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It’s been almost three months since the man who was my father figure, my uncle, passed away. I’ve learned things I didn’t know before, which have me looking back at the last few years and seeing how often I was wrongheaded in my attempts to help others deal with grief. I particularly think of my mistakes in trying to help my husband through his own losses, especially the loss of his mother.
Grief is an ocean of emotions and nobody but God and Mary can ride the waves with me.
I lost my best friend in a car accident nine years ago. I avoided the pain of that loss with Grey Goose and one-night stands. I thought that made me a grief expert. It didn’t. While losing my best friend was shocking and life-changing for me, it was not the death of my uncle.
Now that I’m wiser in my own grief, I think back shamefaced about my attempts to console others.
I often told my husband things like “we are Catholic; we know death doesn’t win!” and other really stupid things — stupid because, while true, they sprang not from compassion, but from a desire to gloss over his feelings, to band-aid them. I had no idea what kind of pain he was in.
Then three months ago I sat by the bedside of a man who was like a father to me — sat there as he got taken off life support, leaked fluids through his skin, was changed and cleaned up like a baby and struggled to speak to us for the last time. I watched him struggle to take his last breaths and then, just like that, he was gone.
The shock of him being dead was like nothing that I’ve ever been through. My mind went completely blank. It’s gone blank frequently since. My mind isn’t in the habit of going blank. I’ve had racing thoughts and opinions as long as I can remember. But now, I have moments where I don’t think about or feel anything at all. I lose track of time. The only date that stands constantly on my mind is April 18. I remember everything about that day, but I have blank spots in my mind of things that have happened since.
In contrast to those blank moments are the moments when I feel like my heart is going to be ripped out of my chest from how much I miss him. And not just the missing him, but the regrets about all the things I should have done while he was alive, like moving back home to spend as much time with him as I could or answering his last phone call, which I ignored and never had time to return. I have no idea what I was doing that had me so “busy,” but I am sure that I would do anything to go back and slap myself for brushing him off.
Even with all this, the thing that I’ve learned more than anything else is that my husband’s grief is totally different than mine. He doesn’t get my pain and I don’t get his. I don’t get anyone else’s pain. I still have a hard time figuring out what to say to other people who are grieving their own losses. I am angry that anyone thinks that I should be “over it” by now, but I was that person when my husband was still reeling in pain four years after his mother died. I know now that there is no “over it.”
I’m angry when people are nice to me, I’m angry when they ignore me, I’m angry when I miss him, I’m angry when I go five hours without thinking about him. I am just angry.
Everything that I say or do is different now; it’s all said by someone who is in a lot of pain after watching the strongest man she knew die a slow, agonizing death. I had to get off Facebook and limit all my other social media comments, because I am just too wounded to be arguing with anybody about anything.
Only God can understand me now and what I’m feeling, just as only He can understand my husband or other sorrowing souls in my life.
Prayers are all anyone can offer me in my grief. I ask for prayers that God can turn this pain, anger and grief into something that glorifies Him.