Grief Lessons You Are Never Taught: The Prelude & Aftermath of Special Occasions

Lee Hayword

Few things in life are more personal than grief. The only one-size-fits-all premise is that everyone encounters, digests, and processes it uniquely. Since the progression of that process is in a perpetual flux, I find myself commonly exhibiting three different modes of grief. (Although I am sure there are others lurking.) The personalities in the trio take their turns coming and going, sometimes intertwining with one another and at other intervals completely overshadowing a counterpart. They are predictable in their unpredictability. My current triad includes:

  • The Neon Sign: This is time I want everyone to take notice of my widowhood. I yearn to have my grief heralded by the town crier with exclamations of “Sympathy for the suffering!” and “Alms for the widow!”
  • The Grace Kelly: Like a favorite pair of classically-styled earrings, my grief during these moments is subtle and demure, never ostentatious. It’s the pièce de résistance that you can’t quite put your finger on, but you know it’s there.
  • The Influenza: This is the ailment you try to ignore – attempt to maintain the stiff upper lip. The problem is, the more you try to stifle this type of grief, the harder it is to breathe and the increasingly nauseous you become.

All these types are prowling about, waiting to crash the party, when you are about to confront a significant occasion. Birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries will forever be altered once you have lost the person you primarily celebrated them with. My struggle dealing with the date of my 25th wedding anniversary was recently discussed in a post on Medium and subsequently featured in the Huffington Post.

What I didn’t disclose, and what nobody prepares you for, is the before and after of such monumental events. The prelude and the aftermath are the most grueling of days – and the ones when you feel the most isolated.  

The days, often weeks, before are a gradual crescendo. You become increasingly anxious, making sleep problematic. You’re apprehensive about facing the day. You fret about whether or not you should even get dressed or answer the phone. If it’s an event that you have to attend – want to attend – such as a child’s graduation, you are fearful that you might collapse into a puddle of tears at an inopportune moment.

When the date arrives, it is rarely as troubling or as uplifting as forecasted. You feel guilty and grateful simultaneously. The sorrow is a deep, throbbing ache. The loss is palatable. Yet, the compassionate comments of friends and family are consoling. The cards, flowers, and other reminders of their affection boost your disposition and fortify your resolve to make it through the day. Soon, you experience a delirium of grief that is both euphoric and melancholy.

But, the day after can be the cruelest for the uninitiated. Calls, emails, or presents don’t materialize to celebrate, soothe, or mourn this day. Beguiled with sentiment just 24 hours earlier, you feel forgotten – bereft of comfort and understanding. Like a burn victim, you need to debride the dead tissue: expose the uncontaminated and living flesh existing underneath the defunct scabs of yesterday. Most of the time, this is a solitary and nerve-wracking assignment. No one else recognizes the necessity.

For those who are grieving, give yourself the time you need to contend with a celebratory challenge. Allot at least 72 hours to endure and not be your customary, post-loss self. If you need more – take it! Don’t berate yourself if you can’t “get over it” in an arbitrary “timely” manner. Sorrow’s schedule is subjective. To the friends and family members of such individuals, please be wary; be conscious of your loved one’s struggles.  Grief never leaves. It is never concluded. It simply evolves.

Photo credit: Alone by Lee Hayword

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7 thoughts on “Grief Lessons You Are Never Taught: The Prelude & Aftermath of Special Occasions

  1. Lisa, this is so eloquent — I think you need to write the manual for widows. There are so many women, so many people, in this situation who can’t articulate what you can and I think you could really, really contribute something on a much larger scale. I’m so glad to know you! ❤ And congrats again on Huff Po!

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  2. I do understand what you are talking about. I lost my companion of 20 years together. She also died of cancer 3 years ago. I am now ready to face the world and see what unfolds. (((hugs))) ❤

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  3. Dearest Lisa,
    I can’t put into words how much I appreciate your writing, regarding the loss of your other half. My husband of 37 years died suddenly just 5 months ago. When I found your columns, I didn’t feel so totally and utterly alone anymore. Since we chose not to have children and my family is on the other side of the continent; I can go for days without saying a word. You have expressed emotions that I have felt, but had not yet recognized or been able to express. Your words regarding obscure references and inside jokes particularly touched my heart.
    Thank you so much. I’ll close here as my keyboard may short out if the tears continue to flow like they are right now.
    Linda

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    • Dear Linda,
      I am so sorry for you loss! Losing a spouse suddenly can leave you feel less than whole for quite a while. The deafening silence is one of those things I felt no one warned us about.,
      I’m honored that my words have been a comfort to you! You’re comments have helped me feel less alone, as well. Thank you for that! I feel like we are members of an exclusive club that no one else wants to join. 😉
      Take care! With much love,
      ❤ Lisa

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