Cousins. Aunts. Uncles. Grandparents. Friends. Friends of the Family.
I’ve known loss. If you are reading this, chances are you have, too.
For all the many, many wakes and funerals I have been to, one thing has continuously occurred to me.
The wake is so much easier than the funeral.
When I sit back and think about why that is, I can only come to one conclusion: support.
There is so much support at a wake. At least in my circle of love, they usually last over six hours and the room is usually filled to near capacity. In the case of my beautiful wife, we had every seat full and another 60 people or so standing. Over 200 people attended her services on that cold January day. A full house of standing room only for a beautiful soul that certainly deserved such a fitting goodbye. People came in droves, as I stood by the casket and welcomed everyone, something I also did at my dad’s wake. With each person that came up to say their final goodbyes to Michelle, stories and memories were shared, kind and inspiring words were spoken. A sense of hope and love in a moment filled with heartache and despair.
For Michelle’s wake, I opened the floor so that anyone who wanted to speak could. After the last person who wanted to speak did, I gave the eulogy. I thought I would cry during it, but I didn’t shed a single tear as I read it. A product most likely of having read it so many times before, most notably to Michelle as she lay in a coma the morning of the day she passed. Talk about some hardcore tears. Professing my love to her with the eulogy that I tried so hard to perfect as she lay dying.
After I was done speaking at the wake we played six songs that meant so much to Michelle and me. A few from the wedding ceremony we didn’t quite make it to, and a few others as well.
The wake. A moment of support, community, and love.
As is always the case, the funeral the next day was attended by far fewer, however, the support was still there. We attended an absolutely beautiful church, played some amazing songs, including “Amazing Grace,” and went to lunch with everyone after. The most beautiful moment was when my sister’s father-in-law sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the pallbearers carried her light casket to the hearse. The clouds and grey suddenly making way for the sun to shine at that exact moment, and no, I’m not making that up.
And then, the funeral ends. And when all of the final goodbyes are said and all of the supportive Facebook messages are sorted through and responded to, something interesting happens.
Although in fairness, it’s not complete solitude right away. Family and friends realizing the scope of loss and the rawness of it all reach out, come around, and are generally there for you.
But, then something funny happens. Some time passes. And the solitude grows.
And then, it grows some more.
And then by the time you realize it, it’s almost complete solitude.
Now, before I go on, let me state clearly: Part of this blog entry is about myself, but do not think I am alone.
Whether it be the in-person support group I go to or one of the number of support groups I am part of on Facebook, the undeniable fact is that the most complained about feature of being a widow or widower that I hear is this: solitude.
Or to put in terms that I don’t like to use because it makes many of us feel rather pathetic: loneliness.
So solitude is there and then it grows, and a part of you begins to wonder, “Why?” but then something funny happens. You realize you are guilty of the same.
You think back and you realize that when your aunt lost her husband and daughter in the span of one calendar year, you told her at the funerals that you would be there for her, but you weren’t. Nope, not even a little bit. You ask yourself how you could have failed a loved one like that, and you feel guilty.
But the answer is clear: for you, life moves on.
For the world, even those who loved the deceased, the earth continues to rotate, the sun continues to shine, rainy days continue to damper outdoor plans and life moves on.
But for a select few, the loss is more profound.
And for those select few, solitude is almost certainly to follow. And you will justify that solitude for three main reasons:
It Is Hard to Relate to Those Who Don’t Understand Your Pain
“It seems like everyone avoids me.”
“All my friends are married.”
“I think they don’t know how to act around me.”
“Everyone thinks I’m fine now.”
“Nobody gets it.”
“People go on with their life, yours is the one forever changed.”
These are some of the comments I hear or read. Over and over again. From widows and widowers who feel as though the loss of their love was simply the first step of loss in a whole new world.
OK, it happens. We’ve all done it. Certainly nobody means any harm. Life goes on. I get it. We all get it.
You adjust and adapt through the grief. You try to move forward, not on.
You Try to Move On But You Know You Are Not Back to “Normal”
“I just don’t want to bother people.”
“I don’t want someone to spend time with me out of pity.”
“I’m no fun anymore, I don’t want to bring people down.”
These are some of the comments I hear or read. Over and over again. You see with the loss of your love, something else happens. Self-doubt.
Often it is not immediate, but rather later in the game. Think about it. The person who was your biggest cheerleader, the person who chose you instead of anyone else in the world to spend the rest of their life with is no longer around.
The love you felt from them is gone.
And then slowly, other support starts to drift. And solitude grows.
And knowing that you aren’t exactly the same person you use to be, you start to feel like a burden.
And then you take a step back, and you wonder if you are handling things correctly.
You Feel Like You Are Living in a Fishbowl
But really, what is the correct way to handle the loss of the love of your life?
Do you post about it on Facebook? Start a blog?
“Attention! Attention! He wants attention!” That’s what many will say.
“God, he needs to get over it already.” Some others will insist.
Maybe you take the opposite approach, maybe you act like all is OK. Shoot, maybe you decide you want to find love again.
“If he’s already looking to date, he must not have loved her that much.” Yup, some will think it.
“He seems to be doing great. I don’t think I would be doing that well if my spouse died.” Others will proclaim.
Judgment of your actions, your life, how much you laugh or don’t laugh, how much you cry or don’t cry begin to run rampant.
And you let it affect you. Even though you know you shouldn’t.
You take it, and you internalize it because after all, your other half isn’t there to share those feelings with anymore.
You have a lot of free time on your hands now to sit, to stir, and to think.
It used to be when something good happened, you couldn’t wait to get home to tell your love.
Or, when something bad happened, you knew you would have your other half there to help you get through it.
I mean, sure, you could text a friend or a family member.
But there’s that self-doubt again.
Do you really want to be a burden to them?
“Haven’t they had enough of me and my loss and my problems?” you ask yourself.
And then Saturday comes, and after having a really good week, you all of a sudden are having a horrible morning. But nobody is around to see. And you actually consider walking to a neighbor’s house for a human-to-human experience, but you don’t. You get through it yourself.
“How are you today? Maybe we can do something later?” a friend of yours asks via text message shortly after you gather yourself.
“I’m fine, I’m not feeling well though so I’m going to stay in,” you respond. You’ve learned by now saying “I’m fine” is a lot easier than explaining why you may not be fine on that particular day.
And so, the cycle continues. Because quite honestly, half of the time you really don’t want to do anything and the other half of the time you don’t have anything to do. And sometimes you want to be around certain people and sometimes you don’t want to be around those same exact people.
And let’s face it, sometimes being around people brings comfort, and other times it flashes a bright light on the void that is.
That’s OK. And that’s normal.
Solitude, it can be a lonely road. It can also be a two-way street.