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

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