Halloween is the night of ghosts and goblins. Luckily, many of these night creatures are cute kids dressed in retail costumes in search of free candy. The worst of tonight is the inevitable candy coma and tummy ache. For some of us though, Halloween isn’t the only time we deal with demons.
For those of us who have loved and lost, it is hard shedding those haunting feelings–it is easy to let fear, shame, and guilt consume our lives. I know those feelings well; I had my own set of goblins following me around. The should-haves, the what-ifs, and fear of moving forward alone cloud our heads every day.
Many chapters in our lives end neatly with a nice segue into the next. When we graduate its sad because we are closing a chapter, however, they give out those nice diplomas that allow us to move on to jobs and colleges. When we leave home to live life on our own, it’s sad leaving our soft place to fall. We move on with joy because we know we can create our own comfort space. Even when we crave change and can’t wait to pass our tests and move on, changing and growing is never easy.
Chapters that end abruptly or against our will are not as easy to transition through. They leave us with “stuff” to deal with. And this, well, this will probably be the toughest transition yet. It may or may not feel like you can make it through.
I promise, you can make it–I also promise, you have to try or you won’t.
The subject of my husband’s death, even 12 years later, comes up more than you might think. There are always people we meet who wonder about something they see or hear and I find myself explaining why it is the way it is. I don’t mind. I’m sure they often are sorry they asked, but by then, it’s too late. I don’t mind because every moment is a teachable moment and I always want people to a) not drink and drink because it does kill b) know histories run deep and c) know suffering a life of a victim is a choice. Often, especially women, will say, “I don’t know how you did it. You are so strong.” I know what they mean. When I see someone suffering, I often wonder the same thing because it is so hard to fathom how difficult it is to weather a storm that big.
My answer is always the same: I did it because I didn’t have a choice. That’s how it felt to me–no one asked me if I was ready or if I had a plan–I just had to do it. The whole truth is, there is always a choice. Every day when I am out in the world I see the choices people make. Some choose a path similar to mine and all too many chose a path of suffering.
Those demons and ghouls stifle our thinking and trap us in a place we do not belong. Working through our “stuff” is not easy or pretty. It hurts, it is ugly, and it requires a lot of work. It’s time to cast the demons out and get your mind healthy.
Guilt is a terrible thing to carry. It’s heavy and cumbersome. When you carry it, it leaves little room or energy for anything else. When Randy died, we were happy. Happy as people, happy as a couple, and happy in our role as parents–that wasn’t always the case. The short version is we found each other young and had a lot of growing pains. Many of those pains went unnoticed by him and I felt alone, which led to a lot of problems. We were barely a couple for about a year and a half of our 8 year relationship–by my hand. We worked it out because of his tenacity and willingness to change. That relationship developed into a phenomenal marriage–not just on the surface, but through and through.
When he died, the guilt consumed me, literally. How could I have possibly wasted that much time–time I will never get back. There would be no more memories to make, it is done. I just felt terrible. It took me about a year to figure out that if we had not been through those rough years we never would have found each other in the way we did. Fortunately, we died after we had truly found each other and we both were happy. It felt good to let myself be joyous in the fact that we were living the truly happy life we had dreamed.
Fear paralyzed me from the beginning of this ordeal. I didn’t know how to be alone with kids. I went from my parents house to his house, I never lived alone. Now I was alone and responsible for little humans. Terrifying.
I used to tease people. I would say I was a single mom because he worked so much–or a hunting widow because if he wasn’t working, he was hunting something. When he died, so much was lost–my security was one. Going to the store alone at night sent me into a panic and sleeping in the house alone amplified every single sound, inside and out. The fact is, he he was alive, he always came home. He was there to fix things, protect us, listen to me, and build me back up when I needed it. All of it, gone.
Every day, sometimes in the beginning it was every hour, I took a deep breath and did something that was hard for me to do. I had all of the day-to-day tasks to complete: homework, grocery store, supper, church, dance class, etc. Then, I had the big tasks that to complete: move our stuff back home (it was all in a new house waiting on us to move in on Monday), change my bank accounts, create a will and testament, start Social Security for the kids, etc. None of the firsts were easy, in fact, I often had panic attacks. I didn’t let it stop me–I couldn’t let it stop me. Breathe in, breathe out.
As the days passed, the daily tasks got easier and the fear lessened. I learned, how ever gradual, to stand on my own two feet again. I began to realize that I could do this, I was strong enough to do this. I could make it through.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Pressure to wear a smile so others feel okay about how we feel–wouldn’t want anyone to lose sleep over our pain. Pressure to be sad, but not too sad because people might talk. Pressure to heal, but not too fast because people might think you didn’t love him like you should. Pressure to be the mother and father for your kids. Pressure to be the widow you think you should be is second only to the pressure to be the wife and mother people think you should be. If we don’t reach our expectations, we feel guilt and we fear the response of the masses.
Fear and guilt feed each other until they merge into one big monster we call shame. You must tame the guilt and work through the fear. You have nothing to be ashamed of. No one is watching you in the way you feel–if they are, they should feel the shame, not you.
The bottom line is, this is your journey in your time. You have to take some time to just worry about getting through this. Even if you have small children, they will not get through this in one piece if you can’t. It’s time to push the monsters out the door and start truly healing. I always, always suggest talking to a counselor. I know it sounds strange, and will feel strange at first, but it really helps keep the demons in check until you can push your way through.
I don’t want you to suffer through life, I want you to keep moving and growing. I want you to make the choice of a happy life instead of victim. From early stages of grief through later stages, it’s a battle–a battle worth working for and winning. I know you can do it. Hang in there, even if it’s only by the nail on your pinky finger. You will climb your way out before you know it.