This is the 7th blog in the Life After Loss series:
Jesus Takes a Swan Dive – When Grief Goes Off the Deep End
“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour.”
– Viktor Frankl
Several years ago, I recorded the audio version of my book, A Widow’s Awakening, in my sunroom.
It was an interesting experience, telling the entire tale into a microphone while Colin – the audio technician and a complete stranger – sat a few feet away listening carefully to every word. Thankfully, Colin had read the book before our recording session.
This came in handy when I got to the rather embarrassing passage about what I shall call my “Jesus Thought.” Have a listen:
Click here for AWA audio clip (1 min 30 sec)
When I finished reading the paragraph out loud, I leaned back and looked over at Colin.
“Well,” I said, “How did that sound?”
“Awesome!” he said with a grin. “But I gotta admit, when I first read that passage in your book, I thought to myself, ‘this lady is crazy’ — but in a good way! I mean you were so honest. It’s actually my favourite passage in the entire book.”
The truth is, however, writing that particular passage was the most challenging part for me. It took me years to find the courage to just put the thoughts down on paper. Although it certainly wasn’t the most emotionally-difficult part to write (that goes to spending the day with John in the ICU as he succumbed to brain injuries), it definitely required the most courage to write…never mind publish.
For it is one thing to share publicly the circumstances of what happened — the facts — and even how one felt about it all. But it is quite another to share one’s psychological response. Why? Because it is socially acceptable to feel sad and angry over the preventable death of a loved one; thinking one is the Second Coming of Christ not so much. And understandably so.
I felt like a flippin’ freak.
Not only had I taken a spectacular swan dive off the deep end of rational thought, now I was floundering all alone in the pool of grief-induced insanity. My mind had taken some pretty drastic measures to try and cope with a reality that had spun completely out of control.
I remember visiting the police psychologist two months after John’s death. He asked me how I was doing and at that point, I could only shrug. I didn’t know where to begin to tell him what I was really thinking and feeling.
I had gone off on a weird Christian tangent and was all muddled up, thinking that either I was the Second Coming of Christ – or John was. And if John was, then did that mean he would be coming back from the dead…again?
But then the police psychologist asked me an odd question: “How are you feeling about Christmas?”
I frowned, genuinely puzzled as to why I would be thinking about Christmas of all things. I shrugged again.
“Well,” he explained, “you may get the odd envelope addressed to both you and John from someone who may not know he passed away.”
Oh, I thought to myself…so that’s the sort of thing I’m supposed to be thinking about as a young widow. Uh oh.
“First of all,” I said, “I highly doubt anyone sending me a Christmas card is NOT going to know John died. The entire bloody country knows by now.”
“And secondly,” I continued, “an incorrectly labeled Christmas card is the LAST thing on my list of concerns at this point. I wish that’s what I was worrying about.”
The police psychologist nodded, watching me carefully. He knew I was in really rough shape. But he also knew that, for whatever reason, I was unwilling – or unable – to open up to him.
“Maryanne,” he said, “I need you to promise me that you will talk to someone close to you.”
I nodded. I knew he was right. And that someone was my best friend, Kristin. Shortly after that meeting with the police psychologist, I slowly began sharing with her all my weird and wacky thoughts.
She was a phenomenally good listener who didn’t judge, didn’t laugh, didn’t think I was crazy and didn’t interrupt. She just listened carefully and assured me that everything I was experiencing was part of the process.
I can write candidly about all this now – but at the time, I was so embarrassed and ashamed of the thoughts I experienced during the early days of grief.
But once I got past my pride and concern about what others might think of me, I decided to share the truth of my psychological journey in my book – because I suspected I wasn’t alone in having bizarre thoughts as the result of experiencing an extremely traumatic event.
My decision was the right one. Although some readers certainly thought I was a fruit loop (but a funny & honest one), many readers thanked me for my candour – because it validated their not-so-socially-acceptable thoughts in the wake of a tragedy.
“I could not put your book down. Even when my eyes were swollen shut from crying I continued to read. After 5 years my grief is still pretty raw but it comes in waves and tides. I had 18 months of counselling and did not come close to the comfort I got from your book. It was nice to hear someone else express the thoughts that I was thinking (i.e. Am I crazy? Is he still here somewhere? Does God really exist?). I think the hardest part for me since my husband’s death is that I feel like I am no longer connected to anyone or anything. Your book gave me hope. Thank you.”
— A Widow’s Awakening reader
Although each person’s grieving process is very different, the bottom line is the same: when we are forced to accept the unacceptable, our minds will do whatever they have to, so that we can continue on with life.
“My mind is racing after reading your book. It’s been 14 months since my husband died. Your raw and honest words hit home. Suddenly, I felt connected because it was real. You tell it like it really is for many of us, even though we have a public face that hides the personal chaos churning away inside. You validated me and my struggle. I spent the whole day in bed reading it yesterday. Today I don’t feel crazy anymore. There were so many instances where I wanted to scream with joy because I related to something that I haven’t dared share with anyone for fear of getting locked up.”
— A Widow’s Awakening reader
I am SO glad I found the courage to write the truth about what I was really thinking and feeling during my darkest days – partly because it added some much-needed humour to an otherwise heart-wrenching story, partly because it is helping others realize that regardless of what they are thinking and feeling in their own journey through grief, they are not crazy or alone, and partly because as a writer, I am getting a heck of a lot of mileage out of the “Are We Waiting for a Saviour?” theme!
On a more serious note, if you are reading this blog and are experiencing thoughts you are uncomfortable with, be sure to get the help you need to begin to sort those thoughts out.
Whether it is a mental health professional or someone who is a good listener, the sooner you are able to express your thoughts in a safe environment, the sooner you can get back on the path to a healthy state of mind.
For further info about the Life After Loss blog series, please click here.
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Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here.