A few days ago, Patton Oswalt posted a letter to grief on his facebook page. Those of us who have experienced the sudden (or almost sudden) loss of a spouse who read through his letter all nodded our heads with knowing and agreement. Many people have written to offer words of advice and encouragement. Yet, I hesitate. I don't have time to compile my own thoughts on this topic. Work is crazy busy right now and I leave for a conference in Boston at five AM tomorrow. I am tired of compiling my own thoughts on this topic. I write about grief too often and when I do, people start asking me about my mental health. Writing about grief is therapeutic as long as you're not letting the whole world wide web read it. Some of the time.
The real reason I haven't thrown my words in for Mr Oswalt is that I am slightly annoyed that I have some words of wisdom or advice, even if unsolicited. Grief is not something anyone wants to be knowledgable about. It is not something you put on your resume. It's not something anyone wants to read on your dating profile on Match. It is knowledge that makes other people uncomfortable. Except, grief is something I know and I'm sitting over here biting my tongue trying not to add my two cents. For one thing, Patton Oswalt doesn't even read this blog and another thing, it puts me back into that genre of being a grief writer. Like that's my niche. I'm really good at writing about something really sad. Again...not something I would want to put on my resume. Despite all of that it looks like I am about to throw my two cents in here anyway.
Dear Patton Oswalt,
Grief is going to be with you now for probably forever. I know some people have told you that it gets better or that you will find a way to move on. Those are very nice words with well meaning intentions. I wouldn't actually say they are lies, but they are more like half truths because even when you've gotten out of the crawling stage and back into walking and being a "normal" member of society, grief is still going to be with you. It will be laying just under your skin waiting for the most ridiculous moment to fester up and out, hitting you with an intense shock of pain and loss. I'm sorry. I'd love to sugar coat it for you and tell you that this is not the case, and maybe it won't be for you, but in my experience, it happens all the time. It usually waits until you're having a really good day as a reminder that your life totally went to shit at some point. You do not move on either. This is not a bad breakup or divorce. This is not a sudden job loss. You lost the person you chose to spend the rest of your life with. You do not simply move on from that. Of course, you are going to crave human interaction at some point. Sex is great! You're going to miss that and want to find a person to do that with, but it will not be "moving on". It will just be something different from what you had.
That part about those half truths that is the truth is that you get better. You get better at handling the grief. You get better at living with the grief. You find a way to cope with always having that layer of grief hiding just under the surface. Sometimes I think of it as something almost symbiotic. Some days that symbiotic relationship with grief is going to feel like a parasite and some days you're hardly going to know it's there. It just becomes part of your life. It doesn't mean that you can no longer experience joy or happiness. It just means that those moments of joy and happiness now have become really really important. You are now part of the club whose members know that every moment matters, every day is important. Life will be a bit more bitter sweet for you and at times those bitter sweet moments will cause a great rage to ignite in your belly. Rage. Let yourself be really stupid mad for about five minutes, then take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. Learn to make friends with grief or at least get along with it, because it's going to be with you for a long time.
And as far as moving on? Well, I want you to get the notion of moving on completely out of your head. You will not move on, but you will move forward. You're life will continue. Days and weeks and years will pass. All along the way you will hold onto the knowledge that you had someone really special in your life and how lucky you are for that. As you continue to watch your child grow and maybe even find new love, Michelle will never leave you. She too just becomes part of who you are now. I'm not going to lie. It sucks. Even now, when I'm happy and have someone in my life I love, it sucks. It's always going to suck just a little bit. Remember the whole bitter sweet thing.
I wish you the best of luck in finding your way through all of it.