When I Discovered I Wasn’t Allowed to Grieve on My Own Terms
I was 24 when I received the call nobody wants to hear: the man I was planning to spend the rest of my life with, was dead. That was the moment when I discovered the real meaning of “broken heart.” The pain that I felt in my chest that exact instant was so intense I thought I was going to pass out.
The good news was, I didn’t pass out, and the pain lasted a few seconds. The bad news was, I was furious with him.
I knew that was an odd, irrational feeling, but I was mad at him. He promised to spend the rest of his life with me and didn’t keep his promise. When that feeling took place and settled down into my chest, I felt guilty.
I grew up watching my mother grieving the loss of her father that died before I was even born. My grandmother never remarried, she never took off her wedding ring, and she kissed it every night before to go to bed. I wasn’t like them.
I was an angry woman, and I was too afraid to admit it.
At the time, I thought I wasn’t supposed to feel that way, and I was too ashamed to confess it to someone I loved. Everyone around me was sweet, sympathetic, understanding, way too careful to not hurt my feelings, and I didn’t feel comfortable around them. I felt like if I broke down or lose my sh*t for some reason that wasn’t grieving-related, they would freak out.
People next to me kept telling me that it was completely normal to cry that it would help me to let out the pain I felt inside. I couldn’t do it in their presence. Every time that happened, someone was ready to hug me, comfort me with awkward comments, and do their best to avoid me to fall apart.
But I needed to fall apart. I needed to break down without worrying that people next to me felt terrible because they didn’t know how to ease my pain.
The first thing I learned was that people that love you feel uncomfortable in front of your grief because they want to help you, but they don’t know what to do. They try to suggest to you what you should feel, but if they never experience it, they will never understand your pain and your anger completely.
The only person that never spoke to me a word about what happened and treated me like she ever did was my grandma. She knew what I was going through because she was just forty when she lost her husband.
About a month later, with a fake smile on my face, I found another job and started a new life in a new city. I needed to go out, see people, feel normal. Someone at the new office asked me why I was sad sometimes, and I explained what happened. It felt somehow liberating because they didn’t know me, they didn’t care about me, so they took in the news, but that was it. They didn’t try to make me feel better because they didn’t feel they had to.
It wasn’t their duty.
I was just the sad girl that experienced a tragic loss, but it was something they talked about at the coffee break. I was more than okay with it, and I started to smile more and think less about what happened.
One day, on my lunch break, I received a link to a magazine’s article where they talked about the tragic accident that occurred to my fiancé, they were somehow celebrating what he did in life, and they referred to me as “the one that survived him.” That was the moment when I realized that he was my future, and I had lost him. The reality hit me square in the face. I broke down crying in my office alone… or at least I thought I was alone until one of my colleagues came to me and told me, “It’s been almost three months. He’s dead — get over it.”
I was ultimately speechless. He was harsh and cold and made me stop crying right away. I felt guilty for making him uncomfortable.
That day I learned that people you don’t know are comfortable talking about your grief until you show them how much you are hurting. That is the line you don’t have to cross if you don’t want to make them uncomfortable.
That night I went home and thought a lot about his words. Was I grieving too long? Was I supposed to “get over it” even if I didn’t feel ready to do so? Maybe he was right; perhaps if I kept thinking about it, I would never “get over it,” so I made the decision to give it a try to start to date again.
It was somehow easy to get out and meet someone. I was in a different city from the one I grew up in, and nobody knew what happened to me. I could pretend for a few hours I was a standard twenty-something years old girl that wants to date. But the truth was, the guys I met just wanted to skip the dating part and go for sex. I wasn’t ready. I’ve never been a first-date-sex kind of girl, and I wasn’t definitely starting at that moment. When they asked me why and I explained I wasn’t ready after what happened, they just disappeared.
I wasn’t angry with them. I could understand their point of view: they wanted to have fun, and I had too much baggage to put up to. I was too emotionally complicated to have a casual relationship. I didn’t blame them.
I was discouraged because I felt like I could do it but didn’t know how to do it. One day one of my fiancé’s friends checked on me, how I was doing, how I was dealing with the new life. I told her what my colleague told me and that I started to meet some guy. She seemed sad in the beginning, then she told me to be careful but nothing more. At the time, I thought she was just puzzled like I was by his choice of words, I didn’t give a second thought to her words.
Six months after my fiancé died, I met a guy that really wanted to date me. I cleared with him right away my situation because considering my past experiences, I didn’t want to go through the ghosting I received from the previous dates.
He was okay with it. He never pressured me for more. He respected my timing and really listened to what I was going through.
I started to feel there was some future for me, after all. Maybe he wasn’t the man I was planning to marry, but I felt good when I was with him. I thought he was my chance to move on. I felt scared and happy at the same time. I didn’t know if my heart was really into it, but it wasn’t in a bad place either, so why don’t to give it a try?
The reactions I got when I told I was seeing someone weren’t the ones I expected. People that loved me where sympathetically smiling, but I could see they wanted to tell me something, but they didn’t have the courage to do it. Someone tried to ask some tentative questions, like “how I was doing” or “If he was good with me.”
Of course he was good with me, I was feeling good when I was with him, unless why was I doing it? I wasn’t someone that stays in a bad relationship just because I couldn’t be alone.
I knew how to live without being in a relationship, I was good at it. I have never been the kind of girl that needs a guy to be happy, and people that loved me knew that, so why were they asking so many questions? Finally, my fiancé’s friend answered that question telling me straight in my face that “maybe it was too soon to move on with someone else, maybe I was jumping in a relationship because I need someone to replace the love of my life.”
So it was time to start dating, but it was too soon to seriously dating someone? It seemed that everyone had an opinion about how much time was the right amount of time to grieve, but nobody could quantify it. Was it three months? Six months? One year? Ten years? When was I supposed to move on with my life without making someone uncomfortable?
I thought about what she told me for a long time, and I arrived at a conclusion — that may be wrong, I don’t know it for sure — that she probably felt she had to defend my fiancé. She was grieving too, and she felt betrayed by me moving on; she thought she had to protect him because he couldn’t do it for himself. Now I appreciate her dedication to him, but at that moment, I felt betrayed. I was the one that survived. I was the one that needed to deal with all that pain, not him. He was gone, and I could do nothing to change it.
I ended up marrying the guy “it was too soon to date seriously,” and after twelve years of marriage, I can say I’m happy I followed my guts. Maybe my heart was too beaten up to trust it, but my instinct knew he was the right choice for me. I felt guilty, I hid my happiness for a while, but I’m glad I didn’t listen to people that didn’t profoundly know what was going on inside my chest. They did it for me because they didn’t want me to be hurt again, but if I followed their warnings, I would have missed my second chance of happiness.