Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


How Grief Changes Us

One of my first thoughts after my husband passed away (four years ago in May) was “I will never be the same.” Later, I would write in an essay “I am not the same person that I was when he died.” In my post Even Lava Cools Eventually, I described grief as “a molten, bubbling, red-hot river of volcanic lava, unceremoniously destroying everything in its path and reshaping the landscape underneath.”

Lately, I’ve been wondering, has this landscape changed? If so, how?

The most obvious change since Kaz died is that I now live in upstate New York instead of Hollywood, California. My days used to consist of driving across Los Angeles to sit in a cubicle at my day job. Today I write full-time in my home office with my dog sleeping at my feet. Whereas before I took my lunch break in the courtyard of a film studio lot, today I take my breaks outside (rain, snow or shine), where I read and throw the stick for the dog. Sometimes I look around and think, the scenery has changed. Has anything else?

In many ways, I am the same person I was when we met. I’m still an impulsive spender. I still make my bed every morning. I still like old movies, classical music and NPR. I still like the same foods. I still drive over the speed limit. I still worry about the future, though not as much as I used to. And (I think) that is the key to what has changed internally.

When Kaz was alive, it was extremely difficult for me to let go… of anything. I took things personally, worried incessantly, and was extremely hard on myself. My way of mitigating the insecurity, worry and self-blame was to try and control everything. I was a film director who also tried to direct life.

When he became sick, this desire to control everything was both good and bad. On the one hand, it made me a very efficient and organized caregiver. On the other hand, it made me an emotional wreck because I couldn’t handle the uncertainty and, frankly, lack of control that comes with illness. I had signed up for the experience knowing that he had a terminal disease, and yet did everything in my power to stop him from dying. When he wanted to let go, I tried to persuade him otherwise, even getting angry at times.

In a journal entry shortly after his death, I wrote about feeling like a failure, like I (not Kaz) had lost a battle. “My ego feels bruised,” I wrote. “How ridiculous is that?”

I was also angry. I’ve never been very religious, per se, but I do believe in a divine presence, and in those days I was mad as hell at that presence. I felt like we (Kaz, me, his parents, friends) had all been robbed, like a cosmic criminal act had been committed. It was wrong, unfair and unforgivable.

As time passed, and through the course of many discussions, reading and introspection, the anger slowly subsided and I started thinking about things differently.

I came to the conclusion, reluctantly, that there are certain things in life (like almost everything) that I – that no one can control. We cannot control what happens to our loved ones, nor what happens to us to some extent. We cannot control what other people do, or how they think of us. We cannot control the future, the past or even the present.

It was a very hard pill to swallow. There is a part of me that still finds it difficult to accept that bad things happen to good people, that pain and loss is a part of life, and there’s pretty much nothing we can do about it. But the more I accept and make peace with it, the more relaxed I feel, and the more grateful. There’s something about living with the awareness of possible destruction that makes the peaceful present even more precious.

I do still care a great deal about certain things and people. But I no longer obsess about them like I used to. I try very hard to be more present and humble, which comes easier (for me) out here in the countryside, where I’m surrounded by nature and immersed in what is essentially a very simple life. I also try to not be negative towards myself (or others) for imperfections and mistakes.

It sometimes pains me that I learned these lessons too late to apply them to life with Kaz. But when those thoughts come around, I deal with them by doing what I couldn’t do before… I let go.



Welcome to the Club

M lost her husband yesterday. She has now joined what dswidow so aptly termed “the club.” Unlike most clubs, none of these members joined voluntarily. We found ourselves here through various paths, the only common denominator that we’ve all lost our husbands or partners.  

One would think already being in the club makes it easier to talk to a new member. Yet, there is some trepidation, a defensive dam which, during the healing process, each veteran slowly built to hold back the raging torrents of her own grief. Will the new member with her fresh, searing tsunami of tears cause cracks in the cement? Will her cries of anguish unplug some of the bricks? Can we withstand the after-shocks of her collapsed world?

And what do we tell her? Who among us can say – “It all turns out alright in the end, you’ll see”? Perhaps all we know for certain (at this moment) is that there will come a day when the tears ebb, when we go back to functioning. There will be moments of joy and laughter again, as well as days of not constantly thinking of and pining for our lost one, something that seemed impossible in the beginning. We might be less certain about how to lead a normal life again, rather, the life we dreamed of when our loved one was alive.

Every woman’s dream is different, yet connected by some variation on a life with a loving partner, comfortable shelter, a fulfilling livelihood, perhaps a family. When we lose our partners all these possibilities, once within reach, suddenly get stretched back very far… to the point of not being able to see them.

After some time on the widow’s path, we think we can make them out again, faintly, on the horizon. But the path between us and them is still foggy. We move forward in this fog full of yearning that we are heading in the right direction… yet not quite sure we can trust our step. After all, the rug has been pulled out from under us already. We can still feel the bruises from when we fell into the abyss.

This is not something to tell the new widow. In fact, she doesn’t need to hear words right now. She needs someone to listen. She wants to talk about her loved one, she wants to tell us about him and their time together, things he told her, things that made him unique. She wants to gush about him, lest he be forgotten, lest she forget him, perhaps even to remind herself that he really existed, that he was really here at one point. She can still see him, smell him, remember his voice, his touch… even if these things are already beginning to feel like a dream or distant memory, to which she was the sole witness.

She yearns to interact with someone who is not grieving and therefore not crazy, at least not in the same way she feels. She aches for understanding, answers, anything to explain the inexplicable. She also wants to be alone, hidden from view, from pity, from judgement, from other people’s pain, from all the useless-heard-it-all-before advice.

All the veterans can say is: We understand. We are here for you. We won’t judge you, nor bombard you with ridiculous statements like “He’s in a better place now,” or “Who are we to question.”  We will help you question. We will help you accept the lack of answers. We will help you forgive and navigate this unwanted, yet apparently destined new path.

Hold our hand, sister. Together, we’ll find our way.