Do you worry that a grieving friend or loved one still cries?*
It’s true that time will help, but it takes longer than you expect. Your friend’s 2013 loss is “still” very recent. That she still cries is normal. She’s still stepping through the year of “firsts.” Every season, every holiday, every public (and private) anniversary, birthday, or commemoration has to be re-framed without her loved one’s presence. Some of it may be on a conscious level, but much of it is a visceral adjustment.
Until August I walked with a cane for 10 years after a misstep — a very costly misstep.** (Stay with me, please. You’ll see how this relates to grief by the end.) When I first injured my ankle, it hurt all the time. All. The. Time. When it didn’t keep me from sleeping, pain invaded my dreams and awoke me from them. It wrought tears I didn’t realize I was crying, and it happened as often when at rest as when I tried using it.
I did all the right things — ice (at first, then heat), anti-inflammatory medicine, elevation, and rest. When days brought no improvement, I sought professional treatment. X-rays ruled out fractures and physicians confirmed the appropriateness of what I’d already been doing. I hobbled around in a pressurized walking boot for nearly nine months, but when my ankle emerged from its plastic-and-Velcro womb, I’d delivered only atrophied muscles, tired tendons, and limp ligaments. Months of intensive physical therapies followed, and TEN spinal nerve blocks later … I still needed medication 24/7 to manage the pain.
I can’t remember how many prescriptions doctors had me try before finding one that let me go about my day-to-day mom duties. Some were ineffective or made me so loopy I could scarcely walk down the driveway, much less drive from it. One worked fairly well (for a few weeks) before painting my leg with a red, itchy please-scratch-with-sandpaper rash. Another worked perfectly — I felt almost zero pain and I could drive safely — until the day my hands began shaking and my hair abandoned scalp by every brush- and finger-stroke.
It was between the second and third years after my missed step when I found medicine that relieved enough pain for me to function without involuntary tears — as long as I walked only upon 100 percent flat surfaces and carried nothing as heavy as a full milk jug. Stepping across grass, sidewalks, parking lots, dirt and/or sand, ramps, the slope of my bathtub, and thick carpeting still overrode my damaged ankle badly enough to alter my life every hour of the day — even with the more effective medicine — and the pain still invaded my dreams by nightmares and awakenings.
In the eighth year I tried acupuncture. Friends had recommended it earlier, and I’m not sure why it took so long for me to try it considering all the other methods and approaches I’d embraced. I wasn’t ready until I was ready. After the first treatment I cut the dosage of pain medicine in half. After the third treatment I stopped using it altogether.
That doesn’t mean I no longer felt pain in my ankle — far from it — but I became better able to handle it. Even so, I still had to tread lightly and carefully using my cane over all but the smoothest indoor surfaces — until this 10th year’s miracle allowed me to step freely again.
My grief as a widow has been similar, though the emotional pain was/is/was far worse than the physical. I consulted with experts (other mourners) and sought treatment (with a grief counselor) and I still face many sleep-interrupted nights due to grief. At three and a half years into my healing, I’m still figuring out how to balance my “dosage” of day-to-day living with my adapted way of walking on the uneven surfaces of widowhood.
At less than (or more than) a year since your friend’s loss, she is still adjusting the Velcro straps on her walking boot with every hobbled step she takes. Time will help her toward healing, but she must also maneuver through the emotions and realities along her altered footpath. She’s got a long road ahead as she learns to walk with a new gait. Offer her your arm — and your ear — in patient support, but “still” your tongue about how long it’s taking her.
A couple of important notes on this post:
*I adapted this post from my answer to a friend’s query on behalf of a loved one.
**The miracle of how I got rid of my cane is a separate story, one for which I am truly grateful!