8 Minute Read
All I wanted to do was take a nap. It was the middle of a Sunday afternoon and the perfect time to turn off my phone, and the rest of the world with it.
After playing endless rounds of a word puzzle that usually works like a tranquilizer, I was finally in that dreamy spot. You know, the accidentally-fell-asleep-sleep where you’ve already started dreaming kind of nap, then it happened…
What?! Is that someone at the door? Are you kidding me? Now? On a Sunday? Who the…Aaarrgggghhh.
I stop by the window and shift the shutters to peek out. I see two young adults standing on my front porch holding pamphlets. Ugh! I close the shutter firmly in a way that clearly states, ‘I am not thrilled to see you’.
This is obviously going to be about religion. I am not a religious person. I’ve been to many different churches in my lifetime, even studied religion in college. To each their own; whatever makes you happy.
However, Me and the Big Guy…currently aren’t seeing eye-to-eye. He knows what he did.
Needless to say, I have zero interest in the pitch these two midday, unwelcome strangers are here to deliver. As I head to the door, I am ready to tell these twenty-somethings that I am not in the mood, I’m feeling ill, I’m napping…Crap, there is a package on the porch.
I open the door just wide enough to retrieve it, which gives my barking little dog the chance he’d hoped for and he dashes out. Still barking, he presses his nose through the protective dog gate I installed after he revealed himself to be a mailman-ankle-biter.
See? This is an unfriendly house. Go away.
As much as I want to, I won’t be rude to a stranger much less this cute couple that’s apologizing for the interruption as they swelter in 90-degree heat, and irritatingly turn my ankle-biter into a hand-licking-traitor.
Okay, let’s hear it. Let’s get this over with so I can get back to my nap.
We are from (blah, blah, blah) and we have some reading materials (blah, blah, blah) the young man says as he holds up his booklet, which I obligingly glance at.
On the cover, is a man standing in a beautiful graveyard at dusk. He is looking down at a headstone and his shoulders are slightly slumped.
In bold print, “Is This All There Is?” grabs my attention.
I start tuning him in as he talks about types of loss, and how difficult it can be to move on. Some may feel swallowed up by it, or unable to see what life has to offer after experiencing loss.
For a moment, I wanted to ask, did my Jesus loving sister-in-law send you here? Where is she? She in the car? Around the corner?
The timing of this visit is a little too coincidental. It was just a week ago I was sitting in her kitchen and she was kindly giving me some encouragement to stop what some might describe as…wallowing.
It’s been 7 years since I lost my husband, her brother. It will be 8 years in December. We’d only been married for 1 year and 4 months; we were both 40 when he passed.
I waited my whole life to meet this man, and in a breath, he was gone.
From the outside, I appear just fine. I did everything right. I stopped drinking for a year, so I wouldn’t add a depressant to my system. I kept busy, and returned to work immediately after the memorial. I packed up the house. I sold it. I started the Insanity workout and got into shape. I remained social. I moved into a small condo and smiled…and smiled…and smiled.
I was so good at looking fine, sometimes I worried people thought I was a little too fine.
I read up on grieving and I followed all the rules. I dove into his family and was supportive and present. I hardly shed a tear in public that I couldn’t quickly breathe through and turn into a f-ing smile.
After a couple of years, at the urging of friends and family, I started dating because “it was time.” I’m sure I went out with many wonderful men who’d have been a dream catch for anyone else. Anyone who was in their right mind…but you see, I was not.
I was incapable of loving someone else.
I moved out of state just before year four. I wanted nothing more than to be completely anonymous; I was so tired of smiling. I smiled everyday at work pretending until I could just go home, shut the curtains and crawl into bed until tomorrow.
I smiled all the many times when I was at dinner with friends and someone crossed the room to tell me they just wanted to give me a hug, or how they knew my husband, or how sorry they were.
Since my husband apparently knew everyone, this was happening constantly. Although it was sweet of them, to me, it just felt like getting kicked in the stomach over and over.
This may sound like wallowing, but how can it be when I didn’t cry or feel sorry for myself?
I didn’t announce to strangers what happened, and I can count on one hand the times I fell apart. Which for me means actual tears for longer than 30 seconds, but still less than a few minutes.
I am just not a person that cries.
Okay, sure, when I hear Sara MacLachlan start singing as they show SPCA animals in need of rescue do I run over to the TV and immediately switch it off? Of course, I am not a robot; she gets me every time.
I cry at rom-coms, at sweet Olympic commercials – but I do not cry for myself. I am just not built that way. See? Not a wallower.
With very few exceptions…
I cried while getting a massage. It was given to me as a gift and I used it about nine months after his passing. The lady who gave me the massage was about my mother’s age. She was kind and had a nurturing quality about her.
As I laid face down and started to relax, she worked the muscles on my back. It was the first time I had been touched since he died, and the feeling of being cared for was enough to break me.
I cried silently the entire time I was on the table. She graciously ignored the tears streaming down my face and let me weep.
I cried at coffee with a dear friend who asked how I was doing. Somehow my usual answer of ‘fine’ became choked up and I was embarrassed. It had been two years, I was so mad at myself!
Why was I still crying, and in public no less? Get it together.
I cried the first time I was intimate with another man. This wasn’t my husband and I felt washed over with guilt and shame. I felt like I had betrayed him.
It seems that unless you have a new partner in your life, you are considered broken.
I am blessed that my husband’s family wants me to be happy. They would love to see me find someone, remarry, and move on. I am fairly certain that if I just had a man at my side and went through the motions of appearing happy the entire family would believe… I am fine.
All, except my sister-in-law. She is like an emotional-ninja when it comes to really seeing people. She looks at me and sees I am hiding…
Hiding in my weight, in my projects, in my very anonymous, private, far away cave that I have come to love in a most unhealthy way. I can put on that smile and damn if she doesn’t see right through it. I really don’t like that about her.
I don’t like that she used the word wallowing. That she told me to listen to an audiobook, Girl Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis, that as it turns out, is basically a woman who stole my life story, wrote a book about how we can all choose to rise above it all, and also uses that word – wallowing!
So this is twice I have had that word flung in my direction. Obviously, she suggested this book to me as a person whom she believes it can help.
How dare she? Wallowing? My husband died.
He died and I didn’t allow myself to crumble. I didn’t go off the deep end, or have a midlife crisis and blame it on grief. I may have bought waaaay too many shoes and became a little addicted to the joy of finding an Amazon package at my door several times a week – but overall, I would say I did very well.
I mean, I have heard stories of people turning to drugs, having blackout alcohol binges, random sex partners, and the doozy of all wallowing…filling Facebook with feel-sorry-for-me updates that cry out for constant attention. I deserve a medal for not losing my damn mind.
I kept it together, at least on the outside. Doesn’t that count? I am good at pretending, but as it turns out, I have deep roots when it comes to love.
To this day I am still madly in love with my husband.
So in love, I haven’t dated anyone in years. I haven’t grown personally, or taken on a new outlook. I crave to be invisible, making sure not to make waves or even leave a mark.
I am very still, and extremely close to disappearing altogether.
Am I wallowing? I don’t think so; I am just, no longer here. I’m no longer even remotely similar to the social, vivacious, happy person I was when I met my husband.
As I recall, my sister-in-law said something about the “old me” as we chatted over the kitchen table last week. What was it she said? The first time she met me, how I was someone with energy, happiness…something like that.
Now, it would seem, I am a person that receives audiobook suggestions and is talked to like a child who is not living up to their potential.
What potential? I am forty-seven years old, unmarried, no children and frankly too old to start now. I have no amazing career or personal long-term goals to reach.
I was going to be a wife, a mother and a partner with the love of my life when suddenly my whole world was ripped apart.
I was left alone in the dark, and thrown into a hole so deep it has taken me seven years to start clawing my way out. I am still miles away from anything remotely recognizable as a life, and absolutely no idea which direction to start walking.
So, did I want someone to magically show up, wrap me in a blanket, feed me hope, energy, love and strength until I burst out of it like a superhero and launch into the sky with my fist in the air? Yes!
I admit it. I can see it now. What my emotional ninja, all-seeing sister-in-law was talking about…the wallowing.
Although I refuse to accept that word as one that describes me, and I know I may be repeating myself, but doesn’t it count that I never broke? That I never crumbled…that I did everything right? Wasn’t never allowing myself to cry in self-pity, the right thing to do? Wasn’t it?
Wasn’t getting up everyday, washing my face and putting that smile on the right thing to do?
Would I be better today had I let myself give in and feel all of the heart-wrenching emotions I considered self-indulgent and weak?
If all the times I looked up at the stars and moon and wondered if he can hear me, if he can still see me, if he is there… and didn’t give in to the tears… wasn’t that being strong? Because I heard those words, “you are so strong,” so many times I could scream!
I pulled up my bootstraps and faced the world. I kept my back straight, a stiff upper lip and my smile ready until finally I gave myself permission to just STOP. Then, I moved away; I needed to be somewhere I didn’t have to keep up the facade.
Was that where I went wrong?
During the last few years, I have taken on any project, family crisis, or issue I could get my hands on. While I was busy taking care of others, I didn’t have time to concentrate on myself. I had no idea at the time what I was really doing, was hiding.
It didn’t feel like hiding, it felt like freedom. I stayed home, ate whatever I liked, wore pajamas all day if I wanted, and stopped working out. Over time, I gained 30 pounds, lost touch with friends and haven’t put on my beloved high heels since…I can’t even remember when.
I told myself I was becoming more natural, low maintenance, less concerned with my appearance or the opinions of others. That I was growing up. This was me and I was happy. Well, happier…except somehow I wasn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a hermit at heart, and not having to face the world on a daily basis is for the most part, pure bliss.
At least, until suddenly, I blinked and realized I’d lost the last seven years of my life.
I’d gone into my self-induced coma and woke to find I am still in the exact same place, just older and heavier. Now I am here, and suddenly aware that I have work to do.
Will I one-day look back and feel that this phase has actually been my weakest? Is that what they all see?
I can no longer ignore that I am letting life pass me by and so I suppose if pressed, we may categorize this as something similar to wallowing.
I take the booklet. I surprise myself with the thought that I might actually read it. The interrupters leave, and I attempt to return to my nap, but now I am wide awake and wondering if the universe is trying to send me a message.
I already agreed to listen to the audiobook, and so I will continue listening. I will set goals as my sister-in-law challenged me to do. Although doubtful I will do more than skim the booklet given to me by my nap-saboteurs, the timing of the message is not lost on me.
Wallowing. I suppose at this point there is no other excuse for continuing to be stagnant except my own lack of effort. I am not sure what I would, or could have done differently. I never thought I would still be struggling seven years later and it should be noted, depression is not wallowing.
Depression is chemical and cruel, and its grip is strong. It buries itself deep down, and if you don’t seek help, it may very well take years to dig your way out. I have thought many times of giving up and joining my husband.
Sometimes it feels like I am just here…waiting for life to pass me by and I no longer have the energy to fight, much less care.
I know though, it’s the depression whispering in my ear. I used to feel like people who felt that way were weak and selfish; now I know that is simply not the case.
I do admit, I needed this perfectly timed kick in the pants by someone who cares enough to wake me up from my fog and tell me I can do better.
I believe that the grips of depression gave way a while ago, and I just didn’t bother to notice that the chains were no longer there.
In my lethargy, I flat lined; I hadn’t tried in so long it didn’t occur to me to make an effort. I was…oh dear…wallowing.
Thanks to my sister-in-law and her blunt honesty, I have been given a much-needed dose of perspective. It took a few days, an audiobook that left me with no excuses, and a couple of well-timed strangers, but something feels different.
I feel something inside of me I have not felt in a long time.
It is like sparkles… bubbles in champagne. Whatever it is, it feels good.
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Char holds a degree in both Communication and Psychology which, in an unexpected and statistically rare twist, turned out to be useful. The other tools most utilized in her bag of tricks include a love of family, unsolicited blunt honesty, and the ability to see the humor in just about everything. Finding joy in the everyday has been challenged many times over the years as life dealt out its lumps and bumps, but none more so than the heartbreak of becoming a widow. As a daughter, middle of five and self-proclaimed family problem solver, life continues to provide endless opportunities to find laughter in the lessons.