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A Day in the Life of Members Only

Monday, January 30, 2012
My sister and I started taking a non-fiction creative writing class last Monday night at a local college. For tonight's assignment, we were supposed to do an exercise that is called "dirty hands" writing. We were supposed to describe something in detail that we do everyday without thinking about it. You dig your hands in it daily and get them dirty. You do it without thought and it could be something that would be required of you daily. Something that we have begun to just go through the motions because we do it everyday and no longer notice as many of the details, because we have already memorized them all. My immediate thought of what I now do everyday and can describe in great detail, is the daily physicality of grieving, how it affects my days, my body, and how I have learned to deal with it... and I must deal with it because it is not going anywhere. Some of what I wrote are snippets from previous posts that I put together to show the full picture of what grieving feels like on a daily basis and some of it is new. Following are my images of what a day in the life of a grieving heart can look like.

A Day in the Life of Members Only

There is a private club, one that has countless members, more than any other club, but it is a club to which no one wants to be a member because it is too expensive. The benefits do not outweigh the cost and it requires personal sacrifice of all of one’s resources on a daily basis to maintain a membership, which is not optional. Once you are member, you are a member for life. One does not choose to be a member of this club, but it chooses you. There are no age requirements. It is open to the young and the old. There is no board of directors, but everyone is equal. There is an unspoken understanding among the membership of this private club that non-members can never truly discover. To join the club, you must lose someone, in death, to whom you gave your heart. I am a member of this club. I am a rookie and have only been a member for eleven months, but it did not take me long to participate in the unspoken understanding of the other members and experience what it is like to live a day in the life as a member of the Grieving Hearts Club. We all learn to go through the days of our lives with the weight of our grief ever present at greater or lesser degrees. At first, the emotions and the pain catch us off guard and fear overtakes us, but then we begin to recognize the warning signals yet still have no control over when it will wash over us. Our definition of a good day is different than those that are non-members. Our days slowly morph into a different life until we don’t recognize the extra pain and weight that our minds and body have now become accustomed to carrying. Living and grieving now coexist daily.

Every minute of every day is hard. Every breath I take is hard. At times it feels like an elephant is not only in the room but sitting on my chest stealing all of the oxygen. My breathing patterns have not been the same since my husband died. It is always shallow. All day long, I tell myself, "Take a deep breath." Throughout the day, another reminder, "Just breathe. Inhale deeply. Now exhale." I cry daily. Sometimes a little here and a little there, and sometimes I will cry until my stomach muscles are convulsing. I have gotten used to the lead weight that sits in the pit of my stomach. My stares, often times, feel blank and distant.

Some times I feel like the words "broken heart" or "widow" are hanging in front of me like the scarlet letter. Even though every one cannot see it, I feel like they do. After several days of crying in the beginning, I thought I was getting a sore throat. I realized one day that I was experiencing something new. There was an ever-present lump in my throat, ready to cry at any second. It is large and sometimes stuck down in the bottom of my throat, as if I have just swallowed a big, hard air bubble. Where does that lump come from anyway? Why can we sometimes cry with a lump in our throat or sometimes without? I have had a lump in my throat for a little over 11 months now. I keep swallowing and crying but it does not seem to go anywhere. It’s a broken heart. It swells before it can heal. It hurts to hold a lump in your throat and push the cry back down there somewhere…. where ever it goes. The lump is still there. It will just rise up out of the deep and get lodged in my throat. My broken heart is taking a long time to heal.

I have been trying to sort out all of the physical symptoms that I have been feeling. It feels like fear but not one hundred percent. My body feels like it is stricken with fear but without an object of which to be fearful. Sometimes my tongue will keep swallowing and I can't make it stop. Other times, I feel the need to swallow but my throat feels paralyzed and cannot move a muscle. The stronger the feeling of grief, the more paralyzed my throat. When it was at its peak, I could not think. I could not speak. I could not swallow. I did not feel like I was even breathing. When asked a question, all I could seem to say was, "Um". Those feelings have lingered on through out all of my days at different levels of intensity. As a member of the club I can, at least once every day, feel as if I am in a soundproof cell where all sounds and conversations turn into a silent movie, often times these moments can be accompanied by an annoying, insane ringing in the ears. I have periods during the day when I am able to focus on the life that needs to continue moving on and other moments when the feelings completely wash over me. The restlessness and the fluttering of the stomach occur mostly at night, but also during conversations about the accident and sometimes in unexpected moments.... like spotting a photograph of the two of us, when I was not looking for it.

Often times I feel numb and unaware of my footsteps. It is like a heavy blanket has been thrown over me. Other times I want to sit down and crawl into a hole to cry my eyes out. I decided it was best not to make eye contact with most people. Looking in people’s eyes can sometimes bring the tears. I am hurting in a place so deep down inside, a place that I did not know existed. In the beginning, my cries turned into moans that literally felt like I was giving birth to a child. (I had our last two children naturally and the experience has been identical.) The cries can sometimes sound abnormal. I still have those sudden moments where I feel like every bit of life has been sucked out of me. My tears still overtake me like a tidal wave, suddenly. I still have to catch my breath, as if someone has just punched me in the stomach. I still have random thoughts sprinkled throughout each day of fear of the future and completing this journey without my beautiful "other half". The pain is so deep inside my soul that there is no amount of crying, eating, drinking, or resting that can satisfy it. My insides will sometimes begin to burn. It starts in the pit of my stomach then radiates up to my ears. Some days I can feel lonely, exposed, somewhat fearful, insecure, scared... like a child lost at an amusement park. It makes me feel small and dwarfed by a big, all encompassing world.

Beside the physical symptoms that come with being a member of this club, other side effects are the tender memories that are stirred in seeing every day objects or the lack of those every day objects. I see him in the garden where we worked and dreamed together. I see him in my kitchen that we designed together to meet my every need and where he moaned in delight when a flavor or an aroma moved him. I see him in every piece of artwork that he picked out and gave me as gifts. I see him in every piece of clothing in my wardrobe because I knew exactly how each piece made him feel when I wore it. I see him in my dining room sconces for which he searched many months and finally found them in South Africa. I will see him every summer when my fig trees, which he brought in from Atlanta, are producing the luscious fruit that he thought was heavenly. I will see him as I lay in bed staring up at our ceiling fan that he was determined to wire and install himself... no matter how long it took. I will see him when I look at our garden fountain, which he gave me one Christmas, and threw his back out trying to place it in the garden, in the dark, on Christmas Eve. I will see him when I look at my sweet chicken coop from my kitchen window that he so creatively designed and built himself by adding on to our swing set fort... just because I had always wanted chickens. I am also noticing where there is now, no trace left behind.

There is no trace of his daily rhythms. The half finished cup of black coffee, Italian roast, that he always left in the same place on the kitchen counter as he left for work is no longer there. The blanket and Bible that stayed on or next to his favorite leather chair, where he spent the early morning hours, is no longer there. His dry cleaning clothes that he draped over a rod in our closet are no longer there. The smell of his cologne in the morning air is no longer there. His frequent love note texts are no longer there. His dirty exercise clothes, that always made it just next to the laundry basket, are no longer there. (Even in that, he did so with thoughtfulness because he said he did not want the dampness from the sweaty clothes to ruin the other clothes.) His empty wine glass that I daily washed by hand is no longer there. His brand new Land Rover is no longer there. His voice saying, "Babe, I'm gone. I love you... I'll call you later!" as he walked out the door each morning is no longer there. When I am making the bed, his rumpled side is no longer there. These were all traces of life.... which is no longer there.

In spite of these side effects, which are a result of my membership dues, my days also have a deeper meaning now, moments are richer that were once mundane, the ability to be compassionate has been multiplied to me, my perspective has broadened, I have had a paradigm shift about people, life, and our purpose, and I am constantly reminded that I am living in a story that is bigger than me. I have learned to feel all of this, see all of this, and contemplate all of this, while at the same time, am able to move through my day-to-day living. Living and grieving are coexisting.


Anonymous Says:
January 31, 2012 at 11:49 AM

Jene, you are such a beautiful and talented writer! Even though I don't know what it feels like to go through the pain you are experiencing your writing gives me a glimpse into what it must feel like. I am glad you and your sister are getting to take a writing class! Miss seeing you! Love, Page

Anonymous Says:
February 1, 2012 at 10:46 AM

Sweet Jene. It is February again... Kyle and I were just talking about how very fast the year has gone since he came back for Michael's memorial service last February. I think that this first year without your beloved probably felt very long to you. May God continue to give you strenght for every day. Thank you for sharing your journey with us so beautifully, you really have a gift. We pray for you and the kids often. Love you lots, Hilmari

tandyk Says:
February 1, 2012 at 1:30 PM


I stumbled upon your blog today. I cannot figure out how to send you a private message but really wanedt to contact you. Can you email me or call me? I am a longtime friend/family of Brooke and Smitty's. tandykatsaboulas@gmail.com or cell 769.798.3264

Anonymous Says:
February 7, 2012 at 7:21 AM

Dear Jene - thank you so much for your heartfelt words and for sharing your grief and pain. I too am a member of this club and have been for 8 years now. the pain has dulled but is ever present. What I constantly struggle with is the deep loneliness that permeates into my bones. Even though I have picked up the pieces of my life and am moving on, the loneliness of missing that special someone who knew you so well never goes away. But God is faithful and will see you through this, even when He feels distant. You and your family are in my prayers.

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