What Grief looks like

I said before that grief is my constant companion. But I’m really not sure I have ever done justice to what grief really looks like. The truth, of course, is that it looks different to everyone. But for everyone, it’s ugly. My cousin’s wife said those words to me right after Tim died, “the ugly parts of grief,” and I nearly immediately understood them in a way I never could have “before.”

I try hard to be positive most of the time.  Mostly, I think people need to think I am OK. But who is OK?  Am I a model for what a grieving widow should look like?  I work.  At the very least, I show up every day and try to do at least one thing that makes someone else’s life easier, or in some way generally moves the economy forward.  But truthfully, I show up because I am a mother.  I am a mother before I am a widow.  It’s job 1.  Exactly as Tim would want it.

But here’s the thing.  Grief is hard.  It’s hard for everyone, sometimes I get sucked into posts from the Hot Young Widows Club, or the Terrible Club.  (Reference: American Public Media Podcast “Terrible, thanks for asking” with Nora McInerny)  And then I think, ok, I don’t have it so bad… it could be worse, right?  But no. We don’t have to constantly compete on who’s bad stuff is worse. Who has it worse right now?  It doesn’t matter.  We can simply have compassion for others but still feel absolute crap about our own situation.

I actually listened to an episode of the podcast where a woman had to give birth to a baby she knew was already dead – how terrible is that?  Who should ever have to bear that?  But then she said that when the procedure was over and the medical professionals left her, her husband held her and they cried together.  And the emotion I felt then?  Overwhelming jealousy.  Here I was sitting in my car, jealous of a woman who had just gone through this absolutely terrible, unimaginable ordeal which when I had considered (any version of) during all three of my pregnancies I thought I could never survive.  And I burst into tears.  I cried so hard.  All over the steering wheel and leather seats.  Tears and snot and sobbing and all the ugly things no one wants to see.  Because that split second of – I’d rather that if I had Tim – I knew it wasn’t even true.  And yet for a second it’s what I felt.  It was absolutely my truth in that instant.  That right there – that is one of the ugly parts of grief.  Want to hear another?  Sometimes I see old men on the street and I hate them.  I hate them for being old when Tim never will be.  Sometimes I literally hate everyone in the world, even the people who love me the most, who I love the most, simply for being alive when Tim is not.

And hate is an emotion I try never to feel.  I tell my children not to say that word like its the F word.  And yet I feel it.  Towards literally everyone in the world sometimes.  Because they are not my Tim.

Many widow/widowers get comments about how strong we are. Others mean it as a compliment, certainly… they don’t know how we do it.  If  it were them, they wouldn’t get out of bed… but you know what?  We don’t want to get out of bed either.  We don’t want to be strong either.  Sometimes, it feels like an insult – like we aren’t doing grief right.  Like we must not be as in pain as they would be if it were them.  Like we didn’t love our person enough.  I had someone tell me once, a month after Tim died, “I had no idea.  If you mentioned it, I’m sorry I didn’t hear you. (Um no, I didn’t causally mention to a person I just met that my husband died last month.)  You don’t look like a person… who went through what you went through.. what you are going through.”  I smiled, nodded, said Thank you. But what I immediately thought was “am I not doing justice to Tim?  To the love we had?  To the life we had?  Because I seem ok to other people?”

I try to channel my grief into preserving beautiful memories for the kids.  From remembering Tim in big ways with a bench, a tree, who know’s what else… but also in the small ways.  At the dinner table, “Remember how daddy used to…?” But there are those ugly parts of grief that creep in too.  It’s probably the bigger part, though I mostly keep it hidden because its ugly.   I hide those ugly parts behind the facebook posts that Tim would have made.  That he did make back when we were a #partyoffive.   I no longer spend my time reading mommy blogs.  I read widows and widowers blogs.  I read posts from sad people.  Because I understand them.  I am a sad person.

I am trying hard to put together “selfies with Dad” books for each of the kids.  They are beautiful, and wonderful, but also, looking through all the photos… damn, it hurts.  Seeing how much he loved each one of them.  What he wouldn’t give to be with them here, now.  The selfies end 6 months ago.  But before that, there are so many.  The joy he had in his smile, in his eyes, whenever he was with them.  Unadulterated, unfiltered joy in his children.  I grieve that they don’t get to experience that in their dad anymore… that they won’t experience all the hurt that life will throw at them, and then come home to collapse into his big warm arms.  They don’t even know how much they are missing with that.  How good it was.  Feeling the warmth of his big arms around you was one of the most good things in the world.  His blood flows in their veins, and yet that is lost to them.

I grieve his losses. I grieve their losses.  A is so like him, they were kindred spirits in so many ways. A has the flair of anger and temper he had.  He could understand that temper better than I can, because it was his.  I grieve that she will not grow up with that understanding.  R has his goofiness, his sense of humor, his flair with sarcasm, and his comedic timing.  You can see it in the selfies they did together, in all the expressions they could make.  I grieve that she will not grow up with that  comedic appreciation and understanding.  And D… I grieve for him, but I’m not even sure I know yet what he will miss most of all.  I know this: He has the LAST selfie with dad.  The very last photos Tim ever took on his phone were of him and D.  And yet… there aren’t any that show their similarities.  He was only 9 months old. He never got a beach trip with dad, never got to spend a Father’s day together.  We don’t have photos that show their similarities, we didn’t even know what those similarities could be yet… and that is hard.  And I grieve my loss.  Every day.  Having him there each day to talk to in the present.  And I grieve the future I planned with him, that I imagined with him. That future is now lost to me forever.  And all I am left with is grief.

No one should ever have to give birth to a baby who is already dead.  A child that you’ve loved since you peed on a stick.  But you know what else?  No one should ever have to have their 37 year old husband, and baby daddy to three beautiful souls, die in their arms.  No one should have to watch the love of their life die before he fully got to live.  And that’s my truth.  It sucks.  And I am allowed to be sad about it whenever I want, and for just as long as I want.  I am allowed to do weird things.  I definitely think I creep people out sometimes.  But then I just remind myself it takes a certain strength of character to be around me.

There’s one big thing I notice.  I noticed it most the weekend of our wedding anniversary.  There were a lot of photos that weekend.  A lot where I am smiling.  Holding the kids and smiling big.   And that weekend we looked at a lot of photos of our wedding day too.  There is a key difference in the photos if you really look. In 2017, in any photo taken after May 16, 2017, the smile does not reach my eyes.  There is a part of me that died this year.  Maybe many parts.  But you can see it, if you look, in the sparkle that used to be in my eyes. I grieve the loss of all the parts of me that died too.

What does grief feel like?  There are moments when the loss hits you so hard it’s a physical pain.  This can happen literally out of nowhere.  When you least expect it.  It feels like someone has either destroyed or simply removed all your internal organs. Your stomach, your heart, lungs, esophagus, its all simply gone, and in its place is a gaping hole, like a pain so big and deep you can not breathe, how could you possibly go on in this world one more minute?  I don’t know how.  But you do.  Simply because you have to.

The only thing I ask, if you are reading this – if you got this far – is if you are grieving now, (or if not, hold on to this for when you grieve in the future): let yourself feel all the grief, whenever you can, and don’t compare.  Don’t think your grief is worse or not as bad as mine.  It’s all bad.  Life hits us hard.  And sometimes you will hear words that help, like “grief is the price you pay for love” which I heard on Anne of Green Gables on the day Tim died and has stuck with me.  And other times, no words of consolation will help and you are just so filled with anger and rage, you want everyone to stop talking.  Whatever you are feeling, just feel it.  Even when you have to feel it through changing a diaper, or giving a bath, reading a story, driving someone to something, the necessities of a life that goes on even when it feels like it shouldn’t.

“The other night dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away”
-Jimmie Davis, You are my Sunshine

Author: marybethgaige

Mother. Sister. Daughter. Widow. Friend. Worker. Lover.

3 thoughts on “What Grief looks like”

  1. I just wanted to say I made it to the end of your post because I think anyone who has felt real grief would not be able to stop reading such real and raw words. It is different for everyone of course but you capture the deep down bones of grief in this post that time never fully erases. I know it is not at all the same as what you are going through but it will be 15 years next month since my mother, brother and I held my fathers hand as he took his last breath. Him, too young to be dying, and me, too young to be losing a parent but old enough that i was expected to “be strong.” I remember being angry with the world and sad in a way no one else really could understand and even though I have found a kind of equalibrium with my own grief I still find so much meaning in your post. I do think you are strong Marybeth not because you hide your grief, although that must take enormous strength on a daily basis, but because you make time to share it so honestly. Sending you and the kids lots of love ♡

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  2. Oh MB…….was thinking of you recently and looked up your blog again (I swear I’m not stalking) and I find myself crying my eyes out again. I don’t feel justice comparing my own grief of the end of a marriage to the end of a life. But your words ring so true. The comparison. The jealousy of others’ situations. The anger. The sadness. The loneliness. I can’t tell you how many times I feel like I have failed my children. And how, 5 years later, those thoughts STILL creep in. It is unbelievably hard. Your words are beautiful because they are true. Sending love and hugs.

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