Robert Gregory LaFavor-Courtwright went on life support just before my birthday 16 years ago. For a few days it was up in the air, then on my birthday, Oct 7th, 2005 we were told there was hope. So my sister-in-law, my birthday twin, and the rest of the family went out that night to celebrate our birthdays. I was turning 37. I got a tattoo. My mom got a tattoo. We were hopeful. I had faith. I believed he was too good and too loving and had too much to offer to be gone. He loved me. He loved me in a way that I didn’t think was possible. Then two days later, October 9th, 2005. I lay next to him on the bed as they turned off the machines and I felt his last breath leave his body. I cried the kind of keening cry the man-in-black cried in the “Princess Bride”, the sound of ultimate suffering. And in that very moment, the process of grief began and would be quickly stunted and would forever change how I showed up in the world. I would enter an extremely tumultuous decade where the rapid cycling of emotions would make me careen back into ways I thought I had “overcome” and left in my 2o’s. I would learn that grief makes others uncomfortable and that people are super judgy about how much hurt we are allowed to feel and express and for how long and where…the rules are endless and honestly cruel.
I already knew this actually but until this time I hadn’t realized just how much we squash emotions in others and how much that can truly harm someone.
There is so much to unpack – within the first moments of his passing I was IMMEDIATELY told I had to be quiet. Stop crying. That won’t bring him back. I physically collapsed (I was also exhausted) and was told to “stop being so dramatic”. I began the process of stuffing my feelings.
See it was always hard to explain to people that have friends and close relationships that work how devastating a loss can be when you have struggled with connection your whole life. I’ve always felt off, a little wrong, too emotional, too needy, and yet too independent. I never felt people got the whole of me. The dichotomy that I’m so completely two things at all times. A manly girly girl. A rainbow goth. A sensitive biker b*tich. A punk rock ballerina. But Rob? OH he got it and relished in it… he could treat me like I was a lady and then ride on the back of my motorcycle celebrating my independence and power. Around him, I never had to choose which persona got to come out and play. He was there for all my sides. When you have been starved of that your whole life and finally FINALLY feel like a whole human just because someone says “Hey all of you is great” and then have it ripped from you? Well, it was devastating.
But I heard these things all in the first week
-“you weren’t even together that long.”
– “I mean he was sick right”
-“it’s not like your life was so great”
-“you weren’t even really married” (we were common law and we both recognized. I had proposed a year earlier and we were putting off a ceremony because of his health)
Within a month I was hearing
-“try to think about the good memories”
-“you need to be on anti-depressants this is taking too long”
And the ultimate shut down came that New Year’s Eve so less than 3 months later- which would have been Rob’s 37th birthday- I wanted to plan a smaller meal with some friends at a special place but it would have made someone else’s plans be delayed and while trying to say I didn’t want their plans to be overridden I just needed this – I was told “well it doesn’t matter you’ll just play the dead husband card and get your way” (I didn’t get my “way” I gave up and got about the business of acting ok) I think that was the single worst moment for me… it was when I felt even more keenly the loss of someone who cared enough about me to see my pain and not put qualifiers on it. It was all my fears about not having “real” friends laid bare. And in that moment I splintered.
I have been leading a duel life every since. One where I pretend I’m OK and make terrible decisions out of pain but act like it’s all normal. And one where there’s a ball of sadness locked away that bleeds out as anger and impatience. It leaks out as apathy. It oozes over things and makes even happy times duller. And all because I didn’t want to play the dead husband card. I didn’t want to make people feel inconvenienced or uncomfortable so I set about creating the biggest mask of all….one of the healed person. A mask I wore with limited success but a lot of fakery for nearly 10 years until my body and mind just couldn’t anymore.
I just can’t anymore. But that’s a good thing. Pretending to be ok is malarkey. That’s why I am here to embrace the full reality of me. And that includes being bipolar. Maybe if I can get all these other layers out I can face down that struggle and fully understand it.
I got some big emotions. My feelings are BIG. Learning to feel them and not let them bang up everyone around me is a journey. So whatever you are going through don’t let anyone else tell you when you are “done” or “ready” or whatever unhelpful advice they might give – I guarantee you it’s more about them than you. Only you can know if you are still processing. Only you get to decide how much it hurts. No one is inside your heart but you. Feel your feels. Trust me on this – either you feel them on purpose or you and everyone will feel them anyway in a less helpful way.