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Dealing With Grief and Living After

By Rhonda Tardif

What do you do with grief? How do you handle it when a tornado called "Death" has ripped through your family? You're left numb and stunned. You're not sure you'll ever be the same. Not sure you ever want to be the same. Well, in reality, you won't be the same. It's impossible. But hopefully you will be stronger. Yes, that is possible. I'm living testimony to that.

You must acknowledge your loss and your right to feel whatever it is you feel. Sad. Lonely. Angry. Sorry for yourself. Afraid. Guilty. You''ll experience many different emotions and it's okay. Don't let anyone tell you it isn't. Unless someone has been where you're at, they don't have a clue anyway. So don't let it bother you what they say. Go to the library and get some books and read what the experts have to say. The experts are those who have been there. There's nothing like experience to make you an expert. But that's one kind of experience none of us want. But one we can't avoid. It is a fact of life. A cruel, hard fact.

It is definitely okay to feel those feelings. What isn't okay is not to deal with them. Acknowledge them. Evaluate them. Validate them. And let yourself heal. It's not a sin to heal. It's not unfair to heal. It's not betrayal to heal. It's okay. If you don't, you're doomed.

Remember, I didn't say how long before you had to let yourself heal. That will be different for each of us. But you do need to heal in order to be whole. In order to be any good. And of course, you do want that. You probably have other family members who need you. Need your love. Need your strength. Just need you. The "new" you is still valuable. The "old" you is but a memory.

It's definitely a hard road. One we never want to have to walk. You're so alone. You really are. No one else feels what you are feeling. Even if there's other family members, you're each feeling something different. And oh how it hurts. Oh, God, it hurts. Hurts so bad. You want to die. How can you go on living?

I suppose there are many different ways that people deal with stuff. And what works for one may not work for another. But I feel you always need to be honest with yourself.

After my mother passed away, (I hate the word "died") a friend lent me a book on grieving. The author talked about "grief work" and that's a good description, I think. It is work getting through all the emotional stuff.

Quite often, there is guilt. Guilt over what you wish you would have done differently. Things you wish you'd said or not said. And now it can't be changed. But you need to find a way to come to terms with it.

I think the very act of being honest with yourself and acknowledging something has a gift of freedom attached to it. Freedom is liberating. It feels so good to be honest.

I've seen people dance around honesty. Trying to paint the picture they want you to see. Want you to believe. That they want to believe. What a dance. When even though it may be hard to admit the truth, it would be so much better in the end. The truth is the truth anyway. No matter what you or I say. We can't change the truth. It is what it is.

So if you have regrets, acknowledge them, admit them, accept them, and put them to rest. You may want to have a "conversation" with your loved one and tell him/her how you feel. I've done that. Tell them you're sorry. You'd change it if you could. It's because we have no way to "prove" our repentance that makes it so hard to accept forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves. We depend so much on "proving" ourselves, that it's hard to accept forgiveness without "works." But there's no choice in this case, if you want peace.

You may be afraid of the unknown that lies before you. Afraid that you won't be able to walk this road alone. There may be many things that your loved one did for you that now you will have to do, or find someone else to do.

You may be afraid of the reality of not being able to see your loved one again. That's pretty scary.

You may be afraid of the pain. Pain is uncomfortable. I remember standing at my kitchen window one day, looking out at the driveway, thinking about the fact that I would never see my husband drive in the driveway again. Ever. It hurt so bad that my heart actually hurt. I actually felt the pain.

Of course you're going to feel lonely and sad. That's okay. You may feel like that, intermittently, for the rest of your life. And that's okay, too. Healing doesn't mean it's like it never happened. Usually when you've hurt yourself, there's a scar. But when it's healed, it's okay. That area may be more tender. Depending on the injury, it may be weaker. But it's healed. The scar will always remind you of the injury. But it is part of you, part of who you are.

You may feel angry. Angry at what seems like the injustice of it all. But who said life was fair anyway? I don't believe it is. What's fair about being twenty years old and losing your husband when your baby is five weeks old? What's fair about taking your two-month-old son to have his needle and the nurse says, "You can go home now and tell Daddy what a big boy you were," and you want to scream "I wish you were right." What's fair about that?. Nothing. There's nothing "fair" about it. But it happened. So it's okay to go through the "It's not fair" stage. But you must accept that things that "aren't fair" happen and it's okay. It's what you do with it. I can look at it thirty-seven years later and still say it's not fair. But I'm not angry. It's life.

I've felt sorry for myself at times. You feel sorry for someone else when something bad happens to them, so why can't you feel sorry for yourself? But you can't live in that "sorry" state forever. You'll cripple yourself. You really will. And you don't want that.

You need to reach out to your family and friends for support. And when they offer it, don't refuse it. That's their duty.

One of the best books I've read on support was Still Loved By The Sun by Migael Scherer. I've read it two or three times. And I'm just amazed at the strength of her support system. How true her immediate support system was. It wasn't big. And a few pulled back. But there were a few that were nothing short of amazing. And so was she. She was so honest in her needs. And when she got stronger, she accepted her strength. She had people telling her she should be over it and all that.....But those are the ones who haven't been there.

So as I said, accept the support of your family and friends. Reach out when you need them. But as you gain strength, accept the strength and lean less on others. People don't mind supporting you. But it's hard to actually have to "carry" someone else for a long time. No one wants to or is emotionally able to do that.

I always tell the story of the older lady (probably in her seventies) who'd recently lost her husband. She was visiting with me and we were talking about a more recent widow. She said, "I'm so busy feeling sorry for myself that I can't feel sorry for anyone else." I realized that even though I was twenty-four and had been a widow for four years, she was in a much worse place than I. My experience has just made me more compassionate to others.

I'm a deep thinker and I'm always analyzing things in my head. And I try to learn from my mistakes. I hate the way death steals. At least it seemed like it stole from me, the first time. But I always try to learn from all of life's experiences. I didn't have a lot of regrets. But there were a few little things I wish I'd said to my husband. It has made me very conscious of my interactions with others.

Sometimes I go out of my way to make sure I treat people in a way that if I have to stand at their coffin, I will not have any regrets. I'll know that I did everything I could for them. They will know I loved them. I know what it's like to wish I'd said or done something differently. Not that I'd loved the person more. But just that I'd shown it more. I don't want that to happen again.

I said we feel so alone, in some cases, because our grief is different than others. In the case of my mother, I expect the grief of my siblings was similar to mine. In the case of my husband, my loss was different than anyone else's. I spent a lot of the first year visiting with my husband's parents and the little boy they'd adopted. My son became like a brother to the little fellow. I could share my grief with them, although it was different. But the father's grief was very deep, as well. I can honestly say that I don't think he ever got over it. It seemed like a part of him was missing, as well, on a very different level from the loss I was feeling. But very real, nonetheless.

One thing that has given me a lot of difficulty, even now, if I allow it, is not being able to say "Goodbye." When someone knows ahead of time that a loved one is going, I tell them that's a good thing, to be able to say "Goodbye." I wish I'd had that opportunity.

With my husband, as I watched him drown, I didn't think he would really drown. I thought he'd come home and tell me how frightened he'd been. But I so wished I'd been able to say good-bye.

With my mother, it was three days after my son was hurt. I was at the hospital with George, who was drifting in and out of medication-induced sleep. He didn't know at that stage that he was paralyzed. No, he'd actually just been told that morning. It was Wednesday.

I had left my Mom on Monday. I went in to see her and Dad before returning to Saint John. I didn't even hug her. I know she must have been hurting for me. Because she lived in my home, I didn't always hug her when I left. When she lived in her home, I did. But I thought she'd be here when I got back. I got a call later that day that she'd been taken to the hospital with what they thought was a diabetic coma. That had happened to her before. So I wasn't overly concerned. I figured she'd be okay. She was the other two times. Even though she wasn't coming around, she never did fully regain consciousness, I didn't realize what was happening. Perhaps I just couldn't process it.

Wednesday morning, standing at my son's bedside in NICU, the nurse told me I had a call. It was my cousin telling me Mom had passed away. Again, I hadn't been able to say "Goodbye." It's three years ago, and it still makes me cry, as I write this. To me, that's a loss in itself. They're going anyway. That isn't changing. So at least, I'd like to be able to say "Goodbye." It would be one less piece of "work" to have to deal with. But that's the way it is in some cases. We don't call the shots.

My dad still lives here with me in my Special Care Home. He's 84. He's done very well. Better than I thought he would. I see him getting weaker. And I love him so much. I know at some point, he has to go. But I soooo..... hope that I can say "Goodbye." Maybe I should say it now. I'm crying as I write this. I think I will say it soon. Then I can save myself that little bit of "work" afterwards.

Another thing that I have found therapeutic is visits to the cemetery. Some people don't see any point in cemetery visits because "the person isn't there." While that is true, it is where what remains of their physical selves rests. It's the last place we connected with or were in the same place as their physical body. To me, it's a respectful thing to do.

Sometimes when I visit, it's a quiet visit. Thoughtful. "Stopped by to let you know I still think of you" kind of visit. At other times, it's been very emotional. Like the time after my son was hurt. He's had so much to deal with and sometimes I'm amazed at how well he's done. But at this point I'm talking about, he was angry about something. I felt so helpless. He'd already lost his father. Now he'd lost his legs and his hands. I visited his father's grave and for the first time ever, I allowed myself to vent at him. Not in anger, but in frustration. I told him about our son being hurt and being angry, and I didn't know what to do. And why did he have to go and leave me. He should have been here to help me. To help our son. It felt so good to say it. I was acknowledging a very real feeling.

You might feel angry at your situation or at the departed one. You might find venting like that helpful. You have to do what is necessary for you to survive. You don't want to be hateful. I wasn't being hateful. I was reaching out. If you're hateful, you'll just have more guilt to deal with. But if you're really angry, say so. Objectively.

Maybe you feel angry because your loved one was in some way responsible for leaving you. Maybe he/she made an unwise choice. Like driving with someone intoxicated. Driving unsafely. Taking whatever chance. It's okay to be angry and say so. It's the truth. And like I said, truth is liberating.

In my case, only recently, I thought about choices and risks. And my belief is that when you have children, your risks need to be weighed on a different scale than if you had no children. It's one thing to be a widow or a widower. It's quite another to be left without a parent. A situation that should never happen because of a careless choice.

I do a lot of writing to work through things. It just happened this year, thirty-seven years later, that I sat down to write. When I wrote the date, it was July 7, the anniversary of the date my husband drowned. I just wrote something about that and it went from there. I ended up writing him a letter. And I told him how I realized I felt about that. He couldn't swim so I don't feel he had a right to go out in water he wasn't familiar with. He was a free spirit and had no use for worry. And his careless choice caused his son to grow up without him. But I also told him I wondered what he was thinking as he looked as us on the shore, when he realized that he wasn't going to make it, wasn't going to be coming home, what went through his mind? And I told him that whatever it was, one thing I do know, for sure, is that he was sorry. He would have never wanted that to happen. He loved this new son so much!

It's not hurting him for me to say that. If he could, he'd say it himself. But it is helping me by acknowledging the truth.

It's so easy to paint perfect pictures of someone, once they've gone on. But there's no need to, if it's not true. I totally dislike that at funerals when you know the history very well and everyone's acting like everything was hunky dory. Save it, please. It may be delicate to handle it truthfully, but it's much more respectful.

So with George's father, he was very near perfect. Ask anyone who knew him. But that was the biggest mistake he ever made. And he'd tell you so, too. And I'm not going to pretend it was a total accident that no one was responsible for. He had a choice and it turned out to be disastrous. I forgive him. But I acknowledge it.

So, whatever is in your grief bag, sort through it, evaluate it and process it. In other words, do your grief work. Let yourself heal. Get help if you need it. Be strong. You deserve it. It doesn't mean you're betraying your loved one. That you're cheating him/her in some way by resuming life. I know that for a fact.

I still, once in awhile, cry when I think about my mother, who's been gone for three years, or my husband, who's been gone from this earth, (not my heart or my mind) for thirty-seven years. And after thirty-seven years, I still cry. But that's okay. It's part of who I am. Part of me is missing. It's healed, and the scar shows, but I'm whole. I may walk with what appears to be a limp to others. But my gait is stronger.

I can tell someone now, that I lost my first husband, without crying. Without needing sympathy. Just understanding. Or that my son lost his father when he was five weeks old. I can say that without crying. It's part of who we are. Who we've become. Sometimes, I feel, it needs to be said. It makes the picture whole. Complete.

I've done my grief work. I still cry. I still love my husband and my mother. I am a better person for having had both of them. We can't choose mothers, but if we could, I would choose mine. I would just let her know more how much I loved her. And I would choose my husband, even knowing I would have him for only three short years. They were the best three years of my life. But I could have made them better. I lived in fear of them ending. That's true. I lived in fear of losing this precious person. And I let worry cheat me. I lost him anyway, and the only thing worry did was keep me from enjoying him more. But that's another story.

Now, I don't believe in worrying. I just try to deal with stuff. I try and live today being the best I can be. Worry is a thief that robbed me mercilessly. It gave me more "grief work" to do. But I have let myself learn from that mistake.

I'm a better, stronger person than I was thirty-seven years ago. Because I've chosen to be. I believe that to truly love, is to give fully of yourself to those you love. And it's opening yourself up to being hurt. That's life. There's a song that contains the phrase "and that even in losing you win." That's the way it is to truly love. Your life is so enriched by having shared fully.

If you can truly love and give all of yourself, if death comes knocking at your door, you'll have less grief work to do than if you don't allow yourself to truly love. Truly loving is wonderful. And grief work is possible. If I can do it, anyone can do it. Believe me when I say that. If you'd known me before it happened to me, you'd have thought I'd never survive a spring rain, let alone a hurricane. But sometimes we surprise even ourselves. I sure did! And you can too.

Rhonda Tardif enjoys writing about her experiences, in hopes that someone else may be helped, just a little.
For this article, she draws upon the strength she found after the drowning of her first husband. In this article she refers to a book by Migael Scherer, a rape victim. This is the link to that book.

Another book I've seen that I think would be helpful (I haven't read it and I'm not making any money from it) you can find at http://howtolivewithgrief.com

Rhonda enjoys reading but gets very frustrated with the errors she finds in both writing and online. She decided there must be a need for more proofreaders and has created her own proofreading site. http://RhondasWebProofreading.com.


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