When the daylight’s gone and I sit alone, I often have thoughts about my worlds, the two worlds that I’ve resided in since Ben died.
Part of my time is spent living in a world where life just seems to go on as it always has. Wake up. Do what I’ve done for years. Look at me in motion and don’t take the time to really see me or listen to my silent signals and you would believe that I am doing quite well. Hardly any exterior tears any more. Some laughs. Some jokes. She’s all better. And I am better… depending on how that word is qualified. I’m functioning again. I can now work and cook and clean and socialize, sometimes all in the same day. When I laugh, I feel it. I’m getting good at balancing joy with sorrow. I’m grateful for who and what I have, but I’m still devastated. Missing Ben is as persistent as every breath I take. So, I stand back and see those wandering around as if the universe is still the same while I know it’s completely different. Facades are deceiving, so I go back and forth between this world and a separate, totally divergent world that very few are conscious of, unless they too live in it.
In my other world, where the real me exists, dark grief and sorrow live. But all is not dark and dreary and dreadful in that world. I have come to know quite a few people in this world. Many have lost their children, many have lost their spouses, so we all share sorrow caused by tremendous loss. Often, there are references to becoming a tribe. Expressions of wanting and needing to be real, to be who we really are, in our grief are prevalent. We expose our vulnerabilities to each other and allow ourselves to lean on each other. Feeling validated is important as many express how they feel as though their grief has been ignored by many in that other world. We talk about how we feel rushed to be all better and act as though all is as it was before. Many, including me, talk about how we’ve been fortunate to have at least a few people in our lives who are able to look us in the eyes and see what death has done to us, but how unfortunate it is that many that live in that other world want us to pretend as we go about our daily lives. Acceptance is paramount to our well-being and our healing and we find it in each other. We spend many hours holding each other up when the rest of the world falls silent as it relates to our grief. Kindness, compassion and empathy flow. This underworld that we have found (in large part a courtesy of the internet) enables us to feel understood, express our hurt and anger and to give and receive solace as needed. The words “shallow” and “unreal” could never be used to describe those whom I’ve met in my new world, this underworld of grief.
Yesterday I met for the first time a woman who is in my online writing group, a group that I found in the underworld. We learned that we live only 30 miles from each other so decided to meet for breakfast. Ironically, the town I work in is where her husband had lived before they married. At breakfast, I learned that she has been a young widow as long as I have been a grieving mother. Her husband died on the exact same day that Ben died… April 30, 2013. When I heard we shared the same devastation day, the words gushed out, “Oh, my God. Your world imploded on the same day that mine did!” It took only minutes for me to start sobbing as I told her about Ben. I don’t do that often any more, sob like that, so I was surprised that I so easily let my guard down with my new friend. Releasing my emotions like that made me realize that it’s become all too common for me to hold my emotions close to me. I’ve been programmed to do so in that other world, I guess. Over breakfast, I understood that even though we may never meet again, our fragmented worlds had brought us together, for some reason. We were two people aware that our lives had been permanently altered on the same day. I knew I was not alone. I am not unique. I am part of an infinite space where deep sorrow and pain are existential and ugly bedfellows, in the now familiar underworld of grief.
With Christmas approaching, my new friend and I talked about our plans for the holidays. She moaned about not wanting to visit her family out of state but how she felt guilty for wanting to be home in her “safe haven.” In my other world, I would have questioned how she could want to be alone on Christmas Day, but I get it. I understand. My longing for Ben increases each time I hear “Merry Christmas.” I feel the kick in my gut when I hear Christmas songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” My balancing act goes into overdrive as the holiday season emphasizes my feeling of being a spectator, of being disconnected. I watch those, bent over and arms laden with Christmas gifts, wandering around as if the universe is still the same while I know it’s completely different. I understand the “reason for the season” as they say, but in the underworld I see a constant struggle to rise to the challenge of the superficiality of it all. For some of us, it’s a chore to decorate a Christmas tree, to visit outside of our safe zones, or to stack piles of gifts beneath the Christmas tree after our hearts have been broken. I watched as my husband walked by Ben’s urn this morning and casually rubbed his hand on top of it, as naturally as if Ben was sitting in a chair and he had walked by and rubbed his head. I fought back the tears. How can Christmas ever hold the same magic for us that it used to? Or for others in this underworld who have empty chairs around the Christmas table in what used to be our Norman Rockwell homes?
All I want for Christmas is to do the bare minimum. I want my family to feel a touch of Christmas in our home but not be too Christmas-fied. I want to be home, with my loved ones, where I can pull the memories of past Christmases close to me for comfort or push them away if necessary if the pain rushes at me. I want my family to feel, really feel, how much I treasure them and how desperately I love them. I want to make lovely, memorable Christmas memories with them, ever conscious and grateful for the presence of each and every one of them. I am all too aware that when the clock strikes midnight that day will join the others, will become a Christmas of the past. And at some point in time, it very well may be a Christmas which I wish I could return to, to find some of the Christmas magic which I thought I had forever lost but which was in fact present on this upcoming Christmas Day.
And then, when the daylight’s gone and my house has fallen quiet, I will reach out to my new friends in my new world to see how they fared on Christmas Day, to make sure they know that I am aware of and care about their broken hearts. Christmas in the underworld…in this life of After.