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When Living With Grief Is a Game of Distraction


Living with grief is a game of distraction. In the year-and-a-half since I’ve been a “w” (still hard to say the word), I’ve learned to keep my mind in other places. If I can. Work is a refuge. From the moment I sit at my desk, I am busy for eight hours with thought-provoking tasks. I have a trusty teammate who bears my prattling on about project ideas and what my kids are all up to these days. Still, of course, there are moments (and, sometimes, days) when I zombify myself and go into work-through-misty-eye mode. It doesn’t take much. A memory. A smell. An innocent thought. My task distraction can be rudely and suddenly broken.

In the morning, before work, it is hardest. The house is too quiet. All things to be done are so routine, they require no thought. No distraction. I sleep as long as I can. I do what he used to do — feed dogs and make coffee — and try not to think of them as his jobs anymore. As soon as I am presentable, I pick up a game on my iPad for the 10 to 15 minutes I have left. Games, by the way, have become my main source of escape. To think, as a mother of three, I once viewed video games as the enemy. Ultimate time-wasters and opportunity thieves. Now here I sit, with hours of daily play under my belt. Still, sometimes in the midst of my concentration, a song will play, or a thought will sneak through, yanking me from the bright world of pixels into my bleak reality. And, since I’m at home, I don’t have to keep the tears quiet, or unshed.

The interruption I’ve described is just a fraction of the whole — one string in a knot. The rest is a tangle of secondary losses. And they are never-ending. One of my online “w” friends asked: “How do you tell the difference between crying for your loved one, or crying because now you are alone?” An excellent question. Once the numbness wore off (about the first six to nine months for me), I woke up crying one morning. It was the first time I realized I was crying for myself. Because I was alone. How could I be so selfish, shedding tears for myself when I am the one who is still here?

And so the secondary strings of grief begin to spin and twist, and the mess looks like this:

I slept on his side of the bed last summer. I woke up, face wet with tears. These tears were for me. That I can sleep on the whole bed if I want, but at such a dear cost. “Don’t isolate yourself,” they say. But isn’t it better to keep my misery to myself? I am poor company now. I am so mad at him! He promised me I would never be alone! He lied! This was going to be our time! All of those years raising kids, putting them first, I thought we’d have plenty of time. The kids! How are they coping? Do they need me? I don’t know what it’s like to lose a father. They don’t know what it’s like to lose a spouse. How can we help each other? It’s Friday night. Friday Night Cry Night. While most say “TGIF,” I say, “Can it please be Monday?” My plan to make it through: Sleep in as late as possible, go to bed early, distract myself all weekend with Netflix, games, music. Grocery shopping is terrible. So many triggers. We used to shop together for a busy family of five. Everything in the cart reminds me I am alone. Where is everyone? Do they think I should be over it by now? They are afraid to say hello to me. They are afraid to ask how I am. OMG. I don’t think I can make it through the holidays. But my kids are coming home, so I am happy, too. Wow. How can I be happy? Am I supposed to feel happy? We decorate and prepare. Well, I help. My daughter takes over a lot of the work. She knows I am overwhelmed by all of the things to do. I am used to curling up in my little sitting room with my distractions. Why am I still in this house? Should I get a new house? A smaller house? Wait. I love my house. Such lovely memories. No. I hate it. I need a change of scenery. I went to the movies alone. I took myself to dinner. The host said, “Right this way.” I could kiss him. I was so afraid he’d say, “Just one?” I am empowered. But now it is my husband’s birthday. The plan was to celebrate with a steak dinner. Instead, I stay home, failing to distract myself. It’s his birthday, but he isn’t any older.

In fact, I am catching up to him. I am existing. I exist.

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Thinkstock photo via dariooo