Surreal Grief

Ever feel fuzzy, out of focus, or even surreal?

Remember in The Matrix movie when a glitch in the program would cause fragmentation of the image, or when Neo first entered the Matrix and could not determine what was real and what was a computer program. Well, during my early deep grieving, those type of feelings were common.

Following my wife’s passing in 2015, I would often feel that everything around me was surreal (strange, dreamlike, bizarre, unreal). As the number of sleepless nights grew, this feeling only grew stronger until it felt like I was hallucinating. This, combined with my upset psycho-emotional state, scared the hell out of me.

I have heard many fellow travelers on this grief journey describe similar thoughts and feelings. It may be as simple as waking up at night and seeing a dark form next to you that makes you think your wife is right there beside you. Or, it may be thinking you are hearing her voice or feeling the touch of her skin. At moments you might feel as if she is with you every step of the way.

Theresa and I used to take nice long walks together during the afternoon or early evening. After her passing, I could almost feel her hand in mine as I walked our path alone. Sometimes these surreal events would be comforting, and other times it would come out of the blue and be very discombobulating. I would have to stop and ask myself if it was real, or if I was losing touch with reality.

I can remember sometimes feeling that everything around me was not real, that I was just imagining my “solo” existence, and the real me was still there with my wife living a normal life. It could happen while I was driving around, in a store, or even when I was visiting with family or friends. It would just inject itself into my thoughts and cause me to stop and try to recalibrate myself back to “normal.”

I would later learn that these thoughts and feelings, like déjà vu, are perfectly normal during the grieving process. Your whole being has been disrupted by the loss of half of the combined you that your wife and you built over many years together. You finished each other’s sentences, instinctively knew when each of you needed something, relied upon each other for comfort and wisdom, and supplied the physical and spiritual love you each needed. You relied upon each other to check your worst impulses, and to help put you back on course when you wandered away from it.

How could your mind not be slightly off-kilter after losing someone that important to you? The answer is that it is probably inevitable. Famous writer and religious philosopher C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, “…it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.”

So, if you find yourself having these surreal moments, don’t be afraid for your sanity and don’t let the fear affect your thinking and state of being. Just let the process flow, hang on to that which is real and important to you (e.g., children, grandchildren, friends, community), and allow yourself to settle into your “new normal gradually.”

C.S. Lewis said after losing his wife, “Sorrow… turns out to be not a state but a process” Accept this process and allow it to run its course. You will heal, and these surreal moments will gradually diminish until you begin to feel that your feet are once again firmly on the ground.

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