Losing your most important person in life changes how you view the world, how you see grief, how you respond to almost every situation. There are times when I feel like my loss has made me more compassionate, more understanding, less likely to put my walls up. And then there are times when I feel cold hearted, guarded, and unwilling to bend. This contrast is often perplexing to me, I can't imagine how those around me might see it.
I was watching a show on television this week, one of the main characters died. I watched the scene where they told his family. His wife, a strong, smart, fierce woman collapsed into the arms of her friend, and that is when I felt it. It was like regurgitated pain. I could feel my own knees become weak, I flashed back to collapsing outside of my house, flashed back to the panic attacks in my living-room, certain that I was suffocating. This character who died, he isn't real, its fiction, yet I was shook. Now this isn't the first time that I have gotten emotional watching a character die on television. I am an avid Grey's Anatomy watcher, so at least once a season I have watched as a gut-wrenching loss folds out in front of you. But even in fiction the similarities make it reality, my reality. The curly haired little girl wondering what happened to her daddy, or the resuscitation attempts in detail, it becomes mine.
Yet, in real life, I find my walls up. I manage a senior apartment complex, and work with seniors everyday. Recently, a resident of mine passed away. Her long time partner sat in my office just 3 days after she passed, and I found myself counting the moments until he would leave. I provided my condolences, I chose my words thoughtfully, I gave him credit for getting out of bed that day, but I longed for him to go. I ended up rushing him out with an excuse that I needed to meet a deadline, when in reality I couldn't meet his gaze. I couldn't afford the emotional toll it would take on me. I could sympathize in that moment, but I couldn't afford to empathize. I put up the walls, I made sure not to ask for details, I refused to let myself relate.
Then just a few days ago, I was informed by another resident that someone was outwardly expressing her own opinions on his grief. And then I became close to enraged. I was livid that she had the nerve to say he was doing nothing at all. He was breathing, he was getting dressed, he was taking care of things, one at a time, not at her pace, but he was surviving. Surviving deserves credit. There it was, his grief, became mine all over again.
I live in this contrast, and I don't know if it will ever go away. Building walls to tear them down, backing up just to dig back in, running from the painful reminders but knowing that I should use my pain for good. Maybe it is better if it never goes away.