The Reality of Grief

January 3, 2020

Editor's NoteThis is part of Nancy's Caregiving series. Please see other posts in this series.

When at last Brett died, I expected peace, not chaos all over again. I’d buried him prematurely in my dreams throughout his illness, bracing myself, I suppose, for the inevitable. Now that he was truly gone though, I was unprepared for the tidal wave of grief within me. The first few months after Brett died were a blur. 

Beyond normal exhaustion, widow’s fatigue felt like an acute numbness and distortion of life. Nothing was as it was before. Our black leather couch, once a haven of comfort for the four of us, didn't even feel welcoming. The dishes were foreign objects in my hands and the neighbors, too, seemed like strangers. Home wasn’t home without Brett—and his absence was felt everywhere.

Some days I begged my mother to take Rebecca and Casey. I didn’t want her—or anyone—to take the twins permanently; it’s only that I felt too numb and lifeless to parent. We were fortunate to have a few hours of babysitting help during the weekdays, allowing me precious hours to myself. I felt guilty spending my time in bed when I should have been resuming my career or meeting friends or getting exercise. It’s just that the calm cocoon of my comforter was the one place I felt secure and tethered. Beneath the warm folds of the comforter, I didn’t need to put on a fighting face; I could just be still.

Well-meaning friends and family would say to me, “He’s finally at peace. And now you can be at peace, too.”

After a few months, everyone returned to the busyness of their own lives. They wanted me to hurt less. They cared a lot. They wanted me to be happier. But they didn't understand that you can’t expect to be happy and whole within a matter of weeks after living through seven long years of caregiving and illness.

It struck me that my whole identity had been wrapped up in Brett’s cancer. I needed time to detangle myself from the clutch of cancer and figure out how to move forward without him.

Would I ever be happy again?  was the question that sat like lead at the back of my throat.  And…would my children ever recover from the trauma of losing their dad?

Answers to these questions and others about “what now” and “what next” were tinged with gray. Some days I possessed clarity, other days the future felt as strange as a foreign language. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, there is only the way that feels truest to the person who is mourning in the moment.

Suggested Resources:


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