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Monday, November 04, 2019

Figuring things out

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure things out. It’s not usually about what happened, it’s about what will happen. I can’t change the fact that Nigel died, though I would do literally anything to change that, so all I can do is figure out how to move forward. It’s what Nigel wanted, and what I need, too.

These posts have been about that “figuring out”, and also about both dealing with everything and what I plan on doing (all of which changes over time). One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that time matters a lot. This sort of enormous grief is entirely individual, of course, and the process of dealing with it can neither be rushed nor even necessarily predicted—though I’ve certainly tried to do both, with no success. The core message is that patience is the most necessary thing for me to have right now, and the hardest to come by.

Not long after Nigel died, a sympathetic reader of this blog sent me a PDF of a pamphlet on grief originally produced by the UK’s National Health Service. I don’t think I learned anything new about the grieving process, but it provided validation of things I was thinking and feeling, and that was a very good thing.

For example, the pamphlet said that it can look to others that the grieving person is just “sitting in a chair doing nothing”, when, the pamphlet said, the person is actually thinking—about the person they’ve lost, about the good times, and about the bad times. I didn’t care what others might think I was doing (I seldom care what other people think about anything I’m doing), but the matter-of-fact description of what happens was entirely accurate.

In my case, I didn’t (and don’t) think about “the bad times” because we were fortunate in that we really didn’t have many of those. I think that maybe I replaced that with thoughts about trying to answer the question, “So what do I do NOW?!”

As the days have passed, I now sit and think less and instead do more. I’ve talked about family helping me do some of the jobs around the house that were just too much for me to take on alone, but there are other things that I work on by myself, and they, too, are moving things forward.

For example, today I went through Nigel’s shirts in the wardrobe, trying them all on and deciding which ones both fit me and looked okay. I assumed that this wouldn’t be a particularly emotional thing for me, and I was right: It wasn’t. I’d always ironed Nigel’s shirts for him which probably gave me almost a sense of ownership already, but I’d also (repeatedly…) asked him to cull the shirts that didn’t fit in order to free up some room in the wardrobe (I also wanted him to buy some new shirts to replace the ones that didn’t fit). That feeling of a sort of ownership, along with my long-held desire to get rid of some of the shirts, made the task just that: A task.

I mention that specifically because it’s important to know that not everything a grieving person needs to do to prepare to move forward is a source of emotional distress. Of course I thought about Nigel as I went through his shirts, but the context was mainly trying to remember the last time he wore a shirt (often too long ago for me to remember). On the other hand, I did sometimes imagine what he’d say if I tried it on in front of him, ranging from “that looks nice on you” to “oh, no!”, with most probably being the equivalent of “yeah, that’s okay”. We would have had laughs.

And none of that upset me. As Nigel and I would both say, “it’s just a shirt!”

I have a few more big tasks to complete. For example, I need to pack up my office, which only I can do. That will actually make me feel happier, not sad, because it’s way overdue (and it’s all my junk). Packing up Nigel’s office may be more difficult because it has the stuff he was currently working on, but even there I think it’ll probably be fine: A few weeks before he got sick, Nigel started separating the stuff in his office into categories, so all I have to do is box it up. Which isn’t to say that there won’t be things to make me sad, just that there will be few of them—and fewer than there might have been if I’d attempted that same task a few weeks ago.

Time, it turns out, really is the great healer. I knew that. Probably everyone knows that. But now I can offer affirmation that time probably matters more than anything else in the grieving process, and the move toward what we might call the recovery process, when a grieving person starts to shift from mainly grieving to concentrating more on the “So what do I do NOW?!” thing.

I still feel like most of me is missing, and the pain is sometimes almost unbearable, but—with time—I get through it. And every time I make it through a bad patch, like the one I had on Saturday, I move just a tiny little bit further into that recovery process.

It’s taken me weeks to figure this out because it took me awhile to understand it. Which goes to show that sometimes taking time and “sitting in a chair doing nothing” can turn out to be a very productive thing to do.

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