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On Grief: What is Normal Anyway?
Elaine Williams copyright 2008

Is there such a thing as normal in grief? I believe we all have experiences that are similar, to a degree. But I also feel that grieving is an entirely personal thing. We all react to loss in our own way, in our own time and according to our own closely held beliefs. There is no schedule, no prescribed way to act or feel.

Many days after my husband passed, I could still laugh, feel joy over silly things, but for me a lot of it felt superficial. Laughing on the outside, crying inside. It sounds trite, but nothing in the grieving process is small or trivial. Our emotions and actions all mean something special to each of us. People think you're brave or you're doing fine because they don't see the tears or the private anguish. Some of us are successful at keeping that hidden. We don't feel comfortable sharing what's really going on inside. I know for the most part I kept it all under wraps. I felt I had to be strong. Why whine about circumstances you can't change? Who, I thought, wants to hear how depressed or hopeless I feel? Why bring someone else down with my feelings of inadequacy and loneliness?

Twice I've heard others give advice to the newly widowed, about how with time you'll get used to being alone. The first time I heard that, I didn't understand the utter devastation of being in an empty house. The second time I heard someone say this, to a new widow, and being a widow of only 2 years myself, I understood. I was a little sharp when I told this single person giving advice, "It's not the same as being single. It's not easy or quick."

However, based on my experience, I can say that with time it does get easier. I wish now, in looking back, that I had talked more about my feelings to someone. Family, friends, a therapist. Someone. I think it would have benefited me.

For quite a long time, when I thought I was healed, I realize I was suspended in some kind of limbo. In looking back over the last several years, it's easier for me to see the whole picture of what was happening in my life. I decided to start dating about a year after my husband's death. I felt I was ready to move forward. As a conscious gesture on my part, I moved my wedding band to my right hand. This symbolized to me I was taking action and saying, "Ok, ready to go."

At this juncture I attracted emotionally unavailable men. Selfish men who wanted a booty call and that was the extent of their interest or capabilities at that time in their life. I missed intimacy, someone holding me, their attention focused on me because of the person I am. I desired a meaningful relationship. After all, I thought somewhat smugly, I had been married twenty years, I knew how relationships worked. I wanted one again to fill the gap in my life. I wanted it overnight.

I'm a big believer that if something keeps coming to you in a negative way, it's because someone or something bigger than yourself is trying to get your attention. I kept having dates with men who were totally out of sync with me spiritually, mentally and emotionally. I can now decipher the message I ignored. I was the one attracting emotionally unavailable men because that's who I was. That is what I projected for two and a half years until I called a stop to it. I made the decision to stop dating men who I knew were only a nice dinner date and nothing more. I made the decision not to get intimate with someone unless they really cared about me, because I cared too much about myself to do otherwise.

In the early dating period, I couldn't see this. I was determined to do it my way. I was curious, I wanted some excitement to make up for the drabness that I felt was my life. My life in reality wasn't drab, it was merely filled with loss and grief that I was trying to avoid thinking about.

For me, once I decided to think more clearly about what I wanted in a relationship, I stopped drawing in the wrong people. I became clear in my own heart what was best for me. It wasn't an overnight fix. Some days I still feel I'm in the process, but I look back and know I am in a much more advanced place than I have ever been.

I love my life, the opportunities that fall into place, the discovery of the real me who's been waiting to be found. My life experiences have taught me so much, and a lot of it was due to grief. If I hadn't had these exact life experiences and traumas, I don't believe I would be the whole person I am today.

A Journey Well Taken:
Life After Loss by Elaine Williams