As our grief and the way we live our lives change over time after the death of a spouse, it’s hard to grasp the fact that we, too, are changing. Sometimes dramatically. Trauma, PTSD, fear, anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, remorse, survivor’s syndrome, all are common side effects of loving and losing someone who was meant to be your partner for life.
When Suzanne died, I think I experienced them all. In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure what I went through in the days, weeks, months and year after she died. It was pretty foggy and widow brain (it’s a real thing, look it up) was keeping me from truly being able to identify and detach from my thoughts and emotions. My anxiety, something I had truly never experienced, was off the charts—and it scared me to be diagnosed with it (initially an armchair diagnosis by a work colleague and friend, later confirmed by a therapist).
I read a lot about what it was I was becoming. You see, no matter who I was before—in the life I had before Suzi died—I am not that person any longer. Nothing like him, in fact. I suffered from PTSD. I suffered from anxiety. I suffered from guilt. I suffered from depression. I suffered from survivor’s syndrome.
The reality of this situation was that if I didn’t want to end up in a cycle of depression, and possibly harming myself or others, I had to spend time working on my self. Some might ask, “what does that mean”?
It means I had to take some concrete steps to see what was happening to “me”. I had to step back, reevaluate and think about what I am as a person. I don’t use “who I am” because, quite frankly, I am the same “who” that I have always been. The difference is that now, I have discovered the what. Internally.
In my head and in my heart, I have changed profoundly. Much of this change was brought about after my first “real” relationship after Suzi died had ended.
The work I had to do was to learn about me and what was causing all these things to take place inside of me. Yes, grief has a way of doing all these things. But to me, and I had grieved long and hard since Suzanne’s first cancer diagnosis in 2007, I knew there was more to it, and I wanted to know why and what was happening to “me.”
The ending of my relationship taught me a lot about my self. While I tried desperately to make it work, it became a powerful teacher because it had sucked so much of my energy as I tried to shoehorn myself as a square peg into a round hole. That relationship taught me a lot about me. It helped me to recognize what I wanted and what I don’t want. It made me grow.
It was not a bad relationship. It just wasn’t right for me or for her, and I wanted to make it work. But because of what I was, I couldn’t do anything to make it better.
The lessons I started to learn were profound. They impacted every single aspect of my life since my “break up” in August.
Here are just a few of the things I learned:
- It’s okay to be alone.
- It’s okay to want peace.
- It’s okay to want tranquility and solitude.
- It’s okay to break down and cry about Suzanne.
- It’s okay to be open to new people and situations, and also to say no to them both.
- It’s okay to make myself available to those who need my support and to distance myself from those who take advantage of it.
- It’s okay to be unhappy, grieve when I need to, be lost in my own world of thought and silence when I need to retreat and take care of my self.
These are only a fraction of the things I have learned to accept and embrace for my self. The thing is, without addressing and accepting these things, I think we run the risk of avoiding our feelings and emotions. We fall into the trap of avoiding dealing with our true feelings and the deep rooted grief because we tend to make ourselves busy—we distract ourselves from the hard work.
Over these last 5-6 months, I have worked really hard to make what can only be described as the hardest possibly journey. I have traveled the furthest distance I have ever traveled, and it was a mere 16-inches.
My journey took me from my head to my heart.
It led me on so many detours and it took me to places I never realized existed inside of me. At times, it truly kicked my ass and made me want to give up. There were moments, collapsed in a heap on the floor, when I questioned everything. When I truly thought about not going on like this any longer. But if I quit, the only person I was quitting on was me.
Since the process started, I have discovered the true essence of my self. I am timeless, boundless, ageless and filled with love and kindness.
For those who cannot tell, I am an introvert and an empath that feels so much more than I ever truly realized. My heart breaks for my fellow widows and widowers as I sense the deep pain and anxiety they feel, not just a knowingness, but a true embodied sense of what they feel.
I also feel everything my daughters feel. Their fear. Their anxiety. Their pain. Their anger. Their uncertainty.
It hurts me to the core of my soul. Yet, I also feel a sense of peace and understanding. The time I now take, to sit, to reflect, to think about my own self and my needs, the times I now say no to doing things that I just don’t want to give energy to any more, and the times I sit quietly in solitude all allow me the freedom to accept that I now feel so very much for so many. My empathy for others is an extremely difficult weight to carry, and for so long, I suppressed it.
Unfortunately, in my relationship with my now ex-girlfriend, I was that man. I was the opposite of my true nature and I shut down all vestiges of the receptors in me that would have allowed me to show her all these qualities. It was what she—and I—needed most to make that relationship work…
That showed me what I didn’t want. I was not the man I wanted to be for her, and it hurt her. It hurt me, too. Now I know what I am and what I want to be. And I choose to be that man. For the person I hope will be my next great love, you are getting the best of me, now I have identified and slayed the demons that were holding me back.
I have released the shackles that were holding me enslaved in a world where I was constantly trying to square peg myself into round holes. All my life, I have tried to be an extrovert, bury my empathy and hide from my true self. And it has worn me out. I’m so tired. My soul is tired of trying to be something it’s not.
My life is no longer what it was. Nothing I do and nothing I say is the same. Everything I have learned about my self has been a part of a journey I never wanted to take. But I had no choice. It was a journey I had to take alone and chose to do it without fanfare. I chose to do it with peace in my heart and solitude in my head. I walked a thousand miles, alone, in a journey of just a few inches.
The journey has been worth it so far, but I remain a work in progress. Someday, my journey will lead me towards enlightenment and I will truly understand my self. For now, I keep walking a path of loving kindness and deep respect for all life and creatures. I chose to take the first step without knowing where the staircase might take me (thank you Dr. Martin Luther King for that motivation). So I move forward with lightness in my head and deep love in my heart for a world that needs more of it. I choose love. I choose to do no harm. I choose to be the change I want to see in the world.
With peace and love for you all ❤️❤️