The Year 2020 was awful for all of us – and particularly for those of us who lost loved ones. As some of you may know, I recently lost my beloved husband Tom to bile duct cancer. We knew “something” was amiss in early 2020; he lost a lot of weight quickly and for no apparent reason. He got the diagnosis of this rare cancer in early May and was told he had just a few months to live. He went through several rounds of chemo but died in early December.
Everybody goes through the grieving process differently, and from personal experience, I can say you don’t know what your own process will look like until you’re in the middle of it. My journey of grieving was a slow grind. My 60-year-old husband went from an active person with lots of projects and plans to a bitter, angry, constantly complaining, grumpy old man who looked at least 80 years old, reduced to skin and bones – all in the space of seven months. The process wore on me from the inside, while my brave outer shell kept a smile on my face, a cheerful dress on my body, and an unflappable attitude that would not crack under any circumstance.
The moment the van carrying my husband’s body pulled out of the driveway, I fell completely apart. The shell cracked open, ugly and primal, going from “completely unflappable” to “completely unhinged” in the space of about 3 seconds. I screamed and made noises that frightened my teenage son. I wore my bathrobe and fuzzy slippers for three days and constantly wept. Unable to sleep, my body felt like it had been shaken, slapped around, and thrown to the ground. My digestive system was askew, my nerves were shot, my brain was in a fog.
Then I was fine. After three days of weeping, I woke up the next morning with the sun streaming through the window and a light breeze wafting through the room on an unseasonably warm December day. I told myself I could choose to be happy. And I am. The weeping and crying are long gone (reappearing only once, after I was told my son and I had both tested negative for covid). I’m back to my usual cheerful self, wading through the inevitable paperwork and phone calls that attend a loved one’s death.
So how do you get through the grieving process? I honestly think it depends on how resilient you were to begin with. Years ago, an Episcopal priest told me I was the most resilient person she had ever met. I’ve been through all kinds of crap and have learned how to recover from it. I’ve worked on becoming resilient, and when I needed those skills, they kicked in.
Nevertheless, here’s what I’ve found helpful:
- The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss, by George A. Bonanno. This book reassured me that it was okay to be okay after my loss. People who are resilient get over losses and can be fine. You don’t have to wallow in grief, if that’s where you are.
- The Widow’s Journal: Questions to Guide You Through Grief and Life Planning after the Loss of a Partner, by Carrie P. Freeman, PhD. If you’re a writer or creative type, this book is for you. The author faced the loss of her husband and put together an interactive set of resources for those who’ve lost their partner or spouse. I’m still working through this book, and I’ve appreciated the wide open spaces to go off on tangents, vents, or whatever I’ve needed to express. I would call this a “special purpose journal.”
- It’s OK That You’re Not Okay (Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand), by Megan Devine. If you’re struggling with grief and not cheerfully getting on with your life, this is the book for you. The author discusses our culture of not dealing very well with death and how to cope if you’re not coping.
Whew! This is the first writing I’ve done in months. Thanks for bearing with me!
Cynthia Coe is the author of The Prayer Shawl Chronicles: Stories of Unlikely Connections & Unexpected Gifts, along with several other fiction and non-fiction books.