Saturday, December 31, 2011

Grief: Thank you

Thank you to everyone who reads this.  Thank you to everyone who in the middle of the pain of grief reaches out for support.  It is an action.  It is important.  It is a sign of life.

My husband Artie was older than I was.  I thought when he died I would miss him and be very sad.  I had no idea that I would feel complete despair.  I had no idea that I would feel such tremendous pain as if my entire being had been annihilated.  For the first three months I really believed that he would come and get me.  I thought in some way - witnessing my pain - he would figure out how to take me wherever he was.  It never occurred to me that I would have to continue living on my own.  I live on the second floor of a 20 story apartment building.  I went so far as to think he couldn't get me because he would have to travel through other people's apartments to get down to mine.  It seems funny now.  But then I would literally scream and cry and hold my arm up waiting for him to grasp my hand and pull me up.

There is a bench in Central Park that has a plaque on it that says, "Artie and Jan Warner, Mr. Dazzle and Mrs. Panache, I love you.  You're my heart. Always."  So...I sat on the bench thinking it would be easier to pull me up from there.  I knew by then it wasn't going to happen that way but I still hoped.

Then I spent three months thinking about killing myself.  It was a destination.  I travel a lot.  If I killed myself it would be a trip to join my husband.  I might not be able to do it but it was worth the risk.  I couldn't understand why people didn't want me to die.  I had this fantasy of a suicide party.  I would take all my pills and my friends would sit around laughing and joking with me and wishing me Bon Voyage. Finally, luckily, I realized that I couldn't do that to my daughter.  I couldn't do it to my friends.  I couldn't  even do it to the people who worked in my building.  I couldn't make them carry out my dead body.  Suicide traumatizes everyone around you.  It just does.  So I decided to live for other people.

Then it seemed that wasn't good enough.  If I had this terrible burden of life - that's the way I looked at it then  - I had to live for myself.  I was grieving.  I was lonely.  What could I do anyway?  Doug O'Brien - a wise therapist told me, "No matter what you do you have a trump card.  If you have a good time, if you laugh, you pull out your trump card.  Your husband's dead and that misery trumps everything."  Then he went on, "Of course that's exactly what you should do.  You should honor your husband's memory by living in total misery.  He would want you to be miserable."  I started to laugh.  Doug was right.  By exaggerating what I was doing he made me realize the opposite - Artie would want me to honor his memory not by being miserable but by living a full and happy life.  One day I gave Doug my trump card and asked him to hold it for me.  Do I still use it?  You betcha.  However, not nearly as much.

Now I've decided to live.  Now what?  Artie and I were unlucky in that he was misdiagnosed for a long time and after his stage 4 cancer was diagnosed he only had six weeks to live.  We were lucky in that he got to die at home.  We played jazz and left the front door unlocked from 10 am to 10 pm.  He had time to realize how much he was loved and we had time to say to each other all the things that we needed to say.  Our love affair blossomed in ways it hadn't for a while. Perfect love, imperfect marriage. During his dying time it was a perfect love and a perfect marriage.

Artie had been a homeless drunk.  I didn't know him in those days.  When he died he had 47 years sobriety.  A lot of the people that visited in those last weeks, and a lot of people who came to the Celebration of his life were recovering addicts who thanked him for saving their life.  He never took credit for that.  However, he felt that no matter what things he failed at - what projects he never completed - what he had done was be available to other drunks and addicts 24/7.  That made him feel that he had done good in his life.

I wondered who would come to a celebration of my death.  If you talk to people they will answer differently but I felt rather useless at this point.  I was spending a lot of time in bed watching DVDs.  I was in that frozen, paralyzed state.  I found it hard to care.  I thought of what my husband did and decided to honor him by following his example.  If I did nothing else - I would make myself available to other grieving people.  I would also honor grief.  I was going to therapy and hearing a lot about morbid or complicated grief.  I was supposed to forget, move on, have a new life. I thought that was terribly wrong.  Why would I ever want to forget such a special love?  What did it matter if I wanted to be married to a dead man?  I love Artie.  I even put our wedding rings back on at the second anniversary of his death.  I might fall in love again.  I might even marry again.  I'll still love the man I spent 23 years with - for better and for worse.

I found that for a lot of people those feelings went underground.  I needed a new model.  One based on my idea of the truth.  That I could grieve AND live.  I could be sad AND happy.  I could have my husband in my life as a spiritual partner (I know he's not physically available.  I know he can't come back.).  Is his spirit really with me?  I don't know.  It makes me feel good to believe that and to believe we will be united one day.

So...that was how this blog started.  Something I could do in my pajamas.  Send my feelings out in to cyberspace.  I thought if sharing my faith, hope, and experience like he did would help even one person it was worth it.  This past week I have received two e-mails.  One was from someone who wanted to use a blog post in their newsletter.  I was surprised and happy.  One was from someone who was kind enough to thank me after receiving copies of a blog post from a grief counselor.  I realized that the number of hits I get is not an true indication of where this blog goes.

The important thing isn't that this is happening to me.  The important thing is that I have learned that an idea is like a breath upon a window pane.  It fades away.  You have to give it form.  I can list all the things I haven't done.  Yet, I have done this.  I have done other things.

So...the question to ask yourself as this year comes to a close is in spite of your pain and sadness - no - BECAUSE of your pain and sadness - what is it you want to do to honor those you love?  What is it you want to do to give your life meaning?  It doesn't have to big.  It can be very very small.  We never know what the ripple effect of our smallest action will be.

When Artie first died I used to say, by mistake, we died instead he died.  It's not true.  It may feel like I died.  I didn't.  I'm still here.  By not dying I got to meet new people, including my beautiful granddaughter.  I got to have new adventures.  Part of me still sees 2012 as a good thing because it brings me one year closer to death - one year closer to being with my husband. However, another part of me sees 2012 as a good thing because every day is an opportunity to do something, have an adventure, make a difference. It's me though.  There will be many days when I don't do anything except feel sorry for myself or read or watch DVDs.  There will be crying days and meltdown days.  That's all okay.  What I'm trying to do, as time goes by, is change the ratio.  More fun useful days, less sad old bad old days.

For me that's what healing is.  Taking all the memories and learning experiences and love and using them for building blocks of a life my husband is proud of me for.

I love you Artie!

I hope tonight and tomorrow are not too difficult for all of you grief warriors. I hope that you can find some comfort and joy. I hope even if it's not your whole being that some part of you can truthfully say "Happy New Year!"  How lucky we are to have experienced the deep love that has given our grief to us.  2012:  Bring it on!  Again, sincerely, I thank you.  xo

Friday, December 30, 2011

Grief: Preparing for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day

First the tough part.  Damn, I'm lonely, sad and angry.  I miss my husband! I love my daughter, my brand new granddaughter, and my friends.  None of that makes up for the fact that another year is starting and my husband is still dead.  Gwendolyn, my grandbaby, is fussing a little right now.  She is loved, warm, clean, well fed, and has a pacifier.  She wants to be held.  Me too!   I don't want to be pacified.  I want to be held by my husband.  No can do.  I can be held in his spiritual arms but it's not enough right now.  I just picked Gwendolyn up and put some music on.  She's happy again.  Am I a big baby?  You betcha!

But this year I have learned to ask:  And WHAT ELSE?

Showing up.  I was trying to decide if I should stay in my own apartment with my teddy bear and Artie's Yankee jacket on New Year's Eve - read a book and feel sorry for myself.  I decided that I would show up and spend time with my little family.  I can do that AND feel sorry for myself.  There's time for both.  Emotional multi-tasking.  :)

Rolling my memories backwards.  Artie never liked New Year's Eve that much.  As a recovering alcoholic it seemed that everyone got to get drunk except him.  One year I put post-it notes over all of the clocks and we watched Monty Python movies all night   We never even knew when midnight was.  Then we started watching the ball come down in Times Square.  He usually had to pee right around midnight,  Ah well.  It was part of a ritual that irritated me then but that I laugh at now..  I can always be with my husband in my memories and my imagination.  I love you Artie!

Another thing is something that I thought of last year.  New Year's Resolutions for me are a recipe for failure.  I don't want to think about what I need to accomplish in the future.  That's too easy for me.  I look at what is lacking much to easily.  I have a powerful self critic.  So, instead I make a New Year's Gratitude list.  I look at the past year and list things I am grateful for and things I am proud of.  It allows me to go forward into 2012 with a good feeling in my heart and a shield against facing yet another year without my husband.

What do I put on my list?  Accomplishments:  big ones like writing this blog, doing storytelling, exercising.  Little ones: like going out for five minutes when I didn't feel like it, doing the laundry when I didn't care.  Things I'm grateful for:  big ones like the years I spent with Artie, my daughter, my granddaughter, my friends.  Little ones: like the color of a leaf in the fall, elephant babies, soft fabric, a kind word from a stranger.  Funny ones:  I'm SO grateful for indoor plumbing.  I'm grateful for snarky people.  Every time I think I'm finished I ask that question:  and what else?

Okay, so I didn't write the book yet.  I'm still fat.  I watch too many DVDs. Where does all that stuff go?  On my forgiveness list.  Forgive yourself for what you haven't done and go forward into the new year with a sense of possibility.  If you did everything this year what would you do next year?

Support.  I like Facebook - but there are a lot of web sites.  I can read what other people are posting and writing.  I can look for people who are in more trouble than I am - or facing the same thing and e-mail them or post on a site.  i can focus outwards instead of inwards.

So...there is time for as many meltdowns as my psyche needs -  and also time for much much more.

I've put Gwendolyn in the car seat and am rocking it with my foot.  She seems to have forgotten that she wants other things and has fallen asleep. Grief is our new baby.  It fusses and demands all our attention. We have to constantly look for ways to soothe it so we are free to do other things.

For New Year's Eve I wish you moments of peace and joy.  Moments that will make the people (and/or pets) that have died smile with you.  Maybe even laugh at you.  They have lost their earthly bodies but we haven't.  I know how much my husband loved life.  He wants me to love life too.

For 2012 I wish you a year full of much much more.  You're pain is real.  I had lunch with someone I met for the first time.  He looked at me and said, "Your husband's death causes you a lot of pain."  It was  so nice to have him acknowledge that part of me.  Then we could go on and laugh and share interesting stories.  2012 is a whole new year for you to create stories, memories, and special moments.  Be inspired by your love as well as saddened by the death of your beloved.  Find a way to rock your own cradle.

We are grief warriors!  We have survived another year.  That means we are fabulous and brilliant and even if we feel dull - we aren't - we shine!   xo

Monday, December 26, 2011

Grief: Grief Warriors Keep Talking!!

It's the day after Christmas.  With all the family ups and downs and all the friends ups and downs I wanted to pop in to say - To me there is nothing you can say or feel that is WRONG.  I always hope for the best things for you but when you have had someone you love die you have a right to your feelings and to TALK about the person that has died (or the pet) whether anyone wants to hear it or not.  I get frustrated that so many people find friends and family unwilling to mention the dead person's name as if they never existed. I get frustrated that so many people find friends and family think there is something wrong with you if after a week, a year, 25 years you have a close relationship with the person you love and want to share your memories and thoughts.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to say anything I wanted to.  I do not have complicated grief or morbid grief.  I am not sick or crazy.  I miss my husband.  I would be an idiot not to.  He's still a part of my life.  He always will be.  Even if some day I fall in love again and remarry - guess what - Artie's coming with.  My new little granddaughter is a miracle and my job with her is not to associate love with loss but rather to be able to open up my heart fully.  The open heart door is a little creaky but she is oiling it with her sweet vulnerability and cuteness.  She will know about her Grandpa Artie even though they are not related by blood.  My friends - whatever they think about it - are rather used to Artie being in the conversation.  It's amazing to me that after over two and a half years he is still so alive to me.  Many times in a conversation if someone talks about something they did with someone - I tell a story about Artie and me.  That's the way it is.

Some people have disappeared from my life.  I decided that may be a good thing  I am determined to be who I am and feel what I feel and take the consequences.  Holidays can be tough because we are conscious of the empty space (even if it is filled with spirit) in ways that others aren't.  I don't mind so much anymore if other people forget but I'm not going to.  I'm also not going to feel bad that I don't.

There is room for love, laughter, being present and having our dead be alive with us.  I shared a lovely day yesterday with my daughter, my granddaughter, AND my husband.  I wish he were here in person - but he can't be - so he will be here because I invite him wherever I go.

I hope that you feel surrounded by the love of the people you love - whether they are alive or dead.  Oddly enough some dead people have more life than some alive people.  Go figure that one out.  You can be fully alive and still have a loving relationship with your dead.  That's the truth as I see it.

Wishing you that feeling I hope baby Gwendolyn has - safe and secure and blessed.  Pulling strength from those around you when you lack your own.

Well, time to shut off the computer and see what today brings.  Trying to be here - but a little worried about New Year's Eve.  Wanting to count my blessings instead of my irritations.  :)   xo

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Grief; A Holiday Medley Part 3: A Child Is Born

What does that mean?  If you are Christian it is a literal thing.  On Christmas people celebrate the birth of Jesus.  If you are not Christian you don't think of Jesus as the Messiah but you can still celebrate the birth of a great teacher whose message was love.  A great teacher whose message was to take the feeling of love and extend it to all people.  Whose message was to take the feeling of love and turn it into action.  If you see someone in need you don't just walk past them.  You stop and offer help. That's so hard to do. I wasn't even thinking about it - but in this rather trendy area in Seattle where Erin lives - full of children and dogs - in the three blocks between my little apartment and her house I often walk past one or two homeless people and make judgements that allow me to do nothing. Super Granny walking through the night could stop for a minute even if only to wish that they will have a better life soon.

A child is born. A human child. My daughter gave birth to a beautiful girl. Every day many children are born.  What kind of life will they have?  What will they bring to the world and into our lives?  What will we bring to them as adults?  Will we make an effort - however small - however deep our grief - to make the world a safer, kinder, more loving place for them?  I tell little Gwendolyn, only three days old, that I promise to be kind to her, to keep her safe, to make her life one filled with fun memories and love.  How long can I keep that promise?

A child is born.  A metaphor.  What is the child within us - the thing - the light - the gift - the talent - that wants to be born?  Are we willing to go through the pain of labor?  Are we willing to find our allies, our strengths so that we can bring our true best selves forth.  It is so difficult in the best of times, how much harder after someone we love has died.  I work hard at not letting grief be my WHOLE story.  I work hard at having my grief inspire me.  Some times I can't.  I am the Queen of Meltdowns.  If only there was an Olympic Gold Medal for meltdowns!

A new year, a new time - all created by human beings.  What can I create as the new year approaches.  New Year's Eve coming soon like a huge black cloud.  Will I spend it with my daughter and granddaughter or curled up in bed missing my husband?

We have so much to give.  Every one of us.  Yet, how tempting it is to hide - to live our empty parts instead of our full parts.  A child is born.  Blessings come to that.  Happy holidays.  Unhappy holidays.  It doesn't matter.  Go on a scavenger hunt for blessings and see how many you can find.  With great love and many hugs.  xo

Grief: A Holiday Medley: Part Two Chanukah/Christmas Eve

As someone else said, Oy to the world.  We have been living in baby land and I was kind of centered there until this morning.  The holiday season woke me up with this terrible feeling of aloneness.  It feels a little better now that I am writing to you.  When Artie died holidays and birthdays and anniversaries went from something to celebrate to something to be gotten through.  How do I change them back?  Not sure.  Not this morning.

This year with a newborn it doesn't matter what we do.  We are sleepy and the presents range from my bringing Charmin toilet paper to the hospital because that is Erin's favorite brand to a small diamond G from Tiffany's - G for granddaughter Gwendolyn - that Erin can wear.  We are too tired for a menorah, for a tree.  I don't have to decide between celebrating and not celebrating this year.

Next year Gwendolyn will be more aware.  Can Granny bring it?  Probably.

What a mess holidays are.  So much pressure to be happy.  So much sadness when family members have died.  Can we roll our memories backwards so that the picture of them being with us during previous holidays can change our sadness to joy? Can we see ourselves through their eyes so we are filled with love and can celebrate the way they would want us to? Can we use whatever our holiday tradition is as an occasion to honor their memory with our laughter and love?

For me, I think it will always be learning to ride the wave.  Being present with the sadness at the loss.  Like a little kid I stamp my feet and say, "I want - I want - I want."  I want my love note.  I want my husband's hand to hold.  I even want to yell at him to stop watching football and pay attention to me!  Later, though my challenge is to be present to celebrate what is still here.  To be with my daughter and granddaughter and friends with a full heart.  To make a space in time and in my days and nights for turning inward and missing my one true love  and then make a space in time and in my days for turning outward and appreciating all I am given.

What am I grateful for?  My new granddaughter, the strength of my daughter who has come so far, that for so many years I had Artie holding my hand, my heart, that I am not hungry or homeless, for my friends and the way we hold each other up when we fall.  Maybe that's the core of it.  I'm grateful for continuing to show up with all my wonder and all my craziness.  I'm not grateful for lessons learned because my husband died - I would much rather NOT have to learn those particular lessons - but I am grateful for the community of grief warriors who continue to inspire me with their bravery and kindness.

Help someone else.  That's a 365 day a year kind of thing.  i must remember that if I do something for someone else I forget to wallow in pity for me.  I didn't do anything special this year - but there's nothing saying it's only at Christmas I can find something to do for someone else - especially at a time when the economy has thrown so many into need.

Happy, merry, ho ho ho.  I hope that Santa Claus comes down your chimney tonight and brings you (no matter whether you believe in him or not) packages full of little joys that jump up and surprise you when you least expect them.  xo

Grief: A Holiday Medley Part 1 - Grandma Blogger

My daughter Erin had a beautiful baby girl - Gwendolyn Ruth on Dec. 20th. Please forgive me for not writing - I have not forgotten you - but have been in baby land.  As I write this I hold so tenderly in my heart those of you who have had grandchildren die, or children die taking away your chance of having grandchildren.  I understand if you don't want to read this - or if you read it and are pissed off at me - or sad - or happy - or a complex confusion of emotions.  Every time I hold this tiny little girl with an elfin face I think of life and I think of death.  It's how my new world works.

I haven't written because before her birth I was waiting - spending time with my daughter - happy and stressed.  Then we were in the hospital where Erin did a good job with labor and I did a good job being amazed and grateful and also giving NYC attitude to some staff that wasn't helpful.  Kudos to Amanda the nurse who cheered Erin on - yelling Go Go Go!   and Dr. Pollack who didn't believe Erin was about to give birth when Amanda went to fetch him - walked into the room after 3 am and went - oh - OH!  - and when he saw Gwendolyn's heartbeat was slowing down pulled her out with great calmness and skill so that she is a happy healthy baby.  Thank you to the doula (someone who helps with birthing) who knew what to do so I didn't have to. Special praise for my daughter who went through the pain with intention and bravery and less cursing than we though!  Since the birth I have been doing night duty so that my daughter can get some sleep so I have been tired and overwhelmed.

When I hold Gwendolyn I feel a circle of love.  I feel that my daughter, a single parent, and her daughter and myself (and if Erin read this she would want me to add her dog Lilly) are a family of strong women.  I wish that circle of love that we build around Gwendolyn could protect her forever.  I wish as we grew up we could turn that circle of love into a permanent shell so we wouldn't experience pain and cruelty.  I wish all children could have that circle of love.  I wish all parents could have their children living to give that circle of love to.  When Gwendolyn's heart beat started to slow (her cord wasn't around her neck but was across her shoulder) before she was born I prayed - and I am not someone who prays - for a live birth.  We were lucky to have one.

I met my beloved husband Artie when Erin was about 12.  They cared for each other in some ways but weren't close.  Erin has been very supportive of me since my husband died but she thinks of this baby as a Cullen (her last name) not a Warner.  When she leaves the room and I am alone with Gwendolyn I tell her stories about Grandpa Artie.  I know he loves her and is with us - but I think of how much he would have loved to have held her himself.  He always cared most for those who were defenseless and needed protection.  I'm not delusional.  He hated to travel - and if he were alive - I probably would be yelling at him for making me come to Seattle alone.  Yet, I would be sharing everything with him and planning to bring Erin and the baby down to that house in Carmel where other people live now - so he could meet his granddaughter.

I can tell Gwendolyn as many Artie stories as I want.  She hasn't heard them before - and now - as long as I use my loving talk to baby voice she doesn't even know what I am talking about.  I did tell Erin that Gwendolyn may be a Cullen not a Warner but she will know about her Grandpa Artie.

I love holding this new little life, watching her facial expressions, listening to her coos and squeaks and cries.  Sometimes as I hold her I think that once again I am the "holder"  - the person who held me is dead.  In my life no one took care of me until Artie.  My parents did their best (kinda) but they weren't kind to me (although my mother loved Erin and was a good grandmother - Gwendolyn Ruth - Ruth is my mother's name).  I love my daughter but it was my job - is my job - to take care of her.  Artie truly was the first person to take care of me.  I loved it when he held me.  I rested in his arms and in his eyes in ways I never could before and never can since.

It is what I always talk about - my acceptance of the emotional blend.  I am doing it.  I am filling my life with wonderful memories while at the same time grieving for my husband.  I lean on him, I laugh at my good memories with him, have regrets at ways we failed each other, and I love him.  He was the empty space in the delivery room.  He is the empty space everywhere I go.  An empty space full of his love - but empty all the same because he isn't holding me as I hold my granddaughter.  i am even thinking of asking a photographer friend to photoshop a hospital photo of Erin, me and Gwendolyn so that Artie is in it - smiling over his girls. Do in imagination what I can't do in real life.

I am amazed and touched by the beauty of this new life.  I look forward to watching her grow and learn.  I also pull the past with me.  I was wearing Artie's Yankee Jacket in the delivery room and the first time I held Gwendolyn.  Of course I was.

Hoping you have life in your life to bring you joy.  We need that joy to balance our sorrows.  Wishing you a circle of love surrounding you to give you warmth and comfort.  I'm a Granny - thank goodness I decided to stay alive.  As much as I want to be with my husband, I'm so glad I stayed here on earth to meet my granddaughter and be part of my new family.  xo

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Grief: The Importance of Building A Support System

I am - as many of you know - transplanted from NYC to Seattle to wait the birth of my first and probably only grandchild.  I am excited and happy.  My daughter Erin has been through a lot - including many years of drug addiction.  At 37 she has been sober for over 6 years.  I am very proud of her.  We have developed a close and loving relationship.  We are having fun.

Yesterday my wireless went out.  I have been having a difficult time during what should be a happy time without all the things I do in NYC, without all the friends I have made in NYC.  I have been doing lovely bad behavior like eating too much and being stuck to the couch. Yesterday I decided - enough. When the wireless went out I wanted to behave like a grown up, switch gears and do something else.   I had a total meltdown.  I was supposed to go the doctor with my daughter for her check up and when she came over (I'm in a small apartment 4 blocks from her house) I had showered but I was laying in bed in my robe, wet hair and all, crying.  Usually that is what I do in private.  I couldn't handle not being able to contact all the people who have helped me so much since Artie died.  Of course now everything is working - and even yesterday I got dressed eventually and we went out.

I learned a couple of things from this.  One is that even though I feel that I waste time in NYC (I do) and that I am a sad lonely person (I am) that is only PART of who I am.  There is much much more.  I have accomplished many things since Artie died and developed many relationships.  If I hadn't done that I wouldn't feel so isolated here.

How did I manage to do that as someone who continues to grieve daily?  One thing I did - and still do - is show up.  At the beginning showing up where life was happening was impossible.  I did it any way.  Artie and I used to love going to the theater.  The first few plays I saw after he died I slept through.  Even now sometimes I plan something and I don't go.  However, getting out of the house gets me out of my head and I can let life seep in through my pores.  One thing I've done in Seattle is find a book group.

Another thing I've done is ask for things.  It's difficult for me, but I have learned to ask to get together with someone if that is what I want.  I have learned to see what is possible.  Asking - and also talking and telling.  I have a friend at the moment who is very depressed. I have encouraged her to talk to me. Ahe keeps saying she doesn't want to bring me down.  She doesn't understand that for me friendship is the freedom to talk about everything.  My closest friends are the ones who tell me everything and listen to me tell them everything.  It's like cleaning out a wound.  I can't imagine grieving for Artie without sharing my feelings.  That's why I started this blog.  If there ia no one to talk to - out into cyberspace it goes.  I have met so many wonderful people by simply being honest about things.

The most important thing I've done is when I fall down - instead of lying there admiring the ceiling - I've learned how to get up.  I have a rule that I'm only allowed to stay in the house (unless I'm sick) for one day.  On the second day, even if it is only to go the drugstore to get a box of tissues, I have to go out.  I don't allow the temptress who says, "Retreat, isolate." to win.

When Artie was dead about six months I realized he wasn't, as I had believed with complete delusion, going come and get me. I wanted to die.  I decided I had to live for others. Then I decided I had to live for myself.  Still figuring that one out.  I asked myself what he had done.  As a recovering alcoholic, even though he failed in many things, he always made himself available to help other alcoholics and drug addicts.  I decided that was what would give my life meaning.  To make myself available to other people who were grieving.  When I focus on myself I'm in trouble. If I focus on helping others it draws me out of my own self pity and gives me a sense of pride.  I like Facebook for that reason.  Even in my pajamas I can go to a page on depression or self harming or grief and post something to someone that lets them know they aren't alone.

None of this is easy.  I'm not saying it's easy.  I'm not saying it's something I can do every day.  However, I know each of you has a light that needs to shine and that can shine if you find ways to let it.  Don't let the pain drown your light - let the pain ignite it instead.

I'm feeling stressed without my support system but also know that when Erin goes into labor I am powerless to do anything except be present for her.  I can't take away her pain.  She has to go through it.  As she does she knows that her beautiful daughter, my beautiful granddaughter will be the result.

What will be the result of our own pain?  What will we give birth to?   I can't bring Artie back.  I can love him and feel he loves me.  I can take many different actions.  My best most beloved support is not here in a physical way.  Nothing can replace him and yet I must build on something.

I am grateful that I am so lonely in Seattle because it tells me in a very strong way that I have things to do when I can go back home.  Who knows what I will be writing you when I am holding Gwendolyn? Another opportunity for joy in being alive.

Wherever you are, however you are,  I wish a I had a magic wand to make a big warm place in your heart so filled up with love from those who you love that have died - that the past and the present blend and you carry past joys forward into your new days and nights and find out that you are supported in more ways than you know.  xo

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Grief: Two Teddy Bears

So...Artie bought me lots of stuffed animals.  One teddy bear - Pooky was the one I always slept with.  The second teddy bear - Cosy - purple with white hearts - Artie also bought for me.  He fell in love with Cosy and stole him (with my permission).  Artie always slept with Cosy.  We would start to go to sleep by holding each other then we would roll over and hold our teddy bears.  When he was in the hospital the nurses would often take Cosy and put him on a shelf not realizing that this tough peacock strong man really got comfort from holding his teddy bear.  Once during lunch with 3 other tough guys he mentioned Cosy and it turned out they ALL had teddy bears. It made them laugh.

When Artie died Cosy was actually the first "person" I told.  I crawled into Artie's side of the bed, where I slept when he was sleeping in the hospital bed in the living room.  I felt I needed my sleep - but it didn't occur to me until after he died that I could have slept next to him on the sofa with the caregiver in the room - one of many regrets.  It's normal to regret things.  I don't feel guilty.  It's also normal not to think of everything when the person you love most in the world is dying.  I said to Cosy, "i'm sorry your person isn't coming back."  I cried.

I am in Seattle waiting for my granddaughter to be born.  I packed Pooky but didn't have room for Cosy.  It is the first time they have been apart in probably 15 years.  I know they are stuffed animals but I feel a little bad that I have separated them temporarily.  Yet, Cosy is at home in NYC with Artie's ashes.  So maybe that is where Cosy is supposed to be.

Death is a strange thing.  Artie seems so alive.  I swear he was with his friend - my friend too - when we went to dinner to celebrate his birthday on December 11th.  I felt him smiling, being glad that I wasn't in my room alone crying but instead out and about laughing and sharing memories.  I don't know if all these feelings I have that Artie remains a living part of my life are true or not.  It doesn't matter.  It makes me happy to believe that our love is eternal and that we will be together again one of these days. He's not in his ashes, or in his clothes.  Teddy bears don't really have feelings - but dead people.  Ah, our beloved dead people. I think they do.  I really think they do continue to watch over us and love us.  Did I tell you, I even e-mailed "Ask the Rabbi" not too long after Artie's death.  A rabbi responded, saying that the soul of the deceased does watch over their loved ones still on earth.  If a rabbi said it...

I hope that whatever happened to you today you were able to find times of comfort and times of feeling loved. If not today - tomorrow. That's the holiday for me - the love of the dead mixed in with the love of the living. That and having a teddy bear named Pooky who can't die.  xo

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Grief: And Much Much More

I'm not going to write too much.  I'm on the hotel's computer.  Today is Artie's third dead birthday.  Someone left a comment once that they think of the day someone dies as their new birthday.  I know Artie had two birthdays - the day he was born and the day he got sober.

I have been at this amazing conference about hypnosis and new therapy ideas.  I will share a lot more details with you when I'm comfy in Seattle waiting for my granddaughter to be born.  One I wanted to share today is how we tend to define ourselves in a narrow way.  I'm grieving, I say.  I'm sad and lonely. It's the truth, but if I make it the whole truth it can be defined as a negative hallucination. I am learning to not just welcome all those feelings but also to "widen the field".  I am learning to train myself to see the world - and myself as full of infinite possibilities.

I woke up this morning and said, "I'm so lonely without Artie.  I want to celebrate his birthday with him not without him."  Then I asked, "Okay, that's normal but what else?"  "I'm sad.  I always feel sad that he's dead.  I know he's with me on some spiritual level but I need him the way he used to be.  I need his voice and his laugh and his body and the twinkle in his eyes."  Then I said, "Of course, I feel that way - but what else?"  "I'm interested in what I'm going to learn at the conference today."  "What else?" "I'm looking forward to having dinner with Artie's friend tonight."  What else?  "I'm scared.  This is the first time I've spent Artie's dead birthday with someone.  It's the first year in many years I haven't bought him a cupcake and lit a candle."  "What else?"  "I'm strong.  I have a lot of friends to love and support me." 

Try it.  We are composed of so many things, so many emotions.  The sadness and pain don't have to leave.  On the other hand, we can be much much more.  We already are much much more.  You can do a phsyical experiment.  Stand up and stand in a place.  Imagine that is the place where you are in the most pain from grieving.  Step back - or sideways - or on a chair and look at yourself from a different perspective.  See if you can see other things that you are.  Repeat this as many times as you wish and then carry all the things with you into the painful grief spot and fill yourself up with the other things you are.  See yourself through the eyes of the person who died who loves you.  I know they see you as much much more even if you can't right now - but I have a feeling your mind is already saying, "Wait a minute - someone said something the other day and I laughed.  I'm someone who is sad and some who can laugh."  Now your mind is starting to say much much more.

My time is almost up on this hotel computer.  Artie, I miss you.  I love you.  I had a great time at dinner with your friend; my friend too.  We talked about you and I think you were there with us and happy for us.  I honor you on your birthday and every day.  Thank you for always seeing me as much much more even when I couldn't.  Hey there, a flash of his loving eyes.  In the world?  In my imagination?  Who knows?  It doesn't matter.  I love his loving eyes and how I look in them.

May you all breathe and take a brief moment to ask yourself what parts of yourself you haven't been noticing because the grief has hidden them.  I know that you are all sad...but also much, much more. xo

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Grief: Dizzy with the good and bad and bad and good

I'm sick.  I have bronchitis.  My daughter is giving birth probably on Dec. 18th and I have bronchitis.  How crazy is that?  I am taking every medicine I have been prescribed and hoping I will be better by then.  I can still be in the delivery room if I'm not better but will have to wear a mask.  I hate being sick without Artie.  Not that I liked being sick with him.  However, it's lonely and scary not being able to turn over and ask, "What should I do, honey?"  I miss not having my back rubbed and the look of concern in his eyes.  Who am I kidding?  I miss everything every day.  So there.  However, I am LUCKY that I am sick in a way that I will heal.  Too many people with cancer in my life.

I did my first radio show today.  Managed to get enough voice back to talk.  The link is  The show is archived so you can listen whenever you want.  The first half is Glenda Pearson - the second half is me.  Talking about grief.  What else?  But - dancing with grief.  Like so many of my blogs - here's the painful bit - here's the joyous bit.  Here's the bit that's bittersweet.

Artie's birthday is creeping up.  December 11th.  I wish he could be here.  I celebrate his birth - always did.  I will probably cry though.  Want to buy him a present but there isn't much a dead man can use.  I'm telling you my snarky sense of humor saves me.  I hope it doesn't offend anyone.

A lovely man Ladd McClurg is posting on Facebook five things he is grateful for every day.  He says it changes how you feel. I'm grateful that Karen asked me to be on her radio show, I'm grateful that some people understand how I feel, I'm grateful that my daughter is having a baby and I have a friend who made her a hypnosis CD with jazz music to help her with her labor pain, I grateful that I had a grilled cheese sandwich, I'm grateful for modern medicine.   That's not so hard.  Even on the worst day I'm grateful for indoor plumbing.  You try it.

When I go to Seattle I'm going to be happy to be supporting and loving my daughter.  I'm going to love my grandbaby.  I'm going to miss my support system.  I hope I can cope out of Artieland.  I packed his Yankee jacket, the teddy bear that he gave me, and his pajama tops to wear.  There are already a zillion pictures of him in the tiny apartment I rented near my daughter's house.  I know his spirit is with me everywhere but I need physical bits of him to touch.  He once said to me (if you believe that the fact I still talk with him isn't my  imagination - I'm not sure myself) "I'm not in my clothes!"  I know that.  But I like to touch something and I can't touch him any more so I touch his things. 

Kevin Allison of RISK is going to help me find places to perform my stories and maybe have me do a regular podcast when I get back to NYC  in the middle of January.  I'm proud of myself that I asked.  I was surprised and flattered that he agreed. It's what I said in the last post.  It's about showing up.  I don't miss Artie any less than I did. I seem, as time goes by, to miss him more.  However, I'm able to show up more and do more things.

Of course, I still watch DVDs and eat bad stuff as well as good stuff.  It's okay to take care of myself.  How do I learn to take care of myself by myself?  I got spoiled having Artie take care of me.  Living alone.  Flying alone.  Sleeping alone.  Even if I fall in love again and get married again the part of me that loves Artie will still be alone.

Ah well.  That's it.  Spin around, spin around and maybe we will land somewhere grand that makes us laugh - even if only for a minute - or an hour - or maybe even a whole day.

I'll be at a conference first - from December 8th-12 in Phoenix and then on to Seattle. I'll try to write often but may not be able to.  I'll be thinking of you all.  Maybe this year the holidays will be easy or easier.  Maybe the remembered love and laughter will be enough to carry us not only through but up.  Keep showing up so that the magic can happen.  Live for yourself but also for the joy of those who aren't able to live for themselves any more. Thank you for being there. Thank you for being fellow grief warriors.  xo

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Grief: Showing Up

It ain't easy.  Showing up is the best way I know to get out of my funk.  Funk.  Funny word that.   I'm cramming my schedule with things to do to push the way the he's still dead blues.  I'm also finding myself lying around finding it harder and harder to get started.  I find my mind drifting off into either nowhere or something negative.  I try the techniques I've learned and try to hold those good feelings close - the old memories and the new ones.  I'm just finding it hard to care. So, lacking life, I show up where there is life and find that I still, whether I admit it or not, am full of life.

On Monday I showed up for the screening of Poetry of Resilience.  I didn't run away after I spoke and met some nice people.  I look ordinary on the outside.  No I don't.  One of my friends said that she felt sadness oozing out of me.  I was laughing at the time.  I told her, I'm always sad this time of year.  On Tuesday night I went to see the two singers and actors Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone.  I sat in the front row by myself so I could cry at all the love songs. At the end they each got 12 roses and gave them away.  Mandy Patinkin leaned down and gave me the first one.  It's a beautiful rose.  It's in a crystal vase near some pictures of Artie.  I smiled all the way home.  A rose from a stranger.  The first birthday present I gave Artie was 100 roses!  I had the delivery man bring in one - and then say - wait a minute - and bring in the rest.  Then I would bring one when I came over.  I got so tired of buying roses I asked if it was okay if I stop.  He had been afraid to tell me he was tired of them too!   But then, years later, when we were married and living in California we had exquisite roses blooming in our garden and sometimes he would surprise me with a dozen roses for no reason except he loves me.  Or I'd get a necklace with a note that said, "Just because it's Tuesday and I love you."  See how it's going with me?  A simple nice moment runs off into Artieland. 

Then last night I saw Hugh Jackson who is a heck of a song and dance man as well as an actor.  I was okay until the last song - the song I always think of Artie singing to me before he died - if he could have - instead of saying: I love you and me, turning away to take the tears out of my voice to say, "I love you, too."  It was written by and originally sung by Peter Allen.  Here are most of the lyrics with a little "Jan" change.

 Once before I go
I want you to know
That I would do it all again
I'm sure I'd make the same mistakes
But I could make it through
The pains and joys and aches
I knew back then
I'd do it all
I'd do it all again

Before I go
I want you to know
That I look back with no regrets
And when our luck was wearing thin
And we were down and out
And still came back to win against all bets
Now when I look back
I still have no regrets

And it's so hard to say good-byes
When there's so much that's left
Unspoken in your eyes
 So hang on to the memories
And hold me close once more

Just once before I go
I want you to know
That I have loved you all along
And even when we're far apart
You only need to feel I'm living in your heart
And you'll be strong.
And it's so hard to say good-byes
When there's so much that's left
Unspoken in your eyes
So kiss me for the last time
And hold me close once more
You are the light that shines on me
You always were and you'll always be
So I had to let you know
Just this once Just this once
Before I go

Artie didn't want to go.  He had to.  His body was too sick to stay.  When I listened to the song I started to cry.  After the applause and the encore Hugh Jackman traditionally auctions off his T-shirt to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.  I was inspired and bid but luckily didn't win.  I went up to the front and asked his people if he would be willing to sing the song to just me for my losing bid.  After he finished with the other people Hugh came and sat in the seat next to me in the now empty theater and sang just to me.  He's an actor so he maintained the most amazing eye contact - because I was looking at him like he was Artie singing to me.  I showed him a picture of Artie and told him why I had made that request.  He told me that Peter Allen wrote the song for his lover who had died of AIDS.  His lover was responsible for his lighting so, "you are the light that shines on me..." has a double meaning.  When Peter sang the song and looked at the lights he could see his love in them.  Hugh gave me a hug and a kiss. What a special moment it was.  I walked home in a dream.  It was kindness and it was as if Artie was somehow there with us.  It wouldn't have happened if I hadn't shown up.  It wouldn't have happened if I had been afraid to ask.  It wouldn't have happened if Hugh Jackman wasn't caring enough to be willing to sing an extra song after performing a whole show.  Wow.

And's the afternoon of another day.  How to keep that good feeling streaming in.  How to keep the light shining on me.  How to make the love in my heart and all around me keep me strong instead of knocking me flat on my back.  That's the mystery.

What will you show up for today?  What question will you dare to ask?  What light will you let shine?  If the sadness wins; that's okay.  Sometimes it does.  It's real and powerful.  Sometimes a good friend notices it even when you're smiling.  Let's be brave together during this joyous and difficult season.  Let's find ways to let our lights shine bright enough so that those we love can see them - wherever they are.  Keep on keepin' on.  Ouch.  Hooray.  It's all part of this strange grief parade.  xo

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Grief: Where Has All the Comfort Gone?

I tell you this time of year doesn't seem to get easier - for me, anyway.  I'm not screaming or crying but I am feeling sluggish and unmotivated.  I want to bury my face in pie!   I bought really big earrings on sale.  I had lunch with two wonderful friends.  A couple.  I can be with couples who are in love now without wanting to smack them or start weeping.  So there.  I guess it does get easier.  It just is so big in my head.  I was talking to Artie today, lying in bed and telling him how lonely I am, how much I miss him. 

For me it's Thanksgiving - being thankful for my daughter and the lovely strangeness of knowing that for all the holidays that follow there will be 3 of us - not two - her daughter Gwendolyn, my granddaughter. (I was a single parent and Erin is as well.)  Then Dec. 11 is Artie's third dead birthday.  I'm having dinner with one of his friends.  I think I've said all this already.  I keep saying it and saying it as if I could sweep my head and heart clean - but I can't.  Then Chanukah, Christmas, New Year's, and Feb. 3rd.  My birthday present on Feb. 3rd, 1996 was to get married to this wonderful man I'd loved and waited for for 10 years.  He always knew we'd end up together, I always thought he'd never be ready.  It was fun celebrating those two dates on the same day when he was alive.  Now, not so much.  

Being present.  Breathing.  I only have to live one second, one minute at a time.  I don't do that.  I tend to pile it all together.  Today was mostly a good day.  So was yesterday.  So are most days.  Except for the silence, the emptiness, the talking to someone I hope is listening.  Come back.  I still say it.  Come back, I know you can't but I wish you would, please, come back. 

Busy couple of weeks then to a conference in Phoenix in hypnosis - then to my tiny Seattle apartment to wait for Gwendolyn to be born.  How lucky I am to have a daughter who is sober for over 5 years, who I have a wonderful relationship with. How sad it is that every time I try to breathe around that and be excited in comes my sadness.  My sadness is like fog creeping in the window cracks - taking over even when I'm busy doing other things.  Whoever has died: a spouse, a child, a parent, a grandparent, a pet, a sibling, a grandchild, a friend, young or old - what loving memories we have - what heartbreak that we can't create new earthly memories.  It's amazing to me how much I still talk about Artie.  It doesn't seem to matter that we don't have new memories - he still seems to be part of everything I do.

Keeping moving.  Trying to care.  Trying to hear all the people who tell me they love me louder than the ones that don't get it.  Trying to be grateful.

Life is like driving on a road full of pot holes - all of them the same hole - dead husband - the car bounces and shakes and some days the shock absorbers work better than others.

This blog is like what my mind is now - a rambling thing. 

All I can do is keep showing up and see what happens next.  Exercise in the morning.  Speaking again at a showing of Poetry of Resilience ( tomorrow night.  Love NYC except for the part where everyone seems to be tangled up with someone else except me even though it isn't true. 

That's it.  Hope your journey through holiday land has moments of comfort and joy - lots of them - ones that come from the heart not from blingy earrings and chocolate pie!!   xo

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grief: Holiday Joy Holiday Blues Holiday Confused

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  I am thankful for so many things.  On the other hand, my stomach hurts and I feel totally disoriented.  Someone sent me this quote:

 "Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try and find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; He doesn't fill it, but on the contrary keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain." Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It says how I feel.  I started to cry when I read it and my very pregnant daughter who was about to take a nap came downstairs and asked if I was okay.  I said - yup - it's just the dead husband blues.  I read her the quote and she went back upstairs.  It was actually funny.  All the joys and sorrow all mixed up so that everything seems happy and grouchy all at the same time. 

Not a long blog - there is too much to say so maybe for once I will say very little.  May all the people we love be sitting at the table with us not just on holidays but every day.  May they be sitting at the table with us in our hearts and our spirit if they cannot be physically with it.  May our tears be of joy mixed in with sadness as all the good memories cover our faces with kisses so that we feel so loved that for even if only for a moment we can laugh deeply and forget our sorrow.

I'm thankful for all of you and wish that there is happiness and thanksgiving in your Thanksgiving.  All of us grief warriors together are a powerful family. xo xo 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Grief: Making Bad Small and Good Big

Hey - when I wrote that I noticed that GOOD actually is bigger than bad.  It has more letters. 

I'm wondering why the painful things take so much more of my attention than the lovely ones.  This one ex-friend who is so troublesome.  I get angry and sad and then angry and sad all over again.  Since this awful awfulness I have had many people say lovely things to me and about me.  Why don't I get happy and content and happy and content all over again?  

It's the same thing with my husband being dead.  That is bad.  A really truly big bad.  However, the fact that we love each other so much and had so many loving times is a really truly big good.  I wake up every morning and see the empty side of the bed and hear the silence and feel so sorry for myself.  My first thought is, Artie's dead.  What's the point?  Why don't I wake up, open my eyes and see his smiling face saying something sweet and clever?  Why doesn't my heart swell with gratitude for having a love like we do.  So many people go through life never experiencing that kind of love. 

My mom and dad were not very nice people and when they died I didn't grieve for them.  I have grieved for not having warm and loving parents to teach me how to be a warm and loving person.  The thing is that today when I hear my mother's voice telling me that I'll never be good enough - it's not her voice.  It's mine.  How do I make that voice go away?  I am good enough.  I could be better - but that's true of everyone.  Those of you who had loving moms and dads:  can I be jealous of your grief?   Isn't it odd how what is so good can feel so painful when someone dies.

We get stuck in our own pain traps.  Yet, for some reason people without an edge that exude happiness annoy me!  I like being snarky.  I like being honest about how messed up the world and my life is and then after acknowledging that finding a way to live in such a way that I make my life and a teeny tiny piece of the world a better place.

It's just much more difficult to do without Artie here physically.  I always have to add the physically - because otherwise I hear him saying "I am here!"  When he was alive sometimes I would say, "It's too hard.  I can't do it."  He would hold me and I would feel better.  I would snuggle in to his arms just like a little girl and I would feel safe.  He was good at that.  Even if he was watching sports, if I asked him to hold me, he would always stop what he was doing and hold me close.  Now I have to learn to hold myself. 

I'm dressed like I feel a lot of the time.  My bottom half is already to go; wearing jeans and socks.  My top half is still in my pajamas!  Half wanting to be and do, the other half wanting to lie still and pretend I'm already dead.  Isn't that what smothering all my goodness is - being already dead? 

The training I am doing had an exercise that is the same as an Alcoholics Anonymous thing - to act as if. If I can't do something - to act as if I can.  If I can't imagine something to visualize it in a different way - or feel it in a different way.  Sometimes it doesn't work at all; sometimes it works very well.  Yesterday I had an awful day but I didn't go back to bed - I told a story in my first real storytelling class and did a good job.  I had the pleasure of this wonderful storyteller introduce me as one of his best friends.  If I hadn't shown up I wouldn't have had that experience.  The applause.  The actress Lili Taylor hugging me and telling me my story was beautiful

So.  Let me visusalize all the bad old sad old things being tiny little weird looking crawling creatures.  Let me visualize all the good things being absolutely huge and blotting out the bad things - like something as huge as the sun can be covered over during an eclipse.  It's me though.  I'll have to make a little time for sadness and anger and all those other emotions.  They want to be invited to the party too.

Can I celebrate Artie's birthday this year?  Can I celebrate Artie every day of every year?  I talk to my daughter every day.  Maybe I can practice by only telling her the good things that happen to me.  See if she notices the difference. 

What will I do next?  Dress the top part of me and go out?  Put pajama bottoms on the bottom part of me and give in?  I don't know yet.  What will you do?  How will you manage to show up to get the good stuff? An author whose name I have forgotten talked about putting on her perspectacles.  Milton Erickson talked about climbing a mountain to get a new point of view.  That's it.  I hope when you put on your perspectacles what you see is the love, the good memories, the beauty and that it is so BIG it blocks out - for as long as you want it to - the bad things that always seem so high and wide.  short and narrow.  bad things are smaller than they appear  fading away gone now even if for only a moment then another moment then another moment  xo

Monday, November 14, 2011

Grief: My e-mail

I realized I don't often look at the comments.  If anyone ever wants to talk with me - please e-mail me at  I also have an open Facebook page and you can message me.

We are all in this together.  Thank you so much to people who read this blog.  I'm so sorry you have to.  If helps even one person a little then it is worth it.  Actually - it does - me!  It helps me to share my ups and downs with all of you.  I'm only sorry that we sometimes find it difficult to relax in the arms of the ones we love - even if they aren't physical arms anymore.  I'm sorry that it isn't easy or simple for a lot of us. I'm sorry that we can't always see ourselves with the loving eyes that are only a memory now.  I believe it is in joy that I most honor my husband - I can't always manage that.  But, as someone told me, what I can do is keep on keeping on. 

With love.  Jan

Grief: Why Do Good Things Make Me Sad?

It was such a stupid day.  I had a lovely lunch with an actor,director, producer who agreed to look at my solo show -Pull Me Back and at least give me feedback on it.  We had fun together.  I should have been happy and excited.  I came home and ate ridiculous things, took a nap, cancelled my exercise with Alex which I actually have a lot of fun with and feel absolutely miserable.  I know I always say to accept yourself where you are, but sometimes I don't want to be here!

This is what I think:  this morning there was no Artie to tell me not to be nervous, that everything would be okay.  He would have said - of course this guy is going to like you.  This afternoon and tonight there was no one to tell all about it.  Not true.  There were a lot of people - but none of them was Artie.  Somehow when something very special happens not having Artie alive to share it with makes me do this backward flip into ick land.  (How's that for profound?)  Isn't it curious that I do this? Isn't it interesting?  How do I stop?  Why do I want to smother the good feelings as well as the bad ones? How perfectly human to have my behavior make no sense.  As if a package of ice cream cones was a husband substitute. 

Artie's third dead birthday is December 11th.  How did I get to three?  Wasn't two enough?  I'm having dinner with one of his friends in Phoenix, where I will be at a conference.  He told me not to slink away.  What will that feel like.  Two of us missing Artie.  Will we laugh or cry or both?

I hope that all of us - you all - and ME find ways to enjoy the good times even though our beloved folks aren't here with us any more.  Here's to me learning how to practice what I preach.  It's easier to blog it sometimes than to live it. 

Then, of course, I read that a 10 year old honor student hanged herself because of bullying.  She was a beautiful little girl.  Made all my woes seem very small.  Let's all be kind to each other.  Let's protect our children and teach them to be kind.  Too many bad old sad old days.  Go away bad old sad old days!  xo

Friday, November 11, 2011

Grief: Embracing It All

Bad blogger! I like to post more often but I got a little overwhelmed there for a while.  My husband, a recovering alcoholic (I guess he's recovered now since he doesn't have a body any more) used to say "What's wrong?  Nothing's wrong, that's what's wrong."  I had so many good things happen all in a rush I found it a little tiring and yesterday had one of those sad old bad old days.  Sometimes a lot of good things build up a wall for me to smack into because - I think - I miss so much sharing them with Artie. I'm one of the ones who think my grief needs me to pay attention to it or it seems to build up and bite me.  Not that that's bad.  That's what I mean by embracing it all.  I'm learning that fear and sadness are okay with me.  That's why I don't like to call them negative emotions.  It's a technique to look at my behavior and say, "Isn't it interesting?" or "Isn't it curious?" instead of being self critical.  For example, "Isn't it curious after having so much fun I spent a day in bed recovering?"  My diet doctor asked me if I felt guilty if I ate sugar or overate.  I said no.  I don't anymore.  I look at why I'm doing it and decide if I can do something different the next time.  Sometimes I can.  Sometimes I can't.

I went to Memphis to Celeste Wray's 90th birthday party.  Celeste said that she is a widow who has lived alone for 26 years because her husband is her one true love.  Without bitterness - with acceptance.  Her only child, a remarkably giving man, died unexpectedly four years ago.  Yet she told us that she believes in genuine love.  That all the love that has ever existed in the history of the world is available for us to breathe in, experience, and share.  I had never thought of it that way.  All the billions of people who have loved, who love - that's a lot of love.  She has a cane now but she still dances.  She still volunteers and takes classes.  She has visited prisoners, done hospice, protested the death penalty - I can't think of all the things she has done.  Once two huge men were fighting in the street with lead pipes and she took her tiny self with her cloud of grey hair into the middle of it all and said, "Now boys, you don't want to be treating each other that way."  They were so astonished they stopped fighting.  She is truly amazing - and inspirational.  I was with my friend Marty (short for Martha) who then came back to NYC with me. 

On Tuesday night Marty came to my storytelling class show.  I got an e-mail the next day that the guy filming it thought I was a ringer - that I was a professional storyteller that the teacher had put in with his students to sell his class!  What a great compliment.  I am doing my first real storytelliing show on Thursday.  (The stories are true and around ten minutes.)  I hope I look professional in the company of professionals. :)

On Wed. night we went to Stand Up For Heroes - a fundraiser for the Bob Woodruff Foundation which is all about providing services to men and women who return home after having served in various war zones.  (  It was a great show - Bruce Springsteen - Ricky Gervais - Jon Stewart - among others - the surprise guest was Bill Clinton.  The most memorable person was a soldier who had his legs blown off in Iraq.  From his wheelchair he said, "Life is precious."  He talked about one of his buddies who recently committed suicide and said he was grateful to be in a wheelchair because people saw his wounds and helped him and so many folks come home looking fine but with deep psychological scars.  I thought about the time after Artie died when I thought about killing myself.  I'm so glad I didn't.  I would have missed so much.  If this young man can say that life is precious - can't I say it as well?  And live like it?

Then Marty went back to Tucson.  It's still a little strange to be in the silence of my apartment.  I never get used to not hearing Artie's voice.  I never get used to not hearing him move around.  Last night I had dinner with a friend from Alabama.  She has a husband she loves and a son who is about 8 months old.  I'm so happy for her.  She is a very sweet, precious woman.  When Artie first died it was irritating to be with people who were happily married.  I don't feel that way any more.  We went to see a play called "The Mountaintop".  It is about Martin Luther King on the night before he is assassinated.  One of the main messages of the play is that the baton passes on.  Life is like a relay race and no one can hold the baton forever - so it has to be passed on.  The question is - what do we do with it when it passes to us?  How do we run with it?  If we drop it - how do we pick it up again?

That's been the main question; the most difficult thing since Artie died.  How do I live my life fully without him here?  Even losing weight - I'm so sad he's not physically here to see it.  Why couldn't I do that when he was alive.  Isn't it curious that I couldn't?  I feel when I wake up in the morning getting out of bed is the most difficult part of the day.  Even when I have a sad stuck day I try to do one thing that I can be proud of - even if it is going on Facebook and posting something that might help someone.  I am trying to change my perspective a little.  I'm trying to look at what I have done instead of what I haven't.  I know I've watched a zillion DVDs.  My way of escaping.  They just released a new season of Prisoner Cell Block H - which will bring me up to 300 episodes when I finish it.  Eek!   I saw another play and it was all about writing. The world seems to be saying - do more.  Will I?  I don't know. 

I do know that next month I will be a grandmother for the first and probably only time.  Gwendolyn Ruth is almost here.  Here is my honest mixed feeling - I want to live a long time to love her and watch her grow - I want to live a short time to be with my husband.  I can see him shaking his head.  We have an eternity to be together.  I don't have to rush.

That's my dancing with grief life.  I'm very grateful, very lucky.  I'm very sad, I'm very lonely.   I'm very brave.  I'm very frightened.  It's all a balancing act.  The exercise I do involves balancing and I am much better at it than I was when I started.  I'm better at grief too.  I think it has partly to do with forcing myself to take action, while allowing myself sometimes to collapse.  I think it has partly to do with all of you who give me support.  It definitely has to do with staying alive!   A lot of what I have been exposed to lately has to do with my choice in asking, "What do I need?" and/or "What can I do to help someone else?"  If you've read some of my blog you know I'm a great lover of wallowing in self pity - but I also want to do it less and less.  I keep recreating myself.  I want Artie to be proud of me.  I want my daughter and soon my granddaughter to be proud of me.  I think I actually want to be alive.  For me.  That's a big statement for me - but maybe a good one to end on.  Pardon my language but someone once said to me L'chaim which is Hebrew for "To Life" and I said, "Fuck you!"  I'm not saying the fuck you to life is totally gone - but if I embrace it all I also have to embrace the part that loves life.  Artie loved life.  He loves me.  So...wishing you all love - some to keep and some to give away.  xo

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Grief: Do you joke with your dead?

Someone asked me that once.  I said yes.  I wonder how many of you talk to those you love who have died.  I wonder how many of you feel like they talk back.  :)  I wouldn't have said so before Artie died but I do feel him and hear him.  I don't know if it is my imagination or reality but when it feels like him it seems to be coming from outside my head - when I am thinking about him it feels like it is coming from inside my head.  I did e-mail "Ask A Rabbi" after Artie died and the rabbi said the souls of those who love us stay near us and watch over us.  It was nice to hear it from a "professional".  I don't hear his voice (he doesn't have a voicebox any more) but sentences form in my mind that don't seem to be coming from me.

Sometimes it's a simple thing.  I'll tell him how much I miss him and he'll say, "I know."  Or the opposite.  I'll doubt that he's here and he'll say, "Oh ye of little faith."  or "I'm here."  Sometimes it's a little weirder. Once I was going to meet an artist I had bought paintings from previously.  I heard, "Maybe you can get him to give you a free painting."  I would never think that! 

Artie's niece contacted me.  She's been looking for him for 35 years.  She seems like a very sweet woman, I almost cried when I read her e-mail. I felt sad that she hadn't found him when he was still alive. I was telling my daughter about it and said, "It's too sad Artie doesn't know about it.  I think it would make him happy."  I heard him say, "I know about it.  I am happy."  I said - out loud - "I don't mean that way.  You're dead, get used to it."  He said, "YOU get used to it!!"  It was like we had a little snarky moment.  I didn't answer but kept talking to my daughter.  He's right though, or I'm right in my imagination - I can't get used to it.

It's very mysterious to me what happens to folks who die.  I want so much to still have a relationship with him and I can never figure out if that is a good or bad thing.  When I have discussed it with friends I have expected them to say the annoying, "Move on." but they say, "You love each other so much, of course your relationship hasn't ended."  My daughter says I shouldn't make him the third person in the conversation because people will think I'm nuts.  The funny thing is people don't think that.  It's not often - but when I say something and I hear him - it's like he's demanding to be included.  I've started saying he's the most alive dead person I know.

There really won't be any answer until I die and then either I won't know anything - or we will be in the same form and I will know.  It's still sad - and impossible in many ways - to accept that his face - his smile - his voice are mortal.  They are gone.  I even know where they are.  Cremated in a plastic bag in a stuffed leopard that he gave me - but also in my memories.  Yet, his being - his consciousness seems to continue on with a life of its own.  Through me but still with a life of its own.  I don't think I could bear it any other way.

My daughter found it easier to understand when she met someone who was talking about his wife who she thought was alive because of how he talked about her - and then found out his wife had died nine years ago.  Yet -I've said this before - I know people who feel like me and then 5 or 6 years later are surprised to find themselves in love again and remarried.  Some people even sooner.

I don't have any answers lately; only questions.  I'm waking up at 3 a.m. again which is midnight California time - the time he died.  I don't fight it.  Read or watch DVDs for a little while and then go back to sleep.  My ghost.  Well, if I have to have a ghost at least I have one I love who loves me.  Wishing you a lot of LIVING people to love!   xo

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Grief: Bah Humbug - Go Away Self Pity and Regret

Today was one of those non-starter days.  The night before last I smelled something burning and the fringe on my lampshade was actually on fire.  I put it out.  Then it snowed and I went for a long walk, had a lovely lunch, came home and talked to my daughter for a ridiculous 4 hours.  Today not so much.  Maybe I should have something on fire every night to wake me up!  I think it's the holidays coming around the corner and Artie's birthday.  There always seems to be time for self pity but then at the end of the day I wish I hadn't wasted so much time.  I have been having this fantasy that I wake up and Artie is in bed next to me and I say, "Goodness, here you are.  I was so stupid.  I thought you were dead."  Of course he is really dead.  So in the morning when I wake up I have to jump over the fact that my head knows he's been dead a long time but somehow my body still doesn't.  Some days when I try to jump over this fact I trip and lie there for a while.  Self pity can be so darn seductive.  All the great things I have in my life and one little gigantic fact causes me to stumble.  Eek and darn and oh well, that's the way it is.  That's why I'm writing now so I can say - I ate too much, didn't do everything I planned but AT LEAST I did the laundry and put clean sheets on the bed and wrote my blog.  That's my self pity weapon - fire at least one thing every day at it. 

Regret.  I'm not usually one to regret things.  Someone's father died and he regrets not spending more time with him.  That's my biggest regret.  Artie and I love each other brilliantly and yet often we turned away from each other instead of towards each other.  I hate when I see people do that.  You just don't think that there will be end - that there will be a day when you can't visit, can't get that hug, have that talk.  That's why I hope that Artie and I will be together again so that we can treasure the time we spend together more.  He used to say he needed time to be alone - I used to say I needed time to travel or be in New York.  Now I wish that we had always just enjoyed our laughter and love and not gone in different directions.  No blame.  We were very lucky to have time before he died to talk.  He apologized for all the ways in which he failed me and I apologized too.  I think if my fantasy could come true and he could come back we would fail each other less often.  Things I got so angry or hurt about seem so unimportant now.

I don't know.  Two and a half years.  Some days I'm good at dancing with grief - somedays not so good.  It's good that I have a clean bed to crawl into - but not so good that it is really cosy now!!  I don't want to waste my life - yet some days it is easier to hide than to come out and play.

Tomorrow I have someone filming me at my balancing exercise class.  That should be funny.  Nothing like falling over on film.  :)  

Laughter.  Maybe that's one of the keys.  As much as I have those moments of self pity and regret I also laugh a lot,  Trying to help other people.  That's another key.  Being grateful.  A third.  Sometimes the thing is that I do have a key ring with lots of keys - but some days I can't get any of them to fit the me that is locked inside the loneliness - the me that has to live without my husband being physically here for me.  I still sometimes say, "Come back!  Come back!"  I know he can't. 

Yesterday was a snowy day and I went out and had fun turning into a puddle wearing my sparkly gloves and scarf for the first time.  Today here in NYC it was sunny again and it was the sun I found hard to take.  Silly old me.  I have a love letter from Artie saying how proud he is of me watching me fall and get up and try again.  That's the main key.  When you fall down - get up and try again.  Grab for that actual hand of friends and family - grab for that spirit hand of those who aren't physically here any more. 

I hope tomorrow is a getting up day.  Katja - the woman who is filming me asked if I had time to do something afterwards. I said, "If I can still stand!" 

That's it.  Keep standing everyone.  Don't let life - or death - knock you flat.  What lovely things will I come up with to do tomorrow to keep self pity and regret quiet and joy and gratitude and glorious memories saying amen and hallelujah?  What will you do?

It's Halloween tomorrow.  I've already had the trick - time for a treat!   xo

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Grief: Life, Death and the Meaning of Confusion

Life:  I loved being with my daughter in Seattle.  Her baby is due December 18th.  Her baby shower was fun until someone started talking about wanting to work in hospice and knowing what dying people want and how intuitive she was.  Not intuitive enough to notice me gnashing my teeth.  Death at a baby shower.  I did mention Artie dying and that you can't know what people want without asking them.  I left the table for a safe place.  My granddaughter Gwendolyn is kicking and dancing in my daughter's womb.  Life always triumphs.  I went to a birthing class with her (I closed my eyes when they showed an actual birth on a movie screen) and a doctor's appointment.  It's fun buying things for her and the baby.

Death:  I'm not used to being outside my NYC nest.  I have all my support systems in NYC; phsycially and emotionally.  I wasn't used to being in Seattle.  I have to find a way to do that.  I didn't realize how many pictures of Artie I had put out until my friend and her daughter came over.  I turn everywhere I am into Artie land.  My eating was off.  I felt strange being away from his ashes.  How silly is that?  His ashes can't miss me.  I'm thinking that I need to find some strategies for dealing with being in a new place.  I've always hated going from coast to coast but being with my daughter when she has the baby is more important than my comfort.  If I could be more alive in myself and not long to be with Artie so much.  Ah. 

Life:  We will see how I feel when Gwendolyn is out in the world, all cuddled in my arms.  Will I have more pictures of her than of my dead husband?  Maybe I will.

Confusion:  We were having a talk about falling in love with people who are emotionally unavailable.  I asked if that's what I'm doing.  Someone said no.  With Artie it's the reverse.  He's not emotionally unavailable but he sure is physically unavailable.

The Meaning of Confusion:  Sorry, that was a trick.  The meaning of confusion is that you're confused  I'm confused.  Life without my husband feels like a living death and yet I am surrounded by life and I am grateful and laugh a lot.  Life with my new grandaughter coming soon feels like a living life and wouldn't that be what my loving husband would want for me to live life with the wonder of a new little baby.  Everything fresh and surprising.  But even then...he'll be dead and after over 2 years I still wake up in the morning a little shocked to find that he's not on his side of the bed.

Maybe the meaning of confusion is that it's okay to be confused.  It's okay to feel the wheel spin and not know where the little ball will land at any moment. 

I'm sorry I didn't write while I was away.  I didn't have the emotional energy for all that life.  It made me tired instead of energized.  Isn't that strange?  That's one goal - to find a way to write when I'm in Seattle.  I'll be there a long time December/January.  Here's to us having the energy that life gives us - finding a way to breathe it all in even though everything reminds us with all the people in the room - someone is missing.  Don't let the person that is missing be ourselves.  xo

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Grief: Loneliness, Acceptance, a Sigh

I don't know if I am the only one who is ashamed to say I'm lonely. As if loneliness were a failing on my part. I'm usually so honest but I like to pretend I don't mind solitude.  It's not true. Without Artie I am lonely.  With Artie sometimes I was lonely.  I wish there was a way someone could die and come back so I could take all the things I have learned since his death and go back and do things better.  One of those things is how precious every moment truly is.  I used to get so angry at the stupidest things.  Part of me took for granted that he would always be there.  It didn't occur to me that if I was busy with something and he wanted to kiss me that one day there would be no more kisses.  It didn't occur to me that if I felt bad that he wanted to do something late at night that there would come a time when I could never do anything with him at all so why should I mind if he came downstairs at 10 pm instead of 6 pm.  I know there are things he would do diffferently too.  It's not a blame game.  Relationships have two people in them.  I'm the one left alive so I'm the one left to wonder about the things I could have been more understanding about, the things I could have been more creative about. 

If he could walk in the door I would be so grateful if he interrupted something I was doing.  There is this unending silence; this emptyness.  Even in a room full of people, in the middle of a laugh, of a great time - a triumph - the silence creeps in.  The loneliness creeps in.  For him.  For that one person who is dead.  I think that even if I had another great love the Artie loneliness would persist.  I used to say his smile lit up the world.  I nicknamed him Dazzle because of that smile - he called me Panache. 

I have a recording on a small alarm clock of him singing a song and then talking to me - I think I wrote about it before.  I hold it up to my ear and it is like he is whispering to me.  Then I make myself put it down.  That voice doesn't exist any more.  I think he still exists - but my earth me in my earth body can't adjust to not having his warm earth body next to me.

Am I choosing loneliness by relentlessly staying married to a ghost?  Maybe.  I don't know.  It's hard to think how I could not miss someone who was the biggest part of my life for 23 years. 

I went to see the Buddhist monk Thict Nhat Hanh (sp?) Friday night.  He talked about mindfulness, about listening to your sufferering.  I sat still when I got home and cried for the first time in a long time.  I bought something he wrote that said Let Go, dear.  It was the gentleness of the dear that got me.  I could hear Artie saying, "You don't have to let go of me, but let go, dear.  Let go of the pain and the sadness."  That's why I cried.  I am doing more - feeling better - yet the sadness doesn't seem to leave.  I've never been very good at acceptance.  I can't change his dying.  I can't accept it either.  He is more alive to me than the living.  Especially when I am home alone - when I wake up in the morning - in the evening.  Acceptance.  Come hither acceptance and surprise me that I have discovered you. :)

Most of the people I know now have partners or spouses.  Not everyone but most.  I relate to widows who stay widows and yet wouldn't it be nice to have someone to share things with again.  It is a puzzlement.

So, I may not admit it to the world - but I admit it to you.  I am lonely.  I am grateful for being loved - I am grateful for so many things - but none of the leftovers - even the beautiful ones like the love letters and the photographs - replace the real living man. It will be strange to be with him again.  What will that be like?  If we don't have our bodies - will I still be lonely?  Will he laugh at me for saying that even in Paradise where all might be perfect - I miss the way we used to be together.  I'm lonely for your mustache!   That would be very silly.  I do hope that some day we are together again, that we really do tumble together through time - in whatever shape whatever form.

Sigh.  I hope tonight you are not lonely - or if you are you find a way to comfort or accept that loneliness and in embracing it find at the very least an awkward kind of peace.  xo

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Grief: The Courage To Be Real

Thank you my friends.  I have received a lot of love and support in the past few days.  A lot of time I read about people painting on a smile.  I don't go around screaming in the street.  Okay, it's NYC, sometimes I do.  I can be business like when necessary.  I don't tell random strangers my woes.  However, I do ask people I know for help.  It makes for such a close and beautiful relationship when I am honest with someone about my struggles as well as my triumphs.  They help me, I help them.

One of the few of my husband's friends who has stayed in touch gave me an Artie quote I didn't know, "Are you listening to the noise someone is making with their mouth?"  That is just what I was doing.  Over and over in my head I was defending myself against things someone said that have no basis in my reality.  I know they have basis in her reality - but no one else feels about me the way she does.  Why would I give so much time and attention to someone who fails to understand me no matter how often I try to explain?  I am lucky to have people that do understand.  By reaching out to them I have learned a lot.  One is that I use too many words.  There is nothing wrong with trying to be a peacmaker but when someone's lack of understanding is preventing me from doing the work I should be doing there is nothing wrong with accepting that continuing to engage only causes me harm.

There are different sides to me.  Someone wrote today about walking away from your wounds.  I don't want to walk away from mine - I want to walk through them.  Someone said that being a widow is like a bird flying on one wing.  Today I realized that I have both wings - it is only that the second is now made of spirit not of earthly matter.  I wrote this to the woman who had told it to me.  She said it brightened her whole day.  I pictured her husband and mine sitting (do they sit?) laughing at me getting  the message that had popped into my head and heart.  This is a beautiful woman that I barely know and yet I know very well.  It happens that way some times.

The people that don't get it - that hurts.  I make the mistake of thinking I can make them get it.  Sometimes I just can't.  I laughed when I wrote to someone that I need to be slapped upside the head to know when I am being abused.  Not a very good way to put it. Still.  Part of my job of being fully alive is finding the people in the world who will support me.  They don't have to agree with me, but they do have to accept me.  Artie used to call it buying the whole package.  I am who I am.  I do what I do.  I can do better.  Some days I do splendidly, some days not so much.  If I am my real self with people I often find that people respond well.  I am only voicing what other people feel and are afraid or think it is improper to say.  I always regret it when I don't say something out of fear of how others will respond.

On the other hand, when I think someone feels or thinks a certain way I always check it out with them to see if I am getting it right.  That was a major problem I had with my no longer friend.  She would say I felt angry or sad when I didn't.  If I had an opinion that was different than hers she thought I thought she was stupid.  She made a mistake I make sometimes, but not as often.  She couldn't hear all the nice things I said, only the ones that made her feel hurt.  She said her reactions were valid.  My reactions aren't always valid.  If you say something to me and I misunderstand and I get angry with you - that's not a valid reaction.  I'm reacting to something I imagined not something that happened. 

Oddly enough, that's what's difficult about all my conversations with Artie.  I have no way of knowing if they are my imagination's way of keeping me sane or if he is really talking to me.  He says he is tired of me doubting him - but I do.  Yet, I don't doubt our love.  I don't doubt that his love continues to guide and support me.  I have so much to learn by being the real me.  I have so much to give as the real me.

Today I was asked to open my eyes and my ears.  When I opened my eyes I saw so many beautiful things I hadn't noticed before.  Opening my ears was more difficult.  I like silence now that Artie's voice is gone.  Maybe if I practice opening my ears I will hear some beautiful things.  Wishing you all people who know and love the real you and respect and honor you for who you are - the great shiny brilliant part of you and the part that is flawed and struggling.  That's what love is for.  To love the real us.  xo