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Learning to breathe again

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 16th, 2009 by Frances Ryan.
Tags: widowhood, widow blog, sad, lessons, fear, faith, crazy, confession

Note: This post was originally shared on my “widowhood” blog, Frances 3.0: Still in Beta.

There are certain things in life that we take for granted. Breathing is one of them. Before Paul died, I don’t know that I ever really thought about my breathing patterns. I just did it – even when I was an active runner, an activity that is not yet compatible with Version 3.0, I just took one breath after another. Yes, I would alter how those breaths were taken, but it was second nature – no thought required.

I remember the doctor coming out to tell me that Paul didn’t make it. I remember not being able to breathe. I remember having a hard time catching my breath for several days after that horrid moment. It took a while, but I started to learn how to breathe through it all. Sometimes I just needed to sit and take long, deep breaths so that I could stop crying. Sometimes I would take deep breaths as I lay on the floor after a hysterical sob-session because it would calm me just enough to get up and to get on with my day.

At some point, my breathing became regular once again, and I began once again to take it for granted. I didn’t need to think about it; I didn’t need to remind myself to breathe. My body had gotten used to the shocking situation I was in and it just altered its operation to fit my needs. But then something happened.

At about “Week 15” I began to have trouble breathing again. My chest was tight and breathing was not only difficult but it physically hurt for the first time I can recall. And it kept getting worse to the point where I couldn’t sleep. It was disturbing my sleep and the exhaustion was adding to my stress making it even worse. Waking in a sweat, panicked, unable to breathe in the middle of the night isn’t my idea of fun!

Not surprisingly, the doctors said I was experiencing “anxiety” – and now I can’t shake this feeling of panic for anything. Even when I’m not feeling panicked, this heavy feeling is settled into my chest and I can’t take a deep breath without pain. Of course, the doctor’s response was a pill – but I don’t do pills, let alone the Valley of the Dolls sort of pills that were on offer.

Now I find myself having to learn how to breathe all over again. With each painful breath comes a painful memory of losing Paul; it’s a physical manifestation of my grief. I wonder if this means the shock is finally wearing off and I’m going to start feeling all of the pain that’s been masked by my mind’s clever defence mechanisms. I wonder when my breathing will return to normal, or if I’ll notice the change. I wonder if this is as bad as it gets, or if this is just a small teaser announcing a more intense grief yet to come.

Someone shared part of this quote with me a while back and I reflect on it every so often:

“Love means the body, the soul, the life, the entire being. We feel love as we feel the warmth of our blood, we breathe love as we breathe air, we hold it in ourselves as we hold our thoughts. Nothing more exists for us.” – Guy de Maupassant

I’m trying to think about my breathing. I’m trying to be calm and methodical each time I inhale. I’m trying to remember that each breath I take is another opportunity to live the life Paul would want me to live, but I’ve never experienced such painful emotions and find it difficult to manage. I don’t know that I’m strong enough to handle any more than this – but 16 weeks ago I didn’t know that I’d be strong enough to make it to today. I’m just trying to take it one breath at a time, knowing that I will survive this pain.

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