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. To follow, please leave your email address.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Turning Away



When loved ones die, we eventually have to turn away from them if we are going to move on with our lives. It’s not one big turning we do, but hundreds of small movements, and some are made for us.

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I turned away from Evelyn when I took that first breath in the ICU and she did not.

I turned away when I left her room the last time, and left my hope for a miracle on the floor.

I turned away when I fell asleep in my chair at home, unable to stay awake, even as I listened for a phone call to tell me it was all a mistake, the diagnosis was wrong, and she, unexpectedly, woke up.

I turned away when I eventually began to eat again, thus saying that I would not be dying with her.

I turned away when I ended my week’s vigil and returned to work.

I turned away after the memorial service, feeling that with the ritual of the dead, she was officially gone.
I turned away when I stopped praying after 49 days for her safe passage to her new place, feeling there was nothing more I could do.

I turned away when I began to think of where I would go from here, because it acknowledged that my life was going to be different than what I had with her.

I turned away from Evelyn when my grief became more about my sorrow and less about her life.

I turned away from life because of death.

I turned hard into the darkness because of grief.

But I do not turn away from grief. I walk with it through the Valley of the Shadows to the other side of the mountains to find what is left.

By the time I make the conscious decision to turn away and let her go, I have already, unknowingly, turned away a thousand times. Yet this decision is the hardest one. It breaks my heart, and it turns me back towards grief. But this turning also takes me deeper into love and opens me up.

8 comments:

  1. This post helped me explain to myself where I am. I know I need to make the conscious decision to let him go(until we meet again because most of me believes we will). I can't go on where I am, it's too hard to be stuck in a life that he doesn't come home to every night. But I can't let him go, even though many of my actions might make it appear as though I am. Thank you for putting it into words.

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    1. Dear JSP, there are so many emotional levels involved in "letting go" and moving on. There are the survival things we do, like eating, sleeping, and going to work that say we have decided we will continue to live. There are the things that return to us unbidden, like enjoying the warmth of the sun and finding that food that tastes good again. They say that we are still able to enjoy the pleasures of life. There are also the things we do that acknowledge our loved ones are not coming back and we are going to adjust, like getting rid of their possessions, and for me, taking off my wedding ring. That happened much later than I anticipated, as did a conscious decision to let Evelyn go, which I did high up in the mountains of Yosemite by a river. I let her flow on to her new home while I started down an unknown trail to my own.

      I have not mentioned when in grief I did these things, because the time for such differs with each person. But here’s the thing. I felt that when I let go of Evelyn, what I was letting go of was how our life together had been, which was everything at that point. And what surprised me is that she has returned to my life in a new way. I feel her near now and then, a sense of her warm presence and love. I don’t know yet if she is offering guidance, but I’m listening just in case. Even though she is physically gone, our relationship continues.

      When I let her go, I began to say “yes” to life again.

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    2. JSP,
      Please get yourself a copy of Widow to Widow by Genevieve Davis Ginsburg. It helped me a great deal; such a great book. I'm so sorry for your loss. Don't rush yourself. Shock will deepen into six months, Mark's nine months is still such a short time. We're allowed to look forward. Turning to look ahead does not mean we forget.

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    3. Good words, Tabby. Thank you! Turning to look ahead does not mean we forget. And when I consciously let Evelyn go came much later.

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  2. Mark, I love this, and your writing is beautiful. It does feel like a turning away, to me, sometimes, in this, my early grief. I felt this when I gave away his things and turned his computer room into a guest room. Sometimes I feel it when I find myself enjoying something, a slight lifting of that deep, raw grief that has been so ever-present the last seven months. We have made a date to scatter his ashes, and I felt a sickness in my stomach when the day was solidified--the thought of yet another stage of letting him go. This stuff is so hard. But I know that he would want me to live. And that is what I am going to try to do. Thank you so much for your words. They reach a deep place in me, always.

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    1. Thank you, Tricia. It is hard. In the months after they die, it seems that everything we do, and anything we do, is turning away from them. Even if they have told us directly that they want us to go on and be happy again, we still find it hard to let ourselves do this. I couldn't do it until I received a sign. One morning at dawn a bird started chirping at my window telling me to wake up. No bird had ever chirped at that window before. And in my head I heard Ev's voice saying, "I appreciate your devotion and mourning, Markie, but 500 days is long enough. Get on with life!" And I held a little ceremony of separation later that day, but it still took more time before I took the risk of letting all of her go, with the hope that what I loved most about her would return.

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  3. Thank you, Mark. You are on a wonderful roll with your writing. I felt that turning away before Vic's death. He was going on across the abyss and something within me backed up. I didn't leave or anything like that, but knew he was going and I could go no longer go with him. I felt that surge many times before and heard the voice of survival--and I felt guilt about it but also knew enough to understood it was just another way of seeing the truth. We want to live. And like you, I do not turn away from grief, but allowed it in--and at the same time got on with life quite soon. It's possible to be with grief and be with life and love at the same time.

    My dog Willow tore a cruciate ligament last week and had surgery last night. The bill is steep and I wonder where I'll find time to be dog therapist, but I hear Vic's voice in my head/heart laughing the way he did and saying one of the things he loved to say: "If it's a problem that can be fixed with money and time, then it's no problem at all." I'd rather have his body and his warm eyes, but I'm glad to still have his wisdom and wit.

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    1. Wisdom from you, Elaine. It's not a turning away, but allowing grief in, and allowing life back in. All exists together in a shifting balance. I'm sorry to hear about Willow, but happy that Vic put in a few of his own wise words.

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