I’m not going to lie, the past couple of months have been… rough. Grief is a tricky thing. As soon as you think you’re past it, it sneaks up behind you. Sometimes something happens that triggers it, and sometimes it comes out of nowhere for no reason at all. Sometimes it’s short-lived, sometimes it makes itself comfortable and stays a while. This particular grief wave was persistent. It’s passed now, but I was held under by it for the better part of two months, which sounds absolutely insane to me because that has never happened before.
In the last two years and seven months, I can’t remember a grief wave as bad as that one. Maybe I’ve just forgotten how bad it was in the beginning. Maybe the numbness lasted so long that I’m only now able to really feel the intensity of the waves. Maybe my grief just isn’t living up to the expectations I have for it. I expect it to lessen with each passing year. I expect that each holiday and anniversary will get easier. I expect time to do its work and to heal the wounds. I’ve told myself that if I could just make it to the next second, to the next week, to the next year, it would get better. And overall, it has. But this grief wave made me feel as if Gregg had just died, except that I didn’t have any of the initial numbness you get when something so shocking happens. I just felt all the pain of it.
As sucky as it was, I needed this wave. It was… grounding. It let me process things that were preventing me from moving forward and being fully present in the here and now. I had spent so much time chasing a reality that didn’t exist, I wasn’t even sure what was reality anymore. And I’m not even talking about since Gregg died. The last few years of his life, I chased a reality that didn’t exist. I so badly wanted him to be the man I married and for our family to be whole, but that wasn’t the reality then, either. That was just a dream. An alternate universe without war and trauma and drugs.
Since Gregg died, the logical part of my brain has been able to see that that dream was gone. I prefer to live by that part of my brain, where everything is organized and rational and I can make sense of it. Relying on that part of my brain helped me navigate my new world. I could see clearly why this had happened and continue to move forward with an intensity of focus that rarely waned. I knew exactly what to do. That intensity was comfortable. That chase of what was up ahead kept me sane. Putting it all behind me made me feel so… safe. But what I didn’t realize was that I was still chasing a future with Gregg. With my logical brain in overdrive doing all the planning and reasoning, my emotional brain sat in silence. When it did speak up loud enough to get my attention, I would rationalize with it and make it see reason until it was silent again. But that’s not sustainable. Even for someone like me who lives primarily in logic land, even when I didn’t have a dead husband. You still have to address those pesky emotions. Eventually, my emotional brain took over. And let me tell you, it was all over the place, constantly trying to find a way back to where it all started and unable to accept the fact that the road up ahead was much different than we had planned.
It’s like I was watching a movie, one where a woman drives and drives and drives, enduring the bumps in the road, the sharp curves that came so unexpectedly. Eventually, she would get to her destination, because that’s what happens in movies. Obviously, there would be a happy ending. He would be there, waiting by the side of road, so happy that she kept going, even when the road was treacherous. I’ve only just realized that I’m not watching a movie. That I am actually the one driving, and that as much as I chase it, that reality of finding Gregg up ahead died with him. No matter how fast I drive or what shortcuts I make, that road will never lead to the happy ending that I wanted. And while my logical brain could see that clearly, my emotional brain is only just catching up. And it’s terrified of the road ahead now that it fully understands that Gregg is not there waiting. It’s devastated. It’s sad. During this grief wave, it was also exceptionally angry- at everyone. At Gregg for abandoning us. At everyone who enabled Gregg, including myself. At people who I love for trying to love me. At myself for not being able to save him.
Maybe the emotional part of me took so long catching up because losing Gregg was such a shock and logic was the easier way through it. Him dying wasn’t a surprise, because logically, that’s what happens when you do drugs. While they have their claws sunk into you, they will drag you down as deep as they can take you, and sometimes your rock bottom kills you. But, if you take logic and reason out of it, it should never have happened. There are a million different scenarios that could have unfolded that would have been so much better than this one. But we all just played our parts so well. Gregg, the dysfunctional veteran who was slowly turning into a shadow of himself. Me, the committed wife who did everything she could in all the wrong ways to pull him back up. The people who cared about him, who weren’t able to help him because they didn’t really know. His doctors, who were fooled by his act almost every. single. time. Random people who didn’t do anything to stop the scene from unfolding, like the guy at the corner store who sold Gregg so much booze or the teachers and employers who saw him spiraling. And the Oscar goes too… Gregg, for being able to put on such a strong face when he was battling so many demons inside. A face that fooled even me sometimes.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to take a different role. Maybe he would be alive, or maybe the last years of his life would have just been lonelier. Maybe he would have lived longer, but done more damage to the people around him, and to himself. Maybe he would have eventually hit a wall and been forced to make a change. I’d like to think that what happened was the best case scenario. But part me is still holding onto this alternate universe where everything did turn out in the end. Where he is free from the demons that plagued him, where our family is whole. Where our kids will love him and be able to know him. Where and our grandchildren will climb up on his knee after dinner and laugh at his funny faces. Where we grow old together and can look back on the life we created and smile because we overcame so much and made it our destination in the end.