Will "the Mighty" Strohl

A Year of Grief: Thoughts & Lessons Learned

Sabrina and I at Artesa in wine country

I would imagine that not everyone who reads my blog knows, but as of today, it marks a year that I’ve been going through the process we call grieving. A year ago today, I went through the most traumatic thing a person could go through – I found the person I love more than anything in this world, passed away. My soul mate, lying there, all of my hopes and dreams, lost and crushed in less than a second. Nothing can prepare you for such an abundantly awful thing. Nothing. However, one thing is certain, almost no one on the planet is immune from this experience. No one.

This post is for you. All of you. If you’ve lost someone close to you, ever, this is for you. If you haven’t yet, you will, and this is for you too. If you know someone who’s lost someone, yes, this is even for you as well. I’ve always known and preached this, but never from personal experience, until a year ago...

Life is precious, and it’s short. You never know who you’ll never again see tomorrow – and it might be you.

Palm Beach - Our second picture togetherSo, if you’ve been wondering what happened to my articles, or why certain things have changed on my site, or why I haven’t participated in social media in the same ways as before – now you know why. The proverbial cat is out of it’s equally proverbial bag. That’s the love of my life you see above and throughout this post. You’ll end up finding out more and more about this amazing woman, the more you know me, the more you pay attention to the things I do – because she’s so much a part of who I am and has been for the past 4+ years I’ve known her, and that’s never going to change. She inherently frames everything I do now.

Grief

Grief. It’s a 5-letter word, and it’s thrown around so easily by most of us, on most days. Historically, I’ve been guilty of it too. After playing a joke on someone, I might have said, “I enjoy giving [insert name here] grief.” This is probably one of the most understated words in the English language. We have words for all kinds of things, but there isn’t a word that effectively describes what grief really is, and how awesomely shattering it is to the people that experience it. Grief is in and of itself, one of the most life-altering things any person can go through. It’s experienced in every way – emotional, mental, and even physical.

Grief for me is a giant, constantly throbbing ball of molten lava-like chaos and emotions, swirling with a level of violence that you can both hear and feel. It’s both physical and mental, ruling your very existence. Not a single thought or movement can be made, without it first passing through that ball of grief-lava. To this day, I have a feeling in my chest that I once described to my therapist saying, “It feels like I had a really bad open heart surgery. They didn’t fix anything. They didn’t sew me back up right. And they left the scalpel in there.”

Good Grief, Charlie Brown

Boca Raton, FL - At a hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant she foundLet’s be clear… Grief comes in many forms, none of it good. It’s a simple word that’s used to describe the feelings and process that follows loss. Any kind of loss, really. You go through grief on almost a daily basis. You might have a breakup, lose a job, make a mistake on a project – any number of things and situations can cause grief. It’s a simple word. Easy to spell. One syllable. Easy to say, Greeph. Greef. I fucking hate you, grief. The word itself is so simple, yet it’s used to describe one of the most complex and emotionally-charged of all human experiences. This little word simply doesn’t have the weight it should for someone like me. There doesn’t appear to be a word that does.

First Two Weeks

When this horrific event happens – no matter how expected or not – you get flooded with love and support initially. Some people show up right away. Some people fly countless miles to be with you. Some call. Some send an e-mail. Some do nothing though. What’s interesting about all of these people and acts, is that most of them are surprises. You never know until something like this happens how much some people truly care about you. How much people think about and care for you. You’ll be surprised at who sends flowers, and who doesn’t. Who comes to the funeral, and who doesn’t. You’ll be even more surprised at the various excuses and incredibly odd things people do to avoid the funeral altogether.

All of these people say various flavors of the same thing. My thoughts and prayers are with you. If you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask. Call me if you need anything. Little do they know, a griever won’t call unless we really have no other choice – or maybe they do know; maybe it’s a bluff.

Treasure Island, CA - The day we found The Winery and the Treasure Island FleaWhat if we called them on that bluff? I have, to some, but it was very difficult, and the result was about what you might expect – mixed. Many business authors have said various versions of the same quote that describes this mixture of results (at least, it does for me)... Money doesn’t change a person. It simply empowers them to be their true self, since they no longer have to answer to someone. Whether or not that true self is a good person is another post, for another time. Regardless, I think grief holds a solid parallel to that idea.

Then there’s the month and months after…

Shit People Say

After the first two weeks, everyone begins to drop off. In bulk at first, then one-by-one. People drift back to their lives. No one can blame them. The world does keep spinning – no matter how insulting that is to someone like me. Why didn’t the entire world stop? It certainly feels like it did to me.

The interesting thing here is that it’s when people begin to feel empowered. They begin to feel that it’s okay to say horrible things. Are you out of your funk yet? You should do something to keep yourself busy. Are you over it? You should move. You should move on. I doubt most people mean anything negative by these statements. In most cases, I truly do believe they feel that their heart is in the right place. But they forget… Their heart, in the right place or not, is still beating. And the person and people they love also still have beating hearts. They’ve somehow learned or come to the conclusion that it’s okay to stifle someone else’s grief. These people haven’t yet been destroyed in the same way a widow or widower has. Experience is literally the only teacher here. Unlike you, I get to wake up every morning, widowed all over again.

San Carlos, CA - At our favorite 'regular' bar for brunch, called TownLet’s knock this out…

There’s no getting out of the funk, and we’re not getting over it. It is here to stay. The funk is something we will learn how to live with for the rest of our lives. No matter how we look and act when you see us, the funk is there – waiting just below the surface for any trigger at all to call it back into action. The level of funk and the period of time it’s visible on the surface can depend on any number of factors, but it’s directly linked to the connection and love two people shared.

It’s different for everyone, but keeping yourself busy is something I think is a massive mistake for anyone that’s recently widowed. If you’re doing something that keeps you from going through all of the emotions and memories, all it ends up doing is put off the grieving process. You’re going to go through it anyway, so just go through it. You’re otherwise a ticking time bomb. When a trigger occurs, you’re going to be an explosion of balled up emotions. Those emotions will be flying all over the place, hitting anyone and anything unfortunate enough to be in its path. If you’re telling someone to “keep busy,” you’re responsible for setting the bomb. Don’t. Just don’t. We’re the widowed, and we will find when, where, and how to keep busy.

Moving homes is a thing that sometimes is forced upon us grievers, for various reasons, including literally losing half of your income instantly. Sometimes it’s not. Regardless, where we live is usually where the heart is – almost in a literal sense. Asking or telling someone to move when there’s no actual reason to do it, is generally not something you should do. They built a life with someone. That life was there. For most of us, moving is giving up on the person we loved. Hell, I sold a rowing machine that neither Sabrina or I liked, and it destroyed me on the inside. The door was barely closed before I nearly collapsed in tears. She touched that. I remember hearing her row on it, behind closed doors, because she didn’t want me to watch her exercise. She hated every second on that damned machine, but did it anyway. The cutest and hottest home-rower, ever.

Moving on… Well, this is the doozy of them all. (And I’m going to talk out of my ass a bit here, because I haven’t gone through this myself yet - moving on - but I speak to fellow grievers that are processing this daily.) One who is recently widowed is never truly ready to move on. They just will talk themselves into it one day. And moving on isn’t what you think. Many who are widowed will decide to date or just accidentally meet someone, almost always far too early. I haven’t heard a story yet of a griever that began dating at the right time. Regardless, it doesn’t matter who you are. It’s not your place to tell us to move on. Being widowed myself, I wouldn’t dare tell another widow or widower to move on. Ever.

Talk to Us

San Carlos, CA - My favorite photo of us, at our favorite wine bar, TasteVinDon’t get me wrong. I am not at any level suggesting that you should walk on egg shells around a griever. Say stuff. Make jokes. Have a conversation. Insist on dinner or coffee. Insist, dammit! Take us out. Sit with us, even if we don’t say a thing. We enjoy every second, and we’ll never, ever, ever forget those who did. When you do this, you’re literally saving our life, because – especially in the early stages – we’re not interested in life anymore. Your very presence can and does influence that.

Bring Them Up

Above all, PLEASE… Please, please, please talk to us about the loved one we lost. Bring them up. Mention them by name. Tell us a story about them. Ask for a story. Ask about what their favorite things were. Only a couple of months ago, I saw an old friend of Sabrina and mine. He asked me, “Where’s your partner in crime?” I about lost it that very second. No one asks about Sabrina. No one brings her up, mostly in fear of dredging up bad feelings or something. I can tell you that even if a widowed person begins balling and sobbing that very second, you’ve made us happier than you can imagine. By speaking their name, by being interested, you’ve kept them alive. Even if for a second, you let the widowed know that the life of the one they lost mattered.

This is so damned important. So important, that one widower even created love letters to keep the spirit of his lost wife alive and spread their love.

The more you talk to someone while they’re actively grieving, and the more you speak about the person they lost, the more they can process it. The better off the grieving process goes overall. We want so desperately to talk about our love. You just need to let us. Don’t worry. We’ll grow through this to have an even stronger bond. You’re saving our life by remembering theirs.

Even More Loss

Redwood City, CA - At our pre-movie margarita ritual, getting margarita's at Quinto SolThe more time that goes by, the more people on the outside at this stage also begin to get tired of hearing about someone that’s no longer here. They don’t want to deal with the reality of grief. This is of course only true if they’ve never been through this themselves.

Yes, on the surface, this sounds cruel and only fitting of the most emotionless of human beings. While that could be true of some, I’d like to think that it’s not. Some people are deeply afraid of being around the kind of sorrow that someone like me is enduring and processing. I get it. If you feel that we should get over it, maybe it’s you that should get over it instead.

What’s actually cruel about this is that the people who do this to a griever are the ones that we may have called very close friends or family prior. It’s amazing to see who actually cares about you. I’ve seen a quote a number of times that I can’t find right now, that basically says, “If you want to know who actually cares about you, look around when you’re down on the ground.” Most people are in your life in a much more superficial and materialistic way than you might realize. They’re just there for the ride. If you lose anyone during this process, let them go. They may come back, and they may not. For now, at least, you’re better off without them.

You’re Not Crazy

Immediately following the loss of my soul mate, odd things began to happen. I mean, very odd things. I have an analytical mind, so I keep records of most of it. I didn’t record anything I can easily explain away.

I began seeing flashes of light everywhere in the house, never outside, but always in the corner of my eye. The light was always moving suddenly, like I might see it if it didn’t get away quick.

I had objects that seemingly moved on their own. In one place one second, and look again to find it moved. One night before bed, I found that one of Sabrina’s toothbrushes had been moved, into the slot where mine was.

A razor that had run out of power 2 months before Sabrina passed magically turned on the morning of her funeral, when I shaved again. I could almost hear her voice in my head, My Simba always is shaved. (Why Simba, you ask?) That razor would continue to work for months without the battery being replaced, almost a year after initially losing power.

There have been sounds, like cups or dishes falling in the front of the house, but nothing is out of place when I investigate.

St. Helena, CA - At our final stop whenever we went to Napa Valley, V.SattuiI once heard and felt her whisper in my ear, “Simba!,” when I was in the living room. I know the difference between voices in my head and hearing something.

I’ve only experienced sleep paralysis once before, but shortly after I began sleeping in our room again, she appeared to save me from my second experience. This would be the only time I’ve seen her in my dreams so far.

On separate occasions, our bedroom would smell like Nala’s (that’s what I called her) perfume, or smell like a meal she’d cook. The smells where so crystal clear, I had to check windows and look for broken bottles to be sure.

At my daughter’s choir concert, I began crying during one of the songs. A strong breeze began to hit me, as if the air conditioning began to point only at me with all of its force – then went away once I calmed down. There wasn’t even a slight breeze before or after that moment, and it was inside of a very large concert auditorium.

To this day, I’ll often feel something brush my leg, arm, or ear, and look to see nothing. No bugs. No flies. Nothing that I can explain to cause it. I’ve even been tickled. Nala was a prankster.

There’s so much more in my list. I’ve kept a journal of it. Although, the past two months have seen fewer and fewer entries.

The bottom line here is that anyone who knows me would tell you that I’m a very objective and analytical person. I can’t explain these things I’ve recorded. I’ve tried to disprove everything I’ve logged. If I found even one potential cause, it didn’t go into my notes. I know I’m not crazy. I know I’m not dreaming these things up, or making them up. If you go through this, you’re not crazy either. I didn’t fully believe that though, until I began participating in grief groups. If we’re all experiencing the same kind of things, I can’t be crazy, right?

The Afterlife

I’ve spent countless hours reading, watching, and researching everything that we humans know about what happens when and after we die. I obsessed myself with it. Still do. I know more than I ever thought I would about near death experiences (NDE), theories, and everything else that we use to try and explain the things we don’t know. The things that might be true, range from us returning to our Arcturian home, to going to heaven (whichever one you believe in), to nothing at all. Just plain nothing. Gone. I don’t and can’t believe in any of those theories. Not with everything I’ve been through and what I know now. Not when you factor in all of the circumstantial and irrefutable scientific evidence.

Honolulu, HI - Our final vacation together with Sabrina's family in a Korean BBQI lost my best friend in a car wreck when I was 17. He was in the seat behind me during our final road trip senior year. I held my grandfather’s hand during his last breath, when cancer finally consumed him. I’ve experienced grief before, but I never before had signs and I never before even thought about what happened next. Never felt the need. I loved them, but I wasn’t completely destroyed by their loss. I celebrated their life.

Now, I find myself questioning everything, as one would and does. For some, your beliefs change, but I’ve seen that most find their original beliefs to be stronger. I’m not trying to tell you what to believe. That would be insensitive and overly ridiculous for me to do... How could I? The shit people say…

For me, I’ve come to the personal conclusion (not your conclusion) that whatever heaven we know and label it as - it exists - but it’s not what we know it to be in our books of worship and cultural common beliefs. None of us have any way of actually knowing. That’s why it’s called faith, and associated with belief. I firmly believe that there’s something else, and she’s waiting for me, along with my other family. She’s right on the other side of something we can’t see, taste, feel, or touch. Her energy speaks to me and has proven that to me a lot over the past year.

I will see her, but it won’t be the same as what I remember we had before she left. It will be different. I just desperately hope it will be even better than it was. A statement like that sounds crazy to me. Our relationship was so insanely awesome, like nothing I have ever known. It’s very cliché, but it was the truest of true love. I’ve never loved anyone even remotely close to the same level.

Getting Better

I have mostly shied away from the things that would have been “normal” for me before my Nala passed away. Nothing had the same feel anymore. Color? Gone. Flavor? Nixed. Pretty much all of life seemed pointless anymore, and still does to some degree. There’s no getting better. I didn’t ask to be in this involuntary club. This daily dose of bullshit. Yet, I’m still here.

West Palm Beach, FL - Not sure where we were exactly, but this was her taking the selfie (which is against her nature)I’ve learned in this year of grief that the only way through this is to just take it day-by-day. Each day, I wake up. I go into a routine. I eat. I work. I take care of my daughter. Then I do my best to sleep. Next thing you know, I do it all over again. I’ve resolved myself to this… Every day I live is one more day that I’m closer to my queen, my soul mate, my true love. I need to get through it to get to her, and I can only hope she’s there, with open arms, as excited to see me this time, as she was the first. Jumping up and down like a grade-school girl getting the first present on Christmas morning. For those of you that knew her, I bet you never saw her that excited, did you? Literally jumping up and down, with a massive smile, and squealing. She was so full of life. Happy.

So now, to earn my reunion, I’ve begun the process of pretending to be all better. Pretending to be “normal” like the majority of you. I smile and laugh sometimes, but it’s not real. I don’t smile in photos yet, because I don’t want the fake me to be recorded. That’s not me right now. I do this to feel “normal,” but I mostly do this to make you feel normal around me too. I’m not normal. There is not a “normal.” I’m broken, but I’ll be okay. “I’m okay,” is my response now.

Being 100%, or Being “Me” Again

This story and all of the parts that may follow in the future, they’re part of my past, present, and future. They’re a part of yours too. No one is immune to this part of life. Patton Oswalt recently went through an eerily similar experience, but being a comedian, he’s far more articulate about this than I can ever be. So it’s only appropriate when he describes how he feels, as it fully embodies how I’ve felt from the first moments until today, saying, “I’ll never be at 100% again.” This isn’t to say that I’m not still the Will Strohl that many of you know or follow.

Most of us throw around the term my other half so frivolously. We don’t realize that some of us are insanely lucky to truly know what that is like and how it feels. You’re 100% of a person finally, and didn’t realize you weren’t until you literally found the one. I wasn’t 100% until I met my beautiful Sabrina – something I didn’t know until the moment I fell in love with her (something that was instant, but I wouldn’t realize or believe until later). I’m still me, albeit a slightly different, more aware of everything, quick to cry, far more knowledgeable on the human condition, more sensitive to others, and ultimately deeply scarred version of me.

I’m okay.

Nala kept her promise... I've never seen anything so beautiful



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