Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Delayed Grief

My grief journey has the unfortunate addition of what I've chosen to call "delayed grief." After my husband died, a number of difficult events followed in close succession that required my full attention and I pretty much shelved the grieving I needed to do. Not because I wanted to but because I had to.

That first year following his death remains a blur to me. It was like living through the motions of life - just getting by - living on autopilot. I remember being so relieved that the first year was over. But what I discovered was that the second year was far worse because the full impact of what I had really lost and how life had changed was recognized. In those first weeks and months following the death we got lots of meals and food. Sometimes five dinners a day. But no one was hungry or wanted to eat much and all that food got thrown out. During the second year I really wished that food was around. We were hungry again and I had started to really grieve - it would have been so helpful to have experienced the well wishes of others during that phase when it could have been really used and been fully appreciated!

Just a few months after the year anniversary of my husband's death, my youngest son collapsed in a movie theater and we were given the diagnosis of Long QT Syndrome, which is a potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. It was recommended that I have a pace maker put into my son just days after his collapse. My son had actually been told by the pediatric cardiologist that he could die! Smart move, Doc! My son was terrified and I was still a grieving widow now being told I might lose my youngest. I trusted my instincts and decided to get a second opinion and we ended up working with Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago for seven months of extensive diagnostic and genetic testing.

During that time I didn't let my youngest out of my sight and even had him sleep with me. We made weekly trips to two hospitals and also consulted the Mayo Clinic. He was also hospitalized. Lets just say that all of my energies were focused on comforting my child, parenting the other son and trying to cope with another disaster. The hardest part of this experience was not having had the support of a spouse. I was already so depleted from the three years of caring for my husband through his illness. But strangely, we were all so used to being at hospitals all the time, it was also a kind of comforting/familiar situation as well! I mean I was used to dealing with doctors and spending lots of time at hospitals so it was almost a continuation of the life we'd been living with my husband.

The other aspect of my son's experience was that in making the complicated and scary medical decisions I had to make for my son, I felt pretty confident that I'd known my husband intimately enough to make the decisions he would have wanted and approved of as well. In a way, it was like I had my husband with me in spirit becasue with every decision I made, I always asked myself if it would have been okay with my husband. Anyway, my son was eventually cleared of the diagnosis although he has Vasal Vagal which is fainting at the sight of blood and the reason he had collapsed (while watching a movie scene with blood in it). But as soon as our lives had gotten back to a little normalcy, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and both of my parent's health took a turn for the worse.

I began to help care for them and as the year went on, the caretaking duties increased. But again, I was interacting with doctors and going to hospitals and it all felt strangely familar. The only bad part of all this was that all the backlogged grief was still there and I was stretched too thin - caring for kids as an only parent and then caring for my folks. Need I mention that I was not taking care of myself? This is not a good choice to make, I have learned!

It was during this time that I started to date my second husband, we had a whirlwind romance and married after seven months. Most of our time together was spent going to hospitals to visit my parents, or the assisted living facilities they lived in when they weren't in the hospital. And of course during this entire period since my husband's death I had not spent much time orgainizing my affairs or the estate, etc. My house was also sorely unattended to. My new husband and I had made the agreement that we would live apart for the first year of our marriage to give me time to get the house taken care of, put on the market to sell, etc.

But, life had other plans and my parent's continued to need help and I had difficulty taking care of everything on my own. By the time nine months had passed, my mom was in the hospital dying of cancer and my father hospitalized at another for his health conditions! The dominos kept falling! A tornado struck our town a week after my mom's death and we suffered severe damage to my propery - then there was the draining task of clearing/cleaning out my parent's home... Fast forward, dealing with a husband who'd filed for divorce and still having to face the grief I'd put aside. But now that grief included feelings concerning my son's medical diagnosis, my mom's death, my dad's illnesses and near death, sibling crap and a whole lot of other stuff mixed in to make the stew even more spicy!

In writing this blog I find myself really focusing on the grief surrounding my husband's death and I suppose it is because I finally have an opportunity to work on that. I do wish that my life had allowed me to do my grief work in a timely manner - 4 or 5 years ago instead of now. And it is really crappy and unfair that I've had to deal with other hardships besides widowhood - really, that is a hard enough adjustment on its own! But I am very grateful for this vehicle in which to process and express myself. It is a little wierd because I feel like these are all new and raw emotions but that simultaneously I have the perspective of time having passed!

Today I am grateful:

1. For the hope and clean slate a new day brings.
2. For being able to experience a new day.
3. For everything I have accomplished during the past five years (and the heck to everything I wasn't able to do! Look at all that I lived through!).
4. To be finally given a chance to be able to concentrate on my grief work.
5. For some of the peace and perspective I am gaining.

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