Invisible grief

“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break.” ~William Shakespeare

I have encountered so much loss over the last year, and it still keeps coming. There are the big, external griefs like divorce, and there are the seemingly smaller, internal griefs like the closing door I encountered last Sunday that re-define some part of who I am. And then there are the hidden griefs that cannot be shared and cannot be spoken aloud because of promises and secrets that restrain my lips from speaking of them. Those are often all the more painful for their hiddenness because I must conduct myself as if they don’t exist and must hide all signs of grief from all who might help or support me.

But the most painful griefs of all are the ones that can never be seen and are impossible to fully express. The losses of self-identity and self-definition. The grief of looking in the mirror and encountering a stranger. The grief of finding that things that I have always believed to be true of the world and of me are false. Those losses run so deep that there are seldom words even capable of expressing them. How do I describe the pain of discovering that I am no longer the me I thought I was on so many levels and in so many ways?

Even the supposedly external losses carry an internal component with them. Divorce is more than a loss of an intimate relationship. It is also a change in living arrangements, a loss in how one is treated by the outside world (singles are treated very differently in our “coupled” world), a loss in friends who were part of the coupled environment to which one once belonged, a change in finances, a change in the ability to get things done (like having someone to pick you up when your car is the shop or an extra set of hands when a household task requires a second person), a change in the amount of time spent alone, a change in sleeping arrangements, a change in the amount of affection received, a change in name, and list goes on. Even the little things like having no one to notice when I’ve gotten my hair cut, completed work around the house or yard, rearranged something, had too much to drink, or even come home extra late is a loss—an increase in invisibility where no one sees most of your life. Divorce comes with a complete change in how I see myself and how the world sees me. Add to that the feelings of failure from not having been able to make the marriage work, and that one external loss becomes an iceberg with only the smallest part of the grief and loss showing on the surface.

The same can be said of so many losses—even “voluntary” ones—where the depth of the loss involved is so much larger than what most people recognize. Each loss brings with it a bit of loss of self, a little bit of lostness in every grief. In a year where I’ve been pelted with loss after loss after loss, the grief and the lost feeling are overwhelming. The fact that much of the grief is completely invisible to those around me is crushing. And somehow, each loss seems to make the whole pile of it seem that much more invisible to those around me.

I keep managing to pick myself back up to move forward each time. I’m growing, I’m surviving, I’m coping. I am stronger than I look, and much stronger than most people realize. But even the strongest of us have a limit, an end the rope and the ability to hold on. I’m rapidly reaching that point. Even the “little” things now, like the closing door last weekend, are enough to knock me flat. I get back up, but I’m a little weaker and a little more lost and a little more invisible every time.

At this rate, it’s a race to see which happens first. Will I be crushed by this mountain of grief? Or will I fade away into complete invisibility?

Either way, Shakespeare had it right. It’s the grief that does not, cannot speak that breaks the heart.

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