Sunday, April 24, 2011

Grief: Turn It Upside Down and Smile

What a concept!  Grief is defined as great sadness especially upon a death.  Its synonyms are misery, angst, sorrow, pain and many other similar words.

Here's a challenge!!  Let's redefine it.  Let's redefine ourselves.  Don't steal my grief; teach me to transform it.  Let me turn the pain of missing my husband to the joy of loving my husband.  Let me turn the misery of living without him to the fullness of living with him in spirit.  Let me turn the pain of my aloneness into wonder at such sweet and beautiful memories. 

On Easter people say, "He is risen."  How about us raising ourselves from the death of those we love.  Raising ourselves better and stronger and enriched by the memory of that love.  The most useful technique I learned in London at the Personal Enhancement workshop was to play my memories backwards - with circus music.  (I'm not sure about the circus music - anything beautiful or happy!)  I accidentally walked past a restaurant Artie and I had eaten in many years ago.  I started to feel sad, thinking about his death.  I played my memories backwards and there we were eating dinner and enjoying the food and each other.  I felt happy again.  When I come home I always look for the love note on the door and feel so lonely when it isn't there.  I practiced on the airplane and when I got home I played my memories backwards and remembered all the love notes that had been left for me over the years.  Instead of feeling sorry for myself I actually patted the door and smiled. Thank you, Artie, for writing me so many love notes over the years.

I can be lonely.  I do feel lonely - I am still in this earth bound body.  But how can I ever be alone when Artie loves me? 

I reserve the right to cry rivers - oceans - of tears whenever I need to.  I am also discovering my right to invent a giggling grief - a laughing grief - a grief that celebrates love instead of turning it into a grizzled crippling ugly thing. 

When I find myself focusing only on Artie's death I am going to think about his life.  When I find myself drowning in self pity at being alone I am going to think about how it feels to have his arms around me.  If I change what I think I will change what I feel.  I'm not delusional.  I know he's dead.  I know I can't change that.  What I can change is how I feel about it.  Our life has limits but our imagination is boundless. 

I am not living in the past - I am taking the happy moments of the past into the future with me.  I want my husband to laugh with me, to know that I still love him but that I am finding ways to be alive for both of us.  I am learning.  I am still learning.  The love, the tears, the laughter, the sweetness, the loneliness, the pure joy of Mr. and Mrs. Warner all mixed up together in a delicious soup of my life being big enough to contain our lives.

Is there room for another man?  Ever?  Don't know.  I must confess sometimes when someone I know has started a new and loving relationship I am a little jealous.  On the other hand - if the rest of my life belongs to Artie - isn't that the way it was for 23 years?  Isn't that what I am used to?  I hope some day we are reunited and can laugh together and love together in the same form - but until then - this is what I am given.  I am in love with a dead man and it's not easy - but sometimes - it wasn't easy being in love with the live one either!!

Play your memories back and bask in the happy ones.  We can love the past, live in the present, and look to the future all at the same time.  We just need to learn how to do it - and, for me, have it be real.  Laughter and giggling release chemicals in the brain that are nature's anti-depressants.  Chase laughter and catch it.  Think silly thoughts and see how you feel.

I wish you all surprisingly happy lessons and a rising of your spirit whether you expect it or not.  I hope that the tears you have nourish you in ways you do not have to understand.  Wherever you are, there you are and it is okay to accept yourself there even as you see what you can see when you open your eyes in a new way.  xo

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Grief: The Empty Space

I haven't been feeling like I have much to say.  Haven't even posted a line on the status bar on Facebook.  I have been thinking about the empty space left by someone who has died.  I talk about filling that space and then it occurred to me maybe that is not the way to think about it.  Maybe that space is already filled with love and joy and pain and sadness and has to come along with us whatever we do.

I met a friend I hadn't seen in a year whose only child had died.  How would this friend be now?  We were in an open space with a lot of people and we both started to cry.  This person has a delightful spouse who can't fill the space their child filled by being alive.  I have a delightful daughter who can't fill the space my husband filled.  We both talked about how things that once excited and cheered us seemed empty.  I said I had even seriously considered suicide but decided against it and was surprised to hear that my friend had as well.

Even people I know who have new love relationships or other children or other friends don't stop missing the person that has died.  I had ended my solo show by moving from grief to a middle ground to having the life force pull me back to life.  I realized I had to change the ending.  I have to spend more time in the grief space and then take it with me to the middle ground (which for me is doing more things but still feeling lost and homeless) and then take the grief and the middle ground into my living.  It is all part of who I am.  Jan Warner after Artie's death is a different person than Jan Warner before his death.  Maybe I should get to know her better instead of fighting with her to do more - be more.

Maybe that is why I am silent.  A new level of acceptance.  Artie is dead and with all the love and accomplishment I pile into my life none of that will ever replace Artie.  Artie's space will always be full of - Artie.  If I try to push Artie out of his space and put something or someone else in it I am bound to fail.  I love him too much.  But...if I can make Artie's space more full of love and inspiration and less full of pain and loneliness and even anger - then he will be a more comfortable companion even though I have only his spirit - real or imagined - and not his living breathing body.  We think of a dead person as not breathing - but perhaps what that last outward breath means is that spirit is pure breath.

Another puzzlement.  Artie's space is too full to be empty; and too empty to be full. 

How do I allow his space to be everything as he was and is to me and at the same time be small enough to allow me to feel love and joy that doesn't fade with the end of the day.  I had lunch with a wonderful new friend today and met someone else who is delightful.  I had a massage from another dear friend and yet until I started writing this I was in bed watching DVDs again.  How do I face my aloneness with the capacity to accomplish things - hearing Artie cheering me on.  I have an old audio tape of his that is part of the end of the show - in which he says, "I wish you were in your corner as much as I am and as much as you are in mine."  That's his voice in my life force.  How do I learn to be in my corner without him when I had a hard time even when he was holding me up.

Watch this space.  Wishing that when you are given love you can hold it close instead of pushing it away because the loss overwhelms the gain.  For me too.  xo

Friday, April 8, 2011

Grief: Homelessness

There I was sitting on my bed a year and about eight months after Artie's death in my gorgeous NYC apartment crying over feeling completely uprooted and homeless.  I turned on the computer and found a Facebook post by Widow Chick where so many folks were talking about the same thing.  It seems like for a lot of us our homes weren't places but people.  I am grateful for where I live.  I'm glad I don't know phsyical homelessness - like my husband did before he got and stayed sober. (He was sober for 47 years when he died - I am so proud of that.)  Still, emotional homelessness is painful.  Coming home always meant coming home to Artie - not to myself.  I am having a hard time learning how to come home to myself and be content with that.  His love is my home.  The longer he is dead the more I wonder about how much I am living in the past and if that is okay or not.  I don't want anyone but him - on the other hand - if I cling to that - then I will be alone for the rest of my life because it isn't time to go home to him yet.  His letters and notes are so beautiful.  I want to think that his spirit is all around me - yet he is dead.

I don't have any answers only questions. I did my show on Monday night and it went very well.  Now I am supposed to be working on the full version that is on May 14th.  I think it is important to talk about Artie dying at home surrounded by love - about us - and about me being alive when I am alive.  It touches people and they keep asking me to do it.  It's difficult tho - to go back to that time and space.  To stand on stage next to the hospital bed he was lying in (in my imagination) and describe his last breath - his last words (I love you.).  People I know who are in new relationships seem to be happier.  I just banged my elbow- was it because I just banged my elbow or was Artie saying "Hey, wait for us to be together again."  :)

I seem to be in a slump lately for no particular reason.  Haven't the excuse of any particular date coming up.  It's just that I am still that small child in a constant tantrum of I want my husband back.

Have lots of plans this weekend - some with friends - some by myself.  I do have to work on the show.  I plan a healthy day for myself and then I think it is too hard and I go to turn to Artie to say, "Hold me" and listen to him tell me it's okay - I can do it.  I'm still breathing.  How much he would want me to be loving every ounce of  life I have left.  How do I do it without him?  Some days I can.  Some days I can't.

It's April 16th I'm off to London for the workshop with Richard Bandler.  I have a lot of hope for his ability to create some change.  Maybe I am just a wimp!!  Strong enough to do some things and then...fold away again and feel sorry for myself.

I have a huge picture of Artie on my desk - I can look into his eyes - and yet he has no eyes.  It's all such a puzzlement - this grief thing - when you have loved one special person so deeply.  All of us who feel homeless at least create a bond with one another.  May we find a way to come home to ourselves - to feel at home in the world even though our loved one has left before us.  Here's to some smiles today - for me too. xo

Friday, April 1, 2011

Grief: Dead Husband Blues: Need More Clues

I decided to start posting again for several reasons.  One is that I realized grief is about more than the death of a loved one.  There are a lot of things to write about if I don't have anything to say about missing Artie - which continues as my love continues.  I know two people now that are in new loving relationships.  I feel very happy for them.  I don't know if this will happen for me.  On a British TV show New Tricks a divorced woman asked a widower who seven years after his wife's death considers himself married and talks with his wife every night - "How do you cope with loneliness."  First he says lightly, "Golf, whiskey etc..."  Then he looks at her seriously and says, "You don't."  That was an honest answer.  We all find ways to distract ourselves - to feel moments of joy - and hopefully those good experiences link together to make an ever stronger chain as time goes by - but unlike others - I think that underneath, in what they call the dark night of the soul, you don't cope.  You just accept it and live as best you can.  Artie's death is a wound that can never completely heal because it is reopened every morning when I wake up and every night when I walk into my empty apartment.  It is reopened every time I do something or see something I want to share with the living breathing him and I can't.  Doesn't mean I can't get better antiseptic, more absorbent bandages, stronger anaesthetic - just means that the healing salve of our love doesn't quite heal the pain of being here without him.

I have promised to be honest in this blog.  One of the reasons I stopped writing was that I had been considering all options for the rest of my life (I am 60) and one of the options was suicide.  I didn't feel like I could write about that until I had decided it wasn't an option.  Only two or three people knew about this.  For the people who love me I promised myself and them that I would do everything I could not to choose that option.  I went back to therapy.  Last weekend I went to a workshop called Stories From The Outside Inn.  It was a combination of trance, exercises, fun, and storytelling.  There were many lovely, creative, kind people there.

One of the first exercises was to write a 6 word biography or memoir.  I wrote and then spoke:  "Dead husband blues: need more clues."  One of the leaders was Doug O'Brien  - the hypnotherapist that told me that I had a trump card.  No matter what good happens in my life I use the trump card - "My husband's dead".  No good feelings can linger because they are cancelled out by the trump card.  I don't know all of the things that happened during the weekend - a lot of it was percolating in my unconsious.  When the workshop was over many people came up to me to tell me how wonderful my stories were and how wonderful I was.  A beautiful woman named Julie said I needed to write a book because it could help people and therapists.  I had gotten more clues.  I realized I had work left to do here and  I chose life.  If I was going to live I had to give up the trump card.  I couldn't keep undermining every good or happy thing I do.  I walked up to Doug and said (tears streaming down my cheeks), "Here's my trump card.  You keep it.  I'll e-mail you if I need it back."  He gave me big hug. I was crying because I don't want to give it up - I have to.

People - of course - who knew what I was considering - are delighted for me.  It should make me happy how much I am wanted.  Instead, it irritates me a little. I still feel helpless and hopeless without Artie, like I don't fit in anywhere.  Even though that isn't true - I am capable and hopeful and I fit in many places - it feels true.  It wasn't an easy decision - although things collapsed together quickly and I made it quickly.  I would still rather be with Artie today and go on to whatever is the next step with him - instead of on my own - with his spirit around me for sure - but still on my own.  Life seems like climbing Mount Everest and I am off buying mountain gear and getting training - but maybe Mount Everest can fall down into small hills I can climb over easily - laughing.

One of the exercise was to start a story or a sentence with "I never imagined it could be this way..."  Try it.

I never imagined it could be this way, me waking up every morning with energy and inspiration full of the desire to take action and do productive and fun things.  I never imagined it could be this way, Artie's love of life becoming my love of life.  I never imagined it could be this way, having the patience to wait for the right time to be reunited with my husband, feeling comfort in his love rather than agony at his death.

I haven't figured any of this out yet.  I still want to curl up in bed wearing Artie's pajamas and watch DVDs or stare into space.  On Monday night (April 4th) I am doing my half hour solo show for the first time (I have done 5-10 minute stories - but never a half hour with an audience) and that day my building is starting jackhammering with the promise of a lot of noise, vibration, and dust (to which I am allergic).  That's life.

I am writing this to say I am still here.  I will be here doing whatever I do until it's time not to be.  I found out I have quite a bit left to say, after all.  Here's wishing that what we can imagine that makes us lighter and happier can find its way into reality - and that there will be no jackhammering on your house or your soul!  xo