I recently had the privilege of attending a speaking engagement featuring Darci Sims. She spoke on Lessons in Grief. Even after 14 years of widowhood, personal and spiritual growth, and attending many seminars hearing different professionals speak on grief and mourning, I still find a hunger for knowledge and a thirst for information on bereavement and the human psyche. I left this speaking engagement enlightened and refreshed with a different perspective on many of the emotions and life adjustments one is thrust into after experiencing the loss of a loved one.
SHOCK – First of all, what I am about to share is not measured in linear time. It is experienced randomly and most likely repetitively. It is a phase or a dimension, if you will, that has no predictability on its beginning or its end.
I have experienced, read about and witnessed many widows and widowers experience shock. In general there is numbness, an ‘auto-pilot’ that is set in place after the immediate loss. Many experience disbelief and denial; “I can’t believe she’s gone, it doesn’t seem real”; “No, he will just walk through that door… he’s just on a business trip”. During my shock, I remember the ‘auto-pilot’ turned on for me and that ‘shock/auto-pilot’ is what enabled me to function involuntarily to go to the bathroom, get the kids up, dressed and on the bus, and just breath. Up until now, I had never really heard a term or been able to picture a visual until I listened to Darci Simms speak. She taught me from her perspective that it is as if we are frozen; frozen in time, frozen in emotions, frozen in thinking, frozen in our spirituality. What made the most sense was when she spoke of the thawing process.
This would actually be a good science fair project for the kids… No two ice cubes will thaw exactly the same… say one has an air bubble in it… it may thaw more quickly. No two icicles on a tree will thaw exactly the same way… say one is on the sunny side of the tree and one is on the shade side of the tree. The metaphoric thawing process of the above can be affected by the original size, whether it’s in the sun or shade, what is the temperature of thawing, etc. Well our own thawing process has its own variables and circumstances, too; what kind of support system is available, what kind of pre-existing crisis was going on, what kind of secondary losses have accompanied the death, what was the relationship with the deceased, the nature of the death, etc.
When we are thrust into shock, we have become frozen solid as if FreezeMan, the super hero, has just blown his ice cold breath on us. We can stay this way for two minutes or two years. When the thawing begins, we begin to feel the pain. Have you ever experienced your fingers or toes ever going numb? Do you remember when they started thawing out? You could feel the pain of the needle pricks, remember? For some the frozen phase lasts a long while before they begin thawing toward healing. If the death was followed by a law suit, one may not begin to thaw until the legalities have been taken care of. If it was a death that is waiting on a toxicology report and the death certificate cannot be issued for several months, one can remain frozen. If it was a death in which both of you were in an accident together and your spouse’s funeral was taken care of while you were in the hospital/coma, one could remain frozen. If it was a military related death and there are delays in searching/finding the body; if you invested in a premature relationship; if you are alone and have no family, no church, no friends, no support system that has brought you to a safe place to publicly mourn your loss, you could stay frozen. Finding a safe place in which you are able to allow the thawing process happen is way to the healing.
The thawing process is also affected by repeat cold fronts, or grief bursts. Say an icicle is frozen solid after a wet snow storm. Then a 50 degree day comes and it starts thawing and melting. Then the very next night another storm front comes in and it’s frozen solid again. Sound a little familiar? Sound like the journey of going two steps forward and slammed 10 steps back? We are frozen, then thawing begins and we feel pain, then we are frozen again and thawing starts again and we feel pain again. This can be very annoying and nerve racking as well as painful because we feel at one point; okay this is getting a little better. I am able to catch my breath today. I am able to go through the day without crying. Then wham… that darn cold snow storm came in and we are buried frozen solid again and we feel, what’s wrong with me, I have been here before, I was doing so good, I thought this pain was done. This can also give you the sense of “Am I going crazy? No, you are simply thawing in baby steps on your journey to healing.
There is hope…. after each long, cold, dark winter, there is a spring that follows carrying new growth and light and a summer to warm your spirit inside and out. Just as the seasons are a sure thing to come, so is our healing. It may not happen all in one season. We may have to go through more dark, cold, frozen days of winter periodically as this is a necessary part of the process. Always hold on to the hope of the spring and summer days.