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On ‘hanging in there’

Emma Grey

“I didn’t want time to heal. I wanted a fast-forward button. Or a rewind. Anything but being stuck here on ‘play,’ clawing our way through days where almost every minute was awful and it hurt to be alive.”

It will be six months this week since my darling husband died. Six. Months. 

My brain can’t grapple with how fast that time has gone, and how slowly. It can’t grapple with our being almost a month through the first calendar year of our lives without him. It can’t imagine how we’ve brought ourselves this far and how we’re still able to breathe when he’s not with us. 

My brain can’t believe we’re doing more than just keeping ourselves alive. It can’t believe we’re taking big steps and making positive changes. It can’t fathom how, between us as a family, we’ve found the courage to move away, enrol in new courses, start writing new books, change schools, jobs … 

It can’t believe we’re even out of bed some days. 

When Jeff first died and the pain was acute and unbearable, I would lie awake at two o’clock in the morning, with my five-year-old sleeping beside me, and I’d Google things on my phone: 

What happens in a heart attack?

How instant is death in a heart attack?

How much pain does a heart attack cause?

How long does grief last … 

Can you die of a broken heart?

I remember reading various articles about grief that said that most people begin to feel better by the six-month mark. Many are back into living relatively ‘normal’ lives, after healing, by about twelve months. 

How? 

How could this be possible?

‘Hang in there,’ people would say. ‘Time heals.’ 

I didn’t want time to heal. I wanted a fast-forward button. Or a rewind. Anything but being stuck here on ‘play,’ clawing our way through days where almost every minute was awful and it hurt to be alive. 

After a few months, I heard of a tragedy on the news. Families had been ripped apart. 

‘How awful!’ I thought. ‘How unbelievably hideous that must be … I can’t imagine what it would be like to be them, suffering grief that raw …’ 

It was a surprise to realise I no longer identified as being at the same stage — that initial spike of horrendous shock. I felt further down the same path. I was desperately sad, but I wasn’t terrified any more about how I’d ever live without him. We were no longer in ‘crisis’.

Some more months passed, and the hours without crying turned to days without crying and even a week without crying. I remember one particular conversation about a work project that was sufficiently distracting to cause me to forget, for a few precious minutes, that I was a widow at all. When I ended the call and the memory slammed back, I felt guilty for having had my first few minutes’ grace from the agony. 

‘Hang in there,’ people said. ‘It will get easier.’ 

Six months on and there are horribly difficult days when I feel utterly bereft. But there’s more space between those days than there used to be. I caught myself glancing at a sunset the other night and finding it genuinely heartwarming — not just intellectually impressive, as had been the case in recent months.

I saw a movie on the weekend, and bawled. Afterwards, I realised that every tear I’d shed had been about the movie. I’d been able to focus on it exclusively, and wasn’t using it as another outlet to let the grief out. 

Gradually, the world is opening up again. Or perhaps I am gradually opening up again to the world. I know that I have a long way to go, and this will never completely go away, but it’s going to be okay. One at a time, in our own time, we’re all going to make it. 

‘Hang in there,’ people said. And I’m beginning to believe they were right. 

Emma’s new book, co-authored with Audrey Thomas – I don’t have time! 15-minute ways to shape a life you love is available now. 

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Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son.

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