What About “For Worse?” –– Grief Inside A Relationship
When you get married, you say the words For better or for worse, and you mean them.
I know I did. At least as much as you can grasp the true meaning of for worse –– as it seems so remote in that moment, just a phrase inside of a vow -– especially after a flute of champagne -– or four.
I took it to mean someone who is legally obligated by the State of California to share with me the good times as well as the bad. I felt reassured by that.
But what if you discover that when a for worse happens, like a death, the two of you process and handle the situation COMPLETELY differently.
How could you have known that?
And now what?
Especially when the deceased was loved equally by the both of you, how do you cope?
When something bad happens you want me on your team.
You see, I have what I call Delayed Reaction Syndrome. I immediately go into a hyper focused state – cool, calm and collected. I’m the one that makes the calls, orders the food, hands out the Kleenex, writes the eulogy, and is clear-headed enough to make all the uncomfortable decisions. I’m the furthest thing from emotional.
I’m …robotically rational. That is, until it what I call Phase Two kicks in.
My husband on the other hand wears his emotions on his sleeve. Actually they cover the entire outside of his body -– most especially his face.
He is incapable of holding back tears or masking sadness, and his reaction to death is appropriate and immediate.
There is no ambiguity. He’s profoundly sad and you know it.
In that respect we are a perfectly balanced match.
He grieves in the moment, while I get shit done.
There are cultures in the Mid East and Africa where they wail when someone dies, loudly and with great emotion, their bodies and faces contorted by grief. They even have professional wailers, I guess to help the family (and us Delayed Reaction types) along their emotional path.
I envy that. I really do. It appears to be an amazing release.
Two to three hours later is when Phase Two starts.
That’s about the time the tidal wave of sadness and grief comes ashore, washing me out to sea. Now I’m the one who needs comfort, I become numb, my mind unable to focus, and I want to talk and hug…a lot.
But by that time my husband is finished with his outward displays of emotion. He’s all cried out. He has now retreated deep inside, into his cave, and had moved a huge boulder over the entrance.
There’s no reaching him now.
I need to be held and reassured. That is uncharacteristically physically uncomfortable for him.
I need to cry…with someone. My tears are too much for him to handle. He’s reached sadness saturation. He is not available to me in any way, shape or form.
Moving through grief is a very solitary process, and it looks different for everyone.
I get it, I do.
But I don’t like it.
Come to find out we are just as incompatible in Phase Three.
His looks like this: Stay busy. Busy is good. Plan as many meetings and work related things as you can. Book yourself solid for twelve hours straight – then come home and pass out. Try to forget. Want all signs of the deceased erased from the house (I couldn’t do it) and no talking or tears please, too raw.
Mine looks like this: Stay in pj’s on the couch. Cancel meetings, walk neighborhood aimlessly while crying, with Kleenex stuffed up both nostrils, and don’t eat. Isolate and wish for company all at the same time. Bore strangers with your stories. Wish alcohol made you feel better or even helped you to sleep for that matter. Wash all the blankets and beds and then suffer huge regret, searching for her smell. Curl up with favorite stuffed animal for waaaaayyy too long. Forget to wash hair for three days.
Like I said, grief is an extremely solitary emotion that no amount of hugs, or kind words can help. Only time.
And just when you need it the least, it drives a wedge between two people who deal with death differently.
Even two people who love each other to bits just can’t manage to show up to soothe the other person. It was the first time I couldn’t help him. And it just goes to show that even when someone is legally bound to be there for you, sometimes they just can’t…and that came as a complete surprise –– and a crushing disappointment.
You’ve got to find your solace inside yourself and that’s excruciatingly hard.
Even though he was required by law, when he promised, “I do” –– to be there for worse –– for me –– he had to find his own way first, and while he did that, I searched for my own.
Then we met, after a week, somewhere in the middle –– with open wounds and tears and stories of our journey, and in the process of finding our way back; we’ve grown and changed.
We’re different, and I think in the end we’ll be the better for it.