No Longer in Active Grieving? HA!

Three years after my husband’s death, it seems I’ve picked up a new hobby: trumpeting how much better things are. How I’m still a widow, living and integrating the loss into a good life, and how much easier this is than active grieving. Tales of how I regained my mojo, dated, remarried and started to settle in with what I refuse to call “a new normal.” (It’s just life!) How my kid is growing to understand that she has had two Daddys and how I am so glad I escaped the Single-Moms-Can-Cope claptrap.

Maybe grief makes me preachy. One morning while I lie in bed wondering why I can’t get anything done, why I’m overcommitted to everything, why my back is starting to go again, and how slow I'm making progress on the packing and moving business, it hits me: low motivation. Muddy thinking. I may not be full-scale depressed again, but I’m back in full grief.

Knowing this allows me to give in. Dinner’s been impossible. I’ve been cooking from scratch, for better health and better taste, plus I know I need to stretch and work my cooking muscles in order to reach full adult height again. But it’s still a damn mess between shopping and cleaning up.

Surrender means I get that one day’s worth of stuff done. I make a giant list to contain my stresses and stare at it for a few days (it should be in the recycle bin by Sunday).

And then I return to Trader Joe’s. Even as I tumble back through the welcoming automatic doors I’m grateful to have permission and something decent to fall back on. I search for the breaded eggplant and decide I’ll give their pizzas a second chance. Short Stack and I relied on Trader Joe’s frozen pizza for “movie night” for more than a year, but they deteriorated and finally jumped the shark. On the other side of the shark we found Paul Newman and he’s been fine for a year now.

(Why has no one else noticed that Trader Joe’s pizzas started to suck? I’ve been Googling it for nearly two years and either I’m the only one, or Google’s broken. But I can taste that Trader Joe’s suppliers have been using different flour and inferior sauce. Mr. Fresh thinks this is another case of the “rising standards” I’ve developed, but I remind him that “bait and switch” is a very profitable and extremely common strategy which most of us don’t want to see.)

A return to active grieving explains why we were two hours late for the dolphin show at the aquarium. Perhaps a normal person might just take the road they’re familiar with. But that is the same way we used to go, sometimes weekly, to Gavin’s oncologist. As we passed the sign for the alternate route we never took, I picked an internal conversation with Gavin. “Someday we’ll take the tunnel,” he used to say. He would have loved it. As we sped through miles of industrial zone, vintage warehouses, piles of salt, gravel, asphalt, unknown substances in cones, silos, hills, pyramids, and under fields of tarp blue, I told Shortie how Daddy would loved these images for his “industrial landscape” drawings.

But fuckit if we didn’t miss the damn exit and end up miles and miles out of our way. Thirty bucks down the toilet. (They did let us see the fish, just not the ticketed event. How could I argue?).

Grief is a saboteur. It explains why when my doctor referred me to Gavin’s cardiology specialist I said, “No, it won’t be a problem” but two years later, I still haven’t had the stress test. (They always liked Gavin. And someone from the office had to come to hospice on his last day to switch off his defibrillator. Of course they had to stop and tell me what a great human he was.).

Am I back? Back there, or back to myself? I don’t know.

Most of my minutes take place in my new life. But I don’t believe I have a “new” life any more than I like the term “new normal.” It’s just one life. We only get one (man, do we ever only get one).

It must be grief: I’m thrust back, every fall, to thinking about my Dad a lot. Because every loss recalls the first. And he used to say, when we fussed about what food was touching what other food: "It all gets mixed up in your stomach anyway." (He thought he was being funny. You know, in that “pull my finger” way.) But in some ways this is a secret of life: don’t spend too much time being careful about categories. They’re not very comfy to live in.

More coffee, some nice Piñon (Gavin spent his early years in Albuquerque and loved the smell) from Trader Joe’s, and I’ll try to get back to packing.

(And I'll report back on the pizza).

* * * Comments * * *


Carol said...

You've got a knack (or is it a knick...a knick-knack?) for pinpointing your feelings...and with it so many of us who are widows.
Thanks for giving us all permission to continue - go back to - whatever - feel that old pain again and not worry that we're slipping never to be seen again.

Anonymous said...

Warning! This will continue to happen; there is no expiration date on grief, active, retired, whatever, especially when you are a parent. Keep the freezer stocked, just in case, canned soups, things to fall back on. It is one life, but it turns out it can fast forward and rewind, sometimes at the same time. This, I promise, is a little disorienting.

I was beginning to feel inadequate about my ten year slower pace in the face of all this admirable moving and packing, so I'm just a little grateful for the chance to know that everyone hits the metaphorical and literal bad back feeling every once in a while. Bruce Springsteen, in "tunnel of love" (which everyone but me hated) said it best, "one step forward, two steps back." You're still going where you're going, just slow down a little and lean into it. Or do the box pose in yoga--as my teacher said yesterday, "this is about courage."

Widow in the Middle said...

Today I forced myself to go grocery shopping for soup, cheese, crackers, salad, fresh fruit, bakery stuff, a cooked chicken and a couple frozen dinners. I am hoping if there is something quick and easy in the fridge I can avoid the fast food drive-through I have started to hit again. For me, not shopping and cooking is the first to go and it takes me some effort to get it together and serve better meals. Who can even think about food when your mind, heart and soul have been thrust back into that time warp of grief?
I wish we could get some of those casseroles we received just after my husband died. The grief I feel currently is worse than the earlier grief because I am not in that fuzzy fog stage, but have gotten to the point of reflection and clarity where I realize how much we all lost. This is when a gooey, cheesy casserole baked by someone else would really come in handy!

I read what other widows are making for dinner and rely on their ideas too - quiche, salad was one idea that sounded good. I'll have to stop at Trader Joe's for their delicious chocolate croissants!

Andrea Renee said...

Yeah, just as I think I'm making strides in the right direction, I get knocked down. I'm right there with you, my sweet widow sister. ((((BIG HUGS)))))

Anonymous said...

I'm so scared. My wife was given two years,, Oct 30, 07. I know she will make it past then, she may be the 8% that makes 5 years. But it's killing me. And when I read sites like these, looking to what lies ahead,, I'm scared.
These past two years have been living hell. I'm so afraid of how long I may grieve.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...


I'm so sorry for what you're going through. Gavin and I were so vested in denial that I couldn't even think of widowhood. A few days before he died, I started to think "I'm going to be a single Mom." In a way, it was liberating: to think that other people had done it and survived, that there was a name for it. Most of the time I couldn't think about what was next and of course not knowing when or how was killing me (too).

When Gavin was ill, I had a VERY difficult time finding support resources as a young caregiver -- but if you can find something, the methods I suggest in a few previous posts may help -- and that support may make some difference.

I'm so sorry. I hope you can also look ahead and see how many of us, in the long run, are doing pretty well, and feel happy again, and even find love. That's a long way away, I know. Feel free to write anytime.

A great big and real hug to you!


Anonymous said...

Your thoughts and hugs are heartfelt. I cried when I opened the web page and saw your response. I was so excited, OMG someone is actually responding to me! I know there are those like me, like us.
Connie is sleeping in, round three of another six months of Chemo is wearing on her, on us. As I mentioned, this Oct 30 will be two years,, colon cancer, ovarian, secondary lung,, and two months ago, bone and spine.
Guess it's time for me to take this chance and let somenone know me in this new 'normal world'. So take a look at Connie and her boys, and me; Facebook Glenn Ezell,, you'll know me when you get there.

Anonymous said...

Preaching the gospel of life after death as a hobby? That is a smile inducing image.

The unconscious stuff can still get me - the body memories that kick in with dates whether I remember or not, but not so much that they do more than irritate me. It's like having a bad knee. More of an inconvenience than anything else because all I can do is work around it when it decides to act up.

The thing that I puzzle over - it's not a struggle really just a sense that I am not like over people - is that I am happier than I have ever been in my life. How is that possible? It is though.

Abigail said...

Funny how we lull ourselves into feeling "cured" of grief and then are surprised when another wave hits us. Its like an under-sea volcano after which there is a calm "suck" of ocean before the tsunami hits. Lots of after shocks.

Funny how cooking is the first thing to go... well right after completely flaking on appointments and missing exits off highways.

I think you need to write TJ's a letter about the slipping quality of their pizza. You would be doing widows everywhere a favor.


Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Annie, I'm happier now too. I don't think it's that uncommon, but Gosh knows how it happens.

Abby, what's the origin of your phrase "the debrillator effect of grief"? I love it and I think we need more info about how this stuff works. If, indeed, there is some formula... maybe we can package it...



Roads said...

Sorry to hear you had a slide-back, however brief it was.

It happens. The path of grief isn't linear. It provides a brilliant excuse whenever you want to get weepy and nostalgic. Which is rare these days, but not so rare as to be not worth mentioning.

Spirits up.


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