Several months after the sudden death of my 32-year-old husband, the subtle hints from my friends, family and co-workers appeared – suggesting the time had come for me to get out more socially, begin sorting through his personal belongings and find the smile I once had. The more they pressed the more I distanced myself from them and the message they were sending to me – “the time has come for me to move on.”
Move on from what – the dissolving of my family, the loss of my true love, the death of the father of my daughter? What were they thinking? In retrospect, I know they wanted to see me happy, they wanted to remove the pain, but mostly they wanted to have the old Rachel back. Really? Would I ever “be back?”
Clearly, I was not ready and those closest to me just didn’t know what to do. I was not capable of communicating to them that I needed more time, that I was briefly seeing through the fog as I was driving again, that I was holding down my food, that I was changing my daughter’s diaper and that I was out of bed. They wanted even more; however, I was giving the situation all I had. Family and friends wanted to fix a broken soul but there really wasn’t anything to fix. What they did not understand was that I wanted to be with Rod as long as I could. Being with him was my refuge from pain (see “Day 88 – Grief Is a Refuge or a Battlefield” in Living with Loss, One Day at a Time). I needed to re-enter life on my terms, which I had not defined. But, how could I?
Fast forward 13 years, when my mother passed away suddenly; and once again I felt the people closest to me push me to smile again, engaging in family activities with enthusiasm. While this was a different type of loss, I needed time to replay the tapes of the last 45 years of my life. I had to reimagine “what if” and “I should have told her” thoughts. I had to look into the future to visualize Thanksgiving with our large family, upcoming life milestones and the loss of daily contact with her. I suspect that people around me might of thought I was an expert by now on grief and that I had the emotional tools to work through my loss, and that “Rachel would be back in no time at all.” Each loss is different, necessitating the appropriate time and support for a griever to emotionally embrace life without their loved one.
As a griever, our natural reaction to those “trying to fix us” is putting up a wall and becoming defensive towards those closest to us, which often leads to self-doubt, greater stress, and most importantly withdrawal from those who can actually be the greatest support. We all grieve differently and we all have the right to work through our loss using our own timeline. So here is what I suggest: create an elevator speech for those around you who are trying to fix you – a simple message that the situation is emotionally all encompassing but you are doing better than yesterday and truly appreciate their support. The true message is “Please let me be for now, I am trying the best I can!” Without a canned response, they will push harder and you will push back more. Stay in your refuge for as long as you need and enter the battlefield when you are ready and able.
Bottom line – there is really nothing to fix. Adapting to the new life and finding cadence again is the best way to embrace the situation.
Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and coach who provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss or setback. She is the author of Living with Loss, One Day at a Time and Grief in the Workplace: A comprehensive guide for being prepared. Rachel supports companies who have experienced a loss of an employee or supporting grieving employees as they return to work after a significant loss.