In case you didn’t hear, there’s been a hurricane called Irma wandering around the Caribbean and southern USA. If you didn’t know, My Round Two husband is Cuban, and has family and friends in both Cuba and Florida, so this has been a bit of a stressful time in my household. It has also provided me with several opportunities to reflect on my grief journey and in the last 24 hours the words have been busting at the seems, just looking for a place to get out.
I look for both large and small metaphors in my life that mimic my grief journey. I find it an incredibly powerful and healing way to “frame” my grief and often it gives me clarity and greater understanding of my own journey. My hope is that by sharing it with you, it may help you understand yours, be it that of a suicide widow or otherwise.
Hurricanes are a great metaphor for grief – the eye, the eye wall, the outer bands and the aftermath. They each represent part of the grief journey. The recent visit we had from that bitch called Irma, gave me the opportunity to reflect on that and it also taught me more about my Cuban and Cubans in general.
Hurricanes and Grief
The outer bands: increasing wind, rainfall
This is the beginning stages of grief. You are so busy with funeral preparations and incoming family and paperwork that you are able to function throughout the day. Things still get done, somehow, and there is a good amount of support from those around you. You think you know what you are preparing for and you have purpose in your actions. There’s a list and you need to accomplish it, amidst the sadness.
The news clips I saw of people buying supplies, boarding houses, buying gas, etc. Everyone is getting things prepared and ready for the storm to hit. Even as the outer bands hit, people get their last minute preparations done. But they still have power, water and generally life is normal. Added bonus: there are even guides to provide you with a checklist of what to prepare!
The eye wall: severe winds, massive rainfall
Just like a hurricane it is near impossible to predict when and where the eye wall will hit. Remember how many times Irma changed her course? And category? It’s a 5, no wait, a 3, oh back up to a 5 again! In the grief journey these are “grief waves” – you don’t know when they will hit, you don’t know what will trigger them. They knock you right on your ass – for myself on to my kitchen floor – they can literally paralyze you. Sometimes it’s a category 5 – takes you out of life for days on end. Sometimes it’s a 1 – a few tears through a forced smile and on with your day.
When they start varies, maybe the week after the funeral when the visits stop. Maybe after you make it through that dreaded 1st year (not, in fact, the hardest). The frequency and duration of their visits also varies. More on how that fits my hurricane metaphor later.
The eye: holy shit the sun is shining
During the chaos of Irma I had the most amazing conversation with the Cuban. He told me the story of a hurricane that passed over the town he was living in when he was younger. It was a direct hit, the center of a hurricane passed right over. When he got to that part of the story his whole face lit up as he told me about the sun coming out and everyone pouring into the streets to marvel at the amazing site that is the center of the storm. I was completely enthralled by the look on his face.
There are times in the grief journey when the sun comes out again, there is happiness again. And you will catch yourself marvelling at it. Thinking, “oh my goodness, is this real?” But just like the people in the streets during the eye of a hurricane, you know the grief wave is coming back. Which made me really reflect on why I was so enthralled by my husband’s facial expression when he described the eye of the storm. And it eventually made me question my whole hurricane metaphor for grief – which lead to putting Irma on a leash
The aftermath: clean up and pick yourself up (off the kitchen floor)
The storm passes, the eye is a wonder of nature and Cuban’s know that they will recover. Cuban’s have lived through dozens of hurricanes. They know they are going to make it to the other side and they know they will help each other through the recovery process. There was remarkably little fear from my family on the ground in Cuba and from my husband when Irma was causing chaos. However, he was very clear about something. It’s not the storm that’s the problem. It’s the aftermath. The days and days without electricity, high potential for looting and violence. It’s what comes after the storm that worried him.
Hello grief journey. When you look back on the journey and really reflect, the aftermath is where there are the most struggles. The support drifts away, there are friendships lost, your children will reach milestones that will break your heart to celebrate as a widow. It’s endless.
And here is where I struggled with the whole metaphor I was trying to form in my head. The hurricane passes, and life returns to normal. I can promise you that on the grief journey life is never “normal” again. There is a “new normal”, but it’s never the same. You can clean up and rebuild back to the exact original state after a storm, but you can’t do that in grief. It changes you forever. And the eye of the hurricane doesn’t come back once it passes, but in the grief journey there is more than one moment of happiness and sunshine. Shit, my metaphor just fell apart.
And then it hit me…grief isn’t just a hurricane. It’s a hurricane on a leash. And not just any leash, one of those fancy leashes that goes in and out when you push the button – longer or shorter depending on how far you decide your dog/hurricane can run from your side. Sometimes it comes back on it’s own and you cannot stop it. Other times you pull it back and keep it close. You can revisit the different parts of the hurricane – the outer bands, the eye wall and the eye – depending on how short you have that leash. And you control that distance. You can control how long you stay in each of those stages of the hurricane. You can dwell longer in the eye if you so choose. You can stay stuck in the eye wall and decide to be miserable for long periods of time.
I would like to tell you that you can let the hurricane off the leash and it won’t ever make you sad again. But that would be like telling a Cuban they will never see another storm again. You can’t change who you are or what you have lived through. It’s a part of you, and it can teach you an amazing perspective on life if you let it.
I am Michelle. Above all I am a mother of four incredible little beings. I am a certified Personal Trainer and Healthy Eating Coach, an educator and a real estate investor. I am a coach who also participates fully as a fitness enthusiast, a runner, and a swimmer. I speak from the heart and have no filter left to tolerate bull shit.