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After the initial flurry of activity, it was back to work. And back to life.

Or, not “back.” There was no back to go to. Only forward.

We’d been through eight months of hell. Now the rest of my life was staring me in the face. And the rest of the kids’ lives, too.

Since there was no “going back” to the way things were, my next-best wish was that the three of us not become collateral damage to Dennis’s cancer.

The best medical professionals attacked his cancer–but as I’ve said, glioblastoma is insidious. They couldn’t fix it.

This did not necessarily mean that we had to be destroyed, too.

I was determined that this not be the case.

The first few months were, for me, filled with flashbacks. Every time I tried to concentrate on working from my home office–not ten feet from my husband’s urn–my mind would begin to wander. Generally it wandered into flashbacks.

It was like I had a VCR looping in my head. (Can you tell I’m a child of the eighties?)

Scenes of the emergency room. Of the surgery waiting area. Of inpatient stays. Of driving across the bridge to Swedish. Of the hospital bed in our family room for so long.

And–of the funeral. This was the most recent, and there were so many “scenes” from the funeral playing on a looping tape in my head. Me standing at the front, giving my remarks. Recalling who sat where. Remembering their faces. Processing in, recessing out. The school choir singing.

So many flashbacks.

What I didn’t have were those “waves” of grief that people talk about. You know, the ones where all of a sudden, you’re fine, and then grief washes over you like a wave.

I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. Isn’t that what grief is “supposed” to feel like?

The kids’ grief counselor from Safe Crossings continued to visit our home after Dennis died. She and I got to know each other in the course of her working with the kids, as I asked questions about how to help them, and such.

One day, when I mentioned the flashbacks I’d been having, she said to me, “I think you might be an instrumental griever.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s someone who tends to process grief more cognitively than emotionally.”

Yes. That’s me. One hundred percent.

I went straight to Amazon and searched for “instrumental griever,” and ordered the one book that came up. It’s a fascinating book called Grieving Beyond Gender: Understanding the Ways Men and Women Mourn.

The main point is that grievers can be classified into “intuitive grievers” and “instrumental grievers.” Intuitive grievers are the ones who experience the waves of grief, and they process grief more emotionally. Instrumental grievers tend to process it more mentally, including playing scenes over and over in their heads.

It’s a continuum, so people can exhibit both tendencies, in varying degrees. Here’s the interesting part through women tend to be intuitive grievers, and men tend to be instrumental grievers. But this is not always the case. There are both men and women in each type.

The tricky part is that society generally expects men and women to fall into certain types. And grief groups tend to be structured for the dominant grieving style of the gender.

Finally, I understood why I kept turning down my friend’s invitations to the monthly grief group at Swedish. She kept reaching out–which was very kind–and I kept saying, no, I don’t think so, I don’t feel like it this month.

Eventually I asked:

“So what do they do at this group? Sit around and talk and cry?”

“Well, yes,” she said.

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to be for me.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love talking with people. And I cherish time with my widow friends. But somehow this group didn’t seem quite right for me.

I’m not sure why. And, I’m sure it’s quite helpful–even exactly the right approach–for many people. As an instrumental griever, it just didn’t seem like a good fit for me.

Fortunately, I have found a group of widowed friends who live nearby. We get together at someone’s house, or we go out. The discussion is wide-ranging. Grief comes up, and so does laughter. Work. Parenting. And whatever else is on anyone’s mind.

I’m so lucky to have these ladies in my life.

pp. 238-240. Excerpted from: "Future Widow: Losing My Husband, Saving My Family, and Finding My Voice" by permission of the author. Published by Bluhen Books. Copyright 2021.

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