One of the more interesting aspects of the grief "process" is learning about yourself. One of the realizations I have come to lately is the change in modes I've gone through.
From the time Meagan was diagnosed to several months after her death I was in full battle mode, with a coat of armor and a take charge (as much as I could) attitude. Inside I was petrified, but I wasn't able to show it. Meagan had very explicitly asked me to be positive and solution oriented and not talk of death. She simply would not have been able to cope and needed me to be a rock, so she could get by. Of course with the boys I had to be supportive for them as well, which is a whole 'nother saga. But sufficed to say, while I might have wanted to be vulnerable, and let people "in to me see" (also known as "intimacy") it really wasn't an option. My traits by nature are to be a problem solver, develop action plans, exude confidence, and focus on the mission. Given the import of this mission I was in prime form.
It's not to say I didn't buckle from time to time. Or that Meagan and I didn't have candid conversations about death, we did. But the general pattern was there. Once Meagan died and we got through the aftermath of the holidays (honestly pretty much a complete blur - I remember very little) I found I stayed in that same mode for quite some time. I fooled myself that I was doing good work on healing and grieving, and taking care of our boys.
Like many guys the way I went about it was through activity. Go to grief support. Get back on an exercise program. Look into classes and volunteering. Start playing tennis on a team. Read a lot about grief. THINK about it. Activity! It's doing something, proving I'm ok, capable, and living life.
And it went pretty well. On the surface. Fortunately my wiser inner self bubbled up and helped me listen when a loved one told me about an eight day retreat in Northern California. After researching it and others, I signed on, thinking it would be a good time (just before the one year anniversary of her death and what would have been our 25th wedding anniversary) and a way for me to process any remaining issues.
I learned a lot about my patterns. Patterns that were preventing me from opening up and experiencing my feelings (let alone recognizing and naming them). I spent a lot of time writing. There were lots of group exercises and I have 37 new friends who have gone through a shared experience, while opening up new vistas into our individual inner lives. I was cracked open like an egg. I felt able to shed the hard exterior so necessary to get through the terrible experience, and try on a new mode - one that really is me, it had just been buried beneath years of patterning and programming. And reinforced by the need to be in full battle mode.
It is a huge relief and a source of joy and comfort to be in this new mode. I'm not perfect at it, and it's taking a lot of work to learn to relax and let go and let it flow. Vulnerability. My new friend....