We’ve all heard the question a million times before: How are you? We’ve all asked the question a million times before, too. What I’ve found recently is that the way the question is asked has changed. Where in the past, people asked in a slightly upbeat voice and expected the obligatory “I’m fine” for a response, they now ask in hushed and concerned tones, in a more meaningful way. But for the most part, people are still hoping for the same response of “I’m fine” because that’s the socially acceptable answer.
Note: This post was originally shared on my “widowhood” blog, “Frances 3.0: Still in Beta”.
Of course, as a new widow, I’m given the option of varying my response. It seems that the acceptable replies to the question of how I’m doing should be along the lines of I’m fine; I’m OK; I’m surviving; I’m hanging in there; I’m taking it one day at a time, or some other quick response that says “things are less than perfect” but that still acknowledges social protocol. Whilst I’m certain there are exceptions to the rule, it seems most people don’t really want to know how I’m doing.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that people don’t want to know because they don’t care; I think that they don’t want to know because it will upset them to hear the truth of how I really feel. It may upset them to know that I have so many strong emotions. After all, who wants to be faced with the reality that grief is so very intense and that we have virtually no control over it. On the other hand, it’s easier for me to give you a one-line reply and guard my own emotions because once I start telling you how I’m really doing, it will open the flood gates and I may very well become a sobbing, hysterical cry-baby.
So, if you can’t handle the raw emotion; if you can’t bear to think about someone else’s emotional rollercoaster, stop reading now. If you think you can handle it, the following is a small sampling of how I feel most days. You can guarantee that I’m feeling at least a few of these emotions on most days; sadly there are still days when I feel them all, but those days are rare at this point.
- I am numb. I am in shock. I am emotionally exhausted.
- I can’t sleep at night; I want to sleep all day. I am physically exhausted.
- I am in pain; a horrible, gut-wrenching, intense, unimaginable, and indescribable pain.
- My mind is totally occupied with processing the fact that I will never see Paul again. I am trying to understand what has happened. I am attempting to make sense of it all. I am trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.
- I can’t eat some days. I can’t be bothered to cook. I can’t be bothered clean. I can barely be bothered to get dressed or brush my teeth some days.
- Everything is overwhelming. Small tasks are overwhelming. Small details are overwhelming. Opening the door to leave the house is overwhelming; coming home again to an empty house is, too.
- Nothing sticks in my mind. I forget what I was going to say. I forget what I was going to do. I forget everything except that my Paul is gone.
- I am going through intense waves of emotions like I never felt before. One minute I might be laughing, the next I may be in tears.
- Sometimes I want to talk. Sometimes I need to be alone. Sometimes I need silent company. Sometimes I need all of these things in the space of 5 minutes.
- Some days I just want to curl up in bed and do nothing. Some days I will keep myself totally occupied in an attempt to escape.
- Sometimes I am intense. Sometimes I am irrational. Sometimes I am snappy. Most days I am totally lost in myself.
- Sometimes I want to go anywhere but here, no matter where “here” is. I want to run, to flee, and to escape from my own being. But I’m too frozen with fear to move.
- Often I have no clue what I want, but it only takes a moment for me to realise what I don’t want.
- I want to wail. I want to scream. I want to cry. I want to throw something. I want to just sit.
- I have no choice how I react. This is coming from deep inside me and intelligence and self-control have no effect. I cannot rely on my rational mind most days.
- Sometimes it so hard for me to respond to phone calls or letters or emails, but I truly appreciate that you are doing it, so please don’t stop just because I don’t respond. Sometimes I must respond immediately to emails because it’s the nearest I have to a real conversation.
- I will not be fully functional at work for a long time. In fact, I may never work with the same intensity again as my perspectives of what is important and what isn’t has been changed permanently.
- I still want to laugh. I need to laugh. I may suddenly go quiet mid-laugh when hit by a sudden reminder, but I desperately need to continue to laugh.
- I am lonely, even when I’m not alone.
- I want to be held; I want a real, physical shoulder to cry on. I want to feel loved, and needed, and wanted. But I don’t want a physical relationship.
- I want to cry and be hysterical without hearing someone say it’s going to be OK.
- I want to cry and be hysterical – with someone to say everything is going to be OK.
- I can’t think about the past because it makes me miss the future; I don’t like thinking about the present because it makes me realise what I’ve lost; I don’t like to think about the future because I’m afraid I’ll spend it alone.
- I think about the present and how lovely the weather is, and I even notice a bit of a spring in my step. And then I feel guilty for betraying Paul.
- I think about the future and hope that I can be happy again, that I can be a wife again one day. And then I feel guilty for betraying Paul.
- I think that I am losing my mind most days, and am easily confused. I am paranoid and constantly afraid that something bad is going to happen to me or to someone I love.
- I have nightmares about the night Paul died. Sometimes those nightmares come while I’m wide awake.
- I blame myself for Paul’s death, even though I know there was nothing anyone could have done to save him.
- I try to forget about my new reality each day, to think about anything other than Paul, just so that I can get through the day. And then I feel guilty.
- I try to remember that Paul wants me to be happy and to live my life. But it makes me sad to do that without him.
- I love Paul with all of my heart and will love him for the rest of my life.
And that, in a nutshell, is how I’m doing. I’m certain that one day there will be more happy emotions on my list and that eventually, I will have a better grip on the sad emotions, but for now, I just have to take my emotions as they come.