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