Can you help me?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been working on this new life of mine, particularly from the “career” standpoint and have, as many do for various reasons, turned away from my previous work life seeking new passions and new directions.  It has not been easy what with juggling all the emotional turmoil that grief has offered and the guilt associated with walking away from all my years of experience and education; that sense that I should continue to give back and “use” what I know.

It has been a very interesting, frustrating, revealing, and often painful time over these years of realization that I can no longer do what I used to do.  Without getting into too much detail about my previous work and the whys and wherefores, suffice it to say that it has been shocking to me really to find that I would ever not want to do that work in my life anymore.  It was something that meant so much to me, that I invested so much time and heart into and yet here I am, walking down a path in a totally different direction.  It has been a really tough adjustment.

I know people think it’s about “burning out” because my work had to do with Human Services but that’s not really the full story.  It’s more about the toll that grief has taken on me at the same time.  I don’t regret one minute of what I did.  The people I met, both clientele and coworkers, taught me amazing things about humanity and gave me great strength to get through the most difficult times of my life. I wouldn’t change the decisions I made at the time – I did what made sense for me then.  But it did come at a cost.

As hard as all this has been to get me to where I am today, I can say that I have truly learned to just take each day as it comes.  I know that sounds like a cliché but it really is true.  Anyone who struggles with grief knows that, even years down the road, some days are good and some not so good.  I can remember sitting in my home office talking to my friend on the phone, feeling so down, and just wanting so badly not to feel that way anymore; just wanting it to be over and be launched in my new career.  Then there were days when I felt really pumped up that I had a great idea for something I wanted to do and would sit and write up all the details that I needed to accomplish to get it done. A little forward, a little back…

As I said, it’s a long road…and along that road, life keeps happening all around. Obviously, it’s different for everyone and it depends on what you’ve experienced.  The important thing, I’ve learned, is to let yourself be and not add self-criticism and guilt on top of everything else. It is what it is. You need to let yourself be free to feel what you feel and find the life that you can live with as you move forward from the loss that you have endured.

Sooo…as I have moved forward, I have been melding a few of my experiments into a direction that I feel captures where I am best suited to go now.  Being able to offer support to others in some way is still important to me.  I also feel drawn to “creative” activities as it always makes me feels a sense of hope when I make something new.  After my daughter died, I started knitting because I needed to build something new and beautiful where something had been taken away.

Thus, my new business endeavor is creating Birthstone Remembrance Jewelry made with sparkling Swarovski Crystals and Sterling Silver or Gold-Filled beads and clasps.  Initially, I will be offering these pieces for sale on Etsy and will eventually have a dedicated website for them.  The purpose behind the jewelry is for people to have something to wear as a reminder of someone they have lost or who is ill, or perhaps someone who is far away and really missed.  I found that when I lost my daughter that it was very comforting to me to have something like this that I could wear as a tangible reminder of her, even if no one else knew what it was for.

My problem is deciding on a definite name for the business.  I am considering the following:

On My Mind Jewelry

In My Heart Jewelry

Always and Forever Jewelry

Remembrance Jewelry

Remember Me Jewelry

Thinking of You Jewelry

Forever Jewelry

I would love any feedback you could give me!  Of course, if you think of anything else, that’s great too!

Wishing you peace and hope on your travels…

Humbled once again…

Yes, once again I have been forced to face my own smallness and lack of real control in this life but it has not been a bad thing I have found.  It has made me slow down and view each day, each moment, each choice and really consider what matters to me and what I’ve been fretting about these past many months.

It has been very frustrating and depressing also but as things go in life (a lesson I have learned very well by now) you do have to just go with it and get from it what you can.  I say that now, in this moment, when I am feeling a little better, in a mood of reflection and can’t say that I have felt that right along.

Just to clarify, nothing major has happened. It’s just that I have been sick for the last 3 1/2 weeks with whatever viruses have been going around and it has been a big-time drag.  It is still not done with me and it has really put a serious crimp in my ability to accomplish anything.  It’s that kind of sick where you don’t even want to read a book or get dressed or anything.  You end up feeling like you are not even part of this planet anymore.

One of the things that seemed to happen a lot in the past as I have struggled  to wend my way through grief and create a new life for myself is that as soon as I would start something up and feel good about it, start getting some confidence like I was finally on my way to the “right thing”, something negative would happen like an illness or family problem or money crisis.  I would then feel shaken and take it as some sign that I had made the wrong decision or at least my newfound confidence would wane.

Although I have been reminded, again, that life is about ebb and flow and dealing with each day as it comes, I realize that I don’t feel that “why is this happening  to me” or “what am I doing wrong” feeling. I know now that response is just one of the natural outcomes that can occur with severe grief and trauma; that shaking of your faith in yourself and your trust in your own ability to make the right decisions.

I suspect that loss of self-confidence has a lot to do with the huge shock of fear of realizing how not in control we are of what happens in our lives- at least the important things anyway.  Nothing makes that more real than losing someone you love or some kind of painful major life change.

Coming to peace with that and figuring out how to live in that new reality is a trip for which few of us are prepared.  They don’t teach that subject in school and although prayer and religious faith can be comforting for some, it doesn’t usually give you the play-by-play to get through each difficult day. That is something that comes to each of us in our own way, through our own strength and by allowing those around us to help and support us in whatever ways we feel comfortable with.

It is not easy.  It is very much not easy. How long does it take? Well, I think anyone who’s been there will tell you that it takes a lifetime… but it does get easier.  Looking back now, that is the one thing that I would tell someone who is “new” on this path.

In the midst of all the haze and swirling thoughts and feelings that come and go, you have to start counting all of the small gains that you make and don’t set your sight on an “end game”, you know the “getting over it”.  That is never the goal because it doesn’t happen.  You can live again, smile again, laugh again, love again- it’s all just different than before. How can it not be?

It’s definitely taken me a long time to get to where I am and finally accept that I’m just not going to be the person I used to be, and it’s not just because I’m getting older!  So I will keep stepping forward each day, try not to be too hard on myself, and keep building that new life, with its new twists and turns.  I hope that you can find your strength, reach out for help if you can and will keep moving too.

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.

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.

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