Or maybe I should call this "Reading the writings of the bereaved at Daily Kos." I have to confess that when I published Widower after 41 years: Now what? almost seven months ago, I didn't expect to become the public face of bereavement here. You know how gratified I have been by the outpouring of sympathy and concern my diaries, and there have been more than a few, about the process have elicited, and, if you've been paying attention, you know that some of the Kossacks who I have been close to geographically or philosophically have become my new family, since I didn't have much of an old family to turn to when Jim died.
What does concern me is that I might have presented my passage through the bereavement process as typical. My passage, I know now, was comparatively easy compared with some of the passages I've seen unfolding here since mine began. As michelewln wrote in her diary for The Grieving Room this week,
It is important to remember that with grieving what is right for one person may not be right for someone else. We must all grieve in our own way. What we must do for others who are grieving is let them know that we are there for them if they need us and we love them and we care about them. We cannot grieve for others but we can be there to support them as they grieve in the way that is right for them.The events of the past weeks dictate that I explain more about how bereavement works and the emotional instability it can cause in the bereaved. I know there are people who don't want me to write this, and that is precisely why I am compelled to do so. If you didn't want me to write this, that's even more reason why you should read it. Some of it may be uncomfortable, but it's for a purpose.
I want to start by revisiting a diary I wrote for The Grieving Room nine weeks after Jim died. Five months later, the diary and the comment thread still bring tears to my eyes. This diary does two things. It discusses a book that I found incredibly helpful in my own bereavement process, and it introduces the idea that, even just nine weeks in, I can help someone else here with his own process.
The book is Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). I found it helpful because Didion's basic circumstances were so much like mine. After 41 years I walked into the bedroom and found Jim dead; this is what I wrote about Didion's situation:
The writers Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne had been married for 40 years during which time they were apart even less than Jim and I were because they worked in the same house or apartment for all these years and they were able to bounce ideas off each other. In Didion's case, John had a massive heart attack at the dinner table, so he was there, and then he wasn't, and her life changed in an instant. To make things worse, her daughter Quintana was in and out of hospitals; "I love you more than one more day" was something John would say to her daughter, and something Quintana said to her mother at John's memorial service, attributing it to her and not to her father.After that, my experience and hers were very much alike. The silence at the dinner table, the shock, the inability to process grief and start mourning because life kept going on and intruding. Of course, I had this community to help me through a lot of this.
About the therapeutic value of the Daily Kos community, here's a picture of my quilt and the bears Jim and I accumulated together:I think I did okay. I kept you posted, I saw many of you during my second month of bereavement, and during my third month, and my fourth month, and my fifth month, at DKos meetups both in Los Angeles and in the Bay Area, and some of the people in my community within a community (Top Comments) took especially good care of me. But, you know, I said some things in my bereavement in comments that some of you correctly chided me for and some of you savaged me for during the first six weeks. One of the savaging comments hurt me so badly that when I wrote my quilt diary I decided not to thank the writer of that comment who happened to have signed my quilt, because the writer didn't deserve it.
But that's my process. I have been able to fashion a new life for myself and I'm not having any of the wild mood swings I was having at the outset. It's probably because my process was so quick: fewer than three weeks between Jim's death and delivery of the urn with his ashes in them. I also had to pull myself together for another member of the Daily Kos community. As I wrote in my Top Comments diary January 23 (It's mostly a joyous diary about lunch with gizmo59 and his husband, and our first LA Kossacks meetup, and the first weekend I spent with steveningen and scaboni):
I got home, and set about writing my Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall diary and at one point when I saved it I saw the diary commonmass had written. I was glad I was 95% finished because I'm not sure I could have completed it after reading his. I published and I spent the afternoon wrangling mine and looking at his; I had commented pretty far down the thread, so I kosmailed him my phone number because, well, of ALL the people at this blog I had the most recent experience with his situation. I should mention too that I was unaware of who I had become here until, in a diary during NN12, I replied to one of his comments and his reply was along the lines of "a lot of people are wondering why you aren't here."So, yes, this is about him, and it's about the fact that his process, as you know from HIS diaries, has been rather different from mine. But in all the conversations we had up until last week, I heard what I had been feeling through my own process: initial shock, followed by a gradual acceptance of the fact that life is different now. I even believed that his process was the same or at least similar until last week.
You see, a few times he asked me to call him in the comments section of the Top Comments diary that night. Each time, he was obviously in the depths of grief. The first time was before the first meta diary, the one he unpublished, and the next two were during the apology diary. I didn't realize that he had scattered Terun's ashes the week before that happened. I still have Jim's ashes in an urn, and I'll scatter them when I'm ready, but, really, I think that the necessity of accepting that his husband was gone (in his words, the "horrible finality") is what created the situation that produced those two diaries. There's a LOT I could say here now, but I'll let you off the hook. CUT THE BEREAVED SOME SLACK, please. If something seems uncharacteristic, ASK the bereaved diarist how he or she is before you go any further.
Thank you for staying with this. Kinder is better