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


  1. I'm very glad you decided to start this blog. You're a good writer and can express what most of us feel but can't put into words.

    May this coming year be better to all of us.

    best, sue g

  2. Thank YOU Jan for giving me this place to come when I feel like I can't go on. I lost my husband eight months ago to very aggressive thyroid cancer. He was gone three weeks after being diagnosed. When I read your articles I realize what I am feeling and doing is all normal. Thank you, you have helped give me back some hope xxxx