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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The living room chair…

Today I was painfully reminded of the toll grief can take on someone in a world where you are supposed to be strong, trudging on like nothing happened with that “stiff upper lip” even though you’ve lost the love of your life.  What passed for support was food brought to the house and the usual sharing of stories of what happened, then invitations to dinner at siblings’ homes in months to follow and some consultation about financial matters but not too much mention about feelings and heartache.  Talking about those things just wouldn’t do any good, right?  How could that help?  It wouldn’t bring back her husband- it wouldn’t change anything- you just have to suck it up and deal with it.

Well, that person was my mother.  And here it is 35 years later and I see her still sitting in a chair in the living room in front of the tv, unhappy, negative, never having been able to make a meaningful and hope filled life for herself at somewhere in those years after my father died.

She was 48  when that happened- now she’s almost 84.  It’s not that she needed to find a new husband and go out and develop a career and do all kinds of crazy things but she should have been able to find some happiness, at least some relief, and them some joy in the future with her grandchildren.  I’m not going to say that it was all due to her not being supported to express her grief.  There were other issues too that influenced how she handled her loss as there are for each of us but the stifling of her emotions and containment of all the natural reactions that are part of grief truly took a second victim in my father’s death.   There were other victims too in my brother, sister and myself as we lived in the shadows.

Why our society had created this destructive environment, I don’t understand.  It is much better now in many ways but there is so much more that needs to be done.  There is still a great reluctance to allow people their grief past a certain time period. We become very uncomfortable when the subject of death comes up, especially if it’s with someone who is grieving. We still prefer to stick to specific rituals to address our losses, packaging it neatly and then hoping to just go back to life as usual.

I think that it falls to those of us who have experienced significant loss to help change this by being brave and talking about what we’ve been through and what we need and why it matters. In a strange way it’s our legacy; a memorial maybe to those we grieve.  In their names we can make it better for those who come after us so maybe their paths will be a bit easier.  I can tell you that from what I see here on the internet that my mother would definitely have benefitted from the support that I see here.

So when you write or talk about your loved one and your loss, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it may feel for you, believe that you are helping someone, somewhere.  Had it been there for my mom, maybe she wouldn’t still be sitting in that chair…

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.

Frustration

I went to visit a friend the other day who has suffered a different but very significant kind of loss.  Last April she miraculously survived what is commonly referred to as the “flesh-eating bacteria” illness.  If you haven’t heard of it, it is a powerful bacteria that seems to come out of nowhere and very rapidly attacks the body, destroying muscles and organs, often claiming the lives of its victims within a few days.

My friend was a healthy, vibrant mother of three with a thriving home business one day and a month later woke up to find herself wheelchair bound and still struggling to survive.  You see, although she made it through the initial phase of the illness, it left her hands and lower legs needing to be amputated in order for her to live as they had “died”.  She made the choice to do that so she could stay and still be a mom to her kids.

I tell you this because I see her now struggle with grief.  It comes from a different source but I recognize so much that same sense of losing the life you once knew, not ever being the person you used to be as everything has changed.  I don’t presume to know what she is going through as obviously, it is a completely unique experience.

But the common thread that ran through our conversation was the frustration she feels with having to go through all of this sadness and grief over losing who she once was.  She just wants it to be over with.  How often have we all felt that way?  How I wished that I could have told her the magic date that she would feel ok again; that it would be “x” number of days till she would feel like jumping back into work.  She wants so badly to wake up each day with a sense of purpose.  And all I could do was to empathize with her and reassure her that the day would come.

So, I did my best to encourage her, as I do you, and to share that as icky as it feels, I have learned that the only way to the other side- to that better day, is through…you have to feel it all and let it out.  Don’t hold back, don’t shove it down deep and keep that stiff upper lip- it will only prolong the inevitable.    As for my friend, I will keep visiting her and we’ll keep talking.

I’m no hero…

Sometimes I feel like a complete failure.  I feel like I have let the the past and all those struggles with grief get the best of me.  After all, I am no shining light, out there in the world saying “Hey, look at me – I lost my dad when I was young and my baby died and I had all these miscarriages but I wrote this great inspirational book and I built this great foundation and…” well, you get the picture.  It seems like everybody who suffers some big tragedy today writes a book or starts a charity or does some big, incredible work as a result of it.  And I have just wondered all of these years, how do they do it?

When I think about how hard it can be just to get out of bed in the morning or to try to remember to keep smiling and really act like you want to play when your other child is tugging at your sleeve even years after your baby has died and someone just said “You’re so lucky you don’t have girls!”, how do they do it?

When I think about having to get 1 child to hockey practice at 5:00 in the morning in a town an hour away, another to a ski slope 2 hours in the other direction 3 hours later, and yet another to a birthday party 2 hours after that, all in a car that’s 10 years old and you are still trying to understand how someone suddenly dies at 45 years old from a heart attack, how do they do it?

When I know the realities of grieving and the powerful grip it has on your heart and soul and all the strength it takes to rise above it, how do they do it?

Our society loves heroes.  There can be great pressure to feel like you have to be one or that you are supposed to “do” something when you have experienced something bad or traumatic.  You don’t.  All you have to do is take care of yourself, then take care of those around you who you are responsible for, like your children and your pets.  That’s it.  You don’t have to be a hero and save the world.  Just by being a whole, healthy person again who can find some meaning and hope in life you will be saving a piece of it.

It’s All Relative

Last week was a terrible week.  A bunch of things happened that just made me feel like nothing was going right.  Nothing earth shattering- nothing that could compare to things I’ve had to deal with in the past.  College issues with my son and we ended up without heat on the coldest day of the winter and you know, all that life “bs” that happens when you’re trying to just get along- good days and bad days.

But it became one of those times when I felt overwhelmed.  It was one of those times when the remnants of the stress and coping and healing process swirled around me again like a dust cloud and I questioned my ability to keep on in my forward motion.  I wept a lot, I swore, I even yelled at God (I do believe in God in a “new” sort of way).  This was probably the biggest “down” I’ve had in a while.

I have people whose answer to me in these moments is “that’s just life”.  Well, I know that.  But that doesn’t really help a lot when I’m just looking for a little support.  And I see  things on Facebook where people share stories of others in terrible circumstances to make us all aware of how appreciative we should be. But that doesn’t really help either at these times.

Ok, I know there are people whose lives are way worse than mine.  Even in the most horrible moment of my life, someone was having a more horrible moment than me.  But does that mean that I should have “bucked up” and pushed back my tears and said “well, it could be worse”?  Obviously not (although when I called my grandmother, whom I loved dearly, to tell her through my tears that my father had died, she told me I had to keep my chin up and be strong for my mother).

Please don’t think that I don’t appreciate the hardships that other people experience.  I thank God every day for all the good things in my life and for how lucky I am.  By all rights, I shouldn’t even have the 2 children I do have.  And how many people are still married to the same person after 30 years and still actually like him?  I am surrounded by people all the time who remind me to respect life and live every day.

But I also know that trying to brush away negative feelings or letting them pile up by comparing yourself to others can be dangerous.  We are meant to feel those things and get them out so that we can move on in a more positive way.  It’s not a competition over who has had it worse.  It is all relative to you and your life situation.  Obviously, there are some limits here.  A teenage girl having a breakdown  over losing her cell phone might be a bit excessive, but…even then you never know what else might be going on.

There can be a fine line between feeling your feelings and letting them out and self-pity.  If things are rough and you’ve had a bad time as will happen in this life for whatever reason,  feel what you feel. Just so long as you eventually get back up on that horse and keep going. If you are grieving, that may take a long time and it may not be a steady ride.  You’ll probably fall off a lot as I still do now and then.  As time goes on, it still doesn’t feel good but it doesn’t take as long to get up again.

As for me, I am back at it.

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