I’ve had my heart broken dozens of times in my life. I’ve been through two painful divorces, said goodbye to lovers and friends when things didn’t work out, cried painful tears over those losses, and moved on with my life. My average “heartbreak recovery time” was around six weeks to three months, depending upon the gravity of the breakup, but the really bad grief of those losses never lasted more than a few weeks.
What I’ve realized since John died is that there is loss, and then there is the absolute, no-going-back, forever loss of your best friend and soul mate. Nothing I’ve ever been through before has prepared me for this loss. Knowing it was probably coming for at least eighteen months and definitely coming for the past five made not one iota of difference in the moment that John passed. I thought I was at least a little bit prepared. I was wrong.
This heartbreak is physical. I can literally feel my heart breaking. It’s not as constant as it was three weeks ago on the day I lost him, but when it hits, like a rogue wave crashing over me and pushing me under, it’s physical and emotional. A visceral experience like none I’ve ever had. There is no rhythm to this sea. I never know when I’ll be tossed about again and moments spring up throughout the day that startle me in their unexpected intensity.
Moments like opening my “favorites” tab on my phone for the first time and seeing John’s smiling face and number at the top of the list. Walking into our favorite Mexican restaurant with my kids last week and almost running out in a panic of grief at the memories. Making phone calls to close accounts and remove him from insurance policies and choking on the words, “my husband passed away last week.” Bursting into tears at the urgent care counter when the receptionist asked me who my emergency contact was.
Like an out of control toddler prone to tantrums, this grief controls my life, frustrates, and often embarrasses me. I have always been a person in control and with a plan. There is no room for either inside of what an article I read this morning calls “complicated grief” (there’s a whole website dedicated to it…http://complicatedgrief.org/). The article says that dealing with grief is like immigrating to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. I’ll do you one better. Sometimes it feels like being teleported to a different planet where I can’t even breath the air.
Someone sent me a quote via email last week from the book The Secret Life of Bees…“It is the peculiar nature of the world to go on spinning no matter what sort of heartbreak is happening.” As my mom always says, “life goes on.” And that’s the problem. While my neighbors walk their dogs and fellow shoppers push their carts around the grocery store like everything is normal, I want to scream at them for not realizing that nothing is normal.
Everything is hard and nothing is normal. Life as I knew it literally ended on Super Bowl Sunday at around 10:30 am when John drew his final breath. He was my life and I defined so much of myself and the way I showed up in the world based on our relationship. Now I have to start over amidst the pain of knowing he’s gone. I have to somehow come up with a plan for my life going forward. It’s uncharted territory and I have to find my way without the benefit of the one person I trusted to help steer me. His imprint on my life is so deep that I truly can’t imagine moving forward without the benefit of his input.
I have to learn to trust myself completely, knowing that the person I became because of the way he loved me is capable of doing that. I have to be okay with not knowing what the future holds and letting it unfold naturally as I work my way through this ocean of grief.