Grief is filled with expectations of what you should feel, what you shouldn’t feel, what is okay to discuss, and what is taboo to mention. I am sick of all the “shoulds” in life. When Peter, my husband of 47 years, died suddenly 18 months ago, I was hit with a bunch of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts,” that clouded my brain and made grief even more difficult to traverse. Below please find a list of appropriate and realistic expectations that you will experience in grief:
· Grief will take much longer that people imagine. Each journey of grief is totally different. Set your own timetable for your journey, on your own terms, and with lots of flexibility. Try out this mantra which I lifted from Frank Sinatra: “I’ll do it my way!”
· Grief will take more energy than you can conceivably comprehend. After Peter died I would have slept all the time from the exhaustion of tears and pain. The problem was that in grief, sleep becomes totally elusive.
· Grief will hurt so much you will ache emotionally and physically.
· You will feel that you are on the outside looking in, as the world continues to move forward while you slowly grieve at a standstill.
· Grief will impact your life psychologically, socially, and physically. Your world will rotate 180 degrees, and you will be stunned and shocked at the sudden change in your status. After Peter died I was demoted to lunch, as in “now that Peter is gone, let me take you to lunch.” I retorted with “what about dinner? Why have I been demoted to the daytime?” Grief will involve an identity confusion as you are no longer a couple. You will have to find your way as a third, or fifth wheel which will take much courage and fortitude. Teach your friends that you need them even more now that you are a widow.
· You will grieve for the couple you were and the loss of that union. You will mourn the future you had together, and the unfulfilled dreams that would have been.
· Your grief process will not be a steady step-by-step course. It will be more of a bad roller coaster ride with ups, downs, and in-betweens. Grief is unpredictable. It comes in waves of intense pain without warning signs. You will surely have grief bursts. These surges of grief come without warning especially in the car. My steering wheel has been doused on numerous occasions. I often have grief bursts in the shower, in the morning, in the middle of the night, in a concert, in a movie, watching television, or just hearing a melancholy song. I have put a ban on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah!”
· You will feel some anger, guilt, or a disgusting combo of both, which may make you cranky to the max. Anger and guilt are perfectly valid emotions after a deep loss. Feel free to express the anger so that you can move through it. I tend to take it out on our current president 45, which is curiously cathartic.
· Grief will bring up old feelings of abandonment and loss and unresolved conflicts, which may make you depressed. Know that this is a temporary depression and you will work through it.
· Your self-esteem will surely plummet. Know that you will find a new definition of self in the process of grief.
· Your loneliness will seem unsurmountable and yet, you will need solitude to power through your passage through grief.
· Grief will kibosh your thinking powers and render you a wimp to make any decisions. Experts tell us not to make major decisions when in the throes of heavy grief and they are right. They don’t tell you that the small decisions like what to wear become monumental.
· In grief, you may think you are going mad. Yes, this happens. Know that it happens. Know that you will upend your psyche and bounce forward!
· You may be disappointed in how others respond to your loss. You will hear platitudes galore but try to have patience with others who do not know how to act around someone experiencing a great loss.
· In grief, you will search for meaning in your sadness. Many find religion a comfort. I devoured books on grief looking for answers, which never came, but bizarrely helped me through the tough times.
· Holidays and celebration days will become mountains to climb and conquer.
· Know that you will always miss your loved one. But, missing them, will not prevent you from moving forward towards a new life with meaning, fulfillment, and love.
I feel part of Peter nestled cozily in my heart, keeping it steadily beating. Knowing Peter’s goodness and humor in my heart makes me a better person. Knowing I am a better person, makes me want to live fully again.