I am going to be paying this price for the rest of my life. I guess I may as well get on with it.
~My first clear thought the morning of May 27, 2012
The first few weeks were all about survival. The tidal pulls of grief and anger, rage and pain, were too much to fight through; my only goal was to exist long enough for the pulls to weaken. I didn’t even need a place to stand; that was asking too much. I huddled and clung and gritted my teeth, and in the end, it was enough.
I felt, at that time, that my life had no point. Our goals had been joint – without him, I felt directionless. I didn’t have any faith or hope that the situation would change, but at the time, I didn’t care. Goals and directions and purposes in life were for other people; I was in full-blown survival mode, and I didn’t give a good goddamn about tomorrow when getting through today was not a guarantee.
For better or worse, survival mode was something I was already disturbingly good at. Through my life, I developed the ability to assess a situation and ruthlessly discard any extraneous emotion or consideration in favor of getting through the matter at hand. I would panic and regret later, provided there was a later. The price for this ability, predictably, is very high. Spend enough time in survival mode, and feeling anything at all would be something I had to relearn. In this case, I did what I had to: I gave myself up to it. I did not try to plan a future, to map any sort of course through the grieving process. I didn’t try to run from it, put it off, deny it. I let it swallow me whole, trusting that somehow, there would be enough of me left to be worth saving, someday. He always thought I was brave. How could I let him down by becoming a coward now?
People noticed. I looked exactly like what I was: haunted. No one could see me and not realize something was wrong – horribly, horribly wrong. I hated looking at myself in the mirror, seeing the tortured blankness in my eyes. My normal method of suppression and pretending everything was fine was not going to fly this time, so I didn’t even try. More importantly, he deserved better than that. He deserved to be mourned openly and honestly. I wasn’t ashamed to love him, and I would not be ashamed to mourn him. He mattered, no matter how much he thought he didn’t.
So. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The five stages of grief, as set forth by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler. Often misunderstood as a series of clearly defined, discrete stages, the reality, at least for me, was closer to being tossed into an industrial clothes dryer full of rocks. On my worst days, I can be all of them inside of an hour, and the emotional toll is excrucitating. I can be a noxious welter inside: relieved he wasn’t hurting anymore; anger at anyone and everyone, the injustice of it all; convinced my life will be devoid of meaningful relationships, that I have lost my last chance at love. The what-if’s still haunt me at night. Why didn’t he do this? Do that? Why didn’t I try harder, do something differently? How did neither of us see it coming? Where was I supposed to go? What was I supposed to do now? He was the other half of my soul, and a soul bleed requires a lot more than a bandaid.
I avoided my bed as much as possible; the memories of the times we had spent together there were tearing me apart. We had given each other so much, opened ourselves to an intimacy and passion neither of us had imagined existed. That place had been hallowed ground, and now it was as haunted as my eyes. I would take my nightly cocktail of Benedryl and Tylenol PM and whatever else I thought would make me sleepy, and then try to stay awake through the drowsiness, fighting it until I quite literally stumbled to bed. Some nights I pushed it too far and was unable to even take my contacts out, or I would take too much, and my skin would start to jump and crawl.
To say his loss has left a gap in my life is an understatement. Even now, I feel as if someone has blown a hole straight through me, and functioning around it feels like building a house on top of a sinkhole. This grief is vast, and deep, an ocean of loss. Normally, after a breakup, I would begin dating fairly soon; I understood there would be someone else to enjoy life with. I don’t feel that way now, and certainly didn’t in those initial weeks. The idea of dating again still turns my stomach. There is no one that can fill the void he’s left, and there is already a part of me who has becomed resigned to becoming a crazy cat lady.
What Kubler-Ross and Kessler neglected to mention is that grief doesn’t go away. I still miss everyone I’ve ever lost; this loss is no different, if orders of magnitude more traumatic. There is a part of me that belongs to him, and only him, and always will. He knew that. When he left, he took my heart with him, and left me with his, the biggest, most generous heart I’d ever known. He taught me how to love and trust without fear, that unconditional acceptance was even possible. I don’t know know that I gave him even half of what he gave me, but I gave him all I had.
More importantly, I don’t know how go on, living and loving like a whole human being. I am not whole, and don’t know if I ever will be.