I thought I was an expert on grief. Or at least an expert on my own grief. I thought I knew what to expect of myself when it came to dealing with the loss of a loved one, considering I’ve gotten the master class in the 9 years since A died. I thought I knew what was coming for me with the imminent death of my beloved friend, B, and although obviously losing a best friend and losing a true love are not the same, I supposed that my grief for her would follow a similar pattern of ups and downs and feelings unique to ME.
She’s been gone 2 months now, and the truth of the matter is, I didn’t know shit, because my reaction this time is nothing like I expected. I cried for days and nights and months on end when A died, aching, breathless sobs until I could do nothing but stare into space. For B, I have had some tough moments like that, but I can count them on one hand, and remember them specifically.
For a long while at the end, and since, I’ve felt nothing about it. And when I have managed to catch a glimpse of how I’m really feeling, the sadness is largely intellectual. What I’m really feeling is anger. A lot of simmering anger. And I’ve been wondering if that numbness is denial and self-protection, or whether I’m too pissed to be sad.
There’s a lot to be angry about, and not all of it is selfish, though I admit a fair bit of it really is. I’m angry that I lost one of my best friends of my whole life. I don’t have so many close friends; I can’t afford to lose any, and yet I keep losing them anyway. I’m angry that I lost ANYONE I loved, in that bit of widow magical thinking that goes “Being widowed is bad enough; I should be exempt from bad shit from here out.” (I know it’s ridiculous, but I know I feel it on some level, and I suspect I’m not the only widow who does.) I’m angry that my other best friend has been widowed, and that they had so little time together. They found each other in mid-life, and while they had more time than A and I did, of course it’s never enough when you love someone. I’m angry that B’s mom (widowed 7 years ago) lost her baby, even if her baby was 57 years old. I’m angry that she left the state for one last goodbye visit with friends and family back home, and never made it back here. I never really got to say goodbye. Again. And I’m angry at that relentless, cruel bastard, cancer, who takes so much from people long before it finally takes their last breath from them.
I am angry FOR B, at how much she lost as the cancer spread. Her job, her hobbies, her energy, all taken from her. Her ability to feel good at all. Her physical relationship with her spouse. Her memory, every time they zapped the brain tumors. Bit by bit, her life and world shrunk until it didn’t extend beyond the chair she sat in, and still, she didn’t want to go. She appreciated life in a way I’m not sure I’m capable of.
I am beyond angry at the medical industry, who at every turn in this process treated B’s cancer like it was no big deal, and about all the waiting on top of waiting for this test and that scan and this insurance approval and that appointment when it was obvious from the beginning that time was not on her side. Weeks and weeks wasted due to inefficiency, miscommunication between her medical professionals, a fair amount of ball-dropping, and what I can only assume is professional apathy; it wasn’t their cancer, after all. And that while they insisted up and down that this cancer was entirely different from the cancer they took out of her 3 years before, it seems likely that in fact, it wasn’t different--she was stage 4 at diagnosis this time around, with mets to the brain that soon went into the bone, and colon cancer likes to go to the lung, which is where this “different” cancer started. But they never did chemo after the surgery 3 years ago, and they didn’t do heavy-duty chemo when they found this, dicking around for 6 months before trying the big guns, which were just too late. Of course the oncologist is going to say it was a totally discrete cancer event; for him to suggest otherwise would be to admit that he blew it 3 years ago. Would it have made a difference? No one can know that; but there was enough incompetence to place a fair amount of reasonable doubt upon the situation.
Not that it matters now, of course; we can’t get her back.
It hurts that she isn’t at her house when I go over there. It hurts that we no longer have our Sunday night dinners, because it was always a couple thing, and her wife, P, just doesn’t want to do it on her own. Which is totally understandable.
I had a panicked moment the other day, because I’d told my mom I was fine with German chocolate cake for my birthday, and then remembered “B doesn’t like coconut!” And then was sad when I realized it didn’t matter.
So it’s not that the sadness isn’t there; it’s just that it’s overshadowed by anger. And it feels like I skipped right over active grieving and right into the long-term quiet missing and existential crisis. Which is familiar enough, even if the timing seems wrong.
But a lot of the time, when I ask myself how I’m feeling about all this, the answer genuinely seems to be that I’m not feeling at all. Yet it’s not the same numbness I felt after A died and I cried myself to emptiness multiple times a day. And I begin to wonder if I broke my grieving mechanism, grieving for him--if I just plain wore it out through such heavy use for so long. Because I just don’t get as worked up as I used to. I acknowledge pain mentally, academically, but it’s like I refuse to wade in emotionally anymore. Is it because I can’t? Or because I can’t afford to? Is it that I’ve felt so much pain losing A that my heart just refused to go there anymore, on anyone’s behalf?
I felt like I had a clue where I was at when the news of the Paris terrorism came out. 153 (or so...I haven’t confirmed latest numbers) people dead in horrifying planned mass murders and while I freely acknowledge it’s horrible on so many levels, from the personal to the international, emotionally I feel nothing. I don’t know if it’s a question of do not, or cannot, but I’m not engaging with it emotionally. In 2001, after 9/11 and before widowhood, I read the paper and cried for months afterwards, reading about people and the messages they gave their families before they died. I was engaged. But not anymore. I don’t even want to read the news because it’s always bad. And more often than not, I mentally shrug and think, “More sad people in the world. Welcome to the club. Sorry you had to join us.”
I don’t think it’s apathy. I care that horrible things happen in my world. But I don’t think I have the bandwidth myself to engage with them whole-heartedly anymore; I’ve got my own sorrows, and it doesn’t do me any good to wallow in someone else’s when there’s not a damn thing I can do about them. And if I’m going to live another 40 years on this planet, I have to protect my heart, broken and scarred though it may be, to the best of my ability, because the hits will keep on coming. I have to maintain something for myself, to keep me going, in the face of tragedy, and the only way I know how to do that is to not borrow more trouble than life was going to throw at me anyway. It sounds selfish; but I’m not convinced it is anything less than survival.
Whatever it is, it’ll work itself out. That much I DO know about grief: there’s no point arguing with it; you can’t persuade it. And if this is how I feel right now, I’ll keep feeling it until I feel something else.