Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Craving red
Originally uploaded by

My thoughts for this post originally started out as a response to a comment left for me by a reader, Bev. I have been quite intrigued by choices she has made for herself in response to loss, and a big part of me desires to make such a move. My life today feels to foreign to me. I am less emotionally attached to my life today. As I may have said before, if it wasn't for my children, I would have already walked away from it.

I sometimes start to doubt my experience of grief. I question whether I am doing this correctly. Yes, I know there is no correct way. I just wonder if I'm doing it correctly for me. The intensity of my feelings, of my loss of Michael's presence, has really thrown me off course. I don't know what to feel anymore, except extreme sadness. At times my kids can pull me out of it, or I can choose to detach from it for a short time, but there is always more to make up from the time away from the sadness. Losing a loved one is something that every one will experience. It is something we all have experienced in one way or another. So, why does it feel so foreign? I suppose each type of loss is unique. For me, I experienced great sadness with the loss of aunts and uncles, and my grandparents, but there were never meant to be permanently attached to me. I know that Michael was never supposed to be permanently attached to me either in the big picture, but in the day to day picture he was part of me.

Before Michael's death, the most difficult death I have had to overcome has been that of my grandmother. I loved her with all of my soul. I always felt that we were connected in a way that went beyond the grandmother and grandson relationship. She was someone I would have sought out in life. She was someone that made me a better person because I knew her. She was pure love. I could sit and talk with her forever. It's funny to think back on our conversations because she spoke limited English, and I spoke limited Spanish. Because of this, we had to listen to each other very carefully. We had to slow down at times, and ask further questions to make sure we were hearing each other correctly. I believe that it is because of my relationship with her that I became a professional listener. I am a social worker, and trained as a therapist.

My grandmother died many years ago, so of course she and Michael never met. They were also two people who were very different, from very different walks of life. Yet I do see similarities in my relationship to each of them. Michael and I were very different in how we expressed ourselves, and in how we were naturally inclined to do deal with difficulties. Michael liked to quietly mull over issues, think on them, then in a day, or two, come back with a response. I wanted to attack things head on, and stay up all night processing the hell out of an issue. After Michael healed from his surgery, and we went about trying to put our life back together, our differences began to become a problem. I felt like I as an individual was getting lost in taking care of him and the kids. It felt like it wasn't okay for me to have needs. Michael's inclination was to run away from the problems, and he was feeling enormous guilt for becoming so seriously ill so early in our relationship. For this reason we sought out couples therapy.

In yesterday's post I described how difficult it was to sit in the booth at one of our favorite restaurants without him. Today in therapy I acknowledged how difficult it was to sit on the very couch that he and I shared two of years ago during our therapy. You see, I purposely chose to seek help from the same therapist. I knew this is what I needed. I didn't want to explain to a therapist where I had been, and who Michael was. I wanted the therapist to know, and to already understand. I didn't really think this through. Or maybe I did.

As I did yesterday in the restaurant booth, as I do when I am driving, as I do when sitting or lying on our bed, I reached out today to the spot on my therapist's couch that Michael used to occupy, and sobbed. I find that where ever I am, if Michael was previously there with me, I am physically reaching out for him. Sometimes I try so hard to resist the urge, but I can't. It has taken on a metaphysical nature, as I am trying to make sense out of something that escapes my logic. My heart, my being wants Michael to be here, so telling myself that everyone has to die, or that so many before me have experienced this loss, is of no consolation. Waking each day without him is confusing to my being. In order to move forward with each day, I have to detach myself from this experience, yet this detachment leaves me feeling lost and empty. As I go about my day, I begin to pick up steam, and at times the process of living becomes easier. Then without warning, I appear to peak. It is at that point that my heart begins to once again sink. It is then that I begin reaching out for him. I begin searching for Michael's place in this world, his place with me.


  1. for what it's worth, i feel the same detachment to life and to everyone but my two children. i wake to find that my Dragon is still gone, that i do have to get up and face whatever loneliness or fear that is headed for me and i have to face it alone.

    i do not, however, have to face any place, sofa, room, or stretch of land that he has seen, sat on, or walked. he was never here with me. true, we had come to visit my daughter, but even the restaurant we went to as a family is gone. i do not see nor feel him here. and i can honestly say that i do not know if that is a blessing or not.

    i miss the ocean and the pull is quite powerful, but i wonder if i were still up in New England alone without him, seeing him on the rocks, out on the island, if i would be better or worse or the same.

    i do not know what to say to you to help you. i have to be honest. i only know that your words about detachment have struck a chord. your sentence about peaking and then sinking is a sketch of my emotions throughout each day.

    i guess all i can offer is that i understand what you are experiencing. i wish i could help. i really do.

    you spoke so eloquently of your grandmother and i feel she has a place in this world, in your heart. i believe that, yeah, time will have to pass, but you will find Michael still in this world and it will be so close to you, you will wonder how you ever thought you needed to reach out for him.

    you are always in my heart.

  2. I very much wish to address this post, but don't know whether I can write something that is useful or meaningful. I began to try last night, but the words would not come to me.
    Lately, I've been trying to analyze how my response to grief has worked -- if this was the right way for me to grieve. After much consideration, I've come to the conclusion that it was probably right *for me*.
    My life is different now -- and not a continuum of the life that I lived before Don's death.
    Perhaps my reason for choosing this route is informed by my experience caring for my father through terminal cancer ten years ago. For several months, I cared for him, while also continuing to operate his small manufacturing business. By day, I cared for him, then after he went to sleep, I'd go downstairs and work assembling products. Each morning, he would wake and ask me how business was going and if I had shipped out many units. When he died, I continued on with the business for almost 3 years, keeping it going to support my mother. During that time, I slowly came to realize that working with my dad's hand tools each day - feeling almost like he was a ghost in the room with me, or as though I was frozen in time, feeling like my hands were doing his work each day, and as though, at any moment, he might reappear to check to see how business was going. After a time, I realized that this was not doing me any good as his absence was like a continual hurt that could not heal. My heart remained sad for many years (at least 5 or 6).
    Fast forward to losing Don after almost a year of caring for him through what can only be termed as living hell for him in the final few months. My soul felt like it was constantly on the verge of destruction while I cared for him and watched him going downhill day by day. The night that he died, I stayed up the remainder of the night, pitching out anything in the house that reminded me of the cancer. I left the recliner chair that he spent almost all of his last few weeks lying on due to the cancer in his bones, but after a couple of days of seeing the loathsome chair in the room, I dragged it out to the side of the road on garbage day. I had to stay around the farm for about a month, canceling credit cards and doing all the stuff you have to take care of when a partner dies. For me, the experience of being at the farm without Don was like living with a piece of negative space around me -- like a jigsaw puzzle world with a Don-shaped gap of missing pieces in it. I've tried to figure out what I was hurt so badly. I think it may be because I met him when I was 17, married at 18, and we were like two sides of the same coin. Not alike, but simpatico. We did everything together and lived intensely private lives - spending all of our spare time off in the woods or on rivers. As I have described this in the past - we were like two lone wolves running together. When Don died, I soon realized that, to stay around my farm, was not helpful and actually destructive.
    And so I sold everything and, as you know, went on the road, camping for months, and staying the past 2 winters in Arizona. Now I am looking for a house to buy and restore in Nova Scotia.
    While on the road, I have had occasion to speak to camp hosts who asked why I travel alone. Most mention that there are many other widowed people , mostly men, camping and moving from place to place - on the roam after losing their partners. I don't know that this is the best way to grieve, but it is certainly one of the possibilities. I sometimes think that caring for someone through terminal cancer does something to us, and that we have a hard time moving forward as we are almost mentally paralyzed by suppressing our feelings for endless months while watching our partners die. When I returned home to sell my farm last spring, I could feel that paralysis descending on me, and I was glad to be done and leave again after the farm was sold. Just some thoughts. - bev

  3. Very interesting and lots of food for thought for me, living and working in the same place where I lived and worked with my husband. I relate to Bev's metaphor of a negative space around me. Though I don't feel that all the time, you've really gave me a new perspective to think about as I struggle to find myself in this new life. Thank you.

  4. I sometimes wish we could have live discussions regarding our thoughts. Each comment always elicits more thoughts that I want to explore, but then I remind myself that I have the next post to write.

    Bev thank you for explaining your thoughts on how you came to the decisions that you made. Your sharing of some historical perspective really helps me understand where you are at. I think that I struggle with this because I always envisioned what it would be like to find the perfect person to love, and be loved by. Once I found him the life that I had created took on a new look and feel. Now I often feel like I have been transported back in time, yet I keep looking for Michael. In this way I want to reject the old experience, and find a new one. I think it will take time for me to figure out how to live in the present, without feeling like it is just a return to the past.