I’m writing this blog while sitting at the kitchen table, 2 days after my first surgery for Cataracts. The results after just 48 hours are beyond amazing! This surgery was my first big step towards caring for myself in a world that feels so very empty. It’s been almost 5 months since my husband died, and 21 months since his catastrophic stroke.
Before the stroke, my husband spent a month away from home (we lived in SC at the time) visiting his next oldest brother who had had toes amputated because of diabetes. I pushed my husband to drive from SC to New England, not knowing that the last time we would hug each other and casually say goodbye would be the last time. I stayed behind because I had only been working four months at my new job with UPS. A decision I will never regret as the brother he went to visit died 350 days before my husband. My mother-in-love had 6 children and 3 are now gone, all three dying in February. 2018, 2020 and 2021. The pain she must feel when she remembers has to be unimaginable. Her oldest child, and only girl, was the first, she died at the age 67. Next was the 5th born, he was 60. Then my beloved, the youngest, he was 59.
I provide a bit of context just so whoever is reading this knows that the weight and minefields of death are not new to me. I wish I weren’t well versed in grief, no one wants to be. What am I learning to be well versed in? Self-care. It’s so hard to do, and though I’m not afraid to work hard, I don’t want to. I want my husband back. I want our grandchildren to have their Poppy back and our daughters to know that their Daddy is just a phone call away. I want to reach out in the night and feel the warmth of the man who no longer exists, not the weighted blanket that’s folded in thirds and laid out where he should be. I want to hear his voice in my ears, not just in my head. I want to feel HIS arms around me, not just air. I’m sure you get the picture.
Self care has to happen if we are to continue on our healing journey. Self care looks different for each of us, just like grief does. I walked out 16 months advocating for my husband to receive the best possible care after his stroke, sold our home, and moved 3 times to be with him. Covid came. Isolation happened and for 6 months of the 16 months we journeyed, we couldn’t see each other. He never understood why. All he felt was that he was being punished for being alive. The stroke took away his reasoning abilities and he never recovered cognitively. I, on the other hand, would try and soothe his pain through Zoom calls. Or phone calls. He would cry without ceasing, and beg me to come see him. So much angst. I look back over that time and realize I was practicing self-care then, just in a less obvious way. I would walk along the James or Appomattox Rivers when we were in Richmond, VA. I would write. I would talk to the Chaplain from the Richmond VA Hospital. I continue to talk to him from time to time. I even drove to Norfolk to walk on the beach with our dog on the days when loneliness would consume me. I guess I knew somewhere inside of me that if I didn’t fill myself up, I would have nothing left to give my husband.
Self care looks like selfishness to those that either refuse to see it, or can’t see the value of it. We wake up and shower, we brush our teeth, dress for the day and make many other decisions that seem meaningless. They’re not! To get out of bed after the loss of a beloved child, spouse, friend, parent and anyone that has been loved by you is self care! I truly believe in the “fight” and “flight” aspects of grief, as well as life in general. My “fight” left me when my husband died. I was messy. And broken. I wanted to be invisible. I was also grateful that he didn’t suffer anymore. I battled within my own head as I took my first steps as a widow, toward a life without the physical presence of my mate. I had to. He would want me to. He was my biggest encouragement, he still is in many ways.
When people learn that I’m grieving, they’re usually sincere in offering condolences. We were married just shy of 39 years when my beloved died. We were as in love the day he died as we were when we said “I do.” I miss him. I always will. In the midst of missing him, I’m learning to grow again. I’m learning that my growth, determination and grief can all co-exist. I’ve also learned that some of the people I know think I’m selfish for not fading into the background of life. That’s not how I’ve lived my life, and I won’t live like that now. My eye surgery feels like I threw open the door that was slammed shut back in February! I threw it open with such force that it came unhinged! I walked right through the opening and am still walking. How does someone see self care as selfishness? Why do others think they are entitled to have an opinion on how I live MY life? Judgement comes in many forms, and I find a lot of judgement to be a waste of time. I have no right to tell anyone what their journey through grief should look like. My place in someone else’s grief is not my place. I have empathy for all of us that have lost someone we loved so much. I recognize the gaping holes left in our hearts. I hear the sobs and moans and cries as we navigate our way without our beloved person beside us. What I don’t do? I don’t carry the weight of someone else’s grief, I share in carrying the weight. I’ll hold someone’s hand and pray for them. I’ll help them. I won’t judge them!
As we walk along the highway called grief, may we all come to know that we can practice self care, that self care is not selfish, and when others judge us, that judgement is without merit. It’s become my purpose to help educate others who are on the outside looking in. People tend to judge that which they don’t understand, I’ve been guilty of it myself. Helping someone understand the depth, breadth, and width of grief gives me purpose. It also gives me hope. My world, just like all of yours, came crashing down with such force that I thought I’d never be the same again. I won’t be. Neither will you. What can we become? We can become a voice and a hand in the dark for one another. We can provide a safe place for someone just starting their grief journey to fall. We can listen. We can pray. We can encourage one another. And we can share. No matter where you are on your journey, I hope you know that you are not alone. I know I’m not alone, and for that I say thank you!