Back and forth…

I have been “in absentia” for a while as I have been thinking a lot about where I want to go with this “blog” thing.  I started writing partly to see what would come out but also because of a desire to offer some kind of support to others who might be going through what I have already experienced.  Kind of make lemonade out of lemons, you know.

As I’ve tried to sort out what I’m to do with myself since I left my old life (aka career) behind, I kept coming back to this idea that I could or should do something with all of this grief and loss experience.  If I combine that with my “professional” experience, well, I might really be able to do something.  I really want to.

I really want to see people suffer less from this terrible grief thing and be able to find an understanding shoulder to lean on.  I want to see people start talking about death and loss like it’s a reality that we all really know about and stop acting like if we ignore it, it will go away. Maybe then when it happens to someone we know, we can reach out a hand and feel comfortable being there- not just for a month or two, but for the years it may take for a neighbor or an aunt or the lady in the office to get back on her feet again.  I want to not see anymore people be shattered and fall apart  because someone they love so dearly dies and they can’t reach out for help because they’re supposed to just be strong and get on with it.  I really want to do something to change all of this.

But as I have worked to put together a plan of how to do this in a more formal way, I keep feeling this resistance nagging at me from inside. Rationally, I know that I have learned so much emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, even physically as I’ve worked my way through my own years of grief.  I know I have a lot to share.  How can I let all of this “experience” go to waste?  Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?  A lot of people do. But then, that’s the other side of this coin.

Now, I’m not one to back away from a challenge but… I have spent pretty much all of my adult life working through grief and loss, starting when I had just turned 20 and I lost the most important man in my life.  As years went on, every time it seemed that the ground might have gotten a bit more solid, another quake came along, one loss after another.

Recently, a whole new dimension has been added to my dilemma – a good one though.

I started Acupuncture treatments as an alternative approach to deal with some physical and emotional stress issues.  I have been amazed by the results, especially since I had no preconceived ideas as to how I would feel.

The biggest thing that pertains to what I’m writing about here today, is that I have for the first time, had these brief glimpses of a possible future without grief and depression and sadness.  Please don’t think that I walk around every day hanging my head like Eeyore.  I do smile and laugh and have fun and enjoy my life.

What I mean is that I can envision moving on in that way where that deep core of sadness, that persists for so long with heavy grief, will let me breathe again and I can choose to “do” something with myself that is fun and happy. Thus, the problem with doing grief work as some kind of  formal job.

I think there are ways for me to still offer support and caring to people- like writing here, and on my Facebook page, offering the Remembrance Jewelry that I make, and who knows what else.

But I think for now, something is telling me that it is my time to be free for a while- to fly a bit and just enjoy the breeze…

To better days

I wanted to share this post with you as this really captures what it’s like to struggle along the road of grief and try to deal with the real world. Words are not always the answer. Sometimes quiet compassion is all that’s needed.

ofmenandmountains

Having grief in your life on this level is walking a path filled with land mines.   I think I am navigating my way through pretty well when wham!  one blows up in my face.

I’ve been told lately by a number of people that have NOT been by my side during the last 10 months that I “look better”, I  “sound better” , that I “appear to be doing better.”    I am taken aback.  Their comments are meant to encourage me I am sure.  Instead they make me want to punch them in the face.

The conundrum is that I don’t know why I feel that way.  These people obviously have only seen me in passing, they have not squatted here in the trenches with me as some others have.  I’m not sure exactly what they mean and maybe they don’t either.

But here is how I take…

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Hope- not just a girl’s name

When you are in the throes of early grief, you can feel like all the joy and zest for life has been sucked out of you.  You may even wonder why you should want to continue living at times.  Most of us luckily do have something in us that tells us to keep going, that it is worth it to keep moving.

I think this can come from many different places. For some it is their deep faith, for others it is from the strong love and support of family and friends.  It may rise up from reserves of a well grounded personal strength or sense of duty and being driven by knowing that we have responsibilities to others that we must see to.

I would go a bit deeper than this and say it is something more innate – a basic human tendency to have hope.  I think we are all born with it.  I think it is what keeps us going in all kinds of situations, large and small.  It inspires us to try new things, to want to be involved with other people and stay involved even when things go astray, to work to change things that need changing.

When you look at a baby or toddler, you can see the light of hope shining from them.  People love to be around babies because they are so happy and innocent reminding us of all of that potential and maybe offering some renewal of our own hope.

Hope – verb– to believe, desire, or trust

We have all seen people who have lost hope.  They no longer believe that things will get better for them.  They go through each day rotely doing what they must at work or home with never a smile or encouraging word. Sadly, some can’t even do that and they wander aimlessly or just sit staring at the tv.

Others have given up all desire for anything new or better in their lives.  They never think about trying a new activity or changing anything about how they go about their lives.  They may think they don’t deserve it, it’s too hard or uncomfortable or unattainable.  They become complacent.

And then there are those who don’t trust anyone or anything.  They know life will never get better because it’s always been that way.  There’s no point in expecting anything different.  You can only count on yourself.

People become hopeless for all kinds of reasons.  Usually, it’s not just one thing but a culmination of experiences since childhood that bring them to that point.  The more lost they are, the harder it can be to face difficult or tragic situations that arise.

When you lose someone like a spouse or child or anyone you love deeply, it truly can feel like there is no reason to believe that you will ever smile or laugh again or feel good again.  The only desire you may feel for a long time is to have that person back or to know why this had to happen to you.  And trust– well you may be gun-shy for a long time, not wanting to invest your feelings too much in anything or anyone again as you don’t want to take a chance on losing something or someone and going through this pain all over again.

You may not realize when the glimmer of hope starts to show itself again or in which way but it will if given a chance.  Every time you take a step forward from the day before, it is there urging you on.  We so often look for the huge leaps of change to show that we are “making progress”.  In grief, I have learned that it is these day-to-day small steps, forward, and backward too, that get us to where we want to go and hope leads the way.

Optimism

Our boys were sitting around with us this weekend and somehow the conversation turned to the idea of “optimism”.  This is actually a difficult concept for young adults today with the constant negativity and distrust that surrounds them in the world they are to command.  Of course every generation has its struggles and disagreements with what has come before but I look at kids now and think how they are bombarded constantly with messages of how terrible everything is in the world.

We are blessed with incredible technology that allows us to do so much but now we can also know about every single horrible thing that is or could happen anywhere, anytime.  I wonder how it must feel to be excited about a future where you are constantly told you don’t look good enough, you don’t have enough stuff, you are not good enough, you can’t trust anybody, and the next Apocalypse can come at any second.  We really need to think about the messages we are sending out there…

But back to optimism.  They have their opinions of course and they tease me about my view about people being good and about how you may as well expect the best thing to happen in a situation because otherwise, you’ll just feel bad and upset all the time and it won’t help anything.  Or there’s the “make the best of whatever happens”, “don’t get upset over little things” and those kind of ideas too. They make fun of all my “touchy feely” books I read- I’m not “realistic”.  They are so young.

Random House defines optimism as:

1. a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.
2. the belief that good ultimately predominates over evil in the world.
3. the belief that goodness pervades reality.
4. the doctrine that the existing world is the best of all possible worlds.

Synonyms
1.  confidence, hopefulness, cheerfulness.
Antonyms
1, 2.  pessimism, cynicism.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2012.

It has struck me that I guess I am basically an optimist.  After all of the sadness and pain, the struggles through grief, and coping with life’s ups and downs on top of that, I somehow have come out standing up to that definition and still, mostly, working from a positive mode.

Don’t get me wrong- I am not jumping out of bed every morning feeling like a million bucks, accomplishing every goal I set out for myself.  I carry my scars and have to deal with the fact that things have not gone as I would have hoped.  Obviously.  I definitely have my bad days and say my share of “pessimistic” and “cynical” things I’m sure.  But I know that I could not have made it this far if I did not believe that “good ultimately predominates”.  I know that even in my darkest moments, I would think of my other 2 children and know how important it was for me to be here for them.  That is “goodness pervading reality”.

When my father died, I remember how excruciatingly painful that was and also thinking after all the ceremonies were over, how this was only the first of probably many times that I would experience this in my life.   And when my daughter died, it was the most awful thing I ever felt in my life, something words can’t describe.   But I also remember making a decision that I would go on and somehow survive; somehow make  the best of the life I have- it was the only choice to make.  Somehow, there was hopefulness.

So in the midst of vicious heartache, mind-numbing sadness, rote day-to-day activities and all the rest that grief brings, there is still the possibility for optimism.  It may be deeply hidden right now or starting to shine through and you don’t see it.  It’s not about running around laughing and “turning frowns upside down”.  It’s about finding the good where it is right at the moment you’re in, if that’s as far as you can go. The rest will come.

“I’m mad as hell…”

I’m probably dating myself here but this is from the movie Network. When the aging news anchor finds out he is being let go for a younger, sassier version he shares his frustration with the viewing public, ending with the final burst of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  He then instructs everyone in tv land to open their windows and shout it out into the world, which being a movie, lots of people proceed to do.

Imagine how freeing that might feel.  Anger is one of the “stages” in Kubler-Ross’ list of 5 that are commonly talked about and although there has been a great deal of change in view toward this stage theory, most people will still experience several of those emotions.  I think that anger is one of the most challenging for people.  Nice people don’t get angry.  You definitely don’t express it if you do feel it.  You are supposed to push it away, smile, forgive everyone.  I was brought up that it’s not “ladylike” to get mad and behave in an “impolite” manner i.e. “angry”.

But how can you not feel angry when your child or partner or best friend or other significant person was taken from you and you are left behind to try to figure out what to do?  Maybe you’re angry at the medical community who couldn’t figure out how to cure that kind of cancer or at the driver of that car who didn’t see the red light or that thing they call SIDS that took your baby away in the middle of the nite.

And then there are those unspeakable angers.  If you are a person of faith, you may find yourself wanting to scream and yell at God.  I mean, if God is so loving, how could He do this to me?  Why?  What did I do to deserve this?  I’ve tried to be good.  I’ve always tried to do the right thing-play by all the rules.  For many, this can be a very difficult and shattering experience.  If not handled well, some people may turn from their faith altogether.

The other even more disturbing anger for many is the shock of feeling angry at the person who died.  Guilt and self-recrimination can only confuse an already overwhelming situation.  Many spouses feel angry at being left with all the burdens of home, children, bills.  Parents may be angry at children who died because of irresponsible behavior like drunk driving or taking drugs.  And then there’s just being angry at them in general for leaving you and making you go through all this pain.  You may think it’s irrational but you feel it just the same.

And that is the key.  You feel it.   It is just part of the normal grief process that our psychological system has designed to help us work through this loss experience.  It is normal.  How it will show up and its intensity is different for each of us and is influenced by many things like the nature of your relationship with the person, the circumstances of the death, any experiences you had with death as a child, religious and cultural beliefs, etc.

The most important thing is that you allow yourself to feel what you feel, even the anger.  Express it in some way even if it’s only in private.  You don’t have to yell and scream either- there are lots of different ways.  Just acknowledging it and knowing that it’s ok is a good place to start.

Doing What Needs to Be Done

Today I finally went for a walk.  This is something I have been telling myself I was going to do every day for I don’t want to tell you how long.  I used to walk all the time.  It was my preferred mode of exercise and I loved getting out and getting a chance to clear my head and just breathe.

Somehow I got out of the habit and it became a chore.  I used to look forward to it; now it was just one more thing to do.  It’s funny how something that is so enjoyable and freeing one minute can feel so heavy and demanding the next.

If you are grieving, you probably know how that feels.  Even simple things can seem like complicated tasks.  Small problems become huge mountains.  As life keeps moving on all around you, you just want everything and everybody to slow down and give you a break.  Finding ways to keep up while keeping sane may feel almost impossible.  I know there were times I wasn’t so sure that I wasn’t losing my mind, running from home to job to kid stuff to other family things to home etc.

As hard as it may be to do, it’s critical that you allow yourself whatever time you need to get done what has to get done and let go of the rest.  The key is, you really have to be the one to be willing to let things go.  Maybe the house isn’t so clean or the lawn isn’t perfect or you don’t get to the gym as often or…. you fill it in.  I’m not talking about just not adding things to your “to do” list now but about taking stuff off the one you already have.  Ask for help, get off of committees, say no- all those things everyone always says to do but no one ever does.  If there was ever a time to do them, it’s now.

And just to be clear, I’m not just talking about in the first few months after you have lost someone.  That will probably happen naturally as you’re too upset or exhausted and people don’t really expect otherwise.  You need to continue to give yourself that “break” long after so you have the time and space you will need for your grief as time moves on.  You may be surprised at how quickly people will start expecting you to be back at it and you will need to set your own boundaries about what you will and won’t do.  Grieving takes a good amount of physical and emotional energy no matter how strong you are.  Give yourself the gift of time to make it a bit easier.  Remember, this is your life and your loss- you get to decide how you will handle it.

Looking “Out There”…

As I am sitting here drinking my morning tea, I am distracted by this show on the TV, the Nate Berkus Show.  It’s one of those morning shows where the host shows you how to decorate your home, cook the perfect meal, dress in style, do charitable works- the typical American morning show.

I don’t usually watch these things.  It’s on because my son, who of course has left the room, put the TV on and it landed on this channel.  I just haven’t bothered to turn it off.  Although I do find some parts interesting, especially the cooking, I am usually reminded by how obsessed we can get with “things”; how we are constantly looking for something “out there” that will make our lives better, more beautiful, happier because what we have already is not enough.  And how sad that is as any of us who has lost someone dear knows.

How many times do people look back after someone dies and wish they had spent less time working and more time talking and laughing with him or her?  And all the fretting and stress we cause ourselves about not being able to provide all these “things” for our loved ones, feeling like we are not striving hard enough or don’t care enough if we don’t.

In my worst of times, I have had to take time off from working so our income has been diminished and our home has been in disrepair. I allowed myself to fall victim to this sense of embarrassment, not wanting to let people see us not at our best, lest they think poorly of me.  I know all of the clichés that my true friends wouldn’t care but…I would not have thought that I would have let myself give in to this.  But grief attacks your self-confidence and can make you behave in ways you would not have thought possible.  At the very time I needed to invite people in, I shut people out.  In this case, due to my physical surroundings and succumbing to the societal pressures around me.

So forget the clichés and take it from the heart that people who love you don’t care if your house is a mess- they will help you clean it.  They don’t care if you look like a model- they will take you for a haircut.  They don’t care if you cook them dinner- they will cook for you.  Don’t be distracted by what you see on TV or in the magazines about who you are supposed to be.  Just be.

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