In Dr. Joyce Brother's book, Widowed, she recommends keeping track of progress.
- Month One: I am a total mess. I can't sleep, eat, or function at more than 25% capacity. The pain is more than I can bear and I'm having a hard time coming up with a reason to go on. Fortunately, I did not have to spend a night alone, or cook a meal for the entire first month. (See Cushioning the Blow.) Unable to talk to people or even look at notes and cards for the first two weeks. The "firsts" are incredibly difficult. Alternating between numbness, shock, denial and total despair, punctuated by bursts of irritability. Pretending Doug is away on a trip and will be coming back. After the numbness began to wear off, unable to even look at pictures of Doug. Filled with questions, fears and regrets. Totally overwhelmed by day to day demands. Feeling very sorry for myself. Talk about Doug constantly. Feel guilty that I cannot bring myself to start writing all the thank you notes I owe. Life is total crap.
- Month Two: I have started working again, part time. Started volunteering a bit again as a distraction. Have gone out to lunch with several friends. Based on the decrease in typos on my blog, my friend estimates that I might be operating at about 45% capacity. Exhausted and overwhelmed. I can almost sleep through the night. Daily crying jags, especially when I receive a card with a personal note about Doug. When people I haven't seen since it happened ask "How are you?" I usually burst into tears. I feel depressed and crushed. Feeling sorry for Doug and all that he lost. Have only been able to write a few thank you notes - it makes it feel too real. Still cannot say the "d" word or the "w" word. Talk about Doug constantly.
- Month Three: In a word? Struggling. I may be up to about 70% capacity. I don't cry all day long. I sleep, but badly. I can talk about something other than Doug and Death on occasion. Am very lonely but it is not because there are not people around - it is specific to missing Doug. My heart aches terribly. I have had no good days. The house usually looks like a bomb exploded. People say I look too thin, but I am at a healthy weight. I don't have much of an appetite though, and look 1000 years old.
- Month Four (not over yet): I am getting out more. I laugh more often, and am hysterical less often. Every once in a while, I have a good day. Yet I still feel I am drowning underneath a strong current of sadness. I'm still having a very hard time grocery shopping. It is something I always did with Doug. It reminds me aisle after aisle that he is not there, and that I am alone. I have to lug the heavy bags in by myself. I ache over the things he is missing. I can say the word "dead" and "widowed" in connection with Doug now, but still don't believe it is so. I am trying to get the house organized, so that I feel like SOMETHING in my life is not out of control. I am less fearful. I spend less time on thoughtworms. I am attending a bereavement support group. I don't understand how my friends can stand me - I have become so boring, depressing and consumed. I am no fun anymore.
- Month Five: I am just now starting to accept that Doug really is dead. But even as I write that I feel a pang. I am realizing that I need to stop wishing that he were alive and well, as it is not an option, and will only bring me continued sadness and disappointment. I need to start wishing for things that could be. I still have brief (or sometimes intense) crying jags in the morning - one morning I even woke up crying. If someone offered me the option to die at the same moment that Doug did, I would still say yes, but I have a feeling that is about to change. Despite what I believed in the beginning, I am starting to hope that someday I might be happy again. I am walking regularly, which helps. I still cannot sleep more than 4-6 hours a night (compared to 9-10 before), and thus feel exhausted at times. See Changes.
- Month Six: People say they are amazed at how far I have come. I am more like the person I used to be, but I have changed. There have been a few days without tears. I can finally sleep 6-7 hours a night. I walk 15-20 miles a day. I have lost 20 lbs. since Doug died and maintained it and feel healthy. Still Lost in Space often, forgetting to meet obligations, forgetting what day it is. I am starting to come out of my self-absorbed Grief Bubble, but continue to selfishly talk about myself and my situation most of the time with my wonderful friends, but it's not always about death. I am amazed that friends, family and chosen family are still there for me, every day - I don't feel I deserve them. I occasionally watch the 6:00 news at night. I think about life, and am starting to want to live it. Months ago, when crossing the road, I wished that a car would hit me to put me out of my misery (although I was concerned about the mess, trauma to the driver, and potential pain.) Now I am glad the car misses me. I feel grateful and lucky about some things. I am concerned that I am not spending enough energy on active grieving and am afraid this might result in me getting stuck. More and more of my sadness is about what Doug lost, and less about what I have lost. The sorrow is more of an undercurrent. I still have not been able to go through his climbing gear. It still sounds so strange when people refer to me as a widow.
- Month Seven: I still feel Doug is alive and expect to see him again. I have started seeing an individual counselor, as I had a very difficult time over the holidays (multiple hysterical meltdowns) and seem to have stalled out. I have not gotten my life back in order yet. I am sleeping, thanks to 5-HTP (tryptophan), exercising, and eating well. I am more joyful.
- Month Eight: I spent this hunkered down in a hole, with little or no energy to socialize. Still not very productive or motivated to live life.
- Month Nine: I go a day or two without crying. I still miss him for the small and big things. I still wonder how to get by without him. I still have trouble believing someone so vibrant and alive is no longer.
- Month Ten: I often go several days without crying. It is hardest when I encounter someone I have not seen since Doug died. I cannot count the times I say "since Doug died...." A new season without Doug - spring - is starting and it aches. I think of him and miss him with great sadness, but it seldom crushes me. Sometimes I still don't want to live without him, or cannot figure out how to go on. I know friends, family and PS have saved my life. I still have a hard time believing he is really dead - which makes it hard to adjust to life without him. The grief counselor says that accepting that he is dead is NOT the same as being happy that he is dead - it is only about recognizing what is so.
- Month Eleven: I realize that loss will always be loss. Still managing guilt. Still having trouble concentrating (e.g., putting my clothes on backwards.) Feeling more rational.
- Month Twelve. Sometimes it seems like it happened eons ago - other times it feels like yesterday. Have finally started dealing with paperwork (taking Doug's name off accounts, changing beneficiaries, etc.), mainly in response to his identity being stolen. Seem to be able to buck up on a day to day basis, but fall apart in grief couseling, as I choke on the pain. Got absolutely hysterical when I tried to clean out the RV to donate it - still feels like dismembering a life that was so good. Otherwise not much change.
- Surviving the first year
- Month Thirteen. I sleep pretty well at night. I have problems and ups and downs that I cannot blame on Doug's death. I don't talk about him constantly, even though I think about him and miss him constantly.
- Month Sixteen. It is still harder than I thought it would be at this point. I continue to spend most of my time in denial, stuck in wanting Doug to be alive. Unfortunately, I have gained back the weight that I lost. I met someone, and despite the fear and guilt, decided to open my heart and risk loss again. There are more happy times now, but always with an undercurrent of sadness. I am more sensitive to the fact that others miss him too. Before I was too involved in my own pain.
- Month Twenty Two. I finished through all of his "stuff," except tools, giving some away, and keeping what I could not bear to part with yet. The house is on the market. I am in low-level sadness almost all the time.
- Month Twenty Four: 2 years. Feels like a turning point. More peace, less pain. I think it takes at least two years to come to terms with loss of a spouse - I expected too much earlier. A year ago today I was lying face down on my lawn, crying hysterically. Today - two years from the day I got the call - I did shed tears, but I am in a different place.There was even some happiness today, as family, friends and our community gathered to celebrate and honor Doug's life and his contribution to it. I do spend more time moping than I should. But a thick blanket lies on top of the sadness that will probably always be associated with such a significant loss. Painful memories are less intrusive. Happy memories are more in the forefront. I am trying hard to stop straddling the past and the present, and live in the now. I also try to grateful for what I do have, instead of only sorrowful for what is lost. I am in a serious relationship with someone who is wonderful, but very different from Doug. I am hopeful there are some blue skies ahead.
- Surviving the second year
- Month Twenty Five: Getting through two full years has been a real turning point. I haven't cried in weeks! I think of Doug often, and miss him, but it seems so far away, and the pain has dulled considerably. I burned my wedding dress.
- Month Thirty: 2.5 years. The ache and missing remain. But most days I am involved in the present, although I do continue to experience difficulty with concentration and motivation, and feel less productive and engaged than I used to be. I do not want the memories to be millstones. I consciously try not to be defined by widowhood.
The pain is orders of magnitude less than it was during the first months and year - there is really no comparison. I wish those who have recently lost a loved one could know how much the pain will soften with time, as I think it would give them hope. I hardly remember how bad it was. I wonder if it is like childbirth, where the mind cannot bear to recall that visceral, intense and heartbreaking pain. I can see myself lying face down on the grass in our yard, crying hysterically, yet it seems removed. I am somewhat detached from that person and place now. I often feel happiness, although with an underlying sadness. Maybe part of the process is building a protective shell around the wound - much like an oyster forms a pearl around the grain of sand. The sand is always there, underneath.
I cannot say how much of my own healing and distraction has come from the changes I have made or allowed - moving to a different house, changing jobs, going through grief counseling, simplifying my life, and entering into another relationship - but they are probably significant factors. I would not call what I have done "moving on" as much as "letting go" - of the pain, not of the love.
- Month 36: 3 years. In retrospect, I didn't do as well as I expected to in the third year. I relapsed a bit. Gained weight, got sad all over again at times. I did go back to a grief counselor, which helped. I do feel like I have "moved on" quite a bit, however. The ache over what happened to Doug, and missing him continues, but it is under the surface now. I am almost totally present in my relationship with PS, and feel I can offer him my whole heart now.
- Month 37: I remarried. I am shocked and grateful to be so happy once again.
- Month 48: 4 years. I am reinvested in life. Like a petulant child, I spent a lot of time and energy wishing for things to be back the way they were. Now I have accepted that as an impossibility.
The sadness and missing remain. I still feel as if a part of me is dead (or at least dormant.) I am maybe 50-75% of who I was before. Some of the passion I had for life seems to have atrophied. Now there are a lot of things I just don't care about.
I was finally ready to let go and sell the home I shared with Doug, after spending two years "separating" from it (while renting it to friends.) I waited for buyers I felt would care for our historic house as much as we did.
I remain very close to Doug's wonderful parents. Some of our friends (whose main connection was with Doug) have drifted out of my life, but I touch base with them at least once a year.
I am working on another tribute to Doug's life. I plan to permanently set aside some open space in our town as a nature preserve in his name.
- Month 60: 5 years. I am about to celebrate my second wedding anniversary with PS. It still doesn't seem real. I have, however, settled into my revised life.
I still dream about Doug and miss him. This quote said it well "It's like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with, you forget it's there and keep falling in. After a while, it's still there, but you learn to walk round it." Yet just last week I burst into tears after watching a wonderful promotional spot for organ donation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mz2kDH0MCn4)
The love lives on. I too am living on.