"If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path."
- Buddhist saying
letter received regarding Loss - #2 (long!)
This is a 2nd letter I received -
SO many people have said that one of the hardest times is right around the
3- to 4-month mark, for some reason. It could be that the body begins to perceive (incorrectly) that the stress has passed as we begin to relax and relinquish the 80-mph pace of caregiving. The need for protection, so to speak, is perceived to be lower then, and that's when we begin to let down our guard and allow ourselves to truly feel. Note that even after death occurs, caregiving can continue for a while in one form or another---in organizing memorial services, sending out thank-you notes, disposing of articles used in patient care, clearing out closets, and directly supporting others affected by the loss. It can be hard to put our acquired talents to rest right away, and many things we do to keep ourselves moving forward (and to distract ourselves) are doable despite the fatigue because we continue to do so FOR this person whom we love: as an ambassador to someone we miss.
The hard junction, then, is to take on a new role: caregiver to ourselves. But most of us find it hard to let go of the old role. Much as it hurt, both during and after, there was no better place for us to be. We moved so many other things up, up, up the priority ladder, suppressing ourselves in the process, or maybe more accurately, defining ourselves through the loving work that we offered.
When I passed through this junction, it was so surprising to me---here I had been thinking I had been doing so well at bereavement! Hadn't I been functioning? Hadn't I been dealing? And hadn't I been efficient with my grief, compacting it like that into such a short stretch of time? Sure, I had moments when it came to grab me (the shower and the car seemed to be particularly vulnerable spaces, with the privacy they allowed). But it wasn't ALL the time. And hadn't I always pulled myself together afterward, a little refreshed somehow from the release of pressure?
What I didn't realize is that the same fuel that had sustained me through to Dad's end had continued to sustain me beyond it. While I thought I was doing so well, closer to the truth was that I was still in "the mode," punching through the fire, an awfully hard habit to break after so long. That fuel wouldn't last forever---it can't---and there were two options, I realize
now: to have slowed down by degrees as my engine threatened to cut out or to have slammed into a brick wall at the 80 mph that had become my comfortable pace. The only thing is that we don't get to choose, really. One way or another, it happens.
I must have still been smiling when I hit that brick wall. Never even saw it coming. But that is how I learned to slow...to feel...to be...to accept...to get to know myself again. From scratch, sort of, because not a single one of us returns to who we were.
We will do so many things in the name of someone else we love; especially when their vulnerability builds, we find a way to be their strength. It is a rare thing---thank God for that!---but the intensity this requires takes from us and gives to us in complementary measure. It feels good to love. And it is surreal to love by committing our everything to it. We discover, those of us in a group like this which sets the bar so high, that we're GOOD at it. We are, in fact, good. We are many things to many people, but in that particular mode, there are few other roles in mind. The focus we need spells it out for us: above most all other things, we are a giver of care.
It takes us a while to realize--fully realize---that we have lost not only a person, but also a purposefulness. What can ever be anywhere near as important as this thing we came to master?
Nothing. Honestly. To walk someone the long way around to heaven, finding flowers, stopping to rest, checking the map, taking snapshots of one another, and then ultimately reaching that point in the path where only one can proceed from there is more like a language than a word---how could you possibly translate it unless someone else has taken a walk just like it? It is not ONLY ours, but it is ours.
And then, in stages, we must let go our tight hold on it and begin to look around again. The ache begins in earnest, but on the other side of it is a form of comfort we can live with. There is no manual. There are no formulas. No shortcuts either. To hurt is a necessary step in reclaiming ourselves to ourselves and is thereby technically healthy; the numb don't ache. As we wake up to seeing the world through our OWN eyes again, that's when the sadness hits. It shows that, through a growth stage we hadn't noticed, we are coming to see things for ourselves again, not for this other person we love. To move forward will require that those eyes be open, and unfortunately, it means that we will begin to cry for ourselves.
During this period, many people find relief from the temporary use of a medication such as Lexapro, which may help to even out the rough edges of pain and allow for, as one widow put it, "functioning through the sadness."
What you're feeling, Linda, is normal, on schedule, and justified. You and your husband---and others in the family---may find that you aren't on the same page at all through this process; this is normal too. Just because you shared a loss doesn't mean you'll share your healing. Regaining the "selfishness" of thinking for ourselves can be a necessary step, and dealing with someone else's "dealing" is much too exhausting once the motor has finally run its course. What I see in your message is health and hope through the darkness you're in the thick of. You'll have to trust me on this.
Diane Phillips, d/o Ed Robinson gbm 6/99-10/00