Grief – year by year

As each year has gone by since my husband passed, I have asked myself many questions:

  • Will grief get any easier?
  • Will the pain and hurt lessen?
  • Will my energy return?
  • Will I really and truly belly laugh again and enjoy a moment that is not bittersweet?
  • Am I on track? Is it ok that I feel so exhausted, so withdrawn, so sad and so angry?
  • Is it ok to have fun? How do I have fun again? What does bring me joy?
  • Should I be returning back to my former life?
  • Who am I?

A friend gave me a card that wisely reminded me that there is no set timeframe or framework in which one grieves. It said,

“In your own way. In your own time.”

I had to be patient and see what evolved. There was no rush to heal and I had to trust and honour that.

On reflection there have been distinct stages in the past five years since my husband died.

The first six months were a period of Spinning and Slowing Down.  The last year of my husband’s life had been so intense filled with anxiety and anticipation. Our house had been very busy, filled with people coming and going. Then, all of a sudden our house became quieter as our support team of family and friends returned to their lives.

We went from a busy house to a quiet house.

Our family and friends were emotionally drained, exhausted and needed to rest. Our friends also had young families that they needed to care for and work commitments that they had neglected and needed to return to. However friends still did care for us and show us their love through meals. A meal roster was organised to help us in the first few months so that we did not have to cook every night of the week.(see this post The Magic Esky) We had an au pair for two months as a “circuit breaker” so that our close family and friends could retreat knowing we had an extra pair of hands to help us with the daily chores and caring for my young kids.  There was a lot of paperwork, actions and communications required. We took a few short breaks away from our house but my young kids still needed constant care while on holiday. I was exhausted just keeping on going and caring for the kids. I had no time or energy for emotions.

The second six months were a period of Feeling our Loss and Anchoring.  We started to slow down and begin learning how to be just the three of us. We had to acknowledge that we were a new family unit, establish a new routine and way of life. My five year old son started school.  He enjoyed the break and distraction from the seriousness at home. My daughter began outwardly grieving and asking the hard questions that my son and I were unable to voice. I began planning where to place my husband’s ashes at rest to provide some comfort and connection for my children and our community. We had a beautiful first year anniversary ceremony with our close friends and family.

In the second year I started to find some pockets of time for me. It was a year of Disorientation and Hibernating. As I had less urgent tasks and distractions, and more time and space, the memories and emotions started flooding into my mind, heart and body. I was shocked to find how exhausted I was and how little energy I had for anything. I had no choice other than to slow down, learn to be compassionate to myself and start appreciating  and accepting the intensity of the past few years.

It was a big adjustment from my former approach to life which had always been “Do, Achieve, Be Busy”.My mantra became “Just be. Embrace the slow, be compassionate to myself, forgive myself and nurture myself”.

As the second year milestone anniversaries passed by I was surprised to find that my body as well as my mind seemed to ache and remember events on relevant dates. Often my body would feel pain first and then when I started to listen to it and look at the calendar I would realise it was remembering a certain event from a previous year. The second year was also a period of loneliness. My lack of energy meant I had little to give to friendships and communication. Weekends, public holidays and evenings were particularly hard for us because these were times when other families reconnected with each other after the working day or working week. Yet for us – it was still just the three of us – with a tired burnt out mum. Fortunately some school events, thoughtful close friends and family kept us busy enough to feel connected.

In the third year I started to feel guilt and frustration that I was still tired, grieving intensely and still had so much to process. I was still not back at work. I could see glimmers of light ahead but my body kept telling me I needed to rest and be patient. I needed to Cocoon before I could emerge and reconnect with life.

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My counsellor was key in reminding me and validating that the three and half years as a cancer carer and mother of young children was filled with lots of anxiety and living on edge. I had only had pockets of time to honour each traumatic moment of that time and due to the demands of caring for my kids and running my household – there was still not much time available to grieve.

Continuing to heal myself and caring for my family was still my priority. I was fortunate that for the time being I could afford not to work. I realised that my children still needed my active presence each day for stability – they had some developmental challenges and their own grief. Sadly, my father was diagnosed with early onset alzheimers and my mother also had health concerns. I wanted to provide my parents with lots of support and love. My experience with brain cancer gave me an insight into the challenges of alzheimers. Both diseases affect the brain and hence cognition, emotions and physical abilities.

My mantra expanded to include the words “Listen, Love and Laugh”. Listen to your body, listen to your inner voice when meditating, listen to your children. Love your children, love your family and love small moments of joy each day. Laugh was the hardest one – it was my intention to play and laugh each day but it was hard find moments of light that were not bittersweet .”

At the three year anniversary of my husband’s death I was relieved to start to Emerge from the fog and really reconnect with the world. in-the-morning-651976_1280My energy for chit chat with strangers had returned and I enjoyed catching up with dear friends.   My company had been incredibly compassionate, understanding and supportive of my healing process.  They still had a position  available for me when I was ready to return. I knew at that point that I was ready to try. When I returned to work everyone was welcoming,  wonderful, accomodating and flexible but it just did not feel right. As I sat at my desk and commenced new projects and tasks my heart and body were uncomfortable. My parents were still unwell and facing daily challenges. My body wanted to move and be outdoors. I realised that I had still lot of a healing to do and that in any spare time I had – what I really wanted to do was be at yoga, or moving in the outdoors, writing and reading about grief and living authentically. I had loved working for my company and was so grateful for all the opportunities it had provided for me.  It was a significant part of my identity. The working corporate Clare. Yet it was time to be courageous, say thank you, resign and let go of that part of me. It was time to trust that if and when I was ready I could earn income and “work again’. I had plenty of core capabilities, abilities and drive that I could call upon again when it was time.

Resigning was liberating and I felt a sense of freedom and space when I made the decision. I was re-discovering more of who I was and what I loved about the world. A lot of tension in my life dissolved. This Chinese proverb reverberated in my mind.

“Tension is who you should be. Relaxation is who you are”

The fourth year post loss was a time for healing by writing and reading, a time for healing by becoming fitter and playing in the outdoors and a time to continue caring for my family – they needed me and all my energy and love.

The past year, the fifth year post loss has been focused on caring my parents and learning how to play and laugh again. It has been a time of further challenges and heartbreak offset by light and love. It became time for my father to start living in an aged care facility as his health deteriorated from alzheimers disease. It has been a very diffcult and trying time for him, my mother and the rest of our family as we planned and executed the move and tried to support him in settling in. During these challenges I started dating again which has provided many moments of joy, levity and adventures. (See this post for more details: Dating AgainThe lighter moments and fun dates provided much needed respite as my family and I have navigated through further losses.  Thank goodness that there is light to balance the dark!

The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter and the spirit heals with joy. – Proverb

The fifth year has also been a year when I am ready to start sharing my writing with others through this blog. I hope the blog will be healing not only for me but also for others. 💕

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