One thing that is unique about those who are grieving is that it makes you question everything and sometimes a paranoia sets in. For example, I think things like, "I wonder if I don't think about Brian enough -- I don't seem to cry that much lately," or, "I have to look somewhat put together when I [see so-and-so/attend such-and-such function], so people know I'm not on the verge of a breakdown...but if I look too good, will they think I'm in denial or simply heartless?" Sometimes I worry about what people think when I smile and have a good time. Yet I want to hide my pain and anguish from everyone, or at least not allow it to affect others. I'm always aware of how I'm perceived, and I never know what is right, only that I walk this tightrope of perception vs. actual emotion on a daily basis. How often am I supposed to talk about Brian? Will people who never met him think I'm obsessed, will they think I'll never move on? Am I denying his existence if I don't at least tell everyone I meet that he existed and what happened? Do I really have to get into that with every acquaintance I make, in the first 10 minutes? Or how long do I wait?
I suspect this is something that everyone who is grieving struggles with, and I even struggle with this in the company of others who I know to be grieving the loss of their own loved ones. However, I also suspect this worry, this preoccupation is worse for those who are grieving the loss of a spouse. Normally, a husband or wife is there to lend an ear when you want to reminisce about the departed one for whom you grieve. Not so when the one who is gone is your husband. Normally, a husband or wife can see you break down and know that overall, you're doing okay. Or a husband or wife can see you have a blast and be silly, but know that doesn't mean you are heartless or over your loss, because your husband or wife would also be there when you have a breakdown and are rendered helpless by the pain. For me, no one has that complete a picture, so I worry that people base their perception of me and my mental state on the very small portion of my life they see.
I know, I know, I shouldn't worry about what people think. And I am getting better at this -- I've read enough grief books to know that no one else will ever know my journey and my burden, no one else can ever know my unique path through grief. That path was carved by the relationship Brian and I had, our ages, the manner in which he died, the support system that surrounds me, my personality and hobbies, my emotional and psychological tendencies, etc. I have had people question some of my decisions, and I've actually told those people that, with all due respect, I have to make the right choices for me, and that no one else can ever walk a mile in my shoes. I am still on good terms with those who have questioned me, as I know they were coming from a place of concern. Nevertheless, I know that people judge me and question me.
The impetus for this post is that I have started to second-guess myself about how I'm spending Christmas. Is it "cheating" or "running away" to spend the day with family down here in Texas instead of sucking it up and spending the day with Brian's parents and brother in Iowa? The latter would be harder for me, to be sure. Am I trying to short-cut my grief or run from my problems? Or am I just being sensible and refusing to be a glutton for punishment by being resolute in my decision to do what feels right to me? Grief does this -- it makes you question your motivation, makes you wonder what the right course of action is. It's just one more thing the loss of a loved one takes from you -- your confidence, your trust in yourself and your ability to make decisions.
This Christmas, I'm doing what feels right to me. I hope my instincts are right. I feel so strongly that I'm doing the right thing for me, but I wish I knew. I wish the grief didn't make me question myself.