Have you ever bumped into someone who has recently gone through a dreadful time in their life, and you thought, “Wow, they look like they are doing good?” You know–because they were smiling, maybe joked, and had small talk about the weather, those friends you have in common, or how busy life is again? Do you ever stop to think it might just be a charade, the most recent masquerade they are putting on, just to get through the day? Most don’t, but I am here to tell you, being an actress through grief is hard. Really hard.
I am not sure what I thought grief itself would look like. I guess I thought maybe I wouldn’t get out of bed for days, not brush my hair or teeth, and probably let my house look like a tornado went through it. But then my reality of grief slapped me hard right in the face, reminding me I still had a fourteen month old son to take care of, live for, and that his other parent wasn’t coming back to help with those things. That meant days in bed was out; hair had to be brushed because I had a job to report to, oh and the house that should have been a mess–no one told me what to do on those sleepless nights, that turned into days, so that one was out too.
In retrospect, I am grateful for how I grieved, even though it was, and is, hard as hell. More importantly, however, grief is really ugly, no matter how you handle it. And no one wants to talk about it. Until now. Because it is real, and it is raw, and it is so very ugly and painful. See if you can relate.
- You know it is coming, but it isn’t what you expected. I knew grief was going to come. I knew it was going to be the hardest thing I would ever go through. I knew I would cry, without end. But no one told me I wouldn’t sleep for days; no one told me there were nightmares on nights you did sleep, leaving you gasping for air and drenched in sweat. No one told me everyone else would go back to their lives, and eventually stop calling and texting to check on me. No one told me I would feel abandoned, lost and forgotten about.
- Insomnia. I had heard of people saying they didn’t sleep, but you know what they leave out? They leave out the part that when you don’t sleep, you become paranoid. Every sound outside, every time your house creaks or pops, every time you hear the wind blow, you are certain someone is at your house, hiding in the shadows, and somehow is there to take all you have left of your loved one’s belongings. On top of that, no one tells you that the insomnia makes you feel crazy, that you cannot focus, and that you are even more emotional without any sleep. No one told me you could survive for weeks without closing your eyelids. And that was scary.
- Nightmares. Again, this is one that someone DID tell me was normal–or at least normal for them. People have shared they too had nightmares badly. But, like most things, until you experience them yourself, they are unimaginable in strength and mind consumption. After Joe died, if I was able to close my eyes, I would always be right at dozing off stages when a nightmare would rattle my core. These terrors were always sure to keep me awake again for nights that turned into days. They were always the same. People, usually men–those in which you could tell had worked outside, had weathered skin, came to my house and would take things. All the “things” they took were Joe’s. And I remember being in a panic, trying to make them stop, because that was all of Joe I had left. Yet they were taking more of him away from me. And the gasps for air would ensue, as I would wake up, pace the house, and then hear a noise outside. I was always certain those noises were my nightmares coming true.
- Drinking to dull the pain. This one is never easy to talk about–it has a social taboo and usually those of us refrain from talking about it. Of course in the moment, I never saw myself as drinking much at all. In retrospect, however, I realize there was more wine being drank, to dull something. Maybe to dull the pain, maybe to help me sleep. But the grief kept engulfing me, I was exhausted, and yet I didn’t get to just grieve. I was needed as a mom, as a colleague. And I just didn’t want to have to “be” anything. Life required me to do so though, and I drank wine more nights out of the week, than not. It was apart of my grief, and I must acknowledge it, though I am not proud of it.
- Constructive grief. There were many sleepless nights that turned into days.Too many in fact. And there still are. I realize that the sleepless nights start happening, and can’t figure out why. Then I remember an anniversary, birthday, or monumental thing that is happening, and my subconscious takes over my ability to allow my brain to shut off and sleep. Again, in retrospect, I am grateful for the many ways I had to constructively put my ill-fortune grief into positive means. I promised my husband I would finish my master’s degree just two months before he passed. That’s when I began my master’s program. All the homework, over 200+ hours of internship, and rigorous requirements allowed me to have the time to complete this. Not in an ideal way, but I was awake, nonetheless. And I finished, graduated with that degree. In addition, I don’t think my house had ever been so clean. I swept, mopped, dusted, and did laundry more than it ever needed to be done. But it saved me.
- Duality. I could write a book on this term. This is the part of grief that doesn’t let me get away from it. I am certain it will burden my soul until the day I take my last breath. Duality is the moments you heart starts to feel happy, proud, anxious, excited again, but then it is overcome with sorrow because your loved one isn’t there. My son is the person who brings duality out so much. I often feel like my heart could explode because I am so proud of him; and in that very moment, as my smile is as big as it could possibly be, tears stream down my face. I try to swallow that lump over and over and over again in my throat. I know his Daddy would be so proud to be watching him do whatever enchanting thing he is doing in that moment. And I am stuck internally begging God to send me a sign his Daddy is still right there with us, in that very moment.
- Grief sucks. It is freaking ugly, nasty, unexpected, and comes and goes whenever it chooses to. I hate it. But someone once told me, “In order for it to hurt less, you would have had to love each other less.” And in that moment, in those moments I cannot breathe because the pain hurts so bad, I realize–I would NEVER change how much Joe loved me, and I loved him, in order for this to hurt worse. Grief sucks, because love is so powerful!