It's NOT going to be okay.

[Embroidery and photo by Sew-Charmed]

I remember one turning point in a single phrase uttered by a trusted friend. One statement that made a difference and cut through the fog of the period between when I realized my husband was dying and the time, after he died, when I really understood he wasn't coming back. It was not a comfort. (Warning: this is not advice. Do NOT try this at home.) She said:

Wait a minute. It's NOT going to be "okay." You won't come out of this experience just fine, and neither will your little girl. This will have a huge effect on your lives. It will change you both and you will never be entirely "better."

Hearing this, from someone who knows me well and who I trust as an authority, hurt my ears. How dare she tell me that the platitudes I'd been spouting a moment before, the hard work I was doing to keep myself afloat, was not valid? We won't be okay?

But she'd been there. I sat there, eyes smarting, shocked silent.

Yup, a smack in the face sure makes you listen.

What I mean is, this is a major loss. It's not simple and it's never going to go away. But you can affect how you'll come out of the experience. You can develop the tools to survive and even flourish, you're already far along in creating and using them. And at this point, you have to do it for yourself and for your child. But it's not going to happen on its own.

You'll have to do it, and from now on, you'll have to do it on your own.

But I'm sure we'll be okay, I mean... surely we'll heal...? Things have to get better.

They will get better. Your life will go on, and you will probably be happy again. You might even be stronger and better off. But nothing will be the same. An event like this will leave scars. It's been hurting you for years. You can't just undo it all. Don't you have some scars now -- don't you have a big one on your arm?


Can you remember how you got that one?


Does it still hurt? Does it hold you back now?

(I laugh). No.

This momentary exchange was a fulcrum, one of several tiny thought shifts that changed everything. My friend's first words shattered all my comforting rationalizations, forcing me to see that our future would be shaped by my choices and my actions. I became conscious, for the first time, that I deeply believed someone would stride up one morning (but after coffee) on a great white horse and save us.

I hear this from my bereaved and lost sisters and brothers all the time, too. I think it is connected to a great deal of the pain and helplessness we feel in the depths of our loss.

I really wanted everything to be easy, but I couldn't remember anyone ever saying recovery would come on its own. Didn't someone promise me a rose garden, sometime long ago? Perhaps I told myself as a child, when, like my own child, I had no other tools but hope. The idea took root. And it probably held me well for a long time.

Remembering what a scar means and how it lasts -- hearing that there was no way out without injury -- helped me drop my blind faith in the hero on the white horse. I started to imagine what I could do if I stopped waiting.

Sometimes, you do need to rest in order to heal. But that time was over for me. I could feel myself starting to climb the hill, neglected calf muscles again pumping good blood to my heart. I didn't know where I was going, but it hurt so much that I knew I was moving up.

* * * Comments * * *


J-in-Wales said...

What a wonderful post.
It is such a hard lesson to learn - I'm not sure that I have still fully taken it on board, but I keep plodding upwards too. No idea where I'm going, but hopefully I will make it in the end!
J xx

Anonymous said...

The analogy of a scar is a great one. I don't have many scars but it's a great visual reminder for an emotional subject. I also read recently about the powerful windstorms that shaped the beauty of the grand canyon, and how without those wicked storms we wouldn't experience the new found beauty of the canyons.

I remind myself every day that I have a 'choice' to make. I choose to get out of bed, make a day for the girls and I, get out of my pajammas (though not all the time . . .), etc. This is work, and it sounds like you have done a great job of it so far!

Thanks Supa!

Widow in the Middle said...

Utterly amazing post! I would say it is the best I have had the honor to read since I started blogging in January. A couple of weeks before my husband died (he was in a coma) a friend who is a nurse told me bluntly that my husband was dying. No one else, including the doctors had given me this news and it blew me out of the water. How dare she say this when everyone else was telling me to hold on to hope?

I too have struggled with images of that white horse trotting up and rescuing me from the pain of my life. We so want our lives to be easier after what we have experienced.

You've acknowledged the great contradictions that exist for the widowed - we've been dealt a crummy hand yet the world tells us that it will be all right in the end... It probably would have been better for me if more friends and the medical profession had been brutally honest with me about my husband's odds.

I love the needlework picture (check out the little book "Subversive Cross Stitch" by Julie Jackson for such genuine messages as "You Suck," "Love Stinks" and "Life Sucks, Then You Die.") The scar analogy is also very good. I hope this post gets read by many. Well done!

hunibuni said...

That's such a powerful post and it's all true.


Sachin Palewar said...

Really nice post. I can really relate to everything you say. Thanks for sharing.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Your baby is gorgeous. I sent you an e-mail through your blog and I hope you and Matt Logelin can meet up. Of course India is a big country but how unusual that his timing might be so similar to yours?
Best wishes, please keep in touch,

Lira said...

Thank you so much for this post. I'm a new widow, lost my husband just four weeks ago at age 44, and in searching for connections stumbled across your blog. I appreciate the raw honesty of your posts... and this one, in particular, really hits home for me.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Lira, of course, I'm sorry to meet you under these circumstances, but hope the existence and survival (and FLOURISHING) of so many of us gives you hope and cheer in the coming months and years. We will be here for you, of course. You might like to friend me on FB... it's quite an active discussion group, and diverse.
Hugs to you and yours!

Anonymous said...

Emotional pain never goes away, and it shouldn't. Choose a place for it inside yourself where it doesn't block your every move but where you can access it. Take it out sometimes, roll around with it and use this knowledge to build your future.


Paul Bennett said...

People say a lot of things, hoping to make us feel better, and often we repeat them to ourselves. Making ourselves feel better right now is fine, and it doesn't do much to move us in the direction we need to go eventually: toward a new knowledge of who we are, toward a way of living that arises from our present being as well as our past experience.

Thanks for passing on the straight talk from your friend. In my book, Loving Grief, I describe my own realization that I wasn't going to get back to the way I was before Bonnie died, or before she got sick. There's no going back, only growing or staying stuck.

Thanks for talking about how you've grown.

Paul Bennett


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