Yesterday marked ten months since my husband died. Ten months! And I’m just recovering from three weeks of illness – Influenza A, then sinus infection and bronchitis. Ten months of grief and the flu is not a good combination.
Grief at this point mostly sits in the background, always there, but more of a low buzzing than a loud drumbeat. Except when those “grief ambushes” occur. The problem is that the low buzzing still uses brain power and heart power to manage, leaving not a lot left over for the normal challenges of life, like the flu.
I read some research several years ago about students who were put in a room with warm chocolate cookies and told they couldn’t eat them but they had to solve what in effect was an unsolvable math problem. They gave up on the math problem very quickly, compared to the students who were told they could eat the cookies. The first group’s emotional control got used up on resisting the cookies and they had no stamina left to confront the math challenge.
That was me, after the succession of holiday grief ambushes. I told someone it was like I had been in a prize fight with a much stronger opponent. I get in the ring and get pummeled by Thanksgiving and go down. I struggle to my feet, wipe the sweat from my brow, or the tears from my cheeks, and I get punched again by Larry’s birthday. Thankfully the bell rings and I have a few weeks in my corner to marshall my strength for Christmas. Then back into the ring where I’m knocked down again. I stumble to my feet and get pummeled again by New Years. Now I’m staggering, nothing left to find my balance, and then I get sucker punched by the flu. And… I’m down for the count. Now I really and truly physically feel like I’ve been pummeled by a prizefighter.
Everything hurt – eyes, teeth, whole body. Even my hair hurt. I wondered if that was how Larry felt toward the end.
Being sick is rotten but being sick alone is awful. The first days of the flu when my fever was up over 103, I just ached and slept. But once the fever broke, I started down the self-pity path.
I had nothing left emotionally to combat the slide. I wanted Larry. I wanted my Mom. I could find no comfortable place in my mind, my imagination, or my heart. I had so many hours with not enough energy to do anything, and just enough energy to pay attention to how much I missed my husband.
Finally I started to think about why the flu – why now? I’m sure I was exposed to flu germs over the last three years and never got it. Every year I get the flu shot and this year was no exception. So why?
On top of the holidays, I was putting pressure on myself to make decisions about the future. I was facing lots of new options that were confusing. I pushed myself physically – draining my last energy on an 8 mile kayak trip.
So my body gave out. I began to wonder if my body remembered how to be well. But I also wondered what benefit was this illness providing? I didn’t have to go out and face the world. I couldn’t have much in the way of visitors because I was contagious. The flu provided an enforced cocoon.
Maybe that’s exactly what I needed in order to rebalance. Maybe that’s what I needed to restore – like a farmer leaving a field unplanted so it re-nourishes itself.
Ten months of grief and the flu took their toll, but I’m still here, quietly getting ready for whatever will come next.