by Nancy McDaniel

I never seem to do things in the right order. I floss my teeth in the morning, not at night. I brush before I floss, not after. I get dressed before I put on my makeup. I quit my job before I had another. I say “I love you” first. You get the picture.

And now I’m trying to figure out how to grieve. Not a death of a person. The death of a relationship. The death of love. It didn’t die for me. It died for him. So I must find a way to put it to rest too and get on with my everyday life.

The Stages of Grief
But how do I grieve? I know that the stages of grieving are supposed to be: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In that order, I guess. I know that acceptance will certainly be the last phase for me. And I know that denial was the first. But the others keep getting all mixed up in my mind. Is that OK? Do I have to do it in the right order and, if I don’t, does that mean that I’ll never get over him?

Being an only child and an inveterate over-achiever, I always felt I had to do everything the right way, by the book. Be perfect. Make my dad proud. You know the type. I make lists. I delight in crossing things off the list once they’re completed. Kind of anal. Do I cross the stages of grieving off the list after I “complete” each one?

In the past few years, I’ve taken my own path more often than not. Yet I’m still so concerned about being accepted. It’s sort of like Sally Field’s Oscar speech – “You like me, you really like me!” Will you like me better if I grieve properly? If I do it wrong, will you not?

The Whirlwind Arrives
He blew into my life like a whirlwind, a California brushfire. Completely unexpectedly, but that’s the best way, I think. When you’re not looking. I fell fast. He did too. We were really together. It was amazingly intense and miraculous. I didn’t know if it would last forever. It didn’t need to. I thought it might have been an autumn fling that would end when he left town, as he was just visiting for a while on extended business. I went into it that way, with a goal of just enjoying it while it lasted. Trying to be “more like a guy,” without necessarily needing to fall in love or have it be forever. But just to grab every fleeting moment and enjoy each other and celebrate each day and be as happy together as long as we could. And we were. For three wonderful months.

Le Gran Pasion
But I couldn’t help it. I fell in love. More deeply than ever before in my life. I really believed that he was The One. The Grand Passion of My Life. The Man I Have Been Waiting For All My Life (even after 10 years in a not-very-good marriage, 15 years of being single again and a half century of a mostly terrific life under my belt). My Soul Mate. There were ups and downs, good times and bad, arguments and laughter, many things in common and many not. I had never been so happy. Never felt so beautiful, never felt so clever, never felt sexier. Even at “a certain age,” as the French say. Although I probably held the feelings more deeply, I knew he felt them too. It wasn’t my imagination. I was afraid of saying the “L Word” too soon. But why wait when you just know it? There’s no statute of limitations, no minimum time required to feel love.

But then it all changed. Almost as fast as it started. He found someone else. Someone he had known, just as a friend, for a long time. And the whirlwind happened again. This time to him and her. Not me. And the way I just knew that he was My One? Well, he just knew, it seems, that She was “The One” for him.

Just Call Me Cleopatra Cuz I’m the Queen of De Nile
I know I did the first phase of grieving right: I denied it. That part was easy. I thought it was just a little fling, that we were more solid than that. That he was a little confused and that he would “sow his wild oats” and be back. He was back, or so I thought, briefly. Then I did depression, but that is the state that will continually weave in and out through all the stages. When he finally told me about her, that he had made a choice and he had chosen her, not me, I guess I tried the bargaining thing. I thought that maybe I could change his mind. I tried as best I could. Even though I am an only child, I was willing to share him, I thought. As a woman on a TV show recently said, “I’d rather have a part time good guy than a full time loser.” I thought I could handle that. But he didn’t want to. Is begging one of the stages? I think not.

Where is the Anger?
The funny thing is that I haven’t done anger. And I don’t think I ever will. How can I be angry with a man who made me happier than any other in my life? How can I be angry if he has to “find his bliss?” I cannot be angry because I love him so much that I want him to be happy, if not with me, then with someone who is kind to him, who makes him happy and who is good to and for him.

I have sort of gotten to acceptance. I believe we are over for him and I have tried to set him free. From me. But the wounds are still open and raw and they have to close before the acceptance can be fully formed.

But if I don’t do these stages right, does that mean that I won’t ever truly get over him? Do I have to start over and do all the stages in the right order until I get it straight? Is that the only way to heal? I hope not, because I don’t want to start the process all over again. It’s too hard.