Grief can’t tell time, but it obsesses — I repeat — obsesses over calendars. It highlights dates better than a Fortune 500 CEO’s social secretary. Grief tracks anniversaries better than hungry jungle cats on a grey-muzzled gazelle tending a newborn.
I thought I was going crazy. Without hesitation I answered anyone who asked me how long it had been. I told them exactly how long since my husband died.
My answers unnerved people, but I wasn’t sure which aspect disturbed them. Was it because I already knew the answer (perhaps I’d channeled my inner-psychic to anticipate and answer their question)? Or was it because my too precise answer was detailed to the point of confusion?
I couldn’t answer a simple, “It’s been four months,” and leave it at that. No, I had to say, “It’s been 4 months and 2 days (if you go by the date) but it’s been 4 months and 5 days (if you go by which week of the month and day of the week it is). If you’re counting a month as 4 weeks , then it’s been 4 1/4 months, plus another 5 days, but it might be easier to call it 4 months and 12 days.”
(By this point the kind soul who’d bravely addressed the calendar-crazed widow probably remembered the snarky adage that “no good deed goes unpunished.” Mistaking my pause for an end while searching for escape , my poorly rewarded friend would back away slowly, probably recalling Boy and Girl Scout merit badges earned for escape from rabid creatures. Avoid eye contact. Don’t make sudden moves. If bitten, seek immediate medical attention!)
Alas for my friend, I’d paused only to catch my breath. “It’s really been more than 4 months, because that night of the 3rd week of the month was earlier this week and because the date of the week was a couple of days ago. It’s actually been 17 weeks and 5 days. But it’s been 124 days, so that makes it more like 4 months and 4 days, counting 30 days per month.”
As much as I needed and appreciated hearing the question, the same person seldom asked “How long has it been?” twice. (Can’t imagine why …)
From this side of a little over 3 years later (Aren’t you relieved I left it vague this time?), it sounds a little nutty. Okay, I admit it sounds nuttier than a jumbo bag of mixed varieties, most with slightly cracked shells.
It was obsessive, yes, but here’s the part you need to understand for the sake of your grieving friend:
My compulsive calendar counting was as normal as it was essential.
It wasn’t until I connected with a network of thousands of young widows and widowers that I realized it wasn’t morbid for me to know — and yet be confused by — the exact number of days, weeks, and months that had passed. I wasn’t alone in my obsession over “how long” it had been! I. Wasn’t. Alone.
It took time — more than 17 months (or more than 68 weeks, or 476 days …) — before I understood why this was so important and automatic for me (and perhaps for the others).
Think of traveling before September 11, 2001. Now think of the trauma of that day (or any other “big” date that impacted your life). Think of traveling immediately after that day as compared to today.
The loss of my husband did that. It destroyed my internal packing and security checklists. It rummaged through my heart’s luggage and tossed it onto the Tarmac. It permanently rewrote my itinerary. Everything shifted into the Departure column. Grief reset my life schedule.
No wonder my brain couldn’t let it go.