Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Grief and Joy and Every Darn Thing

“To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness” -- Erich Fromm (1900-1980)

Yes. Yes. Yes.  I have been having a mini nervous breakdown.  Someone told me that I had already crossed the threshhold (sp?) and it was like holding on to a teddy bear I didn't need anymore.  Later on I cried, got in bed with my husband's Yankee jacket and stayed there.  I went to my storytelling class, came darn near shooting a taxi driver who took me in the wrong direction because he was talking on his cell phone - don't panic - I can't shoot anyone - don't have a gun.  I did curse at him though. Spent the next day mostly in bed.  Today I am ready to go again.  Since Artie died I have crossed many threshholds; some with grace - some just tripping over them and landing on my - well you fill in that word.  I have so much resistance to happiness and yet -  and yet - if I allow time for my grief I can allow time for my happiness. My resistance to happiness doesn't stop me from having a lot of happy moments.  There is a balance here I am always looking for.  Sometimes, though, I seem to need to give myself permission to go backward in order to go forward.  I took a shower this morning and when using the back brush remembered how Artie used to scratch my back on request.  All the small things, all the huge things - how can we not miss them?  How can we not grieve for their loss.  It doesn't stop me all the time from getting out there in to the world and being me.  I am trying to tame my resistance - turn it from a big growling monster to a mischievous puppy.  I think the best way to do this is allow my grief when it comes; express it in some way - and then ask it for permission to get on with my writing or whatever else I want to do.  If I tell my grief to go away that doesn't work for me.  It's there with all the other emotions I have.  Maybe some day I won't write this blog any more.  I don't know.  Someone stopped a grief blog saying they were joining the living.  I am with the living.  I'm also with the dead.  Wearing our wedding rings less.  Thinking of putting some (maybe one?) memento away.  But - o my darling husband - I miss him so many different ways every day.  I even miss the things that irritated me.  No chance now to make more memories together, to make up for any time we wasted.  Maybe there is.  Maybe there will be.  I'm just an earth bound person.  Who am I to say what eternity holds?  There's a lot of strength in our tears. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Grief Poem

I haven't put in  poems in a while.  The first one is rather dark so I added a short one I wrote in a poetry workshop today.  My work right now is staying in the present.  My eating, sleeping, and everything is off because I am already anticipating the second round of holidays without my husband (including his birthday Dec. 11 and my birthday/wedding anniversary Feb. 3).  How not to react to something that even happening yet. Keep on keeping on - it is such a gift to me to witness the courage of so many people after losing the person they love most. 

The Last Dance

I’m dancing the dance
of the broken bones

dissection is painless
for the already dead
the scalpel inserted
pulls the face from the head

feeling a little disjointed
with the flesh peeled away
the eye socket winks
the throat has something to say

Don’t close the curtain
lie down in my grave
there’s energy left
something to save

the theater is empty
the audience gone
no one remembers
the name on the stone

An insistent tap tapping
won't end our dance
of the broken bones.

Morning Glory

This morning when I woke up;
I woke up
was baptized by a pigeon
and heard the owl laugh.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Grief: Am I Really Filled With Grief All The Time?

I think of myself as being sad and lonely and heartbroken all the time.  Years ago when I was a mental health counselor clients would come in and say "I was depressed all week."  We would talk and sooner or later they would say something - maybe as simple as, "My daughter brought home a picture from school."  I would ask, "Did you enjoy that?"  They would say, "Yes." and I would say, "Gotcha!"  I didn't not respect their dark and painful feelings.  The gotcha was that they weren't depressed all week - just some of the week.  When I am enjoying something, or writing something, or even going to the gym - I don't put any emphasis on that.  When I am laying in bed crying, overeating, watching DVDs or feeling paralyzed I think that expresses my true feelings.  I'm trying to gotcha myself.  I will always grieve for Artie.  I miss him every second of every day but I also have happy moments. How do I switch my focus and pay more attention to the happy moments than the sad ones?  How do I build on them?  I know Artie wouldn't want me to be in pain.  He loves me.  I don't serve him or our love by remembering my pain and not remembering my joy. 

I am so lucky to have be loved by him.  How can I hold that love as a comfort instead of only a loss?

I don't know about the color black.  It is actually an absence of color - and yet takes over everything.  If you mix blue and yellow you get green.  If you mix blue and red you get purple (my favorite color!).  Maybe the color of my grief can be something that mixes with the colors of my life in such a way to create new colors instead of wiping out all color. 

Which won't - or will it - get rid of the walking along happily seeing or hearing something breaking into sobs moments.

Questions, questions, questions.  Wish Artie was here to help me figure all of this out.  Of course, if he was here I wouldn't have to figure it out!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fear and Resistance Doesn't Belong Only To Grief

Check out a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It's all about resistance and fear.  From page 40 - "Are you paralyzed with fear?  That's a good sign.  Fear is good.  Like self doubt, fear is an indicator.  Fear tells us what we have to do...The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it." The last two lines of the book- "Don't cheat us of your contribution.  Give us what you've got."

That's what sends me back to bed and my DVDs all the time - fear and resistance.  I know what I want to do, what I need to do.  My husband used to say to himself and others, "You won't give up failure without a fight."  and he called himself "the great potential".  I know all the the amazing things he accomplished but also all the work he left undone because of fear and resistance.  Now I struggle without him - all the love and support and comfort and encouragement he gave me -  and have to find ways to break through or follow the fear without him.  That makes it harder - but perhaps that is the resistance talking - not me.

Who am I anyway?  The one who wants to go join my husband NOW or the one who wants to live and accomplish all that I have left to do.  Both, really.  How do I settle the argument between them so the living me can live and have the patience to wait until my time here is over.  No - not wait - thrive and create and not hide away.  I don't know the answer but I'm still searching. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Grief: Guerilla Tear Attack

I don't usually post twice in one day but after I figured out all this new stuff I was dressed and ready to go to the gym (having now a slight hint of a waist) and I started crying.  I mean really crying.  I could hear either my husband saying to me - or me saying to me - "Why are you doing all this now?  Why didn't you do it when Artie was alive?"  I had a lot of answers.  I looked in the mirror.  I wiped the tears away after about 10 minutes and headed out.  It is so DIFFICULT folks to do things without sharing them with those people we love who aren't alive anymore.  Please give yourself lots of self respect and self admiration for accomplishing anything - however big or small.  I hope somehow Artie is watching and forgives me for things that would have made him happy when he was alive that I didn't do then - the way I try to forgive him for things I wish he had done that he wasn't able to.  I hope our journey continues - is continuing.  I hope you made it through your day without a tear attack.  If not...don't give up the search for purpose, meaning and comfort. 

Random Grief Thoughts Time Flies By Slowly

I felt like I was going backwards instead of forwards - sleeping too much - eating too much - went to a bereavement group I really like.  I felt better afterwards.  I am sorry that people are feeling so much sadness but it is such a comfort to know that I am free to express my true feelings and have them understood.  I think it is important to look for a group you like.  Some people do "recover" more quickly and like groups that emphasize moving on.  I need a space to talk about how much pain I'm still in - to release it.  My daughter asked me if I found it discouraging that some women are still sad after 8 or 10 years.  I don't.  I can't ever imagine not being sad that Artie has moved on without me by dying (he had too but that is knowing not feeling).  The question is for me is not how to stop grieving - but how to not let the grief paralyze me.  I have a Facebook page now.  I can't believe I put the gym as one of my likes. Ouch and ha ha for that one!  I even went on match.com - although I'm not sure I'll ever actually agree to meet anyone in person.  I signed up for a process painting workshop.  Process painting is painting from your feelings as opposed to trying to learn specific artistic skills. Still trying to find the balance between hiding in bed watching DVDs or just staring at the wall missing my husband - and being the creative me.  My friend Georgi took such beautiful pictures of me (the picture on the blog is a cropped version of one).  I am holding the trunk of a large stuffed woolly mammoth that inhabits my living room.  I think the woman in the pictures deserves a chance - and the woman in the picture is me.  My husband used to say there are no winners and losers - just quitters and trier.  I am working on being a trier.  Okey doke.  Time to get off the computer and over to that dreadful/delightful (ouch) gym. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Grief: Accidental Shrine

Some people were coming over to look at my apartment because I have a lot of interesting things - including in the living room a stuffed woolly mammoth that is 5 feet tall and 5 feet long so I cleaned up my bedroom.  Then I looked at it.  I could not believe how many things I have of Artie's.  Even if you ignore the fact that the plastic bag of his ashes are not in an urn but inside a stuffed leopard on the bed, he has a jacket on the bed, one over a chair, his slippers are next to the bed.  The number of pictures of him and mementos are numerous.  I have made the things in the living room less noticeable but the bedroom is Artie Artie Artie.  I don't know if this is a good or bad thing.  I don't want to put anything away.  I could.  I could have a keepsake box.  I could put things in the closet.  That's the whole letting go thing.  I don't know what is "best" for me to do - or if there is a "best".  If I clear a space will something or someone come into it or will it be an empty space?  I know he's dead but am I trying to keep him alive by having his things around me all the time? They make me feel loved and comforted but do they also add to my sadness?  I don't know the answers to any of these question.  I don't need to know the answers.  I think they will come to me when I am ready.  I have a comedy sketch writing class - and for a comedy monologue I am even making his death fit that form.  Will I allow myself to have a new story?  I have lots of new stories but they all have Artie in them.  Will I have a new story that I don't put him in - that he doesn't put himself in?  Goodness gracious - I wish he would come back and then I wouldn't have to figure any of this stuff out.  I'd probably get angry with him about something silly - but the worst day with him was so much better than the best day without him.  Lots of stuff for therapy - that's the only thing I do know!! 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Grief: Random Grief Thoughts

A while ago I e-mailed a site that has a feature called "Ask The Rabbi" about whether or not according to them Artie was watching over me and if I was still married.  This is a Chabad Rabbi.  Chabad is a conservative form of Judaism.  This is the answer I received:

Dear Jan,
A person is made up of body and soul. And a soul survives death.

Families are connected by both body and soul. Therefore, a family’s bond remains after passing. The loved one continues to care and be aware of all that happens.
But Judaism also acknowledges the facts on the ground - life in the world of physicality. This is why. after the passing of a spouse, one is "no longer married" in regards to being able to marry someone else if they so please, etc
Let me know if this helps.

Yours truly,
Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar

It was what I had come to believe - but it was nice to hear it from an "expert".  :)

I also wanted to share a quote from Washington Irving which it would be nice to have read in some intellectual book.  It is a quote from an episode of  Criminal Minds.  Still watching way too many DVDs.  I do have a rule that I have to go out 6 days out of the week - even if it is to do one thing.  That's better than when Artie first died.  I watched all six seasons of the Sopranos in a very short time.  I won't even begin to try to figure out why I like watching crime shows better than comedy.  It's rather obvious why I avoid romances.  Well, obvious to me.  There must be some widows/widowers who love them.  That's always my main point.  Let's respect each other's differences.  Here's the quote:

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love.”

You are all so brave.  I applaud all of us for what we do every day.  I'm saying that to you because I often forget to say it to myself.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Are You Talking To Me?

I made the mistake of wasting time looking at sites talking about "complicated grief" the diagnosis I believe is totally bogus that gives you a laundry list of symptoms and if you have something like five out of nine of them after six months you have a "mental disorder".  I'm not against getting psychological and medical help with grief, if needed.  I do.  I think depression exists and there are treatments for it.  Grief and depression are not the same.  People grieve in different ways and for differing lengths of time.  We each have our own burden and we deal with it in our own way.  This is not something to be judged or diagnosed.  There is no time limit on sadness.  The symptom that I reacted most strongly to was "the fantasy that you are being watched over and cared for or are in communication with your deceased loved one."  Many religions believe that the soul of the departed continues to watch over and care for the living people they love.  Many non-religious people believe this as well.  Many people also have reported sightings and communication with people who are no longer living.  I am a skeptical person but if I say I don't believe in Paris, Paris doesn't disappear.  Perhaps the "experts" should examine their fantasy that the spirit of a person dies along with their body.  Many people besides myself feel my husband's energy around me and around them.  On his birthday I lit a candle and put it on a cupcake.  He didn't blow it out - he doesn't have a body anymore.  However, I opened a poetry book I hadn't opened in years and found a note from him I had no memory of that told me how much he loved me and not to be insecure.  Coincidence?  I don't know.  I don't think that my feeling that his spirit or soul or whatever label you want to put on the form he is in now surrounds me with love and care is a fantasy.  I did speak with him through a friend who is a medium (again - being skeptical) - but she was very specific and not only nailed his personality but knew things she couldn't possibly know.  There are lots of fakes out there - but this friend is a very honest and spiritually grounded person.  I don't hear Artie's voice - again - he doesn't have a body - but I hear him.  I hear him the loudest when I say I don't know if he's here.  He says - I am here.  I always say - I know - but I miss the you with the face and voice and arms and legs.  If I spent every day in my room talking to him and not doing anything else that would definitely be a problem.  Talking to him sometimes - and hearing the odd comment - I was at the theater and I heard him say "If I was alive I'd be home watching boxing - now that I'm dead I can come with you everywhere." is not a problem.  It's a comfort. Maybe it's my imagination.  Maybe it's really him.  Whatever it is - it is NOT a symptom.  My work is not to "recover" from my grief but rather weave it into the fabric of my life so that I can accomplish the things I want.  The pace at which I am able to do this is the pace at which I am able to do this.  Artie and I love each other very much and because I am still on earth I might some day have another romantic relationship - even remarry - but if I do - I will still miss Artie.  If I don't have another romantic relationship, that's my choice as well - not part of a psychological diagnosis.  Eek.  I know it's like trying to bail out the ocean - but that's the point of blogging for me- expressing my feelings and opinions instead of keeping them inside.   Don't be afraid to live, which means don't be afraid to feel, which means don't be afraid to have grief as one of your feelings.  Grief and joy can co-exist. You don't have to obliterate one to have the other.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Positve Grief?

Well, I have this wonderful hypnotherapist that believes that if you say or think negative thoughts they actually create grooves in your brain.  She charges $5 extra for whining and kicked me (gently) in the ankle and said, "Stop it!" twice when I repeated an old negative thought.  Someone said they read the blog and were worried about me.  This is where I talk about the grief tangle not about happy feelings. Maybe it's the wrong tactic - I don't know. There's a disconnect between the two.  It's like life is a feast and I am anorexic.  I can't find my hunger for it.  I have a lot of great experiences and fun times but they don't seem to impact the sadness and loneliness - the genuine sense that Artie was my home and without him I feel homeless.  On the other hand - I know Artie and all our loved ones wouldn't want us to suffer.  Am I hurting his spirit and his love by being so sad - or am I honoring it - or neither?  Is it just that it is.  I have a wise friend who has lost both her husband and her only child who says that grief doesn't heal but it "gentles down".  I dreamt last night that I went through those glass doors that open automatically - they closed behind me - and there was another set in front of me that wouldn't open - so I turned around to go back - and those doors wouldn't open either and I was trapped - I kept trying to get the doors to open - I shouted and no one heard me - I waved my hands and no one noticed - so I made myself wake up.  Lots to work on - but I got bills paid and went to the gym.  So, there you go.  No answers - only questions.  Wishing anyone reading this flickers of light in the darkness - or maybe even a blaze of light.  How to make grief a source of praise and strength instead of a burden of weakness and dismay. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

All That Life Out There

Things are always changing except for the one thing that can't change.  My husband can't come back to life.  Maybe that's why I keep repeating the same thoughts.  I bought my daughter a present and the woman who waited on us is the mother of a wonderful woman who was in my first storytelling class and remembered she had seen the first performance I ever did in front of an audience.  NYC is a small town sometimes.  I was going to do the solo show I talked about in October but the timing was wrong and I am aiming for spring instead.  I managed to get past my fear and go on my first audition ever at the age of 59 and get it - and then when it seemed that it wasn't going to work - leave on on friendly terms.  All this without Artie.  It puts little rings of sorrow around the happiness.  Life keeps saying YES! and I keep wondering how I can keep going on my own.  I was so used to checking things out with him.  Should I send this e-mail?  Am I too wordy, overreacting?  Is this poem good?  Do you like my story?  What should I do about....  I was so used to sharing things with him, all the little triumphs and sorrows.  I am lucky to have old and new friends to share things with but that is so different from having that one special specific person who holds me in his heart as I hold him in mine.  It's ironic that this blog and my show are both because he died.  I looked at a large picture of us I have in the entry way of the apartment and wondered if I should put a smaller one in its place.  I think about dating.  I once said to him, "I want somebody to love me."  He said, "Somebody?"  I said, "No.  I want you to love me." and he did.  Is my heart big enough to love someone else?  Watch this space!