Life in the tunnel

Grief is a tunnel. The loss determines the length and diameter. The bond with the loss determines the speed that you travel.

The loss can be anything. It can be a person, a beloved pet, a marriage or the perfect job. Grieving is the recovery process.

Sometimes it’s short. I felt very sad when Robin Williams died because he was one of my favorite actors and a contemporary but since he wasn’t in my daily life, my sadness was short-lived. There was no impact to my daily routine.

Sometimes it’s not. When my Dad died at a young age, my mother was in the tunnel for two years. It was very scary because I was only 11 and feared she would leave me too.

No mojo – People say keep busy. That’s easier said than done. It’s hard to keep focus. Both my attention span and interest are very short. I was able to complete a project that was on the list all summer but the beloved husband was there to keep me going or I may have crapped out in the middle. I was not able to write.

Glazing – I’m perfectly fine one minute and then my eyes glaze over and I can’t hear a thing you are saying. I have no idea where I am but I’ll snap back. Hopefully I can pick up the conversation and won’t notice the odd look on your face. For once that saying is true – it’s not you, it’s me.

The litany of the losses – Mourning has a cumulative effect. When I mourn, I mourn collectively. I mourn the loss of summer. I remember the loss of my parents and the loss of my youth. Perhaps more than anything, death reminds us that we all have an expiration date and we mourn that too.

Keep the routine – Some folks like distractions. I have no patience for them. Many years ago, when I was married to my ex, his father died. His mother was not mentally capable (early dementia but fairly alert) of living by herself. She lived an hour or two away from her kids. I pulled the short straw and stayed with her for a month but I needed to get back to my life. None of her children could or would stay with her so she was moved to a lovely assisted living place. I remember her painful wails. “I want to go home!” Of course she did. She needed the comfort of home, the familiar and most of all, her friends who were now too far away. How cruel it was to rip her from that and put her in a sterile environment. I only understood that years later. At the time it was the “right” thing to do. After all, people had lives and no one had time.

I get “claustrophobic” when I’m somewhere. I call it that because I don’t know the clinical word. After a while I need to go home to the familiar. It’s calming.

I have a great friend who gave me the 90 minute rule. When invited out, 90 minutes is all she stays, then she goes home. It keeps activities pleasant and sets a good end time. Sometimes I don’t last 90 minutes.

Buck up Bunkie! – (No one said that to me because they wouldn’t have any teeth left.) Grieving is very personal. Everyone has their own rhythm and timeline. I worked with a man whose 20-something son died. He was back at work in a week and nothing was visible. Does that mean he was done mourning? I doubt it. He had private coping mechanisms. Very private. Some people can compartmentalize better than others. Doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.

What to do? – Just be there. Sometimes I want to talk about it and sometimes I don’t. You won’t be able to tell. I can’t tell. Don’t avoid mourning people because it’s too hard. They are more sensitive, needier. The feelings reside just under the skin. Even a sad story that is not related to them will send them into a pit.

In the end, you come out of the tunnel. One day you wake up and the cloud of gloom isn’t so heavy. The sun punches through a little bit at a time. Not all the time, but sometimes. It keeps getting better.

You start to worry that you’ll forget but don’t worry, you never forget. Humans are resilient but we don’t forget.

Author’s Note: I wrote this last week. It’s from my heart. I didn’t search for better terms or methods. It’s part of the healing process.

61 thoughts on “Life in the tunnel

  1. THis is so beautifully expressed, Kate. Anyone who has known loss, and I can’t think that excludes a soul, knows how individual the mourning process is and that it has to take its time. I think of it like a mellowing process. In 2001 I lost two very important people in my life. And we know that 2001 was a tragic year for all Americans, so the heaviness in spirit was just huge. The thing I noticed most was that for two years or more I couldn’t listen to any music. It was too emotive and just leveled me. And it was Christmas 4 years later when I realized I was listening to Christmas music and not crying! I figured I’d come out of “the tunnel.” The thing I always remind my friends is “it’s going to take as long it takes!” There aren’t shortcuts. Bless you! Such a meaningful thing to share. ox

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. My mother took my Dad’s death long and hard. It was unexpected and he was 55. I lived her grief with her. I found that just when you think you are doing better, something, anything, slaps you back. For my Mom it was music too. My Dad was a great musician. Long, long time for her.


  2. I’d missed this one. As everybody has said, you put it very well. It’s all what works for you, or what makes you feel less rotten. And time, which doesn’t make pain go away, but lets you get used to those holes being there.


  3. Thank you for sharing your personal journey Kate. It touched me.
    We all experience loss and grief in our own way … yet we can relate to each other and feel deeply in this place.
    May the healing continue and you find peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Random 5 for September 27 – Projects, wallpaper, TV, instinct, loss | Views and Mews by Coffee Kat

  5. All those things Kate. I still cry over dogs who died twenty years ago on my down days.I didn’t want to stop grieving for my cat, as that would mean I was getting over her, but did and i haven’t!!!


  6. This is perfect Kate and so true. My Dad died while I was in college and I am ashamed to say that I don’t think I missed him or mourned at all. I was busy worrying about my Mom. I am pretty sure I am still mourning my Mom and she died in 1987… I really miss her. And I still miss our Z Cat more than I ever imagined was possible and she has been gone since January 17, 2009.


    • The fact that you know the exact date that you lost your cat says it all. My Mom died in ’86 and I really could have used her the last two weeks. Miss her all the time. I miss my Dad but I was 11 when he died. My memories of him aren’t as vivid as my Mom.


  7. You packed a lot in here, Kate and it’s easily one of the best and most honest thoughts about grieving that I’ve ever read. I can almost hear you speaking the words. And you’re right, you never forget.


  8. For you it’s a tunnel for me a big stony pit the depth of which is determined by the loss or losses compiled. We travel on, sometimes we come to a stop, but then we begin again putting one foot in front of the other and moving on as best we can until the tunnel or pit gives way to the healing path.


  9. For you it’s a tunnel for me a big stony pit the depth of which is determined by the loss or losses compiled. We travel on, sometimes we come to a stop, but then we begin again putting one foot in front of the other and moving on as best we can until the tunnel or pit gives way to the healing path.


    • Thanks. Sometimes it’s hard to “be there” for someone because you don’t know what to say or if it’s a good time. Not to worry. Anytime is ok and you don’t have to say much. A neighbor I rarely see called today. I was very touched. She lost her dog a year ago and remembered how it felt.


  10. You are so right about everyone coping with loss differently – and probably with different losses differently too. My mother-in-law had two very sudden and tragic losses – first her husband and then her daughter. Her way of coping was/is to stay busy ALL THE TIME. Everyone marvels at her strength, but I wonder when she allows herself to fully feel the loss. But, like you said about your coworker, some people can compartmentalize better than others. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.


  11. Thank you for putting those words out there. I think I will try to print out your offering so I can send it to my sister who has no computer. Her husband died last December. She just sent me a note to apologize for “zoning out” during a phone call with me. I know she’s overworking, not sleeping and lonely. I think your tunnel analogy would be good for her to think about.


    • My sympathies to your sister. I remember my mother had a lot of trouble sleeping and that remained with her the rest of her life. When I zone out it’s hard to camouflage. I just hope for the best. Mostly I don’t remember where I was. It took my mother a long time to grieve the loss of my dad.


  12. Well said, Kate. I love this poem by Collette:

    It’s so curious:

    one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief.
    But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window,
    or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed,
    or a letter slips from a drawer . . .

    and everything collapses.

    ~ Colette


  13. So many metaphors to describe the experience of grief, but until you go through it nothing completely clicks. It is, ultimately, the realization that time flies and things end. Some of us learn this at younger ages than others. But the feeling of loss is the same. Well said, Kate.


  14. Another well written story, Kate. I know all about loss, and not just the loss of a physical being. As you mentioned, there are many different reasons that cause us to mourn. I once broke up with a boyfriend in high school who I really didn’t want to date anymore. Yet, when I broke up with him, I cried like a baby. Why??? Because what I knew as my life, would no longer be. Change is inevitable, but we still fight it all the time. Mourning is a process of which we learn to accept the change and hopefully move forward with our lives.


  15. Writing it down helps. Talking about it helps. But the gap is there. It’ll always be there, some days just wider than others. Nothing can fill it. And we don’t want it filled, we want to remember. It’s the pain that goes with it that’s so difficult to handle.
    I hear you Kate, I’m listening. I’m here too.


  16. Your tunnel analogy is excellent.

    The “litany of losses” (another excellent turn of phrase) is why I am rubbish at funerals. I’ll go, and I’ll be a sobbing puddle, and everyone will be like, “wow, I had no idea you were so close to your husband’s cousin’s wife’s stepfather!”

    People suspect clandestine affairs sometimes. Ah, well, maybe it distracts everyone just a little bit for a moment.


    • When I was divorcing many, many years ago, a really good friend said she would help me move some stuff. She never showed up until I got to my new place (she helped me unload). Then she sat down and cried her eyes out. She wasn’t a fan of my husband and she was divorced. There were no children. Nothing was tragic. I couldn’t figure out why she was so upset. She said she was crying over her own divorce which had happed 3 years before. That’s the first time that light bulb went off in my head.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I remember when you lost Frankie. I know you still miss him. I don’t know what’s harder — the death or the visual decline you watch happen. I remember the first time I saw my Mother regress mentally. It was truly hard.


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