Riding the Grief Roller Coaster

 Elle Edwards/Unsplash

Source: Elle Edwards/Unsplash

“Not Gonna Lie.”

It applies.

My goals for Widow’s Walk include being hopeful and helpful in the face of the most difficult experience any of us is likely to face. But my other goal is to paint a clear picture of the grieving experience and pull no punches, to strip some of the mystery from the grieving process.

So NGL: I’m a mess. I’ve been feeling neither helpful nor hopeful these days.

Grief is like this: I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m not ok!

Grief is in charge

After several months of clicking along, with grief humming steadily but gently in the back of my mind, my roller coaster is suddenly in a steep plummet, the nadir of which, I’m pretty sure, will be the two-year anniversary of my husband’s death next month. Or perhaps the day before it. My experience so far with significant dates (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays) is that the anticipation can be worse than the day itself. Nevertheless, the approach can be terrifying.

I’m in a much better headspace than I was a year ago; I know that. So yay for that. I’m fully functional and even outwardly cheerful-ish when I’m out and about, which I am pretty often. But these days, I’m also struggling, and my usual strategies (support groups, yoga, nature, chocolate, talking to friends, hugging the dog) provide only a brief respite.

When grief wants to have its way with you, there’s nothing you can do about it. For whatever reason, it needs your attention, and you can’t fight it.

Crying, napping, yearning

I’m crying more than I have in a long time. I cry when I get into bed at night alone. I cry in the morning while making coffee, which used to be Tom’s job. I cry in the car, driving home to an empty house (dog notwithstanding). I cry at random times for no particular reason except because I’m sad.

I’m also tired. Grief is surprisingly exhausting. It takes a lot of energy to function as necessary while processing our strange new world and, at the same time, holding despair at bay. I go to bed too late and wake up too early and don’t always manage to sleep through the night. My eyes open at 2 or 3 a.m. and I’m awash in existential dread. Why am I here? What am I doing? What should I be doing? Although I’ve never been a napper, these days naps sometimes grab me and pin me down and I can only succumb. Sometimes I just have to lie down, even if I don’t sleep. Everything feels effortful.

I can concentrate for about 15 minutes at a time before wandering off from whatever task is at hand. I make a lot of trips to the kitchen, comfort eating my way out of my clothes. Sometimes I drift to the patio and stare into space or sit on my tree swing and stare at the trees. I mindlessly scroll social media, resenting happy couples and then feeling bad about myself for that.

I once again must keep pushing away the replay of the day Tom died, which still has a fog of unreality around it as well as the power to bring me to tears. One moment I think that this can’t possibly be true and the next I’m wondering if my life before was just a dream. That life seems like both yesterday and forever ago.

And accompanying all of this is the yearning—the deep, aching yearning to see him, touch him, hear him. I need his take on things, I need to laugh with him, I need to share memories. How can it be that I never will again?

Not gonna lie: it’s rough. I was doing OK for a while, and now I’m not.

Grief is touch and go

But in a recent online forum, grief expert David Kessler explained that processing grief requires touching it, then taking a break; touching it, then taking a break. And I found this tremendously soothing. Because where I am right now, touching the grief, is pretty damn miserable. But I was OK-ish for a while there, so I know it’s possible. I just have to believe that eventually, my roller coaster will start to climb again, and I’ll once more reach a point where I can see beyond my pain and yearning.

‘Til then, I’ll eat chocolate, hug the dog, and cry as necessary.