We all do it– make the same mistake, twice, if not over and over again. The thing is, we know we’re doing whatever it is, but we somehow can’t help ourselves from inserting a happy ending fantasy by giving it one last try. And another. And then even another. Sometimes you can go on like this for years, ignoring reality.
In one of my cases, at least I know the fantasy that my husband was really and truly not dead was simply an initial coping mechanism.
It even says it right here in the “Seven Stages of Grief.” It’s number one on the list, in fact:
1. SHOCK & DENIAL-
You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This stage may last for weeks.
And it actually did. I kept Mark’s shoes by the front door, exactly where he’d left them, in hopes he’d walk back into our lives. I also slept in his underwear, which is truly weird. (As far as I can tell, there’s no stage for that.)
Still, Albert Einstein said it best.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
We do it with our kids.
“How many times have I told you– HANG UP YOUR CLOTHES!”
We do it with our pets:
“Come. Mesa come. Come here, Mesa. Mesa, come. Here Mesa, Mesa, Mesa!”
I guess this is called taking the dog by the horns!
We do it with our relationships:
“I will never go out with him/her again. I mean it this time. I don’t care how many times he/she calls me. After last night, it’s over!”
Thank God for girlfriends. Good, solid girlfriends. The ones who know you inside out and can tell exactly what you’re thinking without having to say a single word– the ones who can make you laugh hard and out loud.
Those are the ones who you go to lunch with on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, sipping seltzer and chowing on fried oysters sandwiches when you should really be pulling weeds or painting the hallway. When a friend is in need, you go.
After about an hour of listening to her (not Ann) drone on and on about the same relationship she’s had problems with for years, I wanted to jump off the deck at Bar Taco straight into the Sound. But we’ve all been there, stuck in a rut. And so I listened.
“Why don’t we think more positively instead of ruining this beautiful day by bringing him to lunch with us?” I said, joking that we should have gotten a table for three. I handed her a paper placemat, instructing her to write down all the things she never wants to do again. I was hoping she’d say get a new life by breaking up with Derwood (that’s what I call him), but she didn’t. Everyone understands.
I’ve tried really hard not to grieve all over my friends as well. A breakdown here or there, sure. We all have them. Otherwise, that’s what Amy the psychologist was for. Also bereavement group helped A LOT. Just when I got it together, I did need a boost and I thank my friend Lisa for helping me through a relationship that I overreacted to by resurrecting the grief I felt over losing Mark.
“It has nothing to do with him,” she told me one miserable day. “It has to do with YOU second guessing what you know to be true and right.”
Through that experience, I learned to trust my judgment again. Either it works or it doesn’t. Don’t insert a fantasy.
As my late husband always used to say, “It is what it is.”
Soon, we actually asked people from other tables to join us in creating a top 10 list of things we never wanted to do ever again.
It started out funny:
Then people got more serious:
Soon, our table grew to include the 25-year-old waiter,, two women who work in PR and their boyfriends. Actually one was with her ex-husband with whom she now enjoys a platonic friendship after being widowed just one year ago.
They said their list would include only one thing.
Ready for this?
They both said they would never be a couple again, and wished they hadn’t dragged each other through the dirt in the first place when they knew they were not romantically right for each other.