Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Hidden wounds

One of the things I’m told the most often is how well I’m doing. People will say that I’ve managed to get through a lot, that I’m making progress and showing strength and courage by doing so. They even say that Nigel would be proud of how well I’m doing, under the circumstances. It’s all said with sincerity and the best of intentions, and what they say is literally true (well, somewhat true at least…). And yet every time I hear such things I feel like a fraud because, to me, what can’t be seen far outweighs what can.

People see me making plans for where I’ll live, and they see me work on projects to make that happen. They see me chopping away at all the details of settling the estate, even though most are so small that I don’t even mention them. They see me get together with family rather than stay alone all the time. All of those definitely are noticeable, they really are signs of progress, and they’re also a small part of my reality.

Most people can guess that I miss Nigel keenly, but they may not realise that I miss him so much I sometimes feel actual physical pain. They’re not around me when I cry so much that my stomach muscles ache. They’re not around me when the ONLY thing I can think about is how fucking much I miss Nigel, and how I would literally do anything, pay any price, to have him back with me again and for this all to have been the worst nightmare I’ve ever awakened from.

But most of that isn’t visible most of the time because it’s rarely possible to “see” others’ pain. I seldom tear up, much less cry, in front of other people, and my sobbing is never public. They don’t know that at any moment I can be plunged into the abyss of grief, triggered by the smallest of things—or even nothing at all.

Not long after Nigel died, a much-loved long-time friend sent me a link to a piece by John Pavlovitz, which had been shared on Facebook at the time. In the piece from 2016, he was writing about grief, and how one sunny Saturday he’d received a phone call telling him that his father had died. Because of that, every Saturday after that became what he dubbed “a Grief Anniversary”. He wrote:
“In the wake of losing a loved one, everything in your life becomes a potential surprise memorial. Out of nowhere you are broadsided by days of the week or times of day or numbers on the calendar, or songs that were playing or cologne you were wearing or the feel of the grass beneath your knees as you fell at the news. These seemingly incessant reminders force you once again to observe the loss anew.”
For me, that’s been most common on Fridays, the day of the week that Nigel died. Sometimes Mondays, the day we said our final goodbyes, can throw a spanner in the works, too.

Pavlovitz continued:
“And since these days and times and triggers aren’t obvious to most people in our lives (and since we don’t have the time or the words to describe them all), they are usually unaware of just how much and just how often we mourn. Even those who are closest to us and care for us greatly remain largely oblivious to our recurring sadness. Our grief can feel like a very lonely journey, which in many ways it is because it is specific to us and to the one we’ve lost. It is a customized but hidden wound.”
It’s precisely because most people “are usually unaware of just how much and just how often we mourn” that it can appear as if we’re doing “better” than we really are. Which is not to say that we don’t keeping moving forward—most of us do, and I do, too. Instead, it means is that anyone mourning the loss of a loved one carries “a customized but hidden wound” that can open up with searing pain at any moment.

Until now, I never knew it was humanly possible to miss someone as much as I miss Nigel. I also didn’t know it was possible to love someone so much that this depth of pain would result from losing them. I guess I didn’t know much about love up until now.

So, when someone tells me how well I’m doing, that I’ve managed to get through a lot, that I’m making progress and showing strength and courage by doing so, or that Nigel would be proud of how well I’m doing under the circumstances, it’s all completely true from what they can see. And sure, all of that it IS good, and it IS progress, but I nevertheless feel like a fraud because, to me, my customised but hidden wound far outweighs what can be seen. We all carry hidden wounds of one sort or another. I really never realised that until now, either.


rogerogreen said...

The title is spot on. And while it is true for emotional pain, it's also true for physical pain. I know a woman in ALB who is in near-constant pain, but because she doesn't appear to have anything broken, some people think she is a malingerer

Arthur Schenck said...

Health conditions that require any sort of adjustment, like dietary changes, can also make other people think they're being faddish. Even my condition, in which prescription medicine leaves me extremely tired all the time, could lead people to think I'm just being lazy. Lots of people have lots of hidden wounds, I think.