Showing up to Grief

By Tom Peyton

The filmmaker Woody Allen is credited with the saying, “80 percent of success is simply showing up.” Over time it got changed to 90 percent. The percentage is not essential; instead, the two simple words: showing up to me are most important.

I am almost 15 months into the Widowers’ Journey. At times I travel back to the early days and weeks of grief. I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and anxious. I try to shake those feelings from my mind, but it isn’t easy to do. I can’t erase what happened; I can’t wash away the sadness and pain I experienced. I can’t wipe out what transpired. What I try to do each day is simply to show up. Yes, I show up. No significant steps, no life-changing decisions, nothing grand or extravagant on the horizon.

I am inspired by the stories of our brothers who show up on the Widowers Support Network Members Only Facebook posts. I read about the brother who built the grief kayak working each day for a while until it was finally completed. Our brother put his energy, focus, and talents into a project that would bring him joy, freedom, and hope as he moved into a new aspect of his life.

I read about another brother going fly fishing. He has never done it and doesn’t care if he catches any fish. He is looking forward to the companionship, collegiality, and hopefully lots of laughs he will enjoy as he tries something he has never done before.  He plans on showing up, determined to do his best.

Eleven months ago, I adopted a beautiful large dog whom I have written in the past has rescued me in so many ways. He forces me to take him out for walks multiple times a day. He makes sure I feed and care for him. He stays by my side for rubs and hugs and lots of affection. He is a constant, loyal and loving companion always at my side who helps me by showing up every day. As a Christian, I somehow feel he was sent to me by my late wife to help me along the path and enable me to show up.

I read about men in our group who have taken steps to date and find companionship as they travel into the next chapter in their lives. Some will find that companionship and possibly marry again. Others may want a friend to share their feelings and thoughts as they walk into the next chapter in their lives.

Others may feel comfortable occasionally spending time with friends and not entering into a new relationship. There is no guideline or rule book on how to proceed. Each one’s journey is different. It just requires that you show -up. You take steps to get outside your world and try and experience something new.

Sitting in front of the television or staying in your home for too many hours and days is unhealthy.

It can lead to behaviors that can shorten your life. Thirty-five years ago, my father-in-law lost his wife to a heart attack she suffered in the shower one Sunday morning. She seemed ok that morning but suffered a heart attack in the shower

and died as she arrived at the hospital. Devasted and unable to move forward in life, my father-in-law stayed home and wasted away.

Six months after his wife died, he passed away.  My wife was overwhelmed after losing her parents in a short period of time. Yet, she never lost hope and continued to live her life with joy, love, and zeal.

There are days when I don’t want to move forward. Yet, I know I have others in my life who need me to provide support and love. My adult children want me to stay healthy and call me often to make sure I am well. I have grandchildren who want me to spend time with them, and I want to participate in activities and milestones in their lives.

 I owe it to my wife to carry on her legacy. I need to step outside my world.

I have friends whom I reach out to regularly and speak to once a week. I have lunch or dinner with different female friends, most of whom were friends with my wife. It’s an opportunity to share how I am doing and to hear about their lives and families.

I enjoy sharing stories with them and learning about their lives and careers. I am not looking for a new relationship now, but I want the company of men and women. We as human beings need social interaction. Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused us to stay home and be isolated from others.  Hopefully, as restrictions change, we can renew our friendships and interactions in person

Showing up means taking a risk. It means going outside your comfort zone and doing something that initially may make you feel uncomfortable but can be enriching and rewarding with time. Find the activity that attracts you. Maybe it is volunteering, joining a book club, going to a sports event or the theatre, learning to play an instrument, or just having lunch or dinner with friends. Show up and try something different. Do something new that can bring new opportunities, excitement and trigger your imagination.

New York Times best-selling author Dr.  Bessel Van Der Kolk, author of “The Body Keeps the Count,” is the leading expert in the field of trauma. He has worked at VA hospitals for over thirty years and specializes in understanding trauma and its effects. His advanced research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder[t1]  has given him unique insights into how stress and trauma affect the mind and body. His work with Vietnam veterans has led to insights in helping his patients live life fully again after experiencing severe trauma. As victims of trauma, I believe there are lessons we can learn to live life fully again. I am sure there is an analogy between what we experience through our loss and PTSD.

I took away from Dr. Van Der Kolk’s book his concise and adroit definition of imagination. Experts in the field, I am sure, will one day show us the connections between loss and trauma. Dr. Van Der Kolk describes imagination as follows:

“Imagination is critical to the quality of our lives. Our imagination enables us to leave our routine everyday existence by fantasizing about everything that makes life interesting. It allows us to envision new possibilities – it is the essential launchpad for making our hopes come true. It fires our creativity, relieves our boredom, alleviates our pain, and enhances our most intimate relationship. Without imagination, there is no hope, no place to go, no goal to reach.

Dr. Van Der Kolk has been successful in helping victims of war find a new purpose in life and live productive and healthy lives.

Grief can debilitate our imagination. It can cripple us and force us to believe there is no hope, and the possibility of happiness has been forever eradicated. That’s grief stripping us of all that can be enjoyed in life. However, if we show up, take small and simple steps, or if you are so inclined to take slightly larger steps, you allow grief to co-exist peacefully with your renewed imagination.  With time you can find peace, happiness, and joy and feel a new sense of life renewed by your imagination.

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