“On a scale of 1-10, how honest do you want me to be?”
That used to be my attempt at a joke in response to the question, “How are you?”
I don’t use that line anymore since it immediately brings down the atmosphere. Now if I’m having a hard day I just say, “Well, I’m here.” I have forced myself to stop lying by saying, “I’m fine.” But the majority of people aren’t ready for my reality so I spare them the weight of a truthful answer through silence, evasion, vagueness, or humor.
It has been 1 year, 8 months, and 24 days since Jon died and there are still some days that the pain level is the same intensity as it was in the first weeks.
The world moves on, but for the grieving, time is fluid. We move forward because we have no choice, but our hearts are constantly slipping back and forth in time. Here in the present in one moment, but then it goes back and weeps over the lifeless body of the one we love like it was happening fresh for the first time.
Currently, I am in the middle of a 6-month time frame that is especially hard for me because of the rapid-fire succession of holidays and significant dates.
- November – Jon’s Birthday & Thanksgiving
- December – Star Wars, Nathan’s Birthday & Christmas
- January – New Years – No New Year’s Eve kiss and the beginning of yet another year Jon didn’t get to experience
- February – Valentine’s Day & Jocelyn’s Birthday
- March – Our Wedding Anniversary
- April – Jon’s Death Anniversary
Since November, every other week has brought me a day that feels like a sucker punch that you can see coming but your hands are tied so you just have to take the pummeling. Honestly, I’m just trying to survive until May when I can have a couple months of respite.
I rank my daily pain on a scale of 1-10. It’s not all grief. Some of my pain is just the stressful and overwhelming life of a single mother. In general, I live in the 3-4 range. But some days life triggers a higher number. For example, last week my daughter asked if she can see daddy when she gets older. When I told her that Daddy was in heaven with Jesus she said I want to go to heaven too! One of my greatest fears is my children dying. That conversation knocked me to a solid 8 pain level. But I didn’t have the time or space to let myself release it, so it lingered in my chest for days.
I’ve become rather skilled in the disguising of pain. I could be sitting across from you at dinner at a level 10 and you wouldn’t know it. I can smile and joke even as I hold my breath between statements and dig my fingernails into the palms of my hands to divert emotional pain into a more manageable physical pain.
I had to do that the night I went to go see Star Wars. (I’m sure some of you wondered at its addition to the list above.) Star Wars was something Jon and I both loved. I remember the first time we talked about it. It was before we started dating. We were waiting in line for the ride at Hollywood Studios. He didn’t believe I really was into Star Wars so he started asking me questions about it and was surprised and impressed with my answers. He used to joke about how that’s how he knew I was “The One”.
Star Wars was one of the things both of us loved through the years and so we were both freaking out when The Force Awakens was announced. It was one of the last movies we would go see. Afterward we spent hours debating Rey’s lineage and how she was able to hold her own against Kylo Ren. Both of us had different views and lamented that it would be two years before we would discover who was right. But he had months not years left. He never got to find out.
Star Wars is something I still love, but it now has been added to the things that cause me pain. I found a group of people to go see The Last Jedi with. Being new to Nashville I was only acquainted with a few of the people in the group. So I had to mask the level 10 pain boiling inside my chest. We went to dinner beforehand and inside my head, I was wailing but outwardly I smiled and discussed various fan theories out there and which one I was leaning towards. (Sidenote: I’m not sold on the lineage “reveal”. I think he was lying.)
I took this selfie with Chewie just before seeing the movie. No one would have guessed that when I arrived home that night in bed I cried until my throat was hoarse and my face, swollen.
I’ve learned the masquerade. It’s a necessary skill for one who carries pain in any form. I have learned to walk with my shoulders back and head held high even while inwardly I feel like I am wasting away because no matter how I feel, I still have to function. I still have to be a mother, a student a sane human being. There are very few safe and appropriate places for me to break down and feel the pain. Typically those moments are late at night when the kids are in bed or during worship at church.
It’s a strong and beautiful mask that I have crafted for myself but the mask is a burden too. When the pain I am hiding is stemming from the fact that I have no one in my life close enough to hold me when I am experiencing pain, the mask feels less like an elegant masquerade mask and more like the one the Man in the Iron Mask wore.
I don’t really know how to end this piece. I usually try to finish with some sort of uplifting note, but this is just a reflection of reality for me and many many others. I guess what I hope to accomplish with this blog post is to make people aware of the fact that there are people in your life masking pain that you have no idea exists. Be kind. Be gentle. And if someone lets their mask slip for a second, be steady and compassionate.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Thank you for sharing your journey, Erica. I myself and an unfortunate few friends that I’ve known over the years have also exoeriemced the grief of losing a partner in life. And I wish there was something I could say that would ease your pain, but of course there are no words. I wish you strength to keep moving forward and keep writing! Your blog posts are articulate, charming, touching, insightful. It is obvious that your writing helps you heal & that it is helping many others who have read your blogs. Perhaps it helps in some small measure to know that you have touched yet another soul with your words.
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Thank you for your honesty and hope. I lost my husband 3.5 months ago and am never truly ok. But I have to go on. My husband was older than your husband, and my children are grown. I admire you for your strength to push forward even know you know you have no choice other than to do that. It’s still strength either way. Thank you for helping me on this journey.
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I stumbled upon your website a few months ago and look forward to your post. I lost my husband 2 years ago and have had a hard time expressing myself. Your post most of the time is exactly how I am feeling. Thank you and keep on writing as you are helping other with their journeys too.
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Beautiful article Erica, When I read it, I see a strong woman. I think Jon is very proud of you, and he is looking after his family from heaven
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My big question for you is where were you 14 years ago when my sweet husband and the father of my two girls died very suddenly. Actually, you were probably in middle school but my point is that everything you write about has been what I went through and continue to go through as we mark different milestones that he is missing here on earth. I’m so glad that you have your children for many reasons but especially because they give you a reason to get up and keep going! They are also your proof as the years go along that John really was here with you. In closing, I want to pass on my strong belief that we are put in each other’s paths for a reason – I’m about 13 years ahead of you and I can tell you that you are going to be okay. We still miss him every single day and I’m all too aware of the many milestones he will continue to miss in the future, but we are doing it and are a pretty tight little threesome! I can tell by the comments that you are helping others who are in this same miserable category of “widow”. Lauren
Nice article Erica i would like to know in ups & down of life which aspects of life gives you
strength to face it in positve way
Such a powerful post — it echoes my journey as well. As I posted earlier this week on my blog, at 18+ months I have reached a point where most of the time my internal reality is becoming aligned with my external behavior (even-keeled, positive-thinking, humorous, active). That relieves stress and exhaustion, providing renewed energy for life. Love never ends, but my anguish has diminished. I wish the same for you.
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Reblogged this on Loss, Grief, Bereavement and Life Transitions Resource Library.