When death arrives, it does not hesitate. It emerges eager to take the ones we love, leaving only radical changes in its wake. These moments of variation after death are mostly unwanted gifts, given to us without consent. I had reached a tipping point – presented with too many in too short a time – so I distanced myself as much as possible. Each change took on the persona of a neglected child – patiently waiting for me to notice them. Important enough to exist, yet not important enough to elicit any emotional response.
Last week, my grandmother died – making it is the first death I’ve encountered after my husband. I have not reacted in the way I always thought I would. I haven’t reacted at all, really. Difficulty accepting this loss doesn’t seem the likely cause, as we knew death was looming. When she passed, I did not feel any connection to her, unlike the way I felt with Aaron. Even now he is still present in my day-to-day. It is Schrödinger’s Grief. Aaron is both dead, and still alive. Knowing the relationship with a spouse and a grandparent are extraordinarily different, it makes sense that the grieving process would not compare in some aspect. Each loss began with something resembling auto-pilot; individualized “grief muscle memory”. The same lack of emotion that allowed me to make phone calls and photo collages. I wonder if by losing my husband, my tolerance for agony had shifted, altering the way I would grieve going forward. I felt the parameters of what I could feel had broadened; leaving moments thought to be unbearable, eerily manageable. I can’t deny it, with conviction. What used to bring an abundance of laughter can barely elicit a grin. However, the things that used to keep me awake are only passing thoughts. Nevertheless, I need to examine my relationship with my grandmother, my relationship with my grief, and figure out exactly what it is that I am grieving, a year and 1/2 later.
Some Things Can’t Be Solved With Math (for now)
In the hours after losing Aaron, the analytical part of me took over. I tried to take a “head-count” of sorts – noting all of the differences I’d encounter in the coming hours and days. Surely, if I could accurately estimate and quantify both the miniscule, and towering changes, I could prepare myself for what was coming. I was wrong. *Insert Uncomfortable Laugh* I wasn’t completely naive – I expected a few things to be overwhelmingly daunting. In the forefront, sleeping alone. To avoid that situation, I joined the kids in my mom’s room. I expected to feel more comfort there, but I had long outgrown the childlike desire for an opportunity to lay on a parents bed. Making the best of the situation, I pulled my boys in close, with my free arm around my pregnant belly, cradling Luna. She kicked all night. I’m glad there were no dreams.
I doubt I’ll ever forget the way I felt during those first moments the next morning. For 10 agonizing seconds, I worked to remember the day before. For a length of time, I could only stare at the ceiling. The texture was coarse and defined – little mountains on the ceiling casting harsh shadows. It was impossible to make sense of any emotion. There was no way to prepare for how much life had already changed – and no way to hide some of it’s obviousness. I had to remember I didn’t have to make him breakfast that day. I had to realize There would be no 10 a.m. snack & chat in the kitchen. I needed to recognize He wouldn’t be coming home or leaving with T. These are things I’m realizing by 9am – and the day just got harder from there, with each realization compounding. It’s hard to believe that I still have to remember these things – there is no “on/off” button for memories.
Fruit(ion), Ghosts, and Parent-Teacher Conferences
In each of these moments, noticing or recognizing the change itself was the fuel and accelerant behind the bulk of the hurt I felt. Observing the change itself – and only the change – hurt. Only after that- the pain of losing Aaron would come to fruition. The changes we experience and the actual loss of the person are separate entity’s. One caused by the other, but nonetheless separate. So – what does that mean for me? For grief?
It means that while I may not mourn Aaron with the same ferociousness and frequency as I used to, I am still mourning his loss. I still miss him, even though the initial dredge of tears has subsided. They will always return, most arriving annually, on birthdays and the like. The remnants will fall each time I notice your absence; missed opportunities like ghosts littered among us.
The extra packet at the parent-teacher conference.
The electric bill still in their name.
The empty chair at the dinner table.
The unheld hand in the delivery room.
Change is part of the esoteric existence that we call widowhood. Contrary to the pressure and pains of widowhood I describe, I don’t yearn for the day I stop grieving, or mourning. Because even though both suffering and gratitude are a part of loss, each loss prompts change. Change is part of progress, and progress a part of life. And the only opportunity to change our lives – is while we are still living.
At least, that is my theory.