You know how on TV shows, in films, and on really bad, death-related, Lifetime Movies of The Week starring Meredith Baxter Birney or Tori Spelling; there is always that scene after the loved one tragically dies where the person left behind has an epic, emotional breakdown? This breakdown, in Hollywood-land, usually happens one of a few different ways:
A: the grieving person is shown in a montage set to depressing, sad music ( R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” or Sarah McLaughlin’s “I Will Remember You” are two overused favorites); doing different things like crying while smelling a loved one’s article of clothing, or sobbing while staring longingly out of a living room window.
B: the grieving person is shown crying while simultaneously sliding their body down a wall very slowly; cupping their face in their hands; or
C: the grieving person, either during the funeral, or hours after, has an angry, irrational “moment” where they lose their mind with grief; and begin breaking things while yelling at the dead person; shouting things out loud such as: “Why did you leave me? How could you die and leave me all alone? It’s not fair!” This last one is popular on soap operas; where the grieving person takes every item off of a table or desk; and throws it all onto the floor in a fit of hysterical outburst. Either that, or they are drinking an alcoholic beverage at the time of their sudden angst; and they throw the glass of vodka across the room and against a wall; shattering it into a billion pieces.
Well, as a grieving widow, I am here to tell you from personal experience that those scenes are complete and utter bullshit. Sort of.
The things that you see in movies or that you read in “grief books” often feel like they are covered in a plastic-coating of the “proper” or appropriate ways to grieve; telling you what should happen during your grief, or how you should feel during this month, and then this month, and so on. “There will be stages of grief” – they all say – “anger, denial, blah blah blah, until finally you will come to acceptance.” Yeah, well FUCK YOU and your acceptance, grief book! Using terms and phrases such as “your path” and “your personal grief journey” are condescending and unhelpful; at least to me. The word “journey” makes it sound as if we are taking some kind of long, luxurious vacation; and there is certainly no “path” that is marked to follow, or that make any sort of sense.
Forget paths. Forget roadmaps. Forget stages. I have felt anger, sadness, denial, numbness, and many other emotions all in the same day. Hell, I have felt them all in the same hour sometimes. Grief is not pretty. It is not something you can wrap up and tie with a bow and define so specifically. It is not something that can be shown with one simple movie scene; or with “steps” in the chapter of some book from some expert who has never lost a spouse and is talking out of their certified, psychiatric ass. It is not black and white. It is grey and foggy and shades of vague. It eats you up whole and throws you into an unfamiliar ocean; where you always feel like you are drowning; where you are screaming and nobody can hear you for miles. Try to imagine, if you can, the loss of your bowels. Disgusting, I know. But imagine it. Imagine if wherever you went; everyday; you had no idea whether or not you would piss or poop your pants. Imagine the humiliation, the shame, the confusion, and the frightening feelings associated with that condition. Imagine feeling like an alien inside your own body. Imagine feeling like maybe you died and nobody told you. Grief is like that. It is like you lost your bladder in every physical and emotional part of your body. You have no control. You never know when or why or what will trigger you into feeling 87 different possible emotions. The things that you THINK will upset you the most, often don’t; and the things that you never even thought about; can send you reeling or sobbing for hours. The absolute worst part is that there is literally nobody that will ever truly understand your pain; or how much you miss him. The only person who would get that is gone, and there is nothing at all you can do about it.
Now go back to that list above from the movies and TV; and their version of what grief is like. Today, I experienced “C.” Today, I had my first real screaming, emotional, angry, yelling, irrational, throwing random items, classic breakdown. Only unlike in the movies; mine did not happen hours or days after the funeral. Mine happened 5 months and 21 days after my husband’s death. It happened at about 1pm this afternoon, to be exact.
I was online, at the Adelphi University website, trying to get some important work done that I had been putting off for the past month. I was in the midst of creating an email contact list for my upcoming Stand Up Comedy class this spring; when suddenly I got knocked offline. My computer went insane; displaying various pop-ups and messages about Trojan viruses and Internal Errors. Something was very wrong. It immediately went to my desktop screen, and then this: DANGER! XP Internet Explorer Security 2012 found 2 Trojan viruses on your computer! Activate protection scan now or you will be at risk for identity theft and stolen files!
FUCCCCKKKKKK!!!!!!!! This message was familiar to me. I had seen it before. In fact; our computer has suffered random “viruses” probably 4 or 5 times in the past few years. Seems to happen about once or twice a year with our PC; and there is never any kind of pattern to it. One time Don was on a guitar site when it happened, another time I was on Facebook. Another time he was checking his email, and BAM, Virus Alert! The “Virus Protection” is fake; and it masks itself as a program that is trying to remove viruses from your computer, when in fact, activating it will ADD viruses to your computer. Basically, it is a phony, malicious asshole that is there to screw with you because it has no life. And, oddly enough, it was this malicious asshole virus that started my epic, emotional breakdown.
”No! Not NOW! I need my computer right now! I have too much to do! DAMMIT!” I screamed to myself and nobody and the air. Immediately the crying started, and it was an angry crying this time. It was months of frustration and disbelief and sadness and “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME???”; all balled up into this computer virus. Why is this happening? I can’t do anything without my computer! Life should KNOW that, and not screw with me right now! Why isn’t Don here? Where the hell did he buy this computer? Was it a Dell Store or a computer repair shop or what? I only vaguely remember. Whenever we would get a virus, Don would unplug the computer, hold it in his arms like it wasn’t the heaviest thing on earth, and carry it out to the car. He would then drive it to this place that I cannot for the life of me remember the name or location of where he bought it, and they would clean out our harddrive and always be sure to save all of our files. They would usually have it all finished within a few short hours, and for only about $75. Now it’s happening again, and I’m alone. I don’t know where the place is to fix it, I can’t look it up because I CANT GET ONLINE, and the thought of having to remove the computer and then carry it downstairs, across the street, into the parking garage, and into my car – sends me into insane panic mode.
Now I’m losing my mind. I am crying angrily and loudly. People next door can hear me. I don’t care. It is a beyond caring kind of cry. I shake the computer monitor with my hands as I scream at it; then I pound my fists into the desk several times. My crying is extremely loud. I can’t help it. It’s been building. The anger has been building. “I miss my husband. I want you back! Where the hell are you? Why did this happen to you? Why?” I say all of this out loud and through massive, impressive tears. I walk into the living room, and without thinking, grab my favorite wedding picture of us off of the Entertainment Center. With the other hand, I grab the canister that contains what is still left of Don’s ashes. I go and sit in his favorite chair, and I hug our picture and that canister as tightly and insanely as I possibly can. I bawl for a solid half hour; not moving from his chair. I try like hell to feel close to him somehow. I grab whatever I have of him and cling on. I want to hold him so badly, and instead I am holding a wooden picture frame tight against my chest. None of it helps.
I search for signs. There still aren’t any. “Why won’t you talk to me?” I scream at him. “What’s wrong with me?” Everyone else gets signs from their loved ones. Why not me? Why can’t I ever feel that you are with me? I stand up and smash the wedding picture into the floor; trying to break both in one shot. I grab some sheet music of his and throw it onto the floor like a child. I am having a tantrum. I want to break everything. I want to hurt myself; but I know I won’t. I just want something to hurt as much as I do in that moment. I walk into the bathroom and look at my reddened, old eyes in the mirror. I see the fear of the future looking back at me. I punch the mirror hard. Yes. That feels good. I really showed that mirror how pissed off I am. A bunch of Q-tips and pills fall out from behind the mirror/medicine cabinet and land inside the sink. The mirror is cracked, and I cry through the cracks. I feel crazy. I am a lunatic. All those people that keep teling me how “strong” I am – if they could only see me now, alone in my apartment. Strong my ass. I have become a cliche’. I have become a Lifetime Movie.
Eventually; I calm down enough to make a phone call, but not enough to stop crying. I am still crying through my words; and I am still so angry. My first call is to mom and dad. No answer. Probably a good thing; since Dad doesnt know the first thing about computers anyway; and I wasnt making much sense at the time to explain the issue to him in a way he could understand. I never know who to call first when I am in this hysterical crying condition; so I usually end up calling nobody at all. I just simply get through it. This time I called John. This is the second time in a month I have called him while sobbing. He must hate when my number comes up on his phone at this point. I am a mess, and I keep apoligizing for it. I am half-yelling at him: “My computer won’t work. I fucking hate this. I hate my new life! I don’t know how to do these kinds of things that Don just took care of so easily! I dont even know where he took our computer to get it fixed! Why didnt I pay attention?”
I break into sobs again. John calms me down and starts entering different things into Google searches for me to try and figure out if we can get rid of the virus together. He eventually comes across something that tells us to shut down, and then press the F8 key while the computer reboots. This is supposed to put the computer into Safe Mode, and then allow me to follow a bunch of steps to hopefully rid the fake protection away. I do this, and everything, including all the virus pop-ups, disappears from the bottom of my desktop screen. The safe mode screen does not appear. It is just the normal desktop. Now Im confused. Where did it go? And where did everything else go that was down there? All the icons are gone at the bottom, but the desktop itself looks normal and I am able to get back online. I ask John if he thinks I should reboot again, and he suggests that I try to complete whatever tasks I need to complete for the day on the computer, and take advantage of the fact that it seems to be working for the moment.
So that is what I do. And right now, it is still working. Functioning. The problem is, the second that I shut down the computer, and then reboot it, the virus pop-ups will probably come right back. On the surface; everything looks normal. Everything looks fine.
Just like with me. People assume that I am doing okay; that I am “getting better.” People are wrong. I am able to make jokes, go to work, continue my sarcastic and now more dark than ever sense of humor, be creative, eat food, sometimes sleep or not sleep, take care of our kitties, try to take care of myself, and get through the various days that keep happening and coming up. I am able to function. But underneath all of that; there is a pain that cannot be described, a hurt that can’t be fixed. There is a monster and an infant waiting to come out and cry. There is an internal error; and it is just sitting there, ready to pounce. Lurking. Just like with everything else; I will have to deal with it tomorrow. Maybe.