I...?

Oh yes, a social zombie. Half living, half dead. Forgive me, my mind feels useless tonight. My point is this...when I am sitting talking to another widow or widower, I don't need to explain myself. I don't need to look happy. I don't need to seem like I am doing better than I am. In so called "normal interaction," I can't sit and talk about Michael for hours, or talk about my internal pain for hours. Okay, maybe I could, but eager listeners are not exactly lined up at my door. And if they were, I would bore the hell out of them, very quickly. Those of us who mourn probably sound like a bunch of broken records. We need to tell, and retell, our stories. We live in a state of grief for quite some time. We are numb at best, and in misery at worst. Moments beyond this state of being are rare, at least for me, or superficial at best.

Am I feeling better than I was three months ago? In all honesty, I would have to say yes. Do I feel any more alive than I did then? Not really.

I am numb. Numb is the state of my being. It is where I'll likely be for some time.

No, we are not having fun yet.


  1. Dan, I think this is a perfectly normal reaction to grief and loss. Your issue is crowds, mine is the phone.

    It is such an effort to connect with others when we don't feel whole ourselves.

    We have to concentrate to do the simplest of things ... hence I find sudden and loud noises a problem too, and this could be part of your dislike of being in crowds too?

    And perhaps you were used to going out with Michael before he got ill, so there is association there. You don't only feel disconnected from the crowd, but you also feel as though you have been amputated from Michael ... it also just feels wrong somehow.

    My first thought this morning was that I will never go on an underground/tube again on my own! When we went into town (we live half hour from London) I never minded the tube because he'd hold onto the dangly things on the ceiling and I'd be half hidden by his coat and hold onto him and keep my eyes averted from the freaks that you come across on the tube.

    I wonder if I was thinking about that as you were battling through it - weird.

    You must do what you must do to get through this ... if you need to be a hermit for some of the time (like I am right now) so be it.

    You will know when you want to venture out there. That said, I'm really proud that you didn't let your distaste for it stop you from meeting a friend ... that says a lot about you! But I bet you are EXHAUSTED now, no?

    Have a tear or more, relax, drink a nice drink and chill. Accept the tiredness and let your body just be for a while.

    Thinking of you xx

  2. feeling detached from the world at large, i think is normal. we are very much different now.

    when i get to go out, i do not look anyone in the eye unless i am transacting the purchase of something. i walk past everyone as if i am alone in the store. when i am out, i am always with my daughter as she drives me. i do remember once she took me to a mall. she was returning a sweater and i went just outside the store to stand and look over the railing down at the lower tier. people were everywhere. pre-Christmas shoppers. i do know that i would pick people out of the crowd and wonder: has that person lost anyone? what about that person? is there some unspoken worry or sorrow etched on their face? moving past people, we don't often think that maybe there is someone else walking past who is struggling to get through the day. looking into a crowd of people, it's possible that there is a Dan, or a Boo, or a Debbie, or a womanNshadows whose face is not really blank, just numb with the pain they feel inside. they just want to get past the crowd and go home to cry.

    i guess i don't go out enough other than a grocery store trip or a run by a fabric store for threads and floss to really feel a connection to the world anymore. my quirk has become, if someone speaks to me, i think i might talk too much. i talk but then i shut up and shut down. i feel embarrassed and want to go back to the apartment where my dogs never think i talk too much.

    i hope you allow yourself the time and space you need to take care of your sorrow, think all the thoughts you need to, and face all the love that you and Michael share that makes the grief so hard. it is my thought that it is an honor and a blessing to love so deeply.

    peace always.

  3. I have appreciated as ever reading your post Dan, along with everyone elses responses. They gave me cause to muse and come across some happy and sad thoughts which I would like to share.

    Chris and I both enjoyed sailing and it was one of the activities that defined our time together. When he died I had to sell the boat and I decided that I wouldn't want to go sailing again.

    It was only this summer, in conversation with a friend that I realised that my decision wasn't a passive decision not to go sailing anymore but instead it hit me that I just simply couldn't bear the thought of setting foot on a sailing boat again without Chris. As it is, I imagine Chris in heaven, and one thing for sure, he will be pottering about on some boat waiting for me to join him :)

    In the same token, Chris hated going to London and hated the tube whereas I have always enjoyed going into town. It took me a long time to get back on my feet but I now go up to London on a fairly regular basis and when I go I have a sense of happiness that I am able to go and its not leaving him at home (he's on his boat somewhere) :)

    I guess what i'm mindful of is that for me, I still have the relationship with Chris, and it still influences me in what I do and how I view my world.

    Talk of the underground reminded me of an experience I had during the summer. I was on the tube which was crowded with football supporters. I was standing beside a lady who asked whether I was on my way to the football, to which I replied I was not.

    This lady started to tell me how she was on her way to visit her daughter in hospital. She went on to tell me details about her daughters deterioating health, the implcations of which seemed to indicate she was terminally ill.

    How my heart went out to this poor lady and I was busy trying to think of how to respond. Unfortunately the train stopped at a station and we got seperated by another crowd of people boarding the train and there was just no way I could get back to her to finish our conversation.

    As other people have indicated, I guess we never know whats going on for the person standing right beside us. As I got off the train I said a little prayer for this lady and her daughter. It still leaves me feeling rather sad this evening just to recall it.... I wonder what happened.

    Wishing peace to all x

  4. Paul, Thanks for sharing your story. Yesterday while on the subway train I was studying the faces of each of the passengers, wondering if I could detect their stories by their expressions. This is something I do often when using public transportation, or just people watching. I think that is why I often study my own face in the mirror during my emotionally challenging moments. It's like I want to see what changes are developing, or how I might be communicating my feelings through my expressions.

    I always appreciate when someone is willing to strike up a casual conversation that might lead to something meaningful. I suppose we could all learn from both you and the lady on the train. In some way she needed the companionship in that moment, and she trusted her instinct to seek it from you.


  5. Boo, your use of the word 'amputated'

    wNs, 'detached'

    I don't always feel that this core aspect of grief is fully understood by those around me. Actually, maybe they do. I know that I never quite got it until now. I suppose it comes down to the difference between understanding this, and living through this.

    As for the whole "tube" thing. This is all very weird.