Sunday, December 16, 2012

Grief: Good Mourning

Sometimes missing Artie seems to fold in to my consciousness and my day.  Sometimes it feels like pushing a thousand ton rock up a steep mountain.  Everything hurts and I don't want to try.  The truth is that we tend to say all the time or never too much.  Even in the course of a day my feelings can change.  Artie used to say..."All we have is moments."   How many moments can I have today?

I've been living a little too much in the numb place where everything hurts. Now, that's a contradiction!  It's partly the cycle again of Artie's birthday on the 11th, then the holidays and New Year's Eve.  It's partly the moving process which has involved so many people not doing what they said they would that I don't know when I can move and I miss having a safe burrow (even if a lonely one) to comfort me and give me strength.  I was even thinking of my birthday/anniversary (Artie married me for my birthday present in 1996) coming up Feb. 3rd.  I was reminded by a friend that I say to remain in the present.  It's interesting when people start quoting your own words back at you.

When I was writing about techniques that work I totally left out faith.  I'm sorry for that.  I'm one of those not sure people.  However for many their faith, and their faith communities are a great support.  I do believe that there is consciousness after death and that Artie and I will be reunited in some way.  I don't care it that is real or a delusion.  It helps keep me sane.  I can't imagine a time and space without him.

I've been trying not to read too much about the school shootings.  I know that grief will go on forever and at some point the media and the public will go away leaving family and friends to wonder how people can go off to school and not come home.  I don't know if there is any solution.  It's part of the sadness of a world that can be cruel as well as kind.  Someone also reminded me to be grateful that I have a daughter and a granddaughter to spend Christmas with.  I am. 

That's part of the trick: not to get stuck in the sad place but to roam around in life touching all the variety of things and emotions it has to give us.  I went to that big concert at Madison Square Garden that Robin Hood put on for Hurricane Sandy Relief.  From the $25,000 seats that some of the one percent that people love to hate bought, to the cheap seats in the rafters the place was packed.  All the money went to Robin Hood which from the very beginning has been supporting folks on the ground whose lives are still devastated.  I went to a one man show that was funny - but involved grief and hopelessness leading to hope.  I went to a fundraiser to free Leonard Peltier.  I didn't even know who he is really - I wanted to see Pete Seeger who is still leading us in song at the age of 93.  I also wanted to see Harry Belafonte who I didn't know had a stroke.  He says he is grateful not to be crippled but thinks God must have an odd sense of humor because he can't sing anymore.

Leonard Peltier was imprisoned 37 years ago for allegedly shooting two FBI agents at Wounded Knee.  He is a member of a native American tribe.  A lot of evidence points to his innocence.  The concert was supposed to be a fundraiser to bring him home since he is not well and and at 67 hopes to live out what time he has left with is family.  He called the concert organizers and told them he didn't want money from New York.  He told them to give it to Hurricane Sandy Relief.  That impressed me.  He wanted them just to let us know who he was.  What impressed me was that the audience was filled with every time of people you can imagine.  What also impressed me was that people from various native tribes spoke not of hatred but of how underneath our skin our hearts beat as one and we should live heartbeat to heartbeat.  I did e-mail the White House and ask them to free Leonard Peltier.  It was what I was asked to do.

This old lady (I was told to say wise instead of old) was out past midnight three nights in a row. I was showing up and taking action.  Someone who thinks I am amazing asked why I am critical of myself.  It's simply that I know what my true potential is and I still haven't reached it.  I still let my grief overwhelm me and paralyze me.  I sleep too much, watch too many DVDs. It's not bad.  It doesn't make me a bad person.  I would like to have more good mourning - mourning that is full of life and love.

Sir Paul McCartney performed at the Madison Square Garden concert.  He made me think.  I always use as models for grief someone spending the rest of their lives alone and dedicated to their one true love.  Paul McCartney is very alive in his music and his life.  He sang one Beatles song and one Wings song - but mostly he is not living in the past but using his talent in the present.  There was a beautiful song he wrote for his wife Nancy.  Here is someone who had the love of his life die - Linda - followed by a failed marriage - and it didn't stop him from falling in love again and having what appears to be a truly loving happy relationship.  Another model.  Which one do I follow? 

What is good mourning?  We have to define it for ourselves.  No one can tell us what our path is or what it should be.  We know it when we're in it.  I'm not on it right now a lot of the time.  But maybe I am, because I know that if I keep keeping on this will pass. Even if I am lost in the woods somwhere Artie and all of you will help me find my way back.  I will have the inspiration that Artie's love gives me replace the sense of hopelessness of life without him. 

Find things and people in your life that give you joy.  Think about yourself surrounded by love (past and present) and life.  Maybe it's easier than I think.  I wish you all good mourning and the strength and sense of humor it takes to be fully alive.  xo

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Grief: Strategies That Allow You To Be Fully Alive Even While Grieving

These are things you can do to help you feel better.  You may feel better already, but haven't noticed it yet. Maybe you're noticing it NOW.  The amazing Nick Kemp says, "You are just one thought away from a good feeling."  These are ways to feel genuinely better which is different from faking it. I'm not sure I can do it in one thought....but maybe you can.

1.  Find the strategies that work best for you and use them. There is this pull when I am in a difficult space to crawl away and hide and forget everything I know.  I was about to turn off the computer and instead I am writing.  I did that.  I made a better choice.  Sometimes it is tiring to use different strategies.  It seems so much easier to crumble or to give in.  Nothing wrong with that but I don't want to make it a habit.

2. Show up.  Especially at the beginning this was the hardest.  I wasn't interested in anything.  I made myself show up where life was happening.  Even if I didn't have a good time.  After a while life started happening inside me as well as outside.  The biggest mistake I can make is not to show up.  I have all kinds of excuses.  I'm too tired, I'm too stressed, I don't feel well.  If I show up I have the opportunity to get lifted out of self pity and into a good time.

3. Shift your focus.  Emotions are like small children; if you ignore them they will get more demanding. It's not about denying how I feel.  It's about time management. Thirty minutes or an hour for all the frustration, anger and sadness. The rest of the time for things that make me smile or give me satisfaction. Wow - did I forget that one. The things that are knocking me over are real things.  I am reacting to real life events that are difficult. But they weren't making me crazy - thinking about them all the time was making me crazy. About a week ago I started spending most of my time thinking about people who care about me and their kindess to me.  I've been thinking about adventures I've had in my life and about specific laughing times.  All of my pictures of Artie are packed to move except for one lovely, young smiling one.  I have that Artie with me as well as the dead one. I've been looking for funny cartoons on Facebook.  I've been looking at beautiful pictures. I like elephants and tigers - purple roses - a well written TV show or play and many other things. The world isn't good and bright and shiny all the time.  It's not dark and bleak and ugly all the time either.  It's a huge canvas and if my eyes get stuck in one spot I need to work on shifting my focus or I  miss my own happy times.

4.  Roll your memories backwards. They use this with soldiers who have PTSD.  Roll your memories backwards to a happy time before the traumatic event.   (I was taught to do it with circus music - but I prefer silence.  The soundtrack is up to you!)  You have to be totally present in that happy time.  For a long time after Artie died I only thought of him as dead Artie. Thinking of him made me sad.  Now, most of the time, I think of him as live Artie. I can curl up in bed and feel him holding me. I feel safe. I can be walking along the street holding his hand. Some people say memories are too painful.  With this technique you are truly rolling your memories backwards so that you are present in the past.  They aren't painful memories because when you are back in time you don't know what is going to come.  You don't want to stay there - you want to live in the present - but it's nice to visit.  It can bring comfort and strength.  I also use it to connect something stressful  to a good feeling.  A simple example:  I walk by a store where I bought Artie t-shirts.  I used to think:  I can never buy my husband clothes any more. I conscioulsy changed that to "Artie was very particular about his clothes.  It was so much fun to find something he liked.  He would ask me to buy six more and I would say, "Excuse me, can you say thank you first?"   I've changed my thought pattern when walking past this store so many times that now the smile comes automatically. 

5.  Look down or close your eyes to feel your grief and then open them to the present.  I love this technique because you can do it anywhere.  People won't notice.  If something happens that makes you feel pain or anxiety close your eyes or look down for 5 or 10 seconds and feel that emotion in all its intensity.  Then open your eyes and really look and listen and feel and smell and hear.  What color clothes are people wearing?  What tone of voice is there in conversations?  Count the green cars or people with blonde hair.  If the feeling you don't want continues...repeat.  Once in a theater I saw a man gently put a sweater around the shoulder of a woman sitting next to him.  I felt so sad.  Artie would never do that for me again.  I was so alone.  I closed my eyes and felt my heart breaking into bits.  I opened my eyes and looked intensely at all the details of the decorations in the theater and what people were wearing.  I had to do it several times but then I was back in the present and I was able to enjoy the play.

6.  Help someone else.  There is, unfortunately, a lot of pain and suffering in the world.  If you are helping other people it brings you out of yourself.  It gives you a sense of meaning.  It might be a simple thing like giving someone a compliment or helping them carry a package.  It might be getting involved with volunteer work.  It might be helping out a friend.  My husband was a recovering alcoholic. He said that he had failed at many things but at least he had always made himself available to other alcoholics and addicts.  When my life seemed meaningless without him I decided to honor his memory by making myself available to other grieving people.  l've always been a bit of a loner but being there for others has helped me a lot.

7.  Ask yourself  "And what else?" and "And who else am I?"  We put such limits on ourselves.  We have to stretch our self definition.  I'm sad without my husband.  And what else?  I'm grateful that we had the time we had together.  And who else am I?  Someone who eats ice cream to much.  And what else?  Someone who walks a lot.  And who else am I?  Someone who loves to make people laugh, especially with bad puns.  The time to keep going on with this is when you get stuck.  You can make a written list or do it with someone else.  I have heard of people doing it for 12 hours.  We are so much that we don't notice.

8. Be aware.  Look outside instead of inside.  I get trapped in my head.  There is a lot to pay attention to in the world.  I can pay attention to it.  I can notice specific details.  A simple task like washing my hands can be full of sensations if I am paying attention to it instead of thinking of other things.

9.  Books, hypnosis tapes, meditation, support groups, writing a journal, painting, poetry, and so much more.

10.  Sharing with others who understand.  I didn't mean to go on this journey.  Unlike others, I'm not even particularly grateful for it.  I'd rather have Artie here with me than have all the benefits his death has given me.  However, the friends I've made are most precious.  So many things I think and do seem crazy or foolish or weird.  Then I find out they aren't.  I didn't change the sheets for 3 months after Artie died.  I met someone who didn't change them for a year.  I find the 4th year harder than the second.  Someone else said the fifth.  What I've learned helps me - but it helps me help others as well and then comes back and helps me.

I showed up the other night and had dinner with someone who talked about my blog.  That was when the light went on in my somewhat dim these days brain that I wasn't shifting my focus enough and I could.   Moving on Artie's birthday was a choice; one that scares me a little.  It's not uplifting or brilliant or anything right now.  In fact I've warned people it might be a good day NOT to interact with me.  I won't know how it will be (Dec. 11th) until it is over.  I'm actually not moving.  My stuff is moving.  I will be camped out where I am until many tangles get untangled.  I'll be spending time at my daughter's house for my granddaughter's first birthday and Christmas.  Chanukah came too early this year and there wasn't much I could do about that.  New Year's Eve I rather like spending by myself.  I don't know if I'll be moved in or not yet.

11.  Be imperfect.  This may not be the best blog post I ever wrote.  It doesn't matter.  I wrote it.  I could share a lot more strategies but the most important one is

12.  Be gentle with yourself.  Your grief is real.  You are alone and not alone.  You can hold more than one thing at the same time.  You can have a happy holiday season that is sad or a sad holiday season that is happy.  All there is are moments.  The trick is to stop having so many bad ones!!   They kind of tumble over each other.  If you can work on those good thoughts which lead to good feelings which lead to being a live live person instead of a dead live person - you can have a lot of happy moments.  You will still be missing that person or those people that you miss.  You will still have days when it all goes flat...or maybe you won't.  What I keep striving for is being ALIVE with my grief.  I criticize myself when I don't make it - how lucky am I to have friends and readers who tell me I'm doing a brilliant job.

So...I'll say it to you.  Wherever you are, however you are - you, yes YOU are doing a brilliant job.  xo

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Grief: Kindness

For some reason, maybe Artie's birthday on Dec. 11th, maybe the holidays, I have not been ready to write.  I'm still not.  Once again I have allowed myself to be carried away on the dark black tide.  I have forgotten to spend a small time focused on what is difficult and a large time focused on wonder and joy.  I am working my way back and who knows?  Maybe tomorrow I will write all the blog posts that haven't made it from my brain on to the page.  The screen?  Is a screen a page? 

Until then I am giving you Naomi Shihab Nye's poem Kindness which sums things up in a lot of ways.  It is kindness we reach for - but we must see it when it happens and we must open our hands and our hearts to give it return.  I hope, dear Naomi, you will forgive what might be a copyright breach as you would know I am posting this to bring comfort.  I met Naomi when - as a Jewish woman - I was having trouble understanding the Palestinians.  Whenever I give in to prejudice I have Naomi's loving, laughing face in front of me and the prejudice disappears.  She taught me about kindness, and I am grateful.


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye

I wish you all kindness - to yourself - first - then from others to you - and from yourself to others.  I have not been kind to my mind and body and soul lately.  I have let myself live in the desert when the oasis is only step away.  Here's to taking that step to the oasis. Thank you to all of you who love me in all my many incarnations.   xo


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grief: Thanksgiving and the Empty Chair (s)

The empty chair is the place that the people and or pets we love would be sitting if they were still alive. 

When Artie first died the empty chair was obvious.  Couple friends would ask me out to dinner and the three of us would be seated at a table for four.  There, next to me, was an empty chair.  It was the chair my husband sat in.  It always seemed very large to me, as if it took over the whole room.  I could, even then, enjoy some of my food (some days I couldn't eat) and enjoy the conversation.  I could laugh at a joke. But....where was my husband?  Why was he in a box at home instead of sitting next to me?

I am trying to learn to embrace the empty chair. I want my family and friends to embrace it with me. I have heard too often that people are afraid or discouraged from talking about someone that has died.  If you know me, you know Artie.  My electrician knows Artie.  The saleperson at the department store knows Artie.  When I sit down for Thanksgiving dinner with my family I will say I am thankful for Artie.  I tell my granddaughter about her Grandpa Artie.  He is dead on earth but alive in my heart. 

Some times I want to kick over that empty chair.  You promised you'd never leave me.  I know you couldn't help it but why am I here without you? Yes, I have your spirit with me always but I need you!   Some times I want to curl up in the empty chair and cry or be like stone so that the loneliness, the missing will stop.

The reason I know the chair is empty is because of love.  We continue to love and be loved whether 2 months or 25 years has gone by.  That is something to be thankful for.  My life is about finding ways every day to let Artie inspire me.  Lately, with the holidays and his birthday coming up I haven't been doing such a good job. That's why I'm writing this today instead of earlier. Of course, that's in my eyes. I have friends who say I am doing amazing things.The truth is probably somewhere in between.  Grief is a terribly human thing.  The important thing isn't the falling down - it's the getting up.

Today I am thankful for many things.  I am thankful for being with my daughter who is sober over 6 years and has turned into a good mother and a delightful person.  I am thankful for Gwendy blue eyes who is having her first Thanksgiving and loves going up and down the stairs. She has four teeth now.  As I write this I am also conscious of all of you who have children and grandchildren in your empty chairs.  That is why I don't want to enjoy every moment of my life.  When I am thankful and happy I never want to forget those who suffer and those who are alone. 

I am thankful that after three years I have found many new friends, and managed to keep some of the old ones.  I am thankful that the level of despair  I felt when Artie first died has gentled down.  I am thankful that I started writing this blog and that it is a source of comfort to some people.  It's what we do...find comfort in living a life in which comfort aometimes seems impossible. 

If you are reading this and you know someone with an empty chair ask them if they want to talk about their loved one.  If they say yes - do it.  It's so easy and yet people are so scared.  Why can't they say, "I wish Artie was here with us today." or "Tell me one of those Artie stories."  While we are laughing and eating and participating in life that doesn't stop us remembering our dead family and friends.  It doesn't stop us missing them.

I'm not living in the past.  I have been a widow (I hate that word) for over three years.  However, in my present the truth is I'm in love with a dead man.  I've accepted what that means in my life. I'm okay with not always being okay.

I have a lot to be thankful for today and I think everyone has if they stop, breathe, and take time to notice it. It might be something big - a new love - a new baby in the family.  It might be something less personal like a beautiful sky or the adventures of a baby elephant.  It might be a puppy tumbling in the grass.  It might be the simple miracle of a breath. Artie used to say that loving me was as part of him as breathing.  Living was easy, just keep breathing.  Then his breath stopped.  But that spirit, that mighty love and twinkling eye, that dazzling smile and and his ability to help others....that lives on in my heart and in the hearts of others who love and miss him.  Today I am thankful for each second I had with him and I will try to get there - to be thankful that I have an empty chair instead of no chair at all.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.  May you find - if  not the whole day - at least moments of thankfulness sprinkled with joy.  Turkey or tofurkey: may you have food to eat and someone to share it with.  If not this year, next year.  May you have the courage to laugh and love even while you grieve.  Happy Thanksgiving are far and near and one thing is certain - I love you.  xo

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Grief: Am I In Love With Grief?

That was a question someone asked me because of the way I continue to talk about my husband, and because of what I post on Facebook and write in my blog.  It was an interesting way to phrase the question and it made me stop to think.  Most people understand how I feel and what my choices are.  Usually the comments that make me feel misunderstood are, "You don't accept your husband's death." and "You should be more positive and enjoy yourself."  The idea that moving on means letting go and anything else is somehow unhealthy.  This was a different question.

Do I accept my husband's death?  I know he's dead.  When sometimes I say, "Come back."  I always say, "I know you can't, but I want you to anyway."  It's my little protest against a very big reality.  I was with Artie when he died, at home, in a hospital bed in our living room.  The last thing he said to me was, "I love you."  I paused for a minute because I wanted to take the tears out of my voice and then I said, "I love you, too."  After that he fell into a twilight sleep which had been helped by a hospice nurse.  His death rattle went on for quite a long time.  Eventually he rolled over on his back and exhaled - a big sigh - what some people say is the soul leaving the body.  A friend of his who had been sitting with me - he on one side, me on the other - called Artie's name out loudly and felt for a pulse.  He even tried to listen for a breath.  I didn't need to do that.  I knew that he was no longer in his body.  I cleaned him up with the help of an aide, like they did in the old days.  Because I have a strange sense of humor I dressed him in a t-shirt that said, "I do all my own stunts."  While I waited for the Neptune Society, the cremation folks, to pick him up - I held him and talked to him.  I nestled my head in all the places that we called my nooks and crannies.  He was dead.  His body was starting to decay and I wanted to say "I love you" to his body too.  Soon I wouldn't be able to hold his hand or put my head on his shoulder.  He's definitely dead.  I have the ashes to prove it.

However, what is the definition of death?  Artie's life is over as Artie.  Is our relationship over?  Is our journey together over?  It doesn't feel like it.  Is believing that there is some kind of consciousness after death, one you can communicate with a delusion?  I don't know and it doesn't matter to me.  No living person knows the secret of what happens after death.  Whether you belief in a continuation in some form or that there is nothing - both are only opinions.  I am a skeptic but I have more evidence on the side of something lingering.  When I was moving from our house not long after Artie died I went to the UPS store to pick up some boxes.  A man who worked in the store, who knew us only as customers, insisted on walking with me to my car.  He said, "Artie appeared to me and told me that I must give you the message that he loves you very much."  I laughed and said, "That must have been a heck of a dream."  The man said, "It wasn't a dream, it was an apparition.  You must understand how much he loves you."  Why would a  stranger have that experience?  Other people have reported seeing or hearing Artie.  I have had  people who I have just met in a class or other situation say they see him or feel him around me.  I don't ask - they just tell me.  A friend who communicates with people who have died (I'm skeptical about that too) for me and for anyone else who has called her ( gives very specific information that she has no way of knowing. I accept that Artie is dead but I don't accept that our journey together is over.

Am I in love with grief?  No, thank you very much.  I'm in love with my husband.  That love doesn't end with his death.  I would rather have him back - even on our worst fighting day - than have him be dead.  I don't feel that I choose grief, merely that I acknowledge that it is there and I refuse to be quiet about it.  If I wrote all the things I miss about him, this blog would go on forever.  Right now I am having difficulties moving into a new apartment.  He would have handled things better that I am.  When I am stressed he would be holding me.  I think I would be rather foolish not to miss all the comfort, love, support, secret jokes, laughter, understanding, and so much more he gave to me.  Since his death I understand the depth of the bond we had even better than I did when he was alive.  It's too easy when someone's alive to get caught up in your own stuff and not notice or take time with them the way you would if you could go back and recapture the wasted moments.

I'm not in love with grief but my grief, to me, is an ever moving river of my love.  That's okay with me.  I had very difficult parents.  I didn't grieve for them.  In my heart Artie's spirit is very alive and always be.  That's why I don't stop writing the blog.  Each year brings new challenges.  My goal, my work is to let grief inspire me instead of paralyze me.  Sometimes that doesn't work very well.  Sometimes I just collapse with the weight of it all.  More and more, though, the grief expresses itself in happy memories, in being inspired to achieve more, in being inspired to love life the way my husband did.  I don't think I need to let go to heal, to move on.  When Artie was alive he was my biggest champion.  Why shouldn't his spirit and my grief continue to teach me, guide me, support me?

And if some days I am sad, why not?  And if some days I am angry, why not?  It's all part of being human.  I watch my granddaughter who is already going to be a year old on December 20th learn and try new things.  Sometimes she falls down and hurts herself.  She cries.  She gets up and tries again.  That's what life is after Artie's death.  Me learning how to do it all again.  Without the falling down there isn't any getting up.  Without the crying the laughing isn't real.

If you have a different way to do it - I think that's wonderful.  Not everyone grieves in the same way.  However, I find because I am open about it people share that as much as 25 years after someone has died they still grieve for them, still miss them.  These are successful, happy, accompished, well adjusted people.  Some are people who are happily remarried and still feel sad about their husband who has died.  Some are people that have many children or siblings or new pets and nothing fills the space of the one that is dead.  Are we all in love with grief?  I don't think so.  Just being real.  Having the courage to feel our loss instead of pretending it isn't there..

Find those ways to have grief be your friend instead of your enemy.  It takes courage but it can be done.  I know that because I am writing this.  xo

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Grief: Veteran's Day Isn't Always Easy

For me Veteran's Day isn't about your views on war and peace.  It is about the sacrifice that people are willing to make for their country.  There is a misconception that every person who goes to war does so because they are tricked in some way.  There is a misconception that every person who comes back from war is incapacitated in some way.  We, unfortunately live in a world where evil exists and sometimes - not always - war is necessary.  If the prime minister of England, Neville Chamberlin, hadn't been a pacifist who negotiated with Hitler, 50 million lives might have been saved.  Even if you disagree with war it is important to care for the warrior. 

It is important that veterans with physical and psychological trauma get the help they need.  A veteran who commits suicide is a casualty of war as much as if he or she had died on the battlefield. However, it is also important to realize that many veterans are also competent, loving, skilled people.  It is important because employers need to know that they can hire a veteran without fear of them being unreliable.  War veterans handle their experiences differently, just as all grieving people handle their experiences differently.

Today it is important for me not only to honor the people who risk their bodies, minds, and hearts so that we can live our comfortable lives but also to honor their families and friends.  I cannot imagine anything more difficult that having someone I love in a combat zone.  What courage it takes to live day by day with uncertainty.  Then, when someone does come home psychologically or physically wounded it is their family and friends that they need to support and care for them.  That is not always easy.  Even worse, when someone dies in a far away place there are all the emotions that I keep talking about in this blog.

Veteran's day is a day of celebration - we call it a holiday.  We have picnics and parades.  It is important that grief does not get overlooked.  What I hear most often from people - mothers on Mother's Day, fathers on Father's day, widows and widowers on Valentine's Day and I have certainly left out a lot of people - is that they don't want to be forgotten.  They want people to remember that in the middle of celebration a heart may be breaking.  All it takes is someone to recognize your pain and allow you to have it.  Then your laughter and the twinkle in your eye is not a game you play but a real feeling.

I keep explaining the same thing but some people haven't heard it yet and other's don't want to hear it.  Grieving is real and it has no time limit.  People who are grieving can have a full and happy life.  That is my goal.  However, there are moments when it all dissolves into a blur of loss.  No one should be blamed for those moments or feel that they are not normal.  They just are.  There was a quote on Facebook - grief is the price we pay for loving. 

On this Veteran's Day I want to honor the courage and love it takes to fight in a war and the courage and love it takes to come home again - for both the veterans and those who love them.  Those who come home in spirit but not in body - it is right we should remember them and speak their names. 

I speak about Artie all the time.  Do not be afraid, if you know someone who has had a loved one die, to speak the name of their dead.  Ask them to tell you a story.  So many people are afraid that if you talk about someone who is dead people will walk away. Some will.  They are the ones who lose.  I've said it before and I'll say it over and over again.  The only thing that triumphs over death is love.  One way that love shows itself is through memory.  Keep telling the stories.  Keep listening to the stories.

I will never be able to understand the dreadful sights and smells and sounds of wars.  I will never know what it is like to see my friends killed by my side.  All I can offer up is my attempt to understand and my true gratitude for the sacrifices made. 

Today is not a day for politics and judgement.  Today is a day for remembrance.  xo

Friday, November 2, 2012

Grief: I Don't Want To Enjoy Every Moment of My Life

This is a short post.  Someone commented that I should enjoy every moment of my life.

I appreciate all comments.

For me, enjoying every moment of my life would be hollow.  I want to be sad about the sad things and happy about the happy things.  I don't mind being angry when I am angry.  I don't think we have positive and negative emotions - I think we have a full spectrum of emotions and we are less than human when we block some of them out.

There are things I can do to increase my happiness - to change my focus so that I am happy more often.  That is the work I have done my whole life - to become a more complete and more satisfied human being.

However, my goal is not to enjoy every moment.  To me that would make me insensitive to the pain and cruelty that exist along with the beauty and wonder.

What I can learn is not to hold on to the pain and suffering.  I can welcome them, feel them, honor them, and then as I become more skilled move on to being present with things that bring me joy.

I don't ever want to think it's all good.  That is disrespectful to those who suffer.  i want to remember and acknowledge their suffering.  It is never my job to judge someone's feelings - only their actions - if they are unkind to themselves or to others.

I'm enjoying part of this moment.  My allergies are bothering me and I am not enjoying my nose being all itchy.

I am enjoying kissing my granddaughter good night.  I am not enjoying going to bed with the teddy bear my husband gave me instead of my husband.

You know what - I am enjoying every moment of my life.  Because...I'm enjoying not enjoying! There's a riddle to go to sleep on.  xo

Grief: Hurricanes and Holidays

I hate that they cancelled the New York City Marathon.  When my husband died I hated that life went on anyway.  I had to learn that life went on anyway, including mine.  The marathon goes past my window.  I wake up feeling sorry for myself and I look out the window and I see folks in wheelchairs whizzing by.  How much courage they must have.  I shake my head at my own weakness and promise to do better.  Some days I do.  Some days I don't.  Then, as it gets dark, I look out the window and see the men and women who are determined to finish long after everyone has gone home.  Tired, worn out, nobody cheering them on but still they keep going.

When Artie was alive I loved sharing storms with him.  The louder the wind, the heavier the rain, the more scary it was - the better it was.  I had his arms to curl up in.  I could pretend to be afraid and he would be my big strong man protecting his little wife. (He really believed that I needed his protection.  I didn't.  I do now.)  I was lucky that I was one of the ones in NYC who didn't lose power.  I was unlucky in that as I curled up in bed alone watching my DVDs I thought of all the people who were sharing the experience with someone.  I was supposed to get to my daughter's house for my granddaughter's first Halloween.  I became more and more desperate to get out of the city.  Selfishly desperate.  Wanting to be with my family.  All the while thinking of people who no longer had children or grandchildren.  I made it.  Someone drove me up.  I am with my family.  But not the Artie part of my family.  Very happy.  Still a little sad.

Hurricane Sandy has added to the ranks of grief warriors.  All tragedies do.  Some we pay attention too, some we ignore.  All the sadness and anger and hurt.  All the people who listen and all the people who don't listen.  The ones who understand know that there is life and hope but no comfort for the place that hurts.  Not for me.  My daughter understands now that her best friend died of cancer.  All I have to say is, "No matter how many best friends you have, you will always miss Jon."  That's the place that gives us delight in our memories and hurt in our missing.  The happiest, funniest times I have always have a little edge.  The edge is that it means less because I can't share it with Artie.  That's the part I would like people to understand.

The holidays are coming up and for many of us they are emotional hurricanes.  How can we be present for our family and friends when we are so conscious of the empty chair?  For me, it helps to make time for my bent over ball of loneliness and self pity.  Hello sad me.  Welcome.  I'm going to spend time with you and then I will spend time back in the world.

I always seem to be a little too sad, a little too angry, a little too raw.  It's been over three years.  It helps to know that people feel this way five years, ten years, as many years as they are alive.  We aren't alone. Okay.  Balance.  I reread that and it's not true unless I say I also feel happy, and content, and proud.

Holidays and hurricanes.  They rip us apart and bring us together.  We can hold it both.  One of Artie's daughters is pregnant.  How can that be?  I want him to be here when his grandbaby is born to see the smile in his eyes.  His spirit is here but I want that face.  I want my back rubbed.  I want the simple things and the complicated things.  Artie dying blew my house to bits as surely as any wind and rain blew someone's actual house to bits.

Rebuilding takes a lifetime. It is worth doing and worth doing well.  It is easier if we rebuild together.  Then we know that we are normal.  Whatever we feel, someone else is feeling it too.  That's why it's important to keep talking about it - so we don't have to lock it away.  A woman remarries and on the anniversary of her dead husband's death she cries.  She loves her new husband.  It doesn't fill that space.  I might never remarry.  When I play with my granddaughter I am lost in her blue eyes.  It doesn't fill the Artie space.

My message is always the same.  Hurricanes and holidays.  They exist together.  We can hold both.  We can increase the moments we have of inspiration and peace.  We can increase the time we laugh and feel warm and loved.  And all the time we can still cry out from the depth of our souls for the impossible, "Come back."  Here's to those who are rebuilding and here's to the memories that make us who we are.  xo

Friday, October 26, 2012

Grief: What If I Can Hold On and Let Go

Whew.  I mean to be writing more often.  I mean to be doing a lot of things.  It's the holidays coming up.  It's Artie's birthday coming up.  I'm moving on his birthday. (December 11th)  How's that for showing up? I've taken the day that is hard to get through and scheduled my mover for that day.  Should be interesting. 

I have bought an apartment that will be beautiful one day.  Right now I feel like I'm building it.  It eats up money, time, and energy.  Artie would do it better.  He'd get things done, and get them done cheaper.  He'd hug me.  He'd argue about stuff with me.  I'm doing it by myself.  With the support of friends.  One day I have fried brains.  The next day I make time to have fun with a friend.  I eat healthy food.  I eat deliciously unhealthy food.  I feel I am alone.  I look at a picture of my daughter and grandbaby and I smile.  I want to share it with Artie and I can but I can't. 

Moving again.  It means getting rid of more of my husband's things.  There is a sign over the garbage chute in my building that says Rubbish.  I want it to say NOT RUBBISH.  Some things go down the chute.  His address book went to the chute and back in my apartment three times.  I bought him a little sign that says, "Artie's Laundry Room: Drop Your Pants Here!"  I'm giving it to my daughter.  I told her she can put it in her laundry room or throw it away.  I can't throw it away because it made him laugh.  I had his divorce papers (from previous wives).  They're gone.  I threw away some other papers.  I'm giving away more clothes.  His red leather jacket went to a thrift shop.  I always hated it.  I'm keeping the Yankee jacket and lots of cosy tops to sleep in.  When someone dies we throw away their dreams.  I have a book he never finished.  One copy now.  I kept some movie proposals that never got done - but threw away the rejection slips.  How many copies of his obituary do I need?  How many copies of how many pictures?  So many things I treasure my daughter will probably throw away when I die.  The seal for his company that doesn't exist any more.  His discharge from the army.

I read somewhere that middle age is when your memories are more important than your dreams.  That's partly true.  With all the women I know that have new realationships, I seem to be lonely but content with that loneliness.  I like being married to my dead guy.  I see the ridiculousness in it - and the romantic loyalty as well.  I had the delight of having a friend I met on a grief site come and visit for the first time.  Someone who understands that there is always sadness beneath the laughter - but there is always laughter to be found in spite of the sadness.  I actually handed her Artie's ashes (which are now in a green velevet bag with a gold cord that they were delivered in (the plastic sealed bag is inside) and said, "I'd like you to meet my husband Artie."  To my surprise, she took the bag of ashes and said, "Hi Artie.  I've heard a lot about you."  What a blessing to have a friend like that.  Before Artie died I would have said that was totally insane.  It seemed totally natural.  He's not in his ashes - but it's what I have left of him.

I had brunch with the father of my daughter's best friend who died of cancer at the age of 36.  I was able to let him know that things he was doing rhat he thought were strange are normal for a grieving person.  Sometimes those gestures of holding on are exactly what allows us to let go.

If I take time to be with Artie, in my imagination, by doing something in his memory, by looking at his picture - that gives me the energy to show up and do something else. 

It's been over three years now.  Some days it's easier, some days it's harder. 

In the middle of all my e-mails to plumbers, electricians, movers, painters etc... etc... there was an e-mail from someone thanking me for writing this blog.  There were e-mails from people I know but haven't met in person.  There were Facebook messages.  All to remind me I can smile.

In the middle of sleeping a little too much some days, being a little more grouchy than usual, wanting to avoid another round of holiday and birthdays and anniversaries without him amazing stuff happened.  I saw a play with a friend.  I spent a weekend two doors down from me at the Ritz Hotel being spoiled with a very special friend.  I spent a day helping a woman who is making a film on - of all things - holocaust humor.  Imagine being in a concentration camp and being able to laugh there.  That is amazing.  She has a lovely husband and daughter.  I wasn't jealous watching the three of them be loving to each other.  I keep being brought back into the present by my daughter and granddaughter.

I guess with all the cursing and whining and feelings of being stressed out I have been doing what I said I would.  I have been spending, if not enough time, more time focusing on what makes me happy.  I have been forcing myself to show up.  That play I saw?  I didn't want to go.  My friend and I sat on a bench after and talked for an hour.  I'm so glad I went.  I have 44 boxes packed.  One box at a time. 

I just had a strange thought.  I love grieving.  I hate the part where Artie is dead and I have to get used to him being in his new form - and I can't seem to do it very well.  But I love the part where I have these memories of this very special person and this very special love.  I love hearing stories.  I love telling stories.  Some people tell me that no one wants to hear about the person who died. I have had some friends disappear - but new ones have taken their place.  If you are with me you are going to hear Artie stories.  He's still alive in me.  You'll get to know him through me.  I ask people about their love ones that have died.  I love to hear their stories. 

I titled this before I wrote it.  I didn't know where I was going with it.  I think it is the same theme.  In order to let go I don't have to stop holding on.  I can move forward and stay in the past.  It takes some creativity, and some days, a lot of courage.  Sometimes I am good at it.  I take my memories and my grief out into the world and they are a powerful force for good in my present.  Sometimes I walk backward into the unwanted solitude and the self pity. 

Someone said I was amazing.  I think she's amazing.  It's that thing again.  We have to see ourselves with the eyes of those who admire us.  I have been watching someone on Facebook who I never met that lives in a different country make more and more healthy choices for herself.  I am so proud of her.  I forget to be proud of me.  Be proud of yourself today.  Grief warriors.  You are living without someone, a person or an animal, or multiple people and animals, that you love, that you miss.  You are unbearably sad (to use someone's words) and yet you are reading this and I know you are figuring things out.  We'll do the holidays together - with our sadness - but with our memories - and if we are lucky - with people that make us forget - even accidentally - that we are lonely.  For me, it's looking into the eyes of Gwendy blue eyes, my granddaughter. If she weren't here it might be someone else's eyes.  Maybe even my own.  Wouldn't that be something!  Let's trying looking in the mirror, into our own eyes, and seeing the flame of life in them.  Let's nurture that flame so until it is our time to go we can burn brightly with whatever passion we can find for the time we have left.  xo

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Grief: The Courage to Go On

I was going to call this post Overwhelmed and Underhugged.  That's how I feel.  Then I saw a Winston Churchill quote, "Success is not final.  Failure is not final.  It is the courage to continue that counts."  Here we are.  In whatever way we can we are continuing.  We have experienced the death or loss of someone we held most precious and still we are striving to be.  We are alive.

I am overwhelmed with the day to day stress of dealing with people who lie and cheat or who just make things difficult.  I bought a new apartment and was lied to by my real estate agent and the lawyer she recommended.  I am dealing with all the confusion of having a money pit that will some day be a home.  They are gutting the restaurant I live over now so I listen to drilling from 9-4 every day when I might try to find a space to relax.  The list goes on.  I'm still doing what needs to be done but without a certain kind of grace.  I cry sometimes and curse sometimes.  I need Artie to help me find my way.  I can find my way myself.  I want Artie to help me find my way and then comfort me when it gets overwhelming.  I am underhugged because they aren't Artie's hugs.  You know.  It might be a child or a parent or a loved one or a sibling or a pet or anyone I am leaving out.  I am always underhugged because as many wonderful hugs as I get they aren't Artie's.

Over three years and I can't get used to walking in the front door after a stressful day and not having those eyes look into mine with love and understanding.  "Hi honey.  I'm home.  I love you."  I still say to his pictures.  The ones of him when he was young and healthy before the cancer got him.  I know that's the way he would want me to think of him.  I can't get used to it maybe because I don't want to get used to it.

I am working on what I said before.  I am trying to focus more on the things that make me happy.  There was a friend who betrayed me personally and in a business deal.  I was thinking of trying to get an important concession from her and decided it wasn't worth it.  I am better off spending my time being with people who are kind.  I spent some good time with my daughter and granddaughter.  I have a very special friend coming in to see me this weekend.  I want to forget everything else and be totally present with her. 

Sometimes all that good paying attention falls away and I am back in the feeling that it's too hard.  I can't cope.  That's how I'm coping by not coping!  I cancelled exercise until January.  I am making my schedule as open as possible to have time to maybe finally get to writing, to spend time being a grandmother, and to handle all these apartment details so hopefully I can actually move in before the end of the year.

If success isn't final then I have to decide what success means for me and strive to have a taste of it every day.  If failure isn't final I don't have to worry so much about failing - I can turn things around.  If having the courage to continue is what counts, that's what I'm doing.  Continuing.  Maybe in an awkward upside down crooked kind of fashion but continuing all the same.  Being me.  Making the things happen that I can make happen.  Trying to get out of my own way to allow more happiness and more peace in. 

The world isn't going to change.  I can make little spaces in it to touch someone else and make them smile.  I can make little spaces in it to curl up and find rest.  I don't really have to decide anything right now.  Maybe it's not so bad being me.  If I keep looking in the right directions I will keep finding new things. 

We continue on together.  It doesn't matter our political party, our country, our religious beliefs.  We have our grief in common and our joy.  We can fill each other's cup with the courage to continue when we feel ours is running low.  Ok.  Tomorrow.  Bring it on!   I'm ready for something to be easy.  I'm ready for something to go the way I think it should go.  I'm ready for my husband's hugs that are always there - I have to figure out to feel them when they don't have his arms any more.  I can breathe with that thought.  xo

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Grief: What Makes A Happy Life?

Here I am, little miss cranky pants, asking what makes a happy life.  I have been writing so much lately about my last nerve being frayed.  The view from the black hole or halfway out of the black hole is like looking in a fun house mirror.  Everything I think is reflected accurately is distorted.  I'm not saying I've become some kind of perky being full of bliss.  You'd all think I was on drugs. 

I have been boring myself silly complaining about the same things over and over again.  It's like rubbing a sore tooth to see if it still aches.  It does.  There are some people in my personal life who have been insensitive and some people I have trusted professionally who have lied to me.  I hate being ripped off.  I miss Artie protecting me, even though I used to complain when he did.  He always had a much better bullshit detector than I do.  It hurts.  It should hurt.  I still believe in feeling what I feel, honestly.  Anger, sadness, hurt.

What I have been ignoring is being able to feel happiness.  Artie is going to be dead for the rest of my life. I am always going to run into people who do not have a conscience or who are too wrapped up in their own problems to think of anyone else.  I am always going to find that some people understand that I am a different person since Artie died and some people don't - or won't.  What I don't have to do is THINK about them all the time.  Artie used to say, "Don't let them live rent free in your head."  I like to allow some time to think about the sad or hurtful things.  I like to curl into bed some times and set the alarm for a half hour so I can feel sorry for myself.  Without realizing it, I have been spending too much time thinking about the bad things and not enough time thinking about the good things.  It's like I have two water holes - one filled with boiling water and one filled with water that is just the right temperature and I keep jumping in the boiling hot one and wondering why I get burned.

What makes a happy life is being aware of the things that make me happy.  My friends.  My granddaughter.  My daughter.  Elephants.  A bad pun.  Artie's pictures.  Memories.  Possibilities.  History.  A good book.  Someone surprising me with a compliment or a present.  Chocolate ganache.  Lions.  Fireworks.  People being kind.  An unexpected smile.  There are a lot of things.  I need to spend more time thinking about those things.  My friend Nick Kemp says, "You are one thought away from a good feeling."  You are also one thought away from a bad feeling.  How can I feel peaceful or calm or content if I keep thinking the bad thoughts over and over again and not make any room for the good ones.  I can even time it.  I can close my eyes and get in touch with the pain when I need to and then open my eyes and see what is actually present.  I can be annoyed at all the annoying things happening for as much time as I need to. Then I can stop and force myself to spend more time thinking about the good things happening.  I'm off balance because I have not been doing anything to achieve balance. 

Another thing that makes for a happy life is to think good things about myself.  I need to notice more the things I am accomplishing.  I don't know if is as important to be a writer as it is to be a grandmother.  I don't need to beat myself up for what I'm not doing - as long as I am doing some things.  I want my life to have meaning.  It can't if everything becomes lost in being critical and overwhelmed.  Maybe being here is meaning enough.

This would be a great discussion to have with my husband.  If he wasn't watching football.  Instead I get to have it with you.  I'm grateful for you.

Something that makes a happy life is that we have the ability to change.  For me, it also means showing up for both myself and for other people. 

What if I already have a happy life and I'm too damn stubborn to notice?   I can be sad and lonely and miss my husband and love him and still have a happy life.  Not all the time - but certainly, more often.  Looking into my granddaughter's big blue eyes and watching her curiousity and wonder is inspiring.  We shouldn't lose that ability to look at the world with a child's eyes.  I still have a lot to discover.  I still have a lot to enjoy.  It's not the life I want.  I want a life with my husband living beside me.  It matters and doesn't matter at the same time.  It's still a good life and I can make it a better one if I use my senses to appreciate things as well as criticize them.  There's room for both.

That's my new outlook.  I'll probably still be cursing and crying.  I'll also be a detective, searching out and finding all the clues to where the happy bits are.  When I find them I won't ignore them, I'll pay as much attention to them as I do to the other bits.  My husband's smile.  It still exists in my heart.  That's the happiest bit of all.  xo

Monday, September 24, 2012

Grief: Decorating The Waiting Room

Here's the problem.  Over three years since my husband Artie died.  I still feel like everything I do is decorating the waiting room.  I am waiting to be with him again in the same form he is.  I was in England and started crying in a graveyard.  I don't cry in public very much any more.  I don't even cry that much at home.  One inscription said, "To the world you were but a part, to me you were the entire world."  Another was simple.  A husband's name and his date of death.  His wife's name and her later date of death.  Then one word: Reunited.

Am I living in the past?  Sometimes.  I have a great present.  I am grateful for many things.  I have a new apartment that I am decorating beautifully.  People keep asking me if it is fun, if I am excited.  I stand off at a distance and know that I am creating a beautiful space.  Yet a small voice whispers, Artie won't be living there with you, why bother?  For me.  For my granddaughter.  For my daughter and my friends.  To create new memories.  It might be fun later.  Now it's hard and lonely work.  Sometimes doing it by myself is frightening. Don't hate me because I'm honest.  Someone said that they were picturing how fun it was for me.  I didn't belong in their fantasy.  It will be fun when it is - not before.

When I started writing this I talked about living a double life.  I do that.  There is the underlying part that is so hurt I have to do this with his loving spirit not his body and laugh and hollering, even.  I keep pointing to it.  Look at my hurt part!!  I laugh and smile and enjoy things but I don't want people to forget the hurt part.  They think it should be gone by now.  They think I'm not moving on.  I am moving on and staying still at the same time.  Maybe that's the difference between death and divorce.  If Artie left me because he wanted to I would probably want to forget about him and move on.  He didn't.  He left me because he was too sick to keep living.  That makes me feel like we are still connected; still on the same journey.  It isn't good or bad; but sometimes it complicates things.

I use some of the techniques I talk about.  I like the one where you close your eyes and feel the painful part and then open them again to be fully in the present.  I did that at the theatre one night.  A man in front of me was helping his wife put her sweater around her shoulder.  I closed my eyes because I miss Artie's touch and opened them again and looked at everything around me.  I bought a book called Do It NOW.  I wrote down eveything I have to do today.  I can check it off as I go along and then put things skipped today over tomorrow. 

I am most present when my granddaughter looks at me and smiles.  I owe it to her to be present.  Oh heck, I owe it to myself.  But I have no patience with anyone who is careless with my feelings.  I am too hurt to be hurt again.  Even in little ways.  I was trying to explain that to someone that has known me for a long time.  I was so mean and critical of her but I was only trying to make her understand that little gestures - or the lack of - make a big difference to me.  Sometimes I am calm and happy but a lot of times I feel like I have only one nerve and that is frayed. I'm so sad she doesn't understand.  I'm so grateful for my daughter and my friends that do understand.

Hello.  All you dead people.  Come back.  Let us love you in person all over again.  Let us love you knowing what it feels like when you are no longer here. 

I would like to write a post someday that says I no longer feel like I am in a waiting room.  Maybe.  I would like when I die to be with Artie again and tell him I was faithful to him my entire life.  My love was that pure and strong.  Then I think - what if there is no life after death?  Am I denying myself companionship and a chance to love again?  All you get from me today is questions. 

I'm doing it.  I'm accomplishing things.  I'm making people laugh.  Artie called me Panache.  I do some things even now with Panache.  Sometimes I can shrink the empty Artie space.  Sometimes it takes up so much room I have to lie down for a half hour in order to get up and move again.

If it still feels like a waiting room to me, at least I am decorating it.  I am making it as full of life and kindness and humor as I can.  The trip to England was full of amazing things.  When Elizabeth I's love if not husband Robert Dudley died she wrote took his last letter - writing on it - "his last letter" and kept it in a box next to her the rest of her life.  They say she closed the door to her chamber and refused to come out and even that they may have had to break it down.  She had other favorites. And yet...

Well,  I have a lot left on my list of things to do.  I am living and won't stop fighting to make that life as meaningful as I can.  Fight team, fight.  Beauty and silence.  I can hold it all.  I keep saying that it's too hard.  That's the wrong language.  It's easy.  It's easy because Artie loves me and that love doesn't die.  That love will help me if I let it.  Breathe in the good, scream out the bad.  Ram Dass' book is called Be HERE Now, not Be Anywhere Else But Here. Let's reach out and be here together.  xo

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Grief: Thank You

I wanted to write a separate post to thank all of you who read this.  I also want to thank those of you who comment or e-mail me.  If you read from the beginning you will see that after my husband Artie died there was a time when I considered suicide.  It seemed, in my skewed way of thinking, as simply a trip I was destined to take to rejoin my husband.  It was not the right thing to do.  It can be forgiven, but it is rarely the right choice because it is an act that brings great harm to others.  I owed it to my daughter and my friends - and even the people who would have to deal with my dead body - to stay alive.  When I decided to live I asked myself what I could do to give the life I had left some meaning.  What was the answer to my Why?  My husband was a recovering alcoholic who, whatever he failed at, always made himself available to other alcoholics and addicts.  I decided that I would honor him by following his example.  I would make myself available to other grieving people.

When I started writing it was partly in response to the idea of "complicated grieving"; that grief is somehow a disease or a mental disorder instead of a normal response to death.  I decided to be honest and share my journey no matter what twists and turns it took.  I thought that if I was able to reach even one person it would be worthwhile.  I get a smile sometimes from a young person when they hear that this 61 year old woman with the snarky sense of humor is a blogger.

Instead, what has happened is that my words have manage to touch many people.  I have many friends both known and unknown because we share similar feelings and because we support each other.  I don't know how many people actually read my posts because the blog is sometimes used by grief counselors and other professionals.  Any post I write belongs to anyone who reads it.  Alway feel free to share it, to include it in a newsletter, to do whatever you want with it.  When I talked to the literary agent, one of the reasons she was willing to look at my book proposal was because of the blog.

I talk a lot about showing up whether you feel like it or not.  I didn't know how to write a blog.  I didn't know if it would have any effect besides the fact that I could share my feelings in cyberspace.  The fact that it has become something more is not a fact I take for granted.  I am honestly touched, surprised, and very grateful that you take time out of your day to read what I write.

I'm not a "group" person.  In spite of that I believe that the people who I call grief warriors are a very brave, courageous, special group of people.  We work hard to live the kind of life that comes more easily to other people.  Grief may not involve just death - it could be any kind of loss - divorce, depression (which in a way is the loss of self) - anything that gets in the way of our being fully alive.

So...thank you.  Thank you for doing everything you do, for being everything you are, for mingling laughter and tears.  Thank you for letting me know that even if I feel alone, I am not alone.  Even if you feel alone, you are not alone.  Together, we will get through this in a way that when we die if we are reunited with our loved ones they will say, "Hooray!  I'm so proud of you."  xo

Grief: Am I Still Alive?

Yes.  I am still alive. I have been using the slightly out of whack coping technique of doing a lot, crashing, doing a lot, crashing and more crashing.  By crashing I mean laying in bed and sleeping or watching DVDs.  I'm sorry I skipped writing blog posts during this process.  Closing on a new apartment and now owning a new apartment is frightening without Artie.  It's odd to me how independent I thought I was while he was alive.  I wasn't.  I did a lot of things on my own but I took it for granted that he was there for me to come home to: waiting for me, loving me.  I fought with him sometimes when he tried to protect me, but how I miss his protections.  I made some mistakes in not checking things before I bought the apartment.  He wouldn't have let that happen.  The good part is that I am showing up for most things, the bad part is that I feel all the time as though I am living on my last nerve and that is badly frayed.

I am writing you from London.  The last time I was here I talked about Queen Victoria and how she never recovered from the death of her husband Prince Albert.  I realized today that there are a lot of people that are waiting for the old Jan to come back.  It's been over three years now, surely the old Jan will be back soon.  I am still alive.  The old Jan isn't.  She isn't coming back.  I try to explain that to people.  I'm not better, I never will be better.  I can have great,  happy moments but I won't be the person I was when Artie was alive.  It hurts too much.  A lot of effort goes into my being me and doing what I do.  I don't have a lot of energy left for the kind of caretaking I did of other people while Artie was alive.  The people who understand that stay close.  I am very lucky that my daughter understands that her mother is wounded in a particular kind of way.  If I had lost a leg I would still be me but I would have certain limitations.  I would never get that leg back.  That's how I feel about Artie's death.  I'm still me but I have limitations I didn't have before.  That may not be true of every grieving person; but it is true of me.

I have friction with some old friends who don't understand that.  I have fight with people who still expect me to plan everything and figure everything out and I don't want to any more. I need more support now from people than I did before.  Artie was my life line, my support.  If I fell apart I could fall into his arms and it would be okay.  Falling into my own arms isn't the same!   My daughter gets it because she misses her dog Stonewall so much.  She has given me empathy for people whose pets have died.  It doesn't hurt them any less than having Artie die hurts me.  I respect all kinds of grieving, and all ways of moving through it.

My sense of humor helps a lot.  (I'm on a British computer which is telling me I am not spelling humor right - it should be humour.)  :)  When I was standing on line at the airport they made the announcement about boarding people with disabilities and people with small children first.  I said to my friend, "What about cranky pants?  Shouldn't they board grouchy people first?"  The man in front of me who looked very nice, handsome, and sane said, "Yes!  They should definitely board tired, grouchy people first.  I would wear a big button that says Cranky Pants."  So... I am starting the Royal Order of Cranky Pants. After all, everyone who believes in acceptance and that it is all good and everything happens for a reason should be delighted to board last.

I have to remember that I am alive.  I have to learn to focus on the wonderful moments and the wonderful people.  I get lost in my unhappiness sometimes.  My granddaughter  (with apologies to people who have had children and grandchildren die - it is okay if you hate my writing about her) Gwendy is my biggest helper in that.  She is nine months old now and when she looks at me with her big blue eyes and smiles because she knows I love her and I'm silly and she's safe - that's the one moment when I feel it's maybe okay to still be alive.  Which is a lie.  There are lots of moments when I feel it's okay to be alive, when I forget that I am sad and lonely.  So, we must help each other pay more attention to the happy, living moments.  We must create them, hold them, treasure them as much as we do the moments when the ones we love were still alive.

I've avoided writing a blog post for too long.  Here I am, at a computer terminal in the lobby of a hotel in London, making time to write.  Guess what, I feel better.  Make time today to do something that makes you feel better.  I think - and act - like lying down and not doing anything make me feel better.  Sometimes it does - but a lot more times taking action - showing up - doing something - is what really makes me feel better.  Artie's smiling.  He knows that now.  I hope some of you are smiling too.

We ARE still alive.  What are we going to make alive look like?  I was such a cranky pants when I started to write this - and I will be again - but maybe - just maybe - I will put some more happy moments into the rest of my day.  xo

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Grief: Hope and Being Willing to Feel Good Things

I went to the chiropractor today.  He asked me how my writers' conference was.  I told him that a literary agent had asked to see my book proposal on a grief book.  The working title is Alive With Grief.  If you read this you know that my perspective is you can be a fully alive happy person even with the sad part that hurts your heart.  The format for the book will be part memoir, part techniques, part poetry and art - creative stuff.  I told the chiropractor that I got my new apartment and would be moving in October or November.  I told him my grandbaby, Gwendy blue eyes, was crawling and she chases after the dog now and tries to steal her toys.  He said it was so much good new he had to sit down.

This is a person who only knows me because I see him once a week when I am in town.  Yet, he felt my good news more than I do.  What's wrong with this picture?  I am a very lucky person.  I have a lot of wonderful friends.  I have the opportunity to do many things.  I am a talented writer.  I love my daughter and granddaughter.  I have problems.  Things dont' go well.  I just can't seem to get that Artie space in my heart to loosen up.  I'm scared without him; even after three years.  I'm sad without him; even after three years.  I know all these ways of getting past my fear and sadness and yet I have this attachment to being stuck.  I have watched some folks who have read my blog or gotten to know me in other ways move through their grief better than I am. 

No, that's not necessarily true.  I say that we have to look at ourselves through the eyes of those who love us.  If you asked my friends they would say I was pretty amazing.  I don't feel amazing.  I need to notice the things I am doing.  I need to stop flailing around.  One of my husband's quotes was, "You won't give up failure without a fight."  Another one was, "What's wrong?  Nothing's wrong.  That's what's wrong."  We get used to being unhappy.  I make a joke that I'm going to change my first name to Malcontenta.  I make another joke that I am following my just runs faster than I do. 

There's something more serious going on here.  When I was at Bread Loaf - the writers' conference - I felt this glimmering of something I hadn't felt in a long time.  Hope.  Hope for me, for my future.  It blinks on and off again.  It's up to me to hold on to it, to make it shine brighter.  I want to find a way to feel my own good news more often. 

I have many happy moments.  There are things I enjoy.  I am starting to read a lot more.  I used to read all the time and then when Artie died I stopped.  Writing is something that requires self discipline.  I wish I was writing the blog more often.  Some people stop after a while but I think it is important to keep the process going. 

I was in the airport in Vermont and a TSA agent asked me about my book idea.  She said her husband died 11 years ago and she went to a wedding recently and it all came back.  I know this is all normal.  A TSA agent who was supposed to be impersonal told me something very personal.  We want to share our grief as well as our happiness.  We want others to understand and honor it.  I want to flip that over though; my pancake needs to cook on both sides.  I need to want and feel my happiness as well as my grief.

There are moments.  Artie used to say that moments are all we have. 

I sat next to a young girl at lunch.  She was beautiful and sweet.  She said when she first got to Bread Loaf she was frightened and thought she shouldn't have come.  She thought maybe she wouldn't fit in.  I doesn't matter how old we are or what we look like.  So many of us are insecure on the inside.

There's that DVD watching/sugar eating part of me.  Then there's the part of me that has someone interested in a book I haven't written yet.

I know what Artie would say.  He would say, "You go girl!! You can do it." 

I bought a book that is called "Do It Now!"  I haven't opened it.  It is a way to organize my day to accomplish what I want.  Maybe I will do that when I am taking the train from NYC to Boston (4 hours) near where my daughter lives.  It's so easy to have it be 8 pm, have been busy all day, and have the feeling nothing has been accomplished.  I told the chiropractor that.  He said the same thing happens to him.  I never thought he would feel that way.  He does so much good for people.

Let's promise to look around and notice the happy things and find some way to let them in.  Breathe in happiness, breathe out sadness.  I need the lightness of hope.  Not the hope that Artie and I will be together soon, although I need that too.  I want the hope that that my life will be a rich and full one.  I can miss my husband and be happy too.  I can have my heart hurt and be scared and still write my book. 

I want to have things to whisper in my husband's ears, things that I have done.  I want him to look at me and be proud.  Okay.  Good feelings.  Bring them on!  xo

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Grief: Dragging, Wagging My Tale

I am at Bread Loaf.  It is a writers' conference started by the poet Robert Frost who wrote the poem The Road Not Taken.  The welcoming in the Little Theater started with a woman telling us how to escape the building in case of an emergency.  That is because Frost was bored with someone who was reading and threw his lit cigarette into a trash can.  It caught fire and he burned the building down.  He was excused on the grounds that his wife had died and grief made his behaviour erratic.  I am very proud to say that I have never burned down a building, accidentally or on purpose.  Have you?  See how well we are doing?  (If you have - well then - how full of fire are you?)

I was watching a woman knitting with turquoise and startling pink yarn.  That simple repetitive motion answered all of my questions.  That is how you do things.  Stitch by stitch, word by word, breath by breath.  Sometimes you follow a pattern.  Sometimes a totally different pattern than the one you started with starts to emerge.  It doesn't happen all at once.  People may not recognize what you are doing or what your plan is.  You may not know it yourself. You only have to do one stitch at a time.  If you drop a stitch, or do a wrong one - I believe the term is unpick what you have done - and start over.  Every time you start over you may feel that you are starting at the beginning but you have a skill set you didn't have before.  You are wise.  You have to remember to access your wisdom.

I know that because I have been swimming in the self pity river.  I have been wondering how my life would have been different if I had buckled down and was here as a successful writer instead of a searcher.  I have been missing Artie and feeling like a ghost.  It is very social here but there are others like me that are solitary wanderers.  I had forgotten what I know.  It is the showing up that is important.  Three years ago I was accepted here and I had to cancel because it was my husband's dying time.  It's okay that it seems strange without him.  Of course I feel a little sad and a little lonely.  However, I am here.  I am learning.  I am working - finally - on a book proposal for a workbook on grief.  I have a meeting with someone on the 22nds to discuss it. 

I had an e-mail from a special friend telling me how amazing I am.  She told me that it didn't matter if I wrote a book or not.  It mattered that I took the risk and that I am here.  She reminded me of all the wonderful things I have done.  I had an e-mail from daughter Erin. My 8 month old granddaughter Gwendy blue eyes pulled herself up using Erin's legs and then sucked on her toe and grinned.  Erin said that wasn't going to happen again.  Gwendy would have to find another way to get her attention.  My daughter said she was proud of me.  Whew.  I need to remind myself that sometimes I can see more clearly through the eyes of others.  I miss my husband's loving eyes.  I need to change - this isn't my word - but I love it - perspectacles.  Focus on my accomplishments while trying to use my talents as best I can.

I always tell people to be gentle with themselves and then I carry my own whip.  Put it down, woman!  So...if you are swimming in the self pity river today...I will pass on what I have been given.  Grab my hand and come on out to sit on the riverbank and feel the sun warming your beautiful faces.  Don't let grief win.  Find your laughter and your peace.  Have a good cry if you need to - and then like golden retriever - shake the water off and wag your tale.  Purposefully mispelled.  You have a tale to tell.  You have to live or you will have no stories.  Tell the stories of those who have died - and create new ones so that when you die you will have something to brag about on the other side (or is this the other side?).  

I'm coming back into the land of living I was about to say...but the truth is I am always here.  There are signs and wonders everywhere.  I only have to open my senses to be aware of them.  In my own time.  In my own way. xo

Monday, August 13, 2012

Grief: Who Will I Tell About The Rain?

I was on a train from Boston to NYC.  It was sunny until we reached Connecticut.  There was a flash flood.  The cars at a station parking lot were covered with water up to the top of their wheels.  When we stopped and slowly pulled into the station the announcement that came over the loudspeaker was, "We are happy to announce that Amtrak will not be making the news today."  A few miles down the line the sun was shining again in its pure beauty or fury depending on how you feel about hot and humid days.

All I could think of was calling Artie and telling him about it.  I could have called a lot of people.  I did call one.  However, Artie loves (loved?) me in that special one of a kind way. When I told him something he either didn't listen at all or was utterly entranced.  He didn't listen sometimes because he said I used too many words.  He did listen a lot because he said I was the only person who was never boring.  I wasn't his first wife but he always said our marriage was his first real marriage.  We share so many stories and so many memories and so many private jokes. 

It's also about coming home.  It's wrong to say no one loves me.  People love me.  There's something different though about that special way someone loves you who waits for you to come home with great eagerness and joy.  I took it for granted some times.  I would give him a big hug and kiss and then open my mail.  I wish I had just curled up with him and told him stories as soon as I got home.  We always held each other before we went to sleep.  Once I went to a Passover dinner at the Rabbi's house. Artie didn't want to go.  I was late coming home but I didn't call because what kind of trouble can someone get in at a Rabbi's house?  When I pulled into the driveway after 1 a.m.  he was in front of the house pacing up and down.  Artie was so worried about me and I laughed at him.  No one is worried now.  No one is there.

I had a dream.  I dreamed I was with a group of people and I got a phone call.  Someone told me Artie had died.  I was sobbing.  I said I had no home to go to.  I couldn't face it.  Everyone was very nice to me.  In my dream this handsome young man gave me a big hug.  When he went to sleep he wanted me to lie down with him so he could comfort me.  I did for five minutes but soon got up.  He wasn't Artie.  There was no comfort anywhere.  Then I was standing on line at the airport searching through my purse for my boarding pass.  I started to cry again and put it in between my teeth because I had too much baggage to carry.  I thought, "I can't do it.  I can't go home if Artie isn't there."  I woke myself up. 

In my waking life I can show up for things.  I can change my thought patterns, use techniques when I care to.  I don't know what to do about a dream like that - after three years - I think I dream those dreams often.  My subconscious mind telling me how lost I feel.  It may be why it is so difficult for me to wake up and be motivated.

It's been a rough time lately.  Back down the black hole.  Grateful for the support of friends and loved ones but being sluggish and grouchy.  I am leaving Wednesday for Bread Loaf.  It's a writers' conference that only accepts 26% of people who apply.  It was my dream to go there.  I got accepted in 2009.  Artie was dying and I had to cancel.  Whenever I wrote something he read it first.  He was my best champion and my best critic.  I should be excited to go.  I'm scared.  My memories of that dying time are all tangled up with the present.  I'm still avoiding writing because when I finish something he's not here to read it. 

I guess it all goes on my forgiveness list.  Like writing the blog.  I've been thinking about you all and meaning to write but haven't done it in much too long.  I need to awaken myself to life again.  I need to find a home within myself.  There is no magick kiss to awaken me from a handsome prince is dead.

I'm very lucky that I have people who understand.  I got a text from one of Artie's dearest friends. It simply said, "I miss Artie."  I texted back, "Me too.  He's here, but I wish he was here...if you know what I mean."  He texted me a heart.  Knowing someone else was still missing my husband made me smile. 

What is needed is to never give up.  When my passion leaks away and I am left with listlessness and longing for whatever is on the other side it is my job to remember my granddaughter Gwendy blue eyes who is all life force.  We all need people and things in our world to pull us, push us, prod us to be the light we are meant to be. 

Thank you for your patience with me.  Thank you to those who support me and listen to me whine and make me laugh anyway.  Thank you for being fellow grief warriors letting love triumph over death.  xo

Monday, July 23, 2012

Grief: Am I Brave Enough To Be Alone?

I'm like a turtle: head out for a bit then back in. No matter how good it feels when I put myself out there, there I go. Run away. Play dead. I was getting a massage today and in the middle of the comfort and the silence I realized that I spend most of my time trying not to feel. I talk about feeling. I get angry about everything. (I'm having a no complaining day tomorrow - wish me luck!) I watch DVDs, do amazing things but I keep my mind so busy I don't have time to be mindful.

Even three years later I can't take it in. I can't absorb the shock. I talk to him. I talk about him. I take off my wedding rings, I put them back on. I did this lovely thing for the third anniversary of his death. Inspired by Kelley Lynn who had pay it forward day for her husband Don, I had An Act Of Kindness Day For Artie. I wrote about it, posted it on Facebook, e-mailed it. some people did some amazing things to - as I asked - keep Artie's smile going. I was so happy reading what people did that I forgot to be sad. I tried not to feel sad about the folks who didn't respond. Then I couldn't sleep all night. Another lag in writing the blog. The funny but true statement that the problem with leaving everything to the last minute is that the last minute isn't long enough.

Me? Having some great moments but overwhelmed, stalling, trudging through quicksand. Trying to keep Artie's smile going. Heady, romantic stuff that. The problem is Artie doesn't have a smile. He doesn't have a face. He has his spirit, I have his spirit. No matter how much I say, "I know he's dead.", I'm afraid to stop keeping my mind so busy that I am present enough and brave enough to really feel what I feel about his death. I don't know what that means yet. I'm at a health spa in California. No DVDs, no sugar,no busyness. Will I be able to be? I am so proud of being Mrs. Arthur Warner. Who am I now? Who is Jan without Artie? Without alive Artie?

This week I'm going to try to take another step. Writing, which I want to do, and don't, taps into my unconscious. My dreams, often of searching and not finding, do too. I have to be willing to grieve on a whole different level to become honestly unstuck. Without techniques and showing up and constantly soothing and medicating myself. Just being me out of my comfort zone. Me on earth with a husband who isn't. Mindfulness in the true sense. Being present. Seeing beauty alone. Enjoying it, maybe. Listening to my own inner silence without crumblings or doing my favorite thing - being snarky. If I feel like I'm lost in the wilderness, wandering there for a while instead of...what? I'm not sure. All the same, hold on. Here we go. "Come back!" I say. "I can't. I love you but I can't come back." he says.

So...for now...I go on alone. Our constant paradox. Always alone even if never alone. I believe we can do it. We can learn how. xo

Monday, July 16, 2012

Grief: Understanding and Misunderstanding

Whew.  Coming up against the third anniversary of my husband Artie's death tomorrow.  Thank you so much to those of you who understand.  Whether we communicate or not I am so grateful for those who get it.  It is very lonely to feel no one understands. Since writing this blog and finding Facebook pages I know that, unfortunately, there are a whole lot of people who do understand from direct experience.  I also want to publicly thank my daughter (even though she doesn't read this) for making an effort to understand.  I once asked her how many times I talked about Artie during the day and she said, "I don't know, I'd need a clicker!"  Even though the last night I stayed with her and my granddaughter she had root canal and wasn't feeling well she took the time to sit with me on the sofa.  She actually stroked my hair and held my hand for a little while.  The next day when she drove me to the train station (she's 37) instead of just dropping me off she parked and came in to sit with me.  She wanted me to feel loved, especially at this time.

On the other hand, someone who I always think of as a best friend was totally not understanding.  I haven't figured out how to deal with that.  It hurts.  I know it's normal because I've heard it from a lot of other people.  One woman at a bereavement group said there were 700 people at her husband's memorial and not one of them was still in touch.  What's up with that?  I know my friend is going through a tough time.  I know when two people are having melt downs at the same time it isn't easy.  However, I did make an effort to connect with her and what she was going through.  She didn't with me and doesn't even get why I feel that way.

Three years.  Am I supposed to be done with it now?  That's the difficult part this year.  My daughter was actually funny.  She said, "He's been dead for three years and he hasn't come back even once.  How rude!"   I laughed but isn't that the core of the misunderstanding.  People have grief fatigue.  Time passes.  It's not important any more.  It is to me.  With all my techniques and all I've learned and lived I have been running swiftly backwards.  I will have live three years tomorrow without my darling husband with me.  I'm tired and sad and I miss him more, not less.  What's not to understand about that simple fact?  Even though I believe his spirit is with me - his body isn't.  I'm tired of ashes and pictures and old cards and letters  I want my guy.  I just read that when Joe Di Maggio died at the age of 84 one of the last things he said was, "Finally I'll get to see Marilyn again."  For you young folks - that's Joe DiMaggio the great baseball player and Marilyn Monroe the actress who died tragically of a drug overdose at the age of 36.

I collect those stories.  Stories of people who spend their lives missing their one true love, or their beloved child or pet or mother or uncle or grandmother or anyone I've left out.  They make me feel normal.  I've said this a lot.  I don't mind at all people who find new loves.  Maybe even I will.  However, I don't relate at all to people who say they are "over" the death of someone who was much loved.  I want to live fully and make Artie proud of me but I don't want to be over it.  It seems silly to be over it.

I went on Facebook and asked people on two pages how they deal with the "dates" - anniversary of a death (some folks call it angelversary) - birthdays - wedding anniversaries - mother's or father's day. 

I'm planning on e-mailing people who I've been in contact with since Artie died who are grieving.  I'm having lunch with a friend who I can trust to share things with.  That was the saddest thing with my long time friend not understanding - I don't feel I can trust her right now.  I'm keeping my appointment with my chiropractor and I went to exercise today.  However, my food is way off.  I am the queen of sugar consumption again.  It's hard for me to work.  I'm scared and lonely and blah blah blah.  I want to get back to the grieving in a healthy inspired way again instead of this sluggish thing I am now.

There are people from my past and Artie's past that have stayed with me.  There are all the wonderful new people I have met.  There are people you would have thought would have stayed close but haven't.  When Artie died he asked his friends to look after me because he was afraid of how I would react.  They did for a time.  I wonder what he would say to them now.  Especially the ones he counted on who have changed e-mails and not given me the new one.  I have my granddaughter Gwendy's blue eyes to look into and see pure love and pure being in the present.  That is the greatest life gift of all.

I think this friend who doesn't get it will at some point.  We have been friends for too long not too.  However, it makes my heart hurt even more.  It feels damaged.  We are going away together next week and I wonder what it will be like.

The bottom line for right now is that I am too hurt by Artie's death to allow myself to be hurt by others.  The good thing is that it made me realize that I do have a healthy sense of self esteem.  I care enough about myself to seek out those who can support me.  I care enough about myself to admit "I'm STUCK!!" and look for ways to be unstuck.

Thank you, all of you, who share this journey with me.  My fellow grief warriors who help me turn around when I start marching backwards.  I have a life to live to make my husband proud; to make me proud; to make all of you proud.  More tomorrow.  The day.  I call this Artie's dying time.  I don't know why it always feels like it is happening NOW.  It does, though.  Keep strong but real.  Nothing wrong with paying attention to what hurts.  I think that's better than ignoring it.  Then saying - ouch - but what's next. Who else am I?  What else can I do?  What can I be grateful for.  Unlucky me.  Lucky me.  Both at the same time. xo