Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Taking Grief Out For a Spin

Verbalizing Trauma

I confess, I’m task-oriented. I get a thrill when I accomplish a lot of work, thinking that the more tasks I accomplish, the more successful and happy I will be. Working validates my existence.

Or I used to feel this way. Now, not so much. I’ve come to see that tasks are empty boxes if they don’t directly help others. My wife’s death made this clear. There is never an end to the number of tasks that need to be done, but people don’t live forever.

When Evelyn was alive, I worked constantly to pay the bills, aiming to relax when we had several months of money saved up. I should have done fewer things and spent more time with her because now she is gone and I can’t get her back. I thought we had forty more years. I should have set more time aside to be with Evelyn. Yet paying the bills was a reality that had to be faced, and working a second job helped keep us afloat. And who dies in her 40s?

Did you notice the “shoulds”? They pop up a lot in grief, all the coulds-have and should-have-beens. We have to let go of them, and it isn’t easy.

We can’t undo regrets. There are no do-overs with death.

Yet they can help us recognize the behaviors and habits that have kept us from doing what we intended to do.

After Ev’s death, I deliberately tried to change my introverted habits by lingering in conversations with people at work, instead of rushing off and finding solace in another task, and I felt relationships deepen.

I probably learned my work ethic from my parents, and maybe it’s a Midwestern characteristic. My grandparents grew up on farms that their parents had cut into the tough sod prairie of Wisconsin, and there was hard work to be done from sunrise to sunset. But after Sunday dinners, I imagine them taking the afternoon off to sit on the porch with friends and talk about the week, putting the recent events and people into context. They aligned their lives with their values and remembered why they worked so hard.

To keep me dealing with grief in the early months, every few days I forced myself to find a friend willing to let me come over and share. It's ironic that my path of recovery involved talking, because I hadn’t been a great conversationalist in the past. I would say what needed to be said and go back to work. This didn’t help with grief because I couldn’t work through the surging emotions by stuffing them in a drawer.

Because of the generosity of friends with their time, patiently listening to my meandering up and down the hallways of emotions, peering into each room, trying to identify which emotion I was feeling, I became comfortable sharing who I was. I was worried that my outpouring of despair, anger, and a host of other negative emotions would drive them away. But my friends kept inviting me back. As I shared, we figured out where I was in grief’s landscape, and they helped clarify what was muddled in my mind.

Talking with people, and continuing to talk to anyone who will listen, has saved me because it kept me dealing with grief instead of ignoring it. Friends shared stories about Evelyn that I never knew. Of course, then my grief also deepened because I realized even more how much her death took away someone wonderful.

It is said that life is a river that is always changing and moving. So is grief. It carries us from death back to life.

Talking with others is the water of grief.


  1. The rhythm of your writing is musical, eloquent, and deep. I understand the tendency to set yourself apart, and it takes courage to move from that sometimes lonely place. When we had our beloveds with us, we didn't have to stretch so much. Thank you for your words. x

    1. A lonely, and safe, place. But also ultimately boring, because longing rises within us to experience the unexpected again, the surprise, the wonder of other people. We long for the rhythm and music of life. Thank you, Tricia Ellen.