One of the most painful experiences a loving caregiver will ever witness, is the dreaded moment when time stands still, and a loved one slips away in front of your eyes. Sadly, there’s nothing you can do to comfort the burden of your pain. It’s there, it’s real, and the grieving process that’s already firmly entrenched in your mind, will begin in earnest. Grief’s arrow will pierce your heart.
This is not how it happened to me, but in a sense it is. And if I didn’t know the truth, I couldn’t speak it.
Internally or vocally you’re screaming out in pain, but no one knows the depth of your sorrow, but you. Everything around you becomes an illusion, where it becomes difficult to process the real from the unreal. You know you saw your loved one pass, but in your mind it’s a case of, “maybe it just a dream.” It didn’t really happen, did it?
You find yourself standing on the edge of a cliff, not sure which way you’re going to fall. You become frightened, you’re lost and don’t know what to do, and then it hits you, this is real, as you fall back into a chair mumbling the words, “I just want my loved one back.”
The pain is excruciating, the fog of death is thick, and you’re slowly coming to terms with the fact that “life as you knew it has, changed forever.” There’s no going back, the care giving for your loved one is now over, and I can honestly tell you from experience, you’ve just traded one nightmare for another.
In my case, being a caregiver for my dying wife Annie was a nightmare. My anticipatory grief was always present, and in the forefront of my thoughts. She so wanted to live, but was not afraid to die. I guess I just wanted her to live, and having to let her go at the end, was beyond my understanding of how life was supposed to be. The emotional drag put on my life by viewing her death has not been good, and doesn’t create a good last memory. The medical personnel telling me how peaceful her death was, by noting the lack of stress on her face, meant nothing. She was just gone!
Oh sure, all her pain and suffering from the cancer was gone, and her nightmare was over, but for me, my nightmare was just beginning. And that may sound a bit selfish, but grievers know, “it’s the truth.”
There’s no second chance to say I love you, fix her a nice meal, or to do the special things for her that sometimes made her day. This body that was continually in motion for thirty months, was now at a standstill. It was like being on a merry-go-round for thirty months, going round and round, never stopping. Then it happens! The merry-go-round stops, and you can no longer stand, so you fall to your knees, head still spinning from all that you went through. And when you finally raise your head and look up, what do you see. In my case it was darkness, laced with a lot of chaos from fear of the unknown. Which is the same fear I, and most likely you felt when care giving and battling for your loved ones life. You are now back on the merry-go-round, but this time it’s different, it’s the merry-go-round of grief!
This is my fifth year post grief and I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words on the subject, but this post was truly meant to be about that moment in time, “When time stands still.”
Still, I need to say this: If your new to the world of grief, or been a griever for awhile, the most important advice I can give you is to not hold back your emotions. You must let them flow. Your tears are your best friend, and if you’re like me, you may cry a thousand tears, think you’re getting better, and cry a thousand more. You’re a griever, where logic is simply a state of mind, which may or may not play a role in your healing process. If you’re feeling locked up, get the photo albums out and start browsing through your pictures. That will allow you to revisit old memories which may get your tears flowing again. I’ve said this before, you have to grieve to get through grief.
Journal your thoughts, or simply jot them down on a piece of scrap paper with a date. That’s how I tracked my grief. I could look back over a year or two and proclaim, “wow, you were really messed up dude!” Not realizing I was still messed up, just not as bad. I was healing. And I knew it based on old notes I’d written. And the photo albums, well, when you can look back on the old memories, and the emotional rush doesn’t hit you so hard, or the tears fall in more of a random pattern, you are healing.
I’d like to share something with you, that a stranger recently posted as a tribute on Annie online memorial.
As you read the tribute, think how important “Your Story” would be to others. All grievers have their own unique story to tell, and think of the people you could touch, and perhaps help by sharing your journey through grief. And believe it or not, over time it becomes refreshingly healing.
“I can never thank you enough for sharing your journey with us. The help you have extended goes way beyond the readers and posters here. So much to say, but for now, adding what Henri Nouwen said in OUR GREATEST GIFT, our “fruitfulness” lives on way beyond our passing; it is then at its greatest.. There is no greater love than sharing the dying process with the dying. Nothing harder. Should Nouwen be alive today, you and Annie would be added to an updated version of Our Greatest Gift. What a gift that you have given to us, especially me.
God’s peace always..”
Henri Nouwen, was considered one of the great writers of our time. A Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian. His interests were rooted primarily in psychology, pastoral ministry, spirituality, social justice and community. Henri passed away in 1996. Wikipedia
Annie’s memorial: www.forevermissed.com/annie-barber-harrison/#about