Being out in public is "business as usual" if the public doesn't know you have recently lost a loved one. These interactions are as they have always been except if you have to let them know. Closing Carol's bank accounts is an example where you have to let them know. We see so many commercials trying to convince us that their bank is for us, the customer. When I walk into a bank or other business I don't really sense that they want to help me…it is their job, they want to make money. I get it. But It is interesting how the bank personnel respond to you when the conversation reaches the reason I am closing or changing an account is because my wife has passed away. There is a look that comes over their face and their body language changes. You see it in their eyes. I really sense their compassion but I am glad when the task is completed.
But if whoever I am out and about with know of my recent loss, then it is uncomfortable for both parties. Neither of us know exactly what to say when we greet each other so we blurt out, "How are you doing?" Unfortunately, I don't have an easy answer for several reasons. It is complicated. First, I am "on guard" in my interactions with people. I am alert to situations in which I might become emotional, tear up. It can happen quickly and blindside me. So I size up the situation, watch your body language, take into account if we are in a public or private setting and cautiously answer, "I'm OK." I try to avoid situations where I will lose it…so I am very cautious about going beyond the pleasant greeting stage. I am checking myself to see if I am emotionally handling the current situation.
Second, every day is different. Some days I am emotionally fragile and missing Carol terribly. Some days I am busy and focused on yard or household tasks. Some days are just long and I don't want to do anything. Some days I pace. Some days I sleep. Some days I work on the family photo archive. Some days I work on archiving Carol's documents, emails, and photos.
Third, some environments are difficult because they generate memories. One of the most difficult places has been church. You would think it would be a place of comfort. There are times when I do experience God's presence but also times when I experience her loss very deeply. Carol and I hadn't attended our local church long enough to make many friends before her illness began. So I don't really know any one. Now when I attend it is lonely, but that is a good thing in a weird way. It is just the customary greetings of people passing one another. If people don't know, it doesn't pull on my heart strings.
The worship time during church is especially hard. Carol had many favorite worship songs and I have memories of her beside me with hands raised in worship of God. Now, after her passing, when I am singing those songs my mind plays tricks on me. I think I see her beside me in my peripheral vision and when I turn to look she is not there. Then the memories and feelings wash over me. I get all teary eyed. I sometimes get a fleeting thought…I wonder if she is worshipping in heaven right now. It must be so much better than what I am engaged in right now. She gets to see God and do real worship where everyone's contribution uniquely completes the act and I'm here where I am concerned what other people think of me. I know, its weird but that goes through my mind.
A few times my attendance at church gets side tracked. I get to the church's parking lot, sit there for a few minutes thinking I don't want to go through controlling my emotions. I end up at the cemetery by her grave marker. It is just a few blocks away from the church and I sit there in my truck and wipe the tears.
Then there is what I call the rebound effect. After a few months feelings and emotions return and I have to emotionally gear up for events that I know will be difficult…things like visiting friends, celebrating birthdays, holidays and any social setting. These are events that Carol and I typically did together. It was always "George and Carol." I wasn't known separately from Carol. We were an item. Usually I gear myself up and make it through the event. It is the day after such events that turns out to be difficult. There is initially relief at having made it through the event. The relief is short lived as you become aware of feelings of incompleteness, something is not quite right. It is an uneasiness. As the day after progresses you realize that you are feeling sad because she missed it, she wasn't there. I wanted to experience it with her. I can't talk with her about it.
We have all been warned about not making important decisions while on the rebound of a traumatic event. I now have much more compassion for I now see how it is possible. When on the rebound my reason goes out the door. My mind goes places it shouldn't. I'm emotionally vulnerable and looking for closeness and comfort. Fortunately, I'm usually alone the few days after an event so that I have time to recover and then I am ready to go out and about again.
Going out and about is interesting. In the next post I will share some other things that I found hard to do that surprised me.
Until then, grace to you ….. George
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