‘We might all be going through this together, but your feelings are still unique to you. Nobody gets to tell you how to feel.’: Widow shares words of wisdom for those struggling through pandemic

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“I’ve thought a lot about this – trying to figure out the perfect words to describe what we’re all going through. This virus. The quarantine. The stress. The uncertainty. The helplessness. The loneliness. That feeling that everything has changed and not knowing when it’s changing back. The overwhelming loss of everything that’s ‘normal.’

And it hit me a few weeks ago that I recognized this feeling. And some of my friends do, too. Some of us know all too well the name of this and all of us wish we didn’t.

It’s grief. What you’re feeling is grief.

One minute you’re going about your life. Everything is just as it’s supposed to be. You’re dropping kids off at school. Maybe hitting the gym. Getting ready for work – grabbing a coffee and some kind of snack to hold you over until lunch. You’re doing whatever it is you have to do that day, picking up toys, doing laundry, taking a conference call. You’ll pick up your kids from school, shuffle through all the papers they’ve handed you, stop by the store for something easy to make for dinner, get home, change for whatever sports practice they need to get to, do homework in the car and then rush back home for a quick weeknight casserole, then scurry them into the shower and off to bed. Then you’ll wake up the next day and do it all again.

Because it’s normal.

Then suddenly, one day, tragedy hits. Crisis comes knocking on your door. Out of nowhere, nothing is normal. Nothing is right. Nothing is the same. Your routine is pulled out from under you, the things you do and rely on to get through your day are gone. The events that brought you happiness have disappeared and the people who support you are no longer within reach.

You’re confused at first. You rationalize it. You try to make sense of it. You look around for anything that feels the same. But, nothing does. You eventually find yourself angry at the situation and begin telling yourself that it’s not fair and wonder what in the hell just happened. Your anger stews and then one day you start taking it out on people who really don’t deserve it. Social media posts. Debates. Retailer workers. And you have no idea why. You’re just pissed.

Then, as quickly as you’re mad, you’re sad. Your emotions catch up with you and you’re overwhelmed. You just want to go to the grocery store. If you could just go to the grocery store, you won’t ask for anything else. And then once you do, and you stand in line or have to walk down an aisle just one way, you get mad again. Mad that this whole thing has completely changed and inconvenienced your life. So, on the way home, you get stuck at a red light and you cry.

You just sit in your car and cry.

Because this thing has stolen your life. It’s changed everything.

Nothing will ever be the same again. Nothing.

I know this because that’s what happened to me. One day, my family was intact. One day, we were running around doing all the things and laughing and joking and being busy and the next, it was shattered. On Thursday, June 23, 2016, my husband was alive, and on Friday, June 24th, 2016, he wasn’t.

And nothing has been the same since.

I’ve been tired, angry, sad, happy, back, forth, up, down, and everything in between since. Because grief is tricky, and grief is unpredictable. And to be honest, grief is really, really hard.

There are some things to be learned from your grieving friends if you’re experiencing this for the first time. It’s your grieving friends who have already done this.

It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be okay. It’s okay to be confused and upset and emotional. And then it’s okay to have a good day and be productive and get things done and make dinner. It’s okay to be motivated and unmotivated and everything in between. It’s okay to be worried, but it’s never okay to sit in it. It’s okay to reach out, and it’s okay to stay in. It’s okay to order out and it’s okay to eat ice cream for breakfast. It’s okay to take a break and it’s okay to achieve goals.

It’s okay because in grief nobody gets to dictate what’s normal for you and what isn’t. Nobody gets to tell you how to feel, or how to process this or what you should or shouldn’t do. Because, while we might all be going through this together, we are still trying to figure out how we feel on our own. Because even if what we are feeling is similar, your feelings are still unique to you.

So, what helps? What helps the grieving person?

Talking. Not talking. A hobby. Reading a book. Showering. Sleeping. Taking a walk. Exercise. Watching a movie. Connecting with friends. Journaling.

All of it. All of it helps. And what helps you might not help me, and what helps me might not help you – and all of that is not just normal, but it really is ok.

I would encourage you to reach out to the people who you find comfort in and be there for the people who need you. I know how hard that is now with social distancing and everything being closed, but with FaceTime and Zoom and other inventive ways of communicating, it can be done.

I laughed when my mom first told me she ‘had dinner’ with one of my adult children the other day over FaceTime. Both at their own houses, both eating their own meals. And then I sat silent when she told me that their dinner lasted an hour and a half, and they talked all that time. Sitting around the Sunday night dinner table, so far apart, yet so very close. They couldn’t be there together, but they were. They found a way to be there, even if they couldn’t share the same space.

And that’s what’s going to bring back normalcy to us. That’s what’s going to bring us comfort. That’s what’s going to make us feel like human beings again.

Reach out. Don’t get stuck. Have your online playdates and birthday parades. ‘Meet’ with your friends after you put your kids to bed on a Friday night and have a glass of wine. Have a dinner party over FaceTime.

But no matter what you do – don’t give up on the fact that we’re all going to get through this, just like so many of us have with the loss of the people we love. I promise, you’re going to survive your grief and you’re going to have a whole new appreciation for your great, big, beautiful, chaotic life when it all comes rushing back.

You can do it, friends. You really can. Hang in there.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her books “Grief Life” and “Grief & Glitter” are available in print and on kindle. You can find more of her books here, and her podcast here. Connect with Diana on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.

Read more from Diana:

‘Both on the verge of tears one announces, ‘He smacked me.’ I check for blood, bruising. ‘She was using too much toilet paper!’: Mom shares hilarious ‘chaos’ of quarantine with multiple kids

‘Tonight, I was so tired I didn’t want to even carry my own purse. So, he did. He carried it, just like he carries so many burdens.’: 911 dispatcher says ‘sometimes, all you need is someone who will carry your purse’

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