Princess Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, who delivered his sister's eulogy was interviewed on the CBS News Sunday Morning show today (March 15, 2015). In the course of the interview he said (in response to interviewer Tracy Smith's statement "It has been close to 20 years." "Yeah, I met someone the other day who was so interesting, she had actually lost her sister in a car crash, in fact the same time. And I said, 'How is it for you?' And she said, 'Well, the pain's the same, it's just the tears are less.' And that's very profound."
Those words are indeed, profound, I thought to myself; simple and profound. We who grieve the loss of a significant person keep being told that over time and even with work "it" gets better. "It" refers to the pain, I assume, or the whole journey. But as I approach the 5th anniversary, I do not feel the loss of my husband Bill being any less painful today than it was during the first two years. (Yes, I said two years...something most people do not understand unless they have been down this path.). I cry off and on, on occasions like his birthday or our anniversary and sometimes just out of the blue. The wailing has all but ceased. The waves of grief roll in but do not knock me off my feet any more. Maybe that is what everyone means by "gets easier or better". The desire to have him back is just as strong and yes, that woman who talked to Charles Spencer, is right; the pain is not less...it is indeed, the same.
Those around me do not really know how much I hurt unless they happen to be one of those in my inner most circle of friends, the ones I can still cry with and when asked how I am, I can be honest and say on a given day, "today is a tough day" and then talk a bit about that. That inner circle is small and one I cherish and need.
It may appear to others that I am "better", "it" is better, or I am now "over it" or "moving on". I suspect many know I am not "over it" but say nothing. Like me, I would imagine that if you spoke to the vast majority of those who have lost a spouse or a child, or someone else we cherished and with whom we shared each and every day and all our dreams, ups and downs as well as joys and sacred moments; you would learn that the pain is still deep and real. If you have been down this path, you know.
So what have I have learned these years since Bill died (in spite of being told otherwise by many) and thankfully being heard and not judged by so many others.
I have learned that I am alone. I have a supportive circle of trusted friends, but in reality no one on this earth knows what I lost. I am indeed alone and all of what I lost is beyond my ability to explain or share.
I hurt today as much as I did five years ago. It does not show like I did even four years ago but the pain is sitting there and with the smallest provocation can easily and quickly be evidenced by my tears. I have just learned to carry it differently. It is now a part of who I am.
I do not know what "moving on," "letting go," "being better" and a host of other phrases the bereaved hear too often from hopefully well intentioned people, even means. I guess if there are no tears flowing down my face, that means I am "over it". I guess if I laugh and smile, that means I do not feel pain. Actually I can be laughing and feeling pain at the same moment. I guess if I get involved in community activities I am "past my loss". And all of those phrases mean no one has to ask anymore how I am doing or be afraid I will burst into tears.
I have learned that my grief is complicated because all grief is complicated. We humans are complicated and every loss is totally unique to each person and to each loss. My loss of my mom in 2006 was very different than my loss of Bill 4 years later. My neighbor's loss of her beloved husband is totally different than my loss of Bill. And yes, it is all complicated. That does not mean it is something that requires a diagnosis or a prescription. Grief is NOT a medical condition. It is a normal human experience and a sign of the love we have (notice present tense) for the person who died and what we had together. It is part of life as is joy; a part that we as a society prefer to ignore and deny and then judge way too often when someone walks through their grief in what I see as a healthy manner i.e. with honesty and with a commitment to feel our pain instead of stuffing it or pretending.
I have learned that there are wonderful people around me especially those who are also bereaved. I met many at www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com
(which I highly recommend to anyone in grief). I have a small close circle of confidants who are kind, who hear me and who "get it". There is wonderful information out there that has been incredibly helpful to me on this journey. Bill's transfiguration has been not only the deepest and most gut wrenching pain in my life but also has been a change and transformation agent.
So on March 27, it will be five years since I held my sweet and kind husband in my arms; since his once strong heart quit beating beneath my hand; since I felt his last breath on my cheek and since he was freed of his struggle with Alzheimer's disease. It will be five years since I saw his blue eyes smile at me and instead, as John O'Donohue said so well in his poem*, five years since I saw Bill's "eyes freeze behind the grey window."
And yes, the pain is the same.
Beannacht / Blessing
On the day when the weight deadens
on your shoulders and you stumble,
may the clay dance to balance you.
And when your eyes freeze behind
the grey window and the ghost of loss
gets in to you, may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green, and azure blue come to awaken in you a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays in the currach* of thought
and a stain of ocean blackens beneath you, may there come across the waters a path of yellow moonlight to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours, may the clarity of light be yours, may the fluency of the ocean be yours, may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life.”