Following a loss, we attempt to describe what follows using words and phrases that include grief recovery, moving on, moving forward, healing our grief, healing our lives and more. People ask us how we are doing? Some really want to know. Others...not so much. Many tell us how we are doing or how we look or act. Many wish us well and it comes from deep in their hearts.

As for me,
I have not found a word or phrase that accurately describes the journey and pain that follows a significant loss.
Many years ago, I accidentally cut one of my fingers using a wicked kitchen slicer...the entire tip of that finger was hanging by a thread when I arrived at the emergency room. The physician was able to reattach it and over time it "healed". I think of this when I hear people discuss healing or recovery in regards to my journey and the grief I feel following my husband Bill's death.
If one looks at my finger, it appears healed just as I appear healed to most people 4 years later. However, the finger is different, changed as it was by this accident and the follow up surgery. The new scar tissue is tougher than the skin on my other fingers and it has a protective feel about it. It lacks feeling yet it is simultaneously extremely hypersensitive to touch. Touching a keyboard or well...anything is irritating...sort of like touching an exposed nerve.
That is how I feel about my own grief. In some ways I feel stronger (like the tougher scar tissue on my finger). If I am still breathing and functioning as much as I am after Bill's death, I must be able to  endure most anything.  Just as I am numb or apathetic to some things, I am simultaneously quite hypersensitive to many things that never bothered me before including remarks people make, innocent as they might be. If someone raises their voice to me or if I sense even the slightest hint of criticism in an email, on the phone or in person I react to it with spontaneous tears. It is not a "normal" response for me but a reaction indicative of the deep pain and vulnerability I feel. My hypersensitivity extends to other facets of life as well. As much as everyone in my world was looking forward to spring after a rather treacherous and long winter, I felt/feel vulnerable with its arrival. Instead of welcoming a lovely spring day, a part of me dreads it.
Leaving our Galena, IL home for a long bike ride through the hills on the first day of spring.
Bill and I enjoyed spring. The bicycles and motorcycles came out of winter storage. We hiked almost daily through our Wisconsin woods or Colorado mountains. We enjoyed being outside almost anywhere doing almost anything. Even though we spent time cross country skiing in the winter, hibernating was our way of life on winter days. Now when spring arrives I must shed the heavy clothes that protected me from the cold. The winter solitude and hibernation that renews our souls wanes. Instead of welcoming spring, I feel more emotionally naked. A thousand triggers and memories of spring days with Bill trip off pain. Just as my keyboard irritates the nerves in my finger, spring trips off my vulnerability. The merry month of May is not so merry without Bill and the life we created for ourselves.
Am I healing?  Well, like any wound that severs a body part from its source of life, nerves, blood and tissue...I have been physically severed from the man who cherished me and with whom I shared every single day for many years. As Bill said in his wedding vows and many times since, he saw us as "one soul". We both felt that.  We were and are a part of each other and losing him was indeed an amputation as C. S. Lewis said so well referring to his wife's death.

That finger "healed". It does not bother me every day...I rarely notice it. However, the amputation I have experienced with Bill's death has affected every part of my being and every corner of my life not just the tip of a finger. Rarely even noticing Bill's death is just not a possibility. This loss left me lonely for his physical presence; introduced me to pain I never knew existed; changed me and my life forever; left me hypersensitive and vulnerable as it has also steeled me. The pain does not go away...it is always there. The tsunamis of grief no longer come thundering in ten times a day but they still come unexpectedly now and then. The smaller waves of grief come and go quite often. I have learned to allow the pain they carry with them; cry the tears or feel the sadness. I know these words are familiar to every one of you who has experienced a significant loss. You are not alone. There are many of us who share your pain but who do not talk about it in our society so bent on being positive and happy all day every day so as to avoid or deny life's pain.

Along with my pain are memories of pure joy and love. How blessed we were to have the love we share/d. We both knew it was a rare gift and that it came with a high price tag when one of us would die.
But no one can anticipate the fall-out following the death of someone so important to us.
Acceptance of my grief  was a challenge. I fought it for a while. Then learned that fighting it was a losing battle with far reaching ramifications.

Loss forces changes.  We change and our life styles change. Mine includes more solitude, writing and art. I help others who are grieving; enjoy old friends and have met new ones...many of them wounded healers who aren't afraid to be real. And I have said good-bye to some folks. Rising to a silent house each day, I meditate, walk Bentley (our gentle and sweet Golden Retriever) and see what the day presents grateful for all that has blessed my life. I am not bitter or even angry. How could I be with all I have been given? I just hurt.
Is healing or recovery possible? I just don't know what to call it as I see myself very slowly learning how to live with Bill's death and my grief.

I just don't think there is a word for it.
Related to: healing, acceptance, life changes


How has your life changed following a significant loss?
How have you changed?
Is there recovery for you?

Resources

Befriending Myself: Rescued by Pema Chodron by Elaine Mansfield
Bereavement by Elaine Mansfield (A series of articles by Elaine)
Good Grief: Healing From the Pain of Loss by University Health Services- UW Madison
A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis (Entire book in pdf format)
The Labyrinth of Grief by Mary Friedel-Hunt
 


Comments

Anne
05/18/2014 10:47am

Another beautiful reflection, Mary. I keep learning from your wisdom. A piece that has meaning for me as I approach the 2 year loss of my beloved Jim. Thank you for your openness on your journey.
I have not found a word for it either. Perhaps we never will.

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05/18/2014 11:03am

Thank you, dear Anne. I know there are many who have learned from your wisdom including me. I carry you in my heart as you relive and remember this week.

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Jan
05/18/2014 12:16pm

Mary, you so often speak for me. We have to learn to live with our lives after our beloved partners have died but it isn't recovery, or acceptance, or any word I can relate to really. I shall never be complete again until I die and am in the same state as my Pete is now, whatever that may be. As with you and Bill we always knew we were soul mates, and that is something which I love to remember. We knew how lucky we were. It couldn't last for ever of course. But the pain of loss never goes away even though we cope with it somehow. Thank you for being there and showing me I'm not alone.

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05/18/2014 1:23pm

Yes, Jan, we do have to live with the life we create after our beloved partners die and right now, for you, that mean changes to your area that if I were in your shoes would disturb me greatly. You are not alone...even though it feels that way often or even most of the time.

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05/18/2014 8:35pm

I appreciate this so much, Mary. Today is my 46th wedding anniversary. It hasn't been a wrenching day. Just introverted. Vic and I wouldn't have done anything remarkable to celebrate. We would have walked or taken the dog to the lake and had dinner together, probably at home. We cooked together. A loving partnership is an incredible gift. I knew the price, because I saw my mother pay it, but that was different from experiencing it myself. I was also helped by reading C.S. Lewis. His quiet reflective grief. Thanks again. You nailed it. I also appreciate comments from Anne and Jan.

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05/18/2014 8:47pm

Dear Elaine, Thank you for reading my post and appreciating it. It seems you and Vic spent your anniversaries much as Bill and I did...simple and quiet....a sacred day together honoring the love you shared. You were on my mind a lot today...maybe now I know why. Reading C S Lewis is so meaningful. Sleep peacefully tonight.
Mary

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Jan Crowther
05/19/2014 2:13am

Elaine, I'm thinking of you at this time. Jan

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Mary Friedel-Hunt
05/19/2014 6:30am

Jan, I forwarded your comment to Elaine in case she does not see it here. Mary

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05/19/2014 7:29am

Thank you, Jan. I realized this morning I hadn't told one person yesterday was my anniversary except you, Anne, and Mary. Thanks for acknowledging. Vic appeared in a dream last night. Nothing extraordinary, but this is one of the ways he's most present--more ethereal even than life, but fitting.

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05/19/2014 7:33am

Thank you, Jan. I realized this morning I hadn't told one person yesterday was my anniversary except you, Anne, and Mary. Thanks for acknowledging the day. Vic appeared in a dream last night. Nothing extraordinary, but this is one of the ways he's present--more ethereal even than life, but fitting.

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05/19/2014 1:08pm

Mary,
Your words touched me deeply. I've been so frustrated lately. Every new step forward, at least one person says the equivalent of, "Oh, good, NOW you are okay." They don't understand that grief is not linear and I doubt that I will ever be "okay" after these losses.
Your post reminded me that I am not alone, as did the comments of Elaine and the others.
Thank you,
Patti

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05/19/2014 2:06pm

Dear Patti, I am so glad my writing is comforting to you. I am so sorry for your losses. You are welcome to visit our online grief support forums and browse around to see if it is a place you would like to join. The group of people is wonderful and so very supportive. The founder Marty Tousley (a bereavement counselor with many years experience) and myself are the moderators. If it interests you just go to www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com and browse around to any of the forums and we do have a pet loss forum as well as others. Peace to you, Mary

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11/12/2015 5:31am

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