We continue this month with a little help from our grief-friends. Today we have a post from Laura Abbruzzese, a child development professional who lost her partner, Jeff Metz, suddenly at the age of 48. Laura’s words reminded us of the experience of so many grievers who find themselves getting well-intentioned advice from friends and family, but are left simply wanting to say “please, just trust me as I grieve”.
A passerby saw a monkey in a tree holding a fish. And the monkey said to the fish, “but I saved you from drowning!”
(From The Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah Adele, 2009).
The Yamas and Niyamas are yoga’s guidelines for ethical conduct. One of the five yama’s is Ahimsa, or non-violence. According to this practice, “nonviolence asks us to trust the other’s ability to find the answer they are seeking…the violence we do to others by thinking we know what is best for them is illustrated in the [above referenced] story from India” (Adele, 2009). Like the monkey that thinks he knows what is best for the fish, he is taking away exactly what the fish needs to survive.
I recently passed the 14 month mark of losing the man that I love. I feel very strongly that I have done well and have made the best choices that I could during this time. I am proud of my resiliency. I have made a strong effort to live my life and stay positive. This essay is about the misunderstanding of grief by people who have not experienced this kind of significant loss, yet offer advice about moving on with life after death.
I know it is done with love and the desire to see me live out the rest of my life without this heavy burden of loss and tragedy. I already know that this burden will always be with me – nothing will ever change that. But I have to tell you something else. Something important. Here it is: you cannot create a road map to a place you have never traveled. There is no road map for my journey and I am figuring it out as I go. All I ask is that the people in my life trust that I am doing everything I can to live my life and go forward without my favorite person.
If you have never experienced the sudden and tragic loss of someone you love, I am afraid it is not your place to tell me when it’s time to move on. A little more than a year after his death, being told by some of my dearest friends that it is time to stop grieving nearly destroyed me with anger and sadness. They asked, “When are you going to take his belongings out of the apartment?” They said, “Stop posting memories about him on social media!” They said other things like, “don’t let it define you”, “you are not getting any younger”, and “maybe it’s time to stop being sad”. Okay, point taken. However, one thing I have learned through trial and error is that it is not possible to just stop the grieving process. Still, as a favor to my friends, I can continue to travel this road alone inside my head where you cannot see it or feel the discomfort it may bring. I understand how you may not be ready to appreciate the window of experience I am offering you.
I guess you are right, not everyone needs to know how much it sucked last weekend to go through the closet and put his most worn clothing into a plastic bag for donation. And I still have more closets and storage spaces to go though. I cried for every shirt and every pair of jeans I folded and placed into a bag. I smelled each shirt to see if it still had his scent. I found one that had a faint scent of his cologne. I kept that shirt along with all my favorites and put them in a storage bag to keep. I labored over which ones to keep and which ones to donate. But point taken, I will no longer share this kind of experience publically so as to make anyone else uncomfortable.
I do have to mention that if you have gone through a divorce or loss of a relationship, please do not compare that loss to the death of a partner. It is not the same. You still have the luxury of being angry with an ex-spouse or partner. You have the luxury of ignoring emails or even finding them and yelling in their face or slapping them across it if you want, because they are still alive. It is different. It is painful and awful. I have been though that kind of loss too. I have the experience to tell you that it is not the same. As much as I would like you to recognize this, I would never wish my kind of pain on someone that I love. So, I am also happy that you cannot understand.
I also want to tell you that you are only judging my place in grief by what you see on the outside. You see that I am holding on to the most precious pieces that I have left of him – his clothes, his books, his writings and artwork, his golf clubs, his pictures and my memories. These things do not hurt me or make me sad. They comfort me and make me feel safe and connected to him. You do not know what transformations have taken place for me on the inside. You do not see how resilient I am and how well I have done. For every negative or sad thought I have, I combat it with a positive mantra. I have developed a great deal more understanding and empathy for others. I run almost every day and use that time to shift my thinking to peace and acceptance. I am making plans for the future and he is coming with me. He will always be part of me.
I miss him and so I will cherish all my memories and possessions that remind me of him and our life together. It does not mean that I am not moving forward. He was the biggest part of my life and I am not going to suppress that. Suppressing only makes it ooze out in negative ways. No, I am going to carry it forward with me. Maybe I am sad some of the time, but I am also able to be happy. Let me figure this one out on my own. Let me be sad if I need to be sad. Let me keep his things for as long as I need to keep them. This is not something that needs to be rushed. It will evolve in the way it needs to evolve. Trust that I am doing what is right for me.
Laura Abbruzzese is a native of Chicago, IL. Laura lost her partner, Jeff Metz, suddenly at the age of 48. They attended the same high school in Westmont, IL. They met again in 2012 when they started dating and became domestic partners shortly after. Laura is a child development professional and also teaches child development at the local community college. She lives in her Chicago apartment with her four cats, Zola, Luna, Tilda and Junior.
Adele, Deborah. (2009). The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring yoga’s ethical practice. Duluth, MN: On-Word Bound Books LLC.