My husband slept for the last time last year. These days, there is no Ely to share my meals with, or suddenly burst into a Beatle ditty, and urge me to pipe in for harmony.
It was a dream to be married to the man. He had such mental sophistication and was the humblest smart guy I have ever known. He feared the Lord, loved Socrates, and had a dry humor that blew me away.
He made me think the hardest and feel the happiest. He filled the house with music and was as serious about lawyering as he was about finishing the entire John Mayer debut album. How could I not ache for such a man?
Scenes from our 24 years together pop in and out of my head at unexpected times and in unexpected places.
“It’s not as if it will be a surprise,” he used to tell me. “Don’t cry too much when I go. Baka sabihin OA ka, kawawa ka naman,” so I kept my poise over the trauma of dashing into his room and finding his heart monitor already unplugged. I felt cold and warm at the same time; distressed over the fact that my favorite human being was gone forever, but happy for him because his wish of a pain-free passing was granted. He was finally free from dialysis.
I wanted to be alone, yet there were decisions to make and people to talk to and thank. I thought I should help myself because a positive mental state is also my last line of defense against the raging COVID.
At work, I looked okay, but every day was a battle against breakdowns, especially because the awareness that I was back in the office meant that the reason for my leave had ceased to be. It pierced my heart to check a box corresponding to the word “widow” and declare I was now without Ely. But I thought I was coping well.
Suddenly, I felt different. There was that force filling up some hollow part of my chest. A lump formed in my throat each time I thought of him. The monsters were suddenly back, and this time with the whole gang: chest pains, headaches, racing heartbeat, elevated BP, body pains. With OPD visits off my menu, I read up.
Different psychiatry and psychology journals all said the same thing: There are several stages of grief, and depression, which is the longest and most difficult stage, does not come right after a trauma, but much later — before the last one, healing and acceptance.
There is a biological reason for grief, it turns out. Experts say that grief is not only psychological, but also physical; that it causes the brain to release more than the usual amount of the stress hormone cortisol into your bloodstream in the six months after the loss of a loved one. The high cortisol level causes back pain, joint pain, headaches, and stiffness, and raises your chances of heart disease or high blood pressure.
The flood of neurochemicals and hormones also results in disturbed sleep, appetite loss, fatigue, and anxiety, and brain function takes a hit because grief overloads the brain with sadness, loneliness, and many other feelings, thus affecting memory, concentration, and cognition, and leaving little room for everyday tasks.
Personality shifts may occur and change priorities, thought processes, motivating factors, and emotional patterns. The Widow Brain, described as “the fogginess and disconnect that can set in after a spouse dies,” and can last from 30 days to several months, is a coping mechanism, an attempt by the brain to shield itself from the pain of a significant trauma or loss.
I have all this love persevering still, and waiting to be revealed come our day of sweet reunion. So instead of moving on, why don’t I just… love on?
So my body was out of whack because of my loss. The experts advise steps to release oneself: give it time; accept feelings and know that grief is a process; talk to others, spend time with friends and family; take care of yourself, return to your hobbies and join a support group. They also say there is no timetable for grief, and the whole process can take six months to four years and one may remain for months in one stage but skip other stages entirely.
I am anxious to graduate because I do not want my symptoms to result in something serious. It is ironic that what brings us out of our depression, they say, is finally allowing ourselves to experience our very deepest sadness — go to the place where you can accept the loss, make some meaning of it for your life, and only then are you able to move on.
Thank you, Vision!
I was enlightened but I knew I needed something more; and then I saw a scene from WandaVision. The enigmatic Avenger Vision was comforting Wanda over the loss of her brother. Gently, he tells her (in the words of WV writer Laura Donney) it can’t be all sorrow. Then he finishes off by saying, “What then is grief, if not love persevering?”
I felt like I had just stepped out of a dark tunnel and saw the sun at last. Vision had just told me how to spend the rest of my days, and that cheered me up to this day. Indeed, all is not lost. I do not have to be any less loving and devoted to Ely. All right, this is just a crazy, long-distance relationship, where I have all this love persevering still, and waiting to be revealed come our day of sweet reunion. So instead of moving on, why don’t I just… love on?
Counting down the days to his first anniversary in heaven, I realize there is much more pushing to do to get to the sunny side. My knuckles are still white from clinging hard onto this rickety, 58-year-old cart, but these wheels are made for turning, and these tracks don’t run forever.