Braving the Wilderness
After you passed, I was so scared of everything. Going out into the world felt like navigating a strange and unfamiliar jungle without a map while a war was raging on at the same time. I didn’t know if I was going to make it back alive or not and whether I would step on a landmine or not when I left the house. I was completely unstable, mentally, emotionally, physically. I didn’t know what was going to trigger me and I was always afraid of having an uncontrollable emotional meltdown in public afraid, so leaving the house was quite an ordeal and challenge since it was like walking in field with hidden landmines all over the place. I wouldn’t know when I would step on a landmine and explode to smithereens, so I had anxiety and panic attacks at the thought of leaving the house. I had to mentally prepare myself for days before I could even leave the house. If anyone wanted to see me, they would usually visit at the house in the beginning, and if someone was able to cajole me to going out, I would tentatively accept and only confirm when it was almost time to leave since I wouldn’t know if I could mentally prepare myself to leave the house or not until I was actually able to leave. Eating at restaurants was the hardest and most challenging thing for me. Something about witnessing people share and enjoy a meal with their friends and family was very hard for me. I think going to restaurants was this stark realization that I would never be able to share in the simplest, most basic human activity with you anymore – eating dinner together. After you passed, I never ate at the dining table by myself ever again and only when there were guests that would warrant sitting at a dining table versus the bar area. I even gave away our dining table when I sold our house. I never wanted to see it again since it represented the heart and soul of our life together. It was where we shared all our meals, conversations, and laughter together. No matter how busy our lives were, it was important that we always eat dinner together since it was a time for us to bond and connect without distraction after a long day out in the world. After you died, I couldn’t even bear to look at the dining table. It held so many precious memories that were now too painful to remember. It was like it didn’t exist and I never used it unless I had to. Even guests who knew the seating arrangements when they used to come over for dinner wouldn’t sit in your chair after you passed. One time, even a friend was uncomfortable sitting in your chair and kept making sure multiple times before sitting in your chair – I mean there was nowhere else he could have sat unless he wanted to eat on the floor.
One of the biggest reasons going out into the world was scary and debilitating was having to be present and witness the world go on as usual, as if nothing happened. There were times where I would just stand still and stare out into the world perplexed and confused. I’m not sure what they don’t understand?! How can they go about their daily routines as if nothing happened? There were moments where I just want to scream and shout at everybody, “STOP!! Don’t you know what happened?! My husband died!! My world just stopped and ended. Why isn’t your world stopping and ending like mine?! My world turned upside down and nothing will ever be the same again!! Why are you guys just going about your daily life and routine like nothing happened?” I always had to remind myself, your world may have stopped, but not theirs. You can’t be mad or upset if they don’t care or feel the same pain and anguish you do. They can never understand you or what you’re going through, so you have to cut them some slack!!
Being part of a world where you don’t exist was already strange and odd, so going out into the world and feeling like nothing happened was like a big slap in the face, especially when my world stopped and turned upside down. I could barely breathe or take a step anywhere, so how could the world just go on as usual like nothing happened?! It felt like you disappeared and nobody noticed or cared. Nothing happened or changed. Nothing stopped and nobody took notice. How could nobody not notice something so seismic?! How could the entire world keep going on as if nothing happened when my entire world fell apart?! How could nobody care?! How could the world be so cruel and unsympathetic?! It felt like the universe was mocking me every time I stepped out into the world and said, “You’re insignificant and you don’t matter. Your pain and grief are insignificant and they don’t matter. Nobody cares, so you shouldn’t either. You just have to move on with your life as if nothing happened!!” It was a tough pill to swallow, and it felt very cruel and harsh, if you ask me!
About two years after you passed, I even had a dream where I was looking for you. I was so desperately and stopping everybody I passed by if they saw you. I even went to the police station and left no stone unturned. But everybody thought I was crazy since nobody believed you existed. Everybody kept telling me that you don’t exist, and I made you up and wouldn’t help me find you. I kept arguing with them and said you do exist. You’re just lost and I need to find you. I was so desperate and pleading with people to help me but nobody stopped or helped, and I woke up in a panic and it put me in a weird mood for days. It was a strange and odd feeling I couldn’t place and shake. #widowhoodstruggles (Whoa?! Throwback!! I haven’t used that reference in a while, right?! 😂🤣)
Although it was very scary and excruciatingly hard, I kept forcing and pushing myself to move forward and go out into the world. I wanted the world to stop and take notice of what I was going through, but it didn’t. It kept going on and moving as usual, and I didn’t want to be left behind either, so I was determined to reintegrate myself into world even though I was completely uncomfortable and socially awkward where ever I went. I was a fish out of water, floundering on the dry floor, unable to breathe, or help myself, but I refused to be left behind, even if the world was cruel and harsh, I still wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be “normal” like everybody else. I wanted to be “okay” like everybody else. I wanted to be “happy” like everybody else. I wanted the pain and anguish to stop. I wanted my world to be put back together and keep moving on like nothing happened. I was desperately searching for a super glue that didn’t exist. The harder and longer I searched for it, the more desperate I became and the more elusive it became as well. It always felt like I was getting closer but never close enough to grab on to it. I grew more and more frustrated. I felt trapped and lost at the same time. I felt stuck and drifting at the same time. It felt like I was lost in a forest; wandering day and night trying to find my way out but going nowhere and making no progress since everything looked the same, and I didn’t have any breadcrumbs to leave a trail to help me either.
Honestly, I don’t know if I’m still lost in the forest or not. There were many times where I think I’ve finally found my way out but only to realize the trail dead ends and I’m still stuck in the forest. I guess my only options are to keep walking until I find my way out or give up and just set-up camp in the wilderness and hope and pray someone who isn’t lost happen to find and rescue me.
Whether I knew it or not (or should I say, whether I was willing to admit it or not), I was going through a very traumatic experience after you died. There were many times where my therapist had to remind me, “You’re a victim.” My mind refused to believe I was a victim, so it was very hard to grasp or even process the words, “You’re a victim.” But, as I look back now, I realize that I was a victim, or should I say, I’m a victim of this traumatic experience. Each day after you passed so unexpectedly and tragically, I’ve been struggling to survive. I have to constantly remind myself I’m a survivor!! Even if there are days where I still struggle, I realize that I’m still surviving and making the best and most of the life I have. I know this is the only way you would want and wish for me to live without you.
Shortly after you passed, I felt like I was drowning and drifting endlessly in the tempestuous ocean of grief without an anchor to hold me down, so I was always floundering and wasn’t able to find my bearings. If I wasn’t drowning or drifting endlessly in the tempestuous ocean of grief, I was stuck in a very deep and dark ditch with no way out or trapped in quicksand that was quickly pulling me in and swallowing me alive. Everyday felt surreal, futile, and desolate. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin, and I suffered from PTSD for a long time after you passed. My mind kept replaying over and over again in a continuous loop different parts of the day you died and the aftermath. Most mornings, I woke up gasping for air and in a state of panic and confusion. I was stuck in a cloud so thick that I couldn’t even discern what was real or what was a dream. As I was going through the daily monotonous routine of life, I felt like I was trapped in an alternate universe of a really bad sci-fi movie. Looking at all of our things and personal belongings, there was nothing amiss, everything looked the same, as if nothing happened and you were just on a very far and extended business trip and forgot to pack your bags. Although everything and everybody around me was the same and familiar, they also felt eerily strange and unfamiliar. When I look at the mirror, the person staring back at me looked just like me but she wasn’t me. She was a stranger – someone who looked just like me, but wasn’t me. I always wondered when I would wake up from this nightmare and return to the universe where everything was right. You don’t know how long, hard, and often I willed for that day to come or how much my heart aches now when I realize it will never come. I didn’t think I could exist in a world where you didn’t exist. Even breathing was hard after you died, and I was scared of everything. The thought of leaving the house gave me extreme anxiety. My world became so small and everybody felt like a stranger to me, even though I’ve known them for a long time. I was paralyzed, stuck in time, unable and fearful of taking even one step without you. Each morning I woke up, I always thought that dying was better than the immense pain and grief I was feeling and experiencing. If I couldn’t die, then I wanted the world to feel the pain and grief I was feeling. Every day, I wanted to scream and shout at the top of my lungs and punch and throw things. I also wanted the world to stop like how my world stopped. If the world couldn’t stop, I wished it would all burn down to ashes. Yes, these were all the things I wished and hoped for after you passed, but none of them came true. I didn’t die. I didn’t scream or shout at the top of lungs. I didn’t punch or throw things. The world didn’t stop or burn down. Everything was the same. Nothing changed. The world and everything and everybody in it, kept moving as usual, as if nothing happened while my world crashed and burned and my life was turned upside. I was standing still, paralyzed, scared, and trapped in this alternate universe that neither make sense nor felt real or right even though everything and everybody was exactly the same. I spent countless hours plotting my great escape from this horrendous alternate universe I was trapped in while pondering, “How could everything around me be exactly the same when nothing will ever be the same again?!”
After living in this alternate universe for the last three and half years, I was reminded last week that somehow, without realizing it or even believing it could ever happen, this alternate universe has become somewhat “normal” and commonplace to me now. I’ve learned to adapt and adjust to this new universe – even if it’s not where I want to be and it always feels like a terrible consolation prize – I’ve somehow found the strength, courage, and resilience to breathe again, take a step forward, and slowly reintegrate myself into this unfamiliar yet very familiar universe. There are days where I can’t even believe I’ve made it this far without you. There are even moments where I can’t distinguish whether our life together was real or not. Somehow, during these moments, our life feels like a complete fantasy, a figment of my imagination, a made-up story I conjured in my mind. There are even moments, when I see a photo of you and it feels like I’m looking at a stranger, someone I’m meeting for the first time. You look so unfamiliar and out of reach. Then, there are days, even years later, where I’m transported back to the first few days and weeks after you died and all the anguish and painful emotions come flooding back and wipes me out like a tsunami, and my heart aches to a point of no return and my yearning for you becomes so unbearable, debilitating, and paralyzing. On days like this, I can’t help but feel like there’s still so much left undone and unfinished between us. There are still so many more words, feelings, emotions, moments, and memories to be shared between us. I have all these unfinished feelings and emotions with no place to go, so over time, they collect and well up in my heart and sorrowfully overflows and culminates into an unbearable heartache and yearning.
I don’t know if alternate universes actually exists or not, but if they do, I hope there’s an alternate universe out there somewhere where you and I exist as husband and wife, and we have the opportunity to continue writing our story where we grow old and live to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary together.
Happy Birthday Babe! I love you so much!!
A grieving widow who is trying to find meaning and purpose from her tragic event.