Those Early Days Of Grief

My life is divided into a “before” and an “after”. On May 30, 2014, my beloved husband, Matt, died in a mountain biking accident during a routine run at Whistler. I always assumed that if I were to lose Matt, I would die too. Life, however, has a way of moving forward, even when you don’t want it to. This is the story of the early days and weeks of my journey into grief. It is a road that I never wanted to travel, and yet, here I am. Surviving. If you find yourself here because you also belong to the “club” (the shitty club that none of us ever asked to join), I want you to know how deeply sorry I am for your loss. I also want you to know that you are not alone. We can ride out this journey together, one wave at a time.

One of the strangest things about those early days of grief is the slow passage of time. It felt like being in a time warp — something akin to those early days of childhood when a summer seemed to last forever. If you find yourself in those raw, creeping first weeks of loss, I promise you — time will eventually pick up its manic pace again. But those first days … man, did they feel like an eternity.

I didn’t think TOO far out. Grief forced me to stay in the present moment like nothing in my life ever has — getting through each hour at a time and not allowing my brain to wander past that (so hard!). I’d get through breakfast (if I could eat) and then I’d let myself think about getting through that next hour. But if I thought out to my wedding anniversary — and how hard that day was going to be — I just went down the rabbit hole. So I would literally visualize reeling in a fishing pole and kept my brain focused on that next hour. Eventually, I could think out a day or two. But staying present in those first few months was a matter of survival.

I was very fortunate to have an army of support around me. I’m not good at asking for help, but boy, did I lean into that support. My friends and family literally carried me. At one point, my friends made a Google spreadsheet for slumber party sign-ups … I didn’t have to sleep alone (unless I wanted to) for that first month. The house felt so impossibly empty in those first months — again, it’s something that I’ve grown used to over time … but early on, the quiet felt so desolate and devastating. The people around me, who were also grieving the loss of their friend (my husband) wanted to do SOMETHING. They all felt so helpless. So, I let them help. Eventually, people went back to their regularly scheduled lives (while my life remained irreparably fractured) but I’m so glad that we all had that time to grieve together.

Another thing that helped me … was just listening to my heart. Whatever was soothing to me on any given day is what I did. I didn’t force anything. There is no correct schedule to any of this. Some people/activities felt very soothing to me. Other things drained me of my already depleted energy. I tried to stay out of judgment on any of that — I didn’t psychoanalyze it — I just listened to it. If it felt good, I did it. If it didn’t feel good, I didn’t do it (and asked for help if it was something I couldn’t avoid — like seeking out an estate lawyer). You may be surprised — some things/people prior to your loss may not bring you the same comfort or joy that they once did. And that’s okay.

Grief is an insanely intense experience. Your grief for your loved one is as unique as the relationship that you shared with that person — so your journey will be unique to you. It can feel terribly lonely in that regard. But anyone who has walked this path knows that we all just do the best we can. You are a perfectly imperfect human, having a perfectly imperfect human experience … be gentle with yourself.

Jen and Matt on their wedding day. Jen is wearing a white wedding dress with yellow flowers in her hair. Her back is to the camera and her arms are around Matt. Matt is wearing a long-sleeve collared white shirt and khaki pants. They are kissing in front of a window with white blinds and a music control panel

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