the shadow of grief

We hear and talk about grief, but it’s usually intellectually savvy, always complicated, doesn’t make much sense, and often difficult to understand. So I’ve decided to describe grief as a metaphor, using terms I know from my experience, that will probably ring true with many. This is an example of how it was for me, and of course, my buddy, Mr. Grief.

Some folks that are grieving will read this article and probably comment, what a load of rubbish. Why? Simply put, everyone grieves differently, and some grieve much deeper than others. I’ll explain it this way. If my wife Annie had of been killed instantly in an auto accident, I would of grieved differently than this article will indicate. Because, that’s not what happened to Annie. She was diagnosed with cancer, and I was told privately she was very sick, and shouldn’t even be alive. Over the next 30 months I witnessed more pain and suffering than humanity should allow. No one should have to go through what she went through. And guess what. As her 24/7 caregiver I had a ringside seat. I got to see it all.

Two points! I believe grief can be driven by the circumstances surrounding the death, and the amount of love and empathy you had for the person you lost. I adored Annie, and having to watch her inhumane suffering for the better part of 30 months, really rocked my world–it screwed me up.  So it follows that I had a long, deep, and difficult journey through grief. If you can relate to this article, you’ve been where I’ve been, and if you can’t–I would have rather been you, during grief.

Some people say, the only way we can truly reach the outer limits of our mind is to be hypnotized, or medically induced by drugs.

My enemy

Obviously, they’ve never met Mr. Grief. He can take you to hell and back, and just when you think things are getting better, he gives you another round trip ticket and the cycle continues. He’ll pick you up, shake you to your core, toss you around like a rag doll and leave you in a corner to rot. And while you’re rotting, you’ll start to weep, and through your tears the words just start flowing from, your heart broken mind. How could this happen to us? All our aspirations, our hopes, our dreams, their just gone. This isn’t fair, we didn’t deserve this. And of course, Mr. Grief is right there with you, enjoying the moment, and discovering more new and innovative ways to mess with your head. He’s now entrenched inside your mind, and he’s going to take you on a real road trip. One of chaos, nightmares, the truths, the lies, and all the pain and suffering he can muster. And while he at it, he’s working overtime trying to deceive you into thinking that you are losing all your friends, because all you ever want to talk about is your loss. And who really cares about that, other than you. Mr. Grief gets great joy out of your loneliness and suffering. He has you all to himself now.

You’re getting tired, and you just want sleep. A place where you’re troubles will be behind you. Ah, but Mr. Grief loves the unconscious too. Their more fun to screw with than the alert ones, that are going about their business. You’re now trapped between two worlds, the conscious and the unconscious, and when the night mares or worse, night terrors hit, there is no escaping the reality of the vivid feeling that you’re reliving your worst nightmare over again. Your Loss! Mr. Grief will put maximum effort into getting you to relive all those horrible, traumatic memories and great satisfaction watching you collapse, in a pile of despair.

Mr. Grief loves this one! You’re asleep, dreaming, resting peacefully, spending some quality time with your dearly departed loved one. Life is so good, your hope is now renewed, nothing bad ever happened, and then you wake up. And Mr. Grief is sitting by the bed, waiting for you. He punches you in the gut and laughs in your face, and ridicules you for being so insanely naive. You ask, how could I have been dreaming, it seemed so real, the peace, the calm, she looked so beautiful. Mr. Grief wants you to have vivid dreams. And yes, he will allow some good dreams in too, but he’s always going to be there to greet you when you wake up. It was simply a cruel joke, he was screwing with your head. Now you’re heart is aching as the sorrow of your reality once again takes over, as you realize it was just a dream. He’s got you again!

Mr. Grief is relentless in his pursuit of your misery. He doesn’t want you to be happy. He thrives on your inability to think straight or make good decisions as he navigates the cobwebs of your mind, setting little traps along the way. And predictably, you’ll walk right into the trap and into his open arms, over and over. You’re really sick, but he is starting to love you—so he says.

As the days turn into weeks, and the weeks into months, you’ll say to others, “I’m really feeling good today, I think I’ve turned the corner on Mr. Grief.” Alas, what you’ve really done is turned your back on Mr. Grief, and being a real back stabber, he hates that. He knows where you live, you can’t escape that easy. Everywhere you go, he’s always there, with you, waiting for the right moment to pounce. Then it happens. Sitting at home relaxing, got the radio on, life’s good, until that old favorite song comes on and shatters your world once again. He controls what you listen too as well, knowing you are not smart enough to stay away from the sad music.  After all, sad music always makes you cry.

And that’s, Mr. Grief’s fatal flaw. What hurts you, over time will make you stronger and in the end, help you heal. Yes, he will bloody your nose on occasion, knock you down, walk all over you if he can, make you think the sky is falling, break your heart, and do just about anything he can to you. But in the end, he really does love you, although he has a very strange way of showing it.

My friend

After all those horrible things he’s done to you, Mr. Grief has the nerve to say, I was only trying to help you. I’m your friend, you know me—I live in your mind–I’m a part of you. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was only trying to help you face your worst nightmares head-on. How else can you get well. I wanted you to revisit your memories over and over, cry a million tears, get rid of all the negative emotions, and I made sure you did. After all, I couldn’t just sit inside your head and let you stuff all your feelings. It’s hard to be with someone that’s hurting sooooo much. I wanted you to be like you were, so alive, and well, so much fun to hang out with…My best friend.

I’m Mr. Grief, and I will crawl back into that part of your mind that you don’t want to access, but only after I’ve made sure all your pent up emotions are gone. I am your friend, let me help you, together we can do this. What’s that you say, “Things will never be the same again.” Of course not, they can never be the same, life as you knew it, will only live on in memory. I’m not totally going away though. I’ll linger around on the fringes, always be there as a subtle reminder of what you had. Lest you forget! I will no longer be your pain, but ever so often you’ll feel a little ache in your heart, and that will be me, Mr. Grief, just keeping an eye on you.

Mr. Grief will promise you that he won’t interfere in your life, once you reach the point, or a place in your life, and you’re trying to move on and get past–the past. Not forget the past, just get through it. Life will go on with or without you, and Mr. Grief is pulling for you.

Remember, he was your friend all along. Again! What hurts you, in time, will heal you and make you stronger. I know, he didn’t need to be so rough, but you’re a survivor, and survive you will.

The lead in picture to this article, I call the “Look of pain.” It was taken one year and one month after Annie passed. I drove out to a friend’s farm with my daughter Melissa. She apparently took this picture of me while I was walking across a horse pen. At that point, my grief was still poison and very intoxicating. I never really knew if I was coming or going and didn’t really care. I was simply living each day as they came, fighting for survival.

It’s now been four and one-half years since that fateful day, and I can tell you from my heart, there is life after death, and like it or not we survive, moving on to the next chapter in our life.  Make it special!

I wish you all, the best.

Written by Bob Harrison
Bob Harrison was raised in the heart of the Redwoods in the far northwest comer of northern California. The little town of Crescent City, California was located near some of the world’s tallest trees, with the west shoreline being the Pacific Ocean. Bob spent most of his time fishing the two local rivers where some of the finest Steelhead and Salmon fishing is located. He was also well known up and down the north coast as an avid motorcycle racer, winning several hundred trophies, and one Oregon State title. Bob graduated from Del Norte High School with the class of 1966, then spent a one year stint at the College of the Redwoods, before having a strong sense of patriotism and joining the United States Air Force. After three years of service, Bob met Annie, the love of his life, and they got married in England in 1972. Bob’s love of country pushed him on to what turned out to be a very successful career, retiring in 1991. Bob’s last military assignment was Wichita, Kansas, a place he and Annie decided to call home. Together they developed and ran two very successful antique businesses until the stranger knocked on their door and changed their lives forever; “Because of Annie.”

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  1. Hi Bob!
    Thanks for your reply. Its been a while since I have been here. I will look into your other post. I love your writings there very heart felt and transparent. I have actually been going to a therapist and doing a lot of other things to help with the grief. I really feel I am making great progress. I had to step back a bit or detach if you will. I was so invested that I completely lost myself. I morphed into my husband and our world around us that I could breath or function. I didn’t know where I started and he began. I had to give myself permission to still have a life and be separate and live life. I have found that this has helped me so much. It took a lot of hard conversations with my husband and my therapist to be able to be ok with having a life that I can call my own. Save my health and still care for my husband. I feel my health is doing so much better and my attitude towards Ed is better. I don’t feel I need to be a martyr to be a caregiver. I cant lose myself to take care of Ed. I will be severely sick or die and he will live in the process. I am grateful that I have made these discoveries and changes. I feel good about it. I know it will be ok and I know it will be hard later on. But I feel I have grieved for five years so far and I felt I needed to give myself a break. There is no time frame for what we are going through. Some may think differently than me, but that is ok. It took me five years to figure out how to be a wife a mother a grandmother a caregiver a person who is sick and taking care of Ed who is sick. That there is room for being just me and being ok with it. Thank you for your kind words and your post. and I am glad you are finding life enjoyable again and the beauty that can come after the loss and the grief
    God bless and take good care. Marie grace.

  2. Sherry, we never really get over grief, we just get through it. Sounds like you’re getting to the depths of despair, and if you aren’t, you probably will get there soon. With grief, it so important that we do indeed hit rock bottom—otherwise we can’t heal. In it’s truest form, Grief is what heals Grief. Once your body gets to the bottom of what appears to be a bottomless pit, you body’s self-defense mechanism will start kicking in and pulling you out of that dark hole. That’s my opinion, but how it felt to me. Instinctively, there came a point in my grief when I knew I had to take control over the grief and not let it control me any longer. I did that by writing about Annie, playing our favorite music, and taking one to two hours out of every day and spending that time alone and quiet, thinking of and talking to her. What that did was force me to shed a million tears, and at the same time I was slowly shedding a mountain of grief that had been dumped on me. Over a period of 3 years, I started feeling better. But, it was nearing the end of the 4th year that I considered myself a survivor. Now, 6 months later, I can see the true beauty in life once again. Even more so than before. And that’s because I know and understand the value of life based on my loss. We grievers are all worth saving. We bring a new insight on life into the world. I wish you the best.

  3. Melissa, your story is completely different than mine, yet almost exactly the same. And that is how Mr. Grief worked for me and for you. Imagine if you or I would have had this little article tucked away in a book somewhere when we suffered our loss. It would have been of great help to us know what to expect. Unfortunately, the reason most people won’t read this post is because grief is a miserable subject. And who wants that. So like you, and like me, one day Mr. Grief will come knocking on their door, and again, like you and I before them, will think their going nuts. That’s how it works. Take care, and I wish you the best.

  4. Marie Grace, I wrote the article for people like you. And yes, I have written quite a bit about grief. I published 35 blogs on The Caregivers Space since Jan 14th, this year. There’s one out there that was well received called: Grief: It’s Not Complicated-We Just Make it That Way. You should be able to search the caregivers space and find it. True grievers can and often do think they are losing their mind, as so many games are being played out in their head that they don’t really understand at the time. So, this little article was to help those that were feeling lost and uncertain. The article is a metaphor, but truer than life. It’s just how some of us feel. I wish you the best!

  5. Well you described my journey so far as exactly as I could. My son Alan died 2 months ago. He was 46. I was his caregiver for the last 18 years. He was in an auto accident and was paralyzed from the chest down and lost the use of his right arm. Thankfully he was an optimistic person and made his care so much easier. I can barely breath at times from the grief. It sneaks up and ambushes you no matter where you are or what you are doing. Today I wonder what I missed that could have saved him. Tomorrow will be completely different thoughts, words I said in haste or pain and the next day will be something else. It is never ending. There are no words of comfort that help. I took great comfort in your article as I often think if I am still sane or not. I will survive but I will never be the same.

  6. Thank you for your insight because it is what I lived day in and day out. I lived for my husband for 5 short yet very long years. I watched him die a slow agonizing, painful, lonely, sad , depressing, death, you see he suffered from ALS, I should say we suffered. He was diagnosed at 29 and passed away at 33. I did everything, saw things unimaginable to the average 25 year old. I see it when I am awake, while sleeping, driving any down time. Grief is my bestie for sure and my worst enemy. So I just wanted to say thank you for making me not feel alone or crazy. It is real.

  7. Wow! Your story rings so true in me. I haven’t lost my husband yet. But I go through all the grief you explained. He has MS and so do I. I am his caregiver. a complicated situation. Grieving my loss of health and his loss of health and loss of our relationship of what was. Nothing is the same and every day it is always changing. Its a major roller coaster ride. I have read one of your other articles to and put it together that you have posted more than one. I am sorry for your loss. I do thank you for your transparency and honesty. Rawness that no one will ever understand unless they have walked in our shoes. I just read an article on this site about anticipatory grief. It hit me. I am not crazy. It all made more sense. I bought her book that she wrote about grief after she was her mothers caregiver. She is helping me and hopefully many others by her experience and her book. Just as you are here. I am glad I took time to stop and read your article. It blessed me and helped me so much. God bless you and your future. Marie Grace

  8. (((hugs)))

  9. For whatever reason the picture, “The Look of Pain” I submitted for this log was not used. Not sure why.

  10. Truth


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