As I lay awake in bed, unable to sleep as one am neared, it suddenly dawned on me what dealing with grief was like.
These were my exact words on Twitter – “Dealing with grief is like living on a deserted island. People know you’re there, but they have no idea how to reach you, so they don’t try.”
People – your friends and family – know where you are. They know you are on the deserted Island of Grief. The problem is that they don’t have ships, maps or compasses; they have none of the necessary equipment that they’ll need in order to navigate the waters to reach you. And let’s face it – everyone has their own struggles. Even if by chance they actually had ships, maps and compasses, they have so much going on in their own lives, they wouldn’t be able to take the time to search for you. Instead, most people will put messages in bottles and toss them into the ocean in the hopes that one will reach you. They know you’re ‘out there’ somewhere. They know they can’t get to you. It’s all they can do.
We can’t really be angry about that, either. How many of us have chartered ships to go out looking for one of our friends or family members when they were on the Island of Grief? (Because, eventually, everyone has their turn.) The answer is none of us. We put messages in bottles and toss them into the ocean, hoping that one will reach them. We stand on the shore and hope that our loved one will find their way back home from the island and soon. Then we go back to our own lives and our own struggles, just trying to get through each day as best we can.
Ironically, like death, grief must also be experienced alone. You can talk to people, of course, and that definitely helps in its own way. Others can share with you their experience of grief; how long it lasted, their ups and downs, things they did to try to make it easier, etc. But ultimately, it is a path that you WILL walk alone. There is no schedule, there is no order of emotions and you have little control. It’s like riding a roller coaster – you’re just along for the emotional ride, wherever and however it will take you.
Imagine your arrival on the Island of Grief. You don’t want to be there. It’s not where you’re supposed to be. You’ve got things to do – a life to live. You don’t have time for this island mess. Yet you’re there with no ship to board to go back home. And you didn’t get to pack, either, so you have nothing you need. You have no extra clothes, no food, no nothing. You feel lost – you’re completely alone – and you immediately miss everyone. You wonder if anyone is looking for you. Will they find you? Will someone be able to rescue you?
You wander around aimlessly. You’ve never been to this island before. What’s even there? Will you be able to survive? You’re scared. You’re upset. You’re angry. You’re a myriad of emotion.
The first few days are ok. You stay busy with familiarizing yourself with your surroundings. You gather a few of the native pieces of fruit. You find a somewhat comfortable place to sleep under a thick brush of trees.
But then days turn into weeks. The once sunny island is now dark with cloud cover. There’s always a consistent threat of rain. It’s gloomy, and you miss your life. You miss the normalcy and your routine. You have nothing where you are. Time doesn’t matter. Morning or evening, you feel the same regardless.
Weeks turn into months, and you wonder if anyone misses you. Are they even thinking about you anymore? Wondering what happened to you? Do they even still care? You’re completely cut off from the world. In some way, you know you can’t be a part of it, anyway. You’re just not capable.
You cry and often. Sometimes they are sad tears. Sometimes they are angry tears. Sometimes they are self-pity tears. Sometimes they are guilty tears. But there are a lot of tears. Your eyes burn. Your face becomes stained. Your brain becomes so clouded that you can’t focus on the simple things. Some days you forget to eat. It’s just too much effort. And you don’t really care, anyway. Your stomach can rumble in hunger, but you barely notice. The pain from the grief is so immense; there is nowhere to go to get away from it.
It drains you physically. You no longer wander around the island. You lie down a lot. You become lethargic because you have no energy to do anything but cry. Sometimes the crying hurts so bad, you wish life itself would just stop…that somehow, in some odd way, it would be easier to deal with. Days of your life pass you by, but you can’t do anything about it. You feel more alone – more isolated – than ever. And that makes you cry, too, because, after all, you didn’t choose to be on that island.
You have minute moments of clarity where you try to talk yourself up, but the dark clouds overhead increase, and you can feel the oppression they cause. It drags you down physically, emotionally and mentally. Your brain becomes mush.
The sadness is so much more than just overwhelming – it’s debilitating. But you’re powerless to stop it. You’ve tried. You’ve tried so hard.
You don’t know how to get off the island. You don’t know how to make it all stop. All you know is you’re alone, you’re miserable and you’re lost. And it seems to hurt more every day.
I know because that’s where I am. It’s where I’ve been for most of this year. And I’ve never felt more alone in my life. My eyes burn, and my head pounds from all the tears that I’ve shed. I have weeks – not just days – where I’m incapable of functioning. There is no going to the grocery store or doing dishes. Getting out of bed becomes the big accomplishment of the day.
When I was doing research for Mom’s cancer last year, I ran across The Spoon Theory. A woman with lupus came up with a brilliant way to describe what it’s like to have it, to deal with it, on a day to day basis. Most people start out with an infinite number of spoons each morning. Each spoon represents energy needed to accomplish tasks during the day. But someone with lupus or arthritis or any other physically demanding disease starts out the day with a limited amount of spoons. They don’t get to do everything they want because they will quickly run out of spoons. They have to pick and choose their tasks for the day.
Dealing with grief is just like that. The spoons represent both your emotions and your physical state of being. Thing is, you have no idea how many spoons you’re going to wake up with each morning. It could be twenty. It could be two. Regardless of how many, that’s all you’ve got to get through that day, at least until the next morning.
Sadly, today is a two-spoon day for me. Getting up took one spoon. Writing this blog took the other. Hopefully tomorrow morning, I’ll wake up with more than two.
That’s my wish every night when I go to bed, actually. To wake up the next morning with lots of spoons.