Sunday, July 08, 2012

Grief - (The First Six Months)

Yesterday I wrote about my first week after our 26 year old son died in his sleep this past January. I promised I would also write about the time after that first week. I write in the hopes that someone else will realize that grief is a journey. It's a different journey for each person, but a journey, nonetheless.  It's okay to grieve.  It's important to grieve. And we don't have to "just get over it".  No; no one asked me to do that. But I've heard that people often expect that of people. And some of us tend to expect it of ourselves.

After that first week in Kentucky, we returned to Baltimore.  My husband returned to work. One of my sons who lives here with us returned to college. The other son who lives in Baltimore with us had missed the entire first week of college classes, so he will resume classes in the fall; but he returned to spending much of his time working on his computer in his room.

I returned to being "in transition", having quit my job the previous March...having finished homeschooling the previous May. And so I had plenty of time. Time to think. Time to grieve. Time to be lonely.  Perhaps it wasn't the best thing for an extrovert, or perhaps it was a good thing for someone who has generally tended to keep her deepest emotions deep inside, locking them away where they could be ignored and sometimes even throwing away the key. Being alone at home for much of the day, I could not lock my emotions away. I had to live with them.

"Why?" was never one of my problems this time. I say "this time" because after Paul was hit by a car - a little over a year before - while walking to a weekday Mass, we didn't know at first if he was going to make it.  That time, I had pictured God as a strong good Father and me as pounding on His chest (I believe I had read this somewhere), as I said to Him, "He was going to Mass!!!"  Paul recovered completely that time.  This time I wasn't curious about why.  I wasn't angry about Paul's death, although I did ask God many times, in tears, why he took my sister before he took my son...because now I couldn't talk to her about it; but then I would feel that was a selfish thought because she cared so much, and it would have been so hard for her.  They were both very caring people and I was and am proud of both of them for the generous lives they led, and I believe they have gone to God.  But that didn't help the rest of us, who were left behind.

Yes, I cried quite a bit and I can still cry at the drop of a hat, although it's not as painful now, after nearly six months. The other day I walked by a family picture that had gotten nudged and was crooked. As I straightened it, I noticed Paul in the picture, about eight years old with a huge smile, and I broke into tears...but not into weeping.  

But I'm jumping ahead of myself. During those early days, I cried, but that wasn't all.  I was easily confused. Some times I would take the wrong exit or skip an exit when I was driving somewhere.  I was lonely, even when I was with other people...although it still did help that people were there for me!  But it was better when it was one-on-one.  In a group, I felt left out, even though no one excluded me. I felt like I was "different" from everyone else. 

And all of my weaknesses seemed to be weaker. In those first days or weeks, I remembered all the good things people had done for us in Kentucky but I also remembered two problems that loomed big in my mind.  Even though I asked myself how I could make a big deal out of two problems in the midst of so many kindnesses, the difficulty was that I was second-guessing myself. Couldn't I have handled those situations better? Couldn't I have been kinder?  And I couldn't seem to stop thinking.  These thoughts would even wake me in the night. Maybe I should have been firmer?  Maybe I should have been more "professional"?  Why hadn't I handled things rationally instead of emotionally? Now that I think of it, I almost laugh to think I would expect myself to have handled everything rationally.

The one emotion I wouldn't deal with, but only lock away, was guilt. I treated it as a temptation (in other words, to turn away from it), because I realize it's a normal part of grief and I realize that I'm not perfect.  Maybe I could somehow have prevented his death. (Really?!)  And why, oh why, did I not call him back sooner the last time he called me, when I didn't have time to talk to him because I was in the car to go somewhere?  And crazily, I had the same question about my sister, who died six weeks before Paul did, who had last called me when I had company. I can't answer those questions, and I don't see any benefit in them, so there they are. I unlocked them to show you, but I'm locking them back up.  Paul and I talked several times a week.  My sister and I talked every weekend. They knew I loved them and I still do.  And I know they love me still.

Shortly after Paul died, I decided I would go to daily Mass.  He would be so proud...but I didn't actually do it. Instead, I wanted to make my husband's breakfast because he had to work such long hours.  Or sometimes I just slept and slept. But I feel like I started getting the grace Paul wanted me to get when he had urged me to go to daily Mass...the knowledge of how much God loves us. Yes, I always knew that; I have always known it in my will, but - due to some circumstances in my life in the past - I had had a hard time feeling it.  But, incredibly, I'm "getting it" better now.  And yes, I would like to go to daily Mass, and maybe some time I will get off my duff and do that. But God is good, and it seems that even if we won't meet Him half way in the way someone recommends or we think might be best, sometimes He will go in search of us some other way.

Of course, through it all, all of the emotions and confusion, I have always continued writing, because that is what I do, just as I had thrown myself into my blog back when Paul first became blind. But finally, as I went for professional counseling to deal with both the grief and some past issues that were catching up with me, my writing began to take more shape and focus. I finally decided that I would self-publish my books. As I prepare to self-publish my Little Saint Therese book, I remember how Paul, while in high school, had been my webmaster, and had set up the book to be available as an ebook on my website. Not long ago, he had been telling me, "Write!"  Not that I wasn't writing, but he wanted me to be more serious about it, to make my writing more important in my life.  I think he would be happy with my writing and publishing efforts. Or I should say: I think he is.

And so time has gone on, and life has gone on, and life will never be quite the same, but it is still good.  I have been finding much happiness all mixed in with much sorrow.   I know I am not done crying. But I know now that I can handle it.  And as I said in yesterday's post, "God is good. All the time."  God bless you all, and know that He loves you in all things and through all times.  


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur said...

A beautiful reflection! I think your son is very much working in your life now.

Maryellen said...

Thank you for sharing your grief experience with us. I'm sure it will help anyone who happens upon it.

You have been open to God's graces for healing, and your Catholic faith has helped you through the belief in the communion of the Saints.

I appreciate the fact that the post was not morose, but enlightening as a example of how Faith helps us grieve.

Margaret Mary Myers said...

Patrice and Maryellen,

Thank you so much for stopping by and for sharing your encouraging thoughts.