For the most part , no one knows what to say. Their tongues are tied, their brains are hunting for the right words and their heart is racing. There is no school lesson, no guide, and no how-to-manual. It can be the most awkward moment and we are never taught how to react, respond or even console someone in their time of grief.
My beloved husband, Mark, passed on Christmas day and since then I have been swimming in grief every second of every day with very few safe shores in sight. I find myself telling the same story over and over and the response is so varied but rarely do I ever feel supported and loved. Instead, when I encounter a friend, I see their body language transition to a frozen, almost paralyzed state, their muscles tense, their posture stiffens and their eyes zip left-to-right, right-to-left and left-to-right again as they search for the "right" words to speak.
The strange part about grief is that we are so rarely ever taught anything about it until we are immersed in it. We lose our loved one, the shock sets in and from there it's like we are trying to swim out to sea through wave after wave after wave of tears, sadness, anger, frustration, blame, guilt and love. Any one of those is hard enough to navigate on its own, let alone being compounded by the confusion and fear that accompanies the loss of a loved one.
So why is it that we learn nothing about what we may experience when we are grieving? Why do we learn about love and not grief? Why do we learn about birth and not death? Why do we only learn about grief , when we are deep in grief? It leaves us all very ill prepared for something we simply can't prepare for. Surely there has to be one of those simplistic, informative, step-by-step guides on "How to manage grief", that they hand out in grade 6....did I miss getting that guide? Cause I don't know what I am doing and most of you don't know what to say.
I know for the most part that people are trying to express what is in their hearts but their brains get in the way trying to find the right words. I can assure you that there are no correct words, no consoling phrases and no comforting thoughts. There is nothing to do, nothing to cook, nothing to prepare, nothing to drop off and...... nothing to fix. You simply can't fix the most brutal place on earth. You see, our time in grief isn't something we can escape. As much as I would like to find a nice 1st class seat on a jumbo jet and disappear where no one knows my name, grief will accompany me even though I didn't pack it and I certainly didn't invite it. There is no escape...no where to run to and no where to hide. I wake up with it, I breathe it all day and I go to sleep with it and then...repeat. In my experience, grief is the most brutal place on earth and there just is no fix.
So when I sit in silence and think about what might be supportive, it's uncomfortable, it's awkward and it's not part of my previous "normal" world. My reality is that the normal I knew for 27 years vanished on Christmas Day when Mark's journey ended and mine kept going. My reality is that I don't want to do it without Mark. But my reality is that I am still here, for some reason....still on my journey even though I feel completely lost. I go to familiar places yet no one knows me. Friends say my name, they say kind words, some are even brave enough to give me a hug but most just stare at me like they are afraid to come close for fear grief might be contagious.
Well grief isn't something you catch. As frequent as grief is in our society, no one wants it as part of their normal. When I realized that thought, it helped me understand a little more of the grief process. For my friends and co-workers, nothing has changed in their worlds....their worlds are normal and that's not to say they don't feel the loss of Mark, they do, but when they see me, they just want me to be back in the normal they have always known me in. The problem is, my normal will never return, the normal Mark and I had is gone and finding my old normal is impossible.
Somehow I have to find the courage to live forward, create and grow into a new normal and embrace the beauty of the normal Mark and I cherished. Writing it is easy but missing it is heartbreaking. My days ahead will be awkward, painful, sad, lonely, exhaustive and anything but the normal I long for.