When you lose a spouse, your heart and your world are completely obliterated. It is destroyed in every possible sense. Let’s focus solely on the heart for this particular analogy and the heart is meant to represent the entirety of the situation.
Picture, if you can, the heart in the more traditional way that you see on Valentine’s Day cards and the like, but in a 3D sense like a structure. Now imagine that it has exploded from the inside out and you’re left with rubble. It’s a huge chaotic mess; everything is in extreme panic mode and the pain is unimaginable. This is what you feel like when everything first happens. You figure out the plans, hold a service, and then you sit and wonder, “what the fuck do I do with myself now?” Well, now it’s time to address the scene.
The dust has now cleared over our scene, and we are left with the pieces. First, the center needs to be cleared up and the pieces must be gathered. This part of the process I would liken to when you’re first trying to function, but it’s all just clearing everything out and there isn’t much forward progress, similar to when you clean out the closet and it all looks worse before it gets better. You’re still in shambles, but the shambles are just a little safer and easier to navigate now. You are on autopilot and in survival mode. You probably will not have much memory of this time which is perfectly okay.
So you’re done clearing up the mess, now what? Now it’s time to try taking the largest pieces – the core pieces – and try putting them back in place as best as you can. You’re realizing, though, that the pieces just don’t fit like they used to and there are notable components that are missing (parts of you die with your partner, which just plain sucks). So right now you have a sort of sad shamble-shack happening instead of an actual structure. At this time I picture that stereotypical tarp/cover over a line like they always have in older cartoons. This is set up near the sad shamble-shack, but not directly in there so you’re not in your own way. Your tarp is enough to keep you from dying, but it’s not a place of happiness or prosperity. It is a place of limbo and pain. Remember: your sad shamble-shack heart structure is right there, constantly reminding you how much work you have to do and how far you have to go and looking like it should be condemned by the city. And you’re lacking the resources you really need to get back to that safe, sound structure that can actually withstand weather. Please note that while you’re living in this tarp, life keeps on going and throwing things your way when really all you want to do is keep working on your structure and building your heart back up into something more substantial.
So, what happens next? How do we get out of the tarp and fix this sad shamble-shack? Good question! Now it’s time to start building up new materials from scratch. This is probably the hardest part (at least in my experience so far on this journey). This consumes the most amount of resources in every sense. And there are a lot of variables that can affect this process: money, your job, time, energy, how much help/support you’re getting from your loved ones, if you’re following the task at hand instead of taking shortcuts, do you have kids or pets… all the fun stuff, right? This is where the largest amount of variety exists between widows. Our rebuilding process is extremely individualized. And yes, we will all make mistakes in our rebuilding process and that will suck but we learn from those mistakes and improve upon them with each new attempt in the building process.
After however much time it takes to rebuild, you now have a shiny new structure, yay! Go you! You deserve all the recognition, this shit is hard. Also, know that you are still you, just remodeled. Your core remains mostly in tact except for the bits and pieces that were lost alongside your spouse.
Once you’re at this point, though, it starts to behave more like an old sports injury. It will act up from time to time depending on the conditions. When shit hits the fan, the seams of the structure might scream a bit under the pressure, or even crack/break. Then that old pain comes flooding back. You’re filled with so many emotions, and sometimes it’s so frustrating because it feels like you just had to fix this! But with time the seams will get stronger, your ability to rebuild improves with experience, and the pain shows up less often and usually with less intensity.
Please know that no matter where you are in this process or how hopeless this process does feel, your structure will never completely fail you and your loved ones will make sure to stand in the rain while they hold the tarp in place over your head to keep you as dry as they can.
Please know that your new structure can very easily be an improvement from the old one should you opt to make it that way. Your possibilities are endless in the rebuild process: use that to your advantage! You may have been forced into this rebuild from the natural disaster that happened, but I truly believe that you should take that as an opportunity to fix the problems that the old structure had while you’re rebuilding.
Then fill that new structure however you see fit. Take your new life and memories and treasure them in this new structure. Do not forget about the fragility of this structure, and tend to it as much as you can. Love it and yourself.
Note: this analogy works for any kind of grief. Just keep in mind that the intensity will vary depending on the loss. It can be as big and intense as the whole structure being obliterated such as this case, or it can be as simple as a fire happened in a storage closet. The amount of destruction is directly correlated with the intensity of the loss. Seriously, do not compare the loss of a pet or something to the loss of a partner, it really takes away from those whose entire structure has been destroyed. Think of how you don’t compare a rain storm to a hurricane. Some things are more intense than others, period.