I have talked about selfishness and grief in the past, because grief is so all-consuming and overwhelming, but I have not made it a topic of conversation. I have to be completely transparent when I tell you I am just as guilty of displaying the selfishness of grief as anyone and, in hindsight, see it so clearly.
I am involved in several online support pages and groups for widows/widowers. Each of these groups has a wide variety of members from those, like me, that are more tenured in our journey to those with fresh wounds that are only a day or two past their loss. I have to tell you, it is so clear to me now how selfish I was in the beginning of this journey. And I know that even as I share my story with them, and the insights I now have, that they will not embrace what I am telling them. How do I know? Because I once was them, and didn’t really listen to, or absorb, a damn thing!
It’s like a train wreck about to happen. You can see the train coming, but you just can’t stop the train from barreling down the tracks. You can yell, and scream, and wave your arms, but the train keeps coming!!!
Let me explain from my experience…
In the early, early days, like the first week after the death of my husband, my thoughts were focused on my daughter (you will find that throughout my journey, she has been my saving grace), and how she was only 8 years old, and will never have her father there for all her big and little events. My heart broke for her pain and her loss. But the selfishness was there too. How am I supposed to raise her and do all of this by myself, how am I supposed to carry on with my life? I do not have any family closer than 6 hours from where I live, so at first, family flew in to help me get through the first days, basically holding me up through the funeral planning and services, and making sure we ate each day. For that I am grateful. Those days were a blur.
Then everyone left. They went home. Back to their own lives and responsibilities. And rightfully so. I understand that, and even at the time, a part of me understood that too. But the train wreck of selfishness left me feeling abandoned. Alone. On my own. I see this so clearly now when I read the posts others express in an online group. One that I read just today was “Does your phone ring less since your loved one passed? I can count on one hand how many have called to check up on me.” My thoughts…is it another person’s responsibility to reach out? One thing I was too selfish to admit in my own experience…the phone works two ways. Someone in the throws of selfish grief doesn’t have the capacity to think that others have their own lives and that you may not be the most important thing going on in them. I was in the “what about me?” zone. When in fact, I was not lost, nor forgotten, nor abandoned. And if I needed something I could have reached out to any number of people. I shouldn’t have expected them to take the initiative in MY life.
There is so much anger, and negativity wrapped up in the selfishness. In my experience, I hated my new normal, I was easily frustrated and perhaps acted a bit childish when things did not go the way I wanted or expected. Three months after my husband passed away, I discovered that my roof needed to be replaced. It was the first in a line of upgrades that needed to be taken care of as my house was reaching the 15 year mark. You would have thought the world was coming to an end. It is good thing no one was home, because I was pacing the floor, ranting and raving out loud to myself like some kind of lunatic. Good thing, once the burst of craziness dissipated, I was able to approach it in a calmer more rational fashion, but it took me a minute to get there. That became a selfish pattern, me becoming a mad-person, stomping my feet, and losing my mind in no time flat. Angry at the world for putting me in this situation. Somehow, all of this was not my fault.
And there you have it, folks. Blame! At the heart of selfishness there is an abundance of blame. Blame is useless, an excuse, a way to somehow not take responsibility for your life. It is true that I did not create a situation where I would be living without my husband, but I needed to own my situation. What does blame get you….NOTHING! It is a waste of time and energy, it actually solves nothing. I once worked with someone who used to say, “In leadership, it may not always be my fault, but it is always my problem.” Wise words. I am the leader in my life, and I have solve my own problems, regardless if I created them or not. Grief blocked my view for a while, but my vision gets clearer and clearer as I move through my journey. Don’t get me wrong, the grief never really goes away, but you learn to work with it and not against it.
I am the leader in my life, and I have to solve my own problems, regardless if I created them or not. You actually have the ability to stop the train, because you are, in fact, the conductor.