When my husband first died, I tried to explain why my grief was so hard, so deep. It was all stereotyped statements though, and everyone just nodded their heads like they understood. Yet, I knew there was no way they could. The more I have spoken in the grief community, the more I realize there is one large commonality we share: we all have a list, that we lost. We didn’t just lose our spouse, our parent, our child, our loved on. We lost an entire list that goes with that person. And maybe, just maybe, if you realize just how long that list is, others can understand why grief is so ugly, so nasty, so incredibly difficult to learn how to exist without the list of all that you used to be, and used to have, when one day you wake up and it is all gone.
I may have lost my husband, but this is the list of what I really lost that October night:
I lost my spouse. And the day he became my spouse, and even before that, I envisioned our lives together when we had kids, when our kids were teenagers, when our kids were adults, and when we became empty-nesters. I lost my future. I lost all of my future plans, vacations, Christmas card ideas. I lost my retirement plans, I lost my entire future, as I/we had envisioned it to be.
I lost my best friend. I lost the person that supported me, even when I was wrong. I lost the person that I vented, purged, unwound to at the end of the day. I lost the sounding board, advice-giver, comforter, biggest cheerleader. I lost the person that had my back, even when he didn’t agree, even when I was wrong, even when I could have been better. I lost all of that. I lost the one person who thought I was the greatest at my worst, yet pushed me to be the best at all times.
I lost ‘him.’ Just him–to encompass everything he was/does would simply be impossible. I lost my mechanic, the one who took care of the maintenance around the house, the idea-giver, dreamer, inventor. I lost the one who spent money faster than we could make it, because there was another grand-idea. I lost his compassionate, tender heart. I lost the giver, the caretaker, the one who filled my gas tank, washed my car, juggled the household chores, the one who cooked dinner. I lost my life partner at every angle. And of those angles, these are the other things I lost:
I lost my identity. I lost being his wife, being a caretaker, a prescription refiller, a doctor appointment scheduler, a recorder of all the medical records.
I lost getting to be someone’s best friend. I lost getting to create surprises, leaving notes at the coffee pot each morning. I lost getting to be the giver of my own love, compassion, and time.
I lost the person who cooked breakfast every Saturday morning.
I lost my morning coffee-maker, who delivered a fresh cup to my bathroom vanity while I got ready, with a kiss on the forehead.
I lost the person who provided for our family. The one who worked hard, to give us everyone we could possibly want or need.
I lost my Friday night date.
I lost my Saturday morning gardener.
I lost my meal-time go to chef. He knew I hated cooking.
I lost the father to my son. I lost getting to watch him be a Daddy to his son.
I lost the innocence of seeing my son know his Daddy. Now, it is only the memories and videos I intentionally share so he knows his Daddy, but not the way I wished for.
I lost getting to watch him walk his daughter down the aisle, and I lost getting to watch him with his own grandchildren.
I lost the person who sits next to me at school events, the first day of Kindergarten, the last day of their senior year.
I lost the other person in the family pictures in Hawaii, in graduation photos.
I lost the person I wanted to share each life milestone with our kids.
I lost a sense of being. I lost the memories I wanted to make. I lost getting to say, “My husband” and the following words being present or future tense.
I lost who I was, when I didn’t know who I was. I knew who I wanted to be, but eventually I had to give that up, too.
I lost knowing that my life had to look different. I lost security, comfort, feeling loved. And I lost being able to give all of those things too.
I lost the adjective “wife.” Instead, society says I am a widow.
I lost the innocence that went with the word wife, instead of widow.
I lost my existence, my day-to-day operations and routines. I lost it all, and I had to learn how to find it all again.
Don’t you see? I lost so much more than just my husband. All of us that have lost someone loses so much more. Next time you see someone who “should” be over according to your standards, or to society’s standards, please give grace. They have lost their entire existence. They are trying to learn to live in another way. They don’t get to move on. They have to learn to live moving forward, but when everything has to be re-learned, surely you can see just how hard it is to lose everything.
This Christmas and holiday season, the greatest gift you can give anyone you love that is grieving is permission. Give them permission to do whatever they need to do. If that means the miss your get together, tell them you love them, and you understand. If they choose to show up, but want to talk about their loved one. Give them permission to do so, by sitting next to them and listening. Talk about their loved one, say their name. Will they cry? Yes. Just because it makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean they don’t get to show emotion. They will either cry with you there to comfort them, or cry by themselves when they go home. Whatever it is they choose–YOU have to give them permission, not guilt.
Remember our list this Christmas isn’t full of things we want, it is things we lost. Be kind. Show love however that is for the ones grieving in your life.
Please keep going in grief. It’s so worth it.
Kristina Smith is a widow, mother, Special Education Administrator, Colorectal Cancer National Advocate, Blogger and Amazon Best-Selling Author of “What I Wasn’t Expecting, When I Was Expecting: A Grieving Widow’s Memoir”
You can purchase your personal copy of Smith’s memoir here.