Loss changes you. It just does. The person you were before your spouse or lover has died is gone. You give them a piece of your heart when they go; and you spend the next part of your life trying to mend your heart back together. As time goes by, and the loss begins to sting less each day, your heart somehow keeps beating while it struggles to mend the cracks and holes in it. It’s pretty amazing.
You also discover a whole bunch of shit about yourself.
This healing happens as you begin to take control of your life again, making decisions as a person instead of a team: redoing the kitchen, starting a new job, making new friends, finding new hobbies, watching Tiger King (all-the-while wondering, what the…?) Each decision you make molds you into the new you, because you’re finally filling the gaping hole that formed the second they died. On your own. The old you is gonzo, and it’s time for “You 2.0!”
Some time ago, I wrote a post about my experiences during my “first year of loss.” This is what happens, by-the-way: the “Year of Firsts,” another well-known caveat in the widow world. In all grief, really. Your first birthday without them. Their first birthday after their death. The first holidays. It’s a year of “This is the first…[insert moment here.]”
Your whole first year of managing loss is centered around each first time you do things without them. It’s a grief right-of-passage and (bonus!) personal triumph if you do these things without jumping off a bridge. Which I’ve thought about, as has every widow/widower I know. It’s agonizing, repetitive, ridiculous and unavoidable, no matter how much you try to brush the events from your mind. For some reason, we measure the first year in this way. What can I say…
My first year felt like a self-reflection disaster. (It wasn’t.) It took me a long time to figure out I was only surface-level grieving those first few months. I cried a lot. I snapped at people. I was angry. I unintentionally hurt others. I blamed most of that behavior on grief, which was mostly true, but I was wrestling more with the internal turmoil I felt watching — and feeling responsible for— his death.
Death is traumatic, and since I’m being honest, I quietly suffered because I was desperately trying to come to grips with the endless guilt I felt because I was the person that gave Mark the “comfort medications” that ended his life. I felt like I killed him, even though I didn’t. I blamed myself for us choosing Hospice. I blamed myself for needing a break and help which is WHY we chose Hospice. And I blamed myself for not being a better caregiver, which all his nurses (and my family) will tell you is bullshit, because I went above and beyond for Mark. Wayyyyy above and beyond.
I just needed to make myself feel better about my guilt and the shame I was feeling.
I tried to help anyone I could. I gave money to people I shouldn’t have. I tried to love people who didn’t want me. I hurt my friends and people that I genuinely care about. I dated people I knew weren’t right for me. I said nasty things to my family and parents. I ignored Christmas… despite how much my kids needed me to celebrate it. So much so, they took it into their own hands and decorated, and I’m glad they did. I also tolerated a lot of nonsense and bullshit that I didn’t need to, still showing kindness to whoever I could.
I was desperate to not feel as guilty as I did…and just feel better.
For months I blamed myself, and it wasn’t until I realized his death was not my fault that I was able to finally let that horrible pain go. In so doing, I fell inside my true grief and began to truly process his loss. That meant I had to confront a lot of people I had hurt in the months prior and make a lot of apologies for my behavior. Some accepted and some didn’t, but those are results I have to live with.
Then COVID-19 came along and fucked up life for everyone, and pushed me even deeper into grief. Yippee!
Trapped in my house, I was forced to think about Mark’s absence. All. The. Time.
To think about what his loss really meant for me and our family. The gifts he gave us. What we wanted to do to honor him. What life was going to look like without him. How grateful we were that he wasn’t here while the virus wreaks its havoc across the planet, because it surely would have killed him.
Grief forces you to reflect. During this time, I realized I was working in a job I didn’t love. Not because it wasn’t a great job or I didn’t have the tools I needed to do the job well, I just wasn’t in love with it. If there’s one thing Mark’s death taught me about life, it’s that I need to let go of things that don’t set my heart on fire. Life is way too short to waste even a moment on things you are not passionate about.
I used to think the universe brought that role and I together because I needed it. No. I needed that role to meet several strong, amazing people who helped me rediscover myself. They may not know it, but they helped me find the courage and bravery I needed to acknowledge I needed a change. And here I am: tackling my mid-life reset, or as I refer to it on social media, a mid-life fuck-it.
A new mindset fueled by happiness and doing only what sets my heart on fire.
Through this long, confusing, grueling and necessary grieving process, I’ve realized so much about myself. The next stage of my life is truly all mine. I can do what I want…whenever I want. I can move where I want, work where I want, plant new roots and dream….wherever I want. I can finally do what sets my heart on fire. Traveling. Writing. Dancing. Singing. Entertaining. Laughing. Being in Love. (I am so ready to fall in love again!) Eating everything (except clams, yuck.) Does that make me crazy?
No! We have one life and it’s so much shorter than we ever realize. I am so ready to live mine and enjoy whatever comes next.
Find your bliss.