Monday, April 30, 2012

Grief: Training My Brain

I have a friend that says when you live in your head you live in a very bad neighborhood.  That's a reason for showing up where life is and having different experiences.  It's also a reason for checking out your feelings.  There are techniques for changing how you think.  I have spent a long weekend studying neo-Ericksonian hypnosis.  A lot of folks think that hypnosis is mysterious.  It isn't.  Everything is really a form of trance.  Hypnosis is just using a trance - or altered state to create change.

One of the things I have been able to do - not consistently - I still have melt down moments and days - is change the way my brain processes Artie's death.  At the beginning it was a simple:  My husband is dead, the pain is unbearable, my life is over.  Now people get confused because I tell them that I'm quite content to be sad. My sadness honors our love.  There is a form that goes like this:  That's right, I am sad that my husband died and I am happy that I have so many wonderful memories.  And isn't it nice that I can enjoy both at the same time. It even worked at exercise this morning.  I was bending my body back over a big ball stretching my arms down.  It hurt!  I thought, that's right this is hard and it is also easy - and isn't it nice I can enjoy both at the same time.  My arms reached down at least an extra 3 inches.

Whenever I saw something that reminded me of Artie it triggered loneliness and pain.  I trained myself to think differently.  If I see somewhere that reminds me of Artie I remember how much fun we had at that place.  If I see somewhere I bought him things I remember how much I enjoyed finding something he would actually like.  By consciously switching from a sad thought to a happy one it is becoming more automatic to have reminders of him make me feel happy instead of painfully desperate and sad.  I'm curious how this will work as the third anniversary of his death approaches.

The hypnosis techniques are difficult to put on paper because so much of hypnosis is in voice and tonality and of course you can't hear my voice when you are reading.  This is one I have been practicing since this weekend.  Be some place where when your eyes are open you see things that make you feel happy and comfortable and peaceful.  No mixed feelings - just good ones.  It could be outdoors by the ocean or in a forest.  It could be in your room in a comfortable chair looking at beautiful pictures.  There might be music playing that you love to listen to.  Close your eyes and think of one painful memory.  Feel that.  Open your eyes and be present in all the feelings of comfort and beauty and peace.  Close your eyes and go back to the painful memory.  Open your eyes to the present good feelings.  Keep repeating this; changing the time you spend with your eyes closed and then open.  Know that where ever you are whenever you feel pain or sadness you can close your eyes and then open them. When you open them you will see the present moment around you and find comfort and beauty in it.  It happened to me at exercise today.  The song playing was, "In My Solitude".  It always makes me cry.  I closed my eyes for a second or two and opened them to notice all the good things around me in my present moment.  I did this several times and then could stay in the present and not have to go back to the painful feeling.  My eyes were open to the present.  A lot of people have told me that this works for them - including people who are depressed or experts like scientists.  I like it because it is very subtle and no one knows you are doing it.

I still have to sharpshoot thoughts.  I often make this false analogy...someone does something and that means they don't like me.  A couple of people actually don't like me!!  But a lot of times it is my brain tricking me.  Someone cancelled on me several times and I thought she didn't like me - it wasn't that - her life was crazy at that time.  There was someone in my class who I thought didn't like me because she is very quiet and I tend to be loud and funny.  I didn't work with her at all during the weekend.  Before I left on Sunday I went up to her and said, "I feel like I don't know you because we haven't worked together.  Maybe we can  next weekend."  She said I was a beautiful person and gave me a big hug.  I was training my brain to think differently and to take an action.  If I hadn't taken the action I never would have known how she felt - or gotten that lovely hug.

Artie's always going to be dead.  He's going to be dead for the rest of my life.  I can't change that.  I'm trying to train my brain to have that fact not paralyze or limit me.  I want his life and love to inspire me.  When I see his picture or come home to the silence I want to find ways to turn those into happy times.  I'll be with him soon enough.  Time bends.  If I go back to the past I want to pull out the things that give me joy.  When I'm in the present I want to notice the things that give me joy.  I'm still going to be sad and angry.  I'm not one of these people that think it's all good.  A lot of it sucks.  How can I think differently to take actions that make small differences?  Even the smallest step can be heroic.  I had this weird thing happen.  I was looking at someone taking people's money at a take out place. I noticed that everyone was very animated and she had the corners of her mouth turned down. I was thinking it would be nice if she smiled and all of a sudden she turned her head and smiled at me. Later on that same day, I told someone in a waiting room that she had beautiful hair and she surprised me by standing up and hugging me. Small gestures sometimes change the world more than big ones - and they are a lot easier to do!

Strange wondrous things happen when you train your conscious mind and especially your unconscious mind to have different thoughts so you can have different feelings.  Another way - for me - is to get support.  I was concerned that sometimes I feel my love for my grandbaby isn't enough.  I e-mailed a widow I know who has a 3 year old grandchild.  She told me about her mixed feelings - loving her granddaughter but feeling sad that her husband wasn't there to share things with her.  There was a lot more.  It made me feel that I wasn't a bad granny - my feelings are normal.  Now I have to train my brain about that.  Maybe instead of thinking, "It's so sad that Artie isn't here to be Gwendy blue eyes grandpa." I can think, "Gwendy is so lucky that I will be able to tell her funny stories about her Grandpa."  Maybe I can think, "I wish Artie was still alive and I love Gwendy completely and fully and isn't it nice to know that I can enjoy both at the same time.  Maybe I can close my eyes for a moment to feel whatever pain I feel and then open them to the present fun and good feelings of being with my daughter and granddaughter. 

Wishing you all more and more positive trances.  There is a real world that is often unkind. Yet, we can change how we think about it which changes how we feel about it which changes how we live in it.  It may begin like a lawn of pain with one flower pushing through.  Then that single flower spreads its seeds so that the ground is suddenly covered so many with multi colored flowers (ones that don't make you sneeze!) that you have to search (but only if you want to)  to find the blades of pain that might be left.  I wonder when I open my eyes what beauty I will see  now.  I wonder when you open your eyes what comfort you will feel   now.  xo

Monday, April 23, 2012

Grief: The Good, The Bad, and The Just Plain Weird

The just plain weird:  Can you buy a present for a dead person?  People do buy flowers and toys and put them on graves.  Is that the for the dead person?  Artie and I had on the top of our wedding cake tiny crystal figures of bride and groom bears.  They have since been broken and/or lost.  Oddly enough (unlike in life) - what I have is part of the groom.  I was in a Swarkovski crystal shop in the airport in Detroit.  I saw two cute crystal bears that looked like a bride and groom. Clear crystal except the male bear has a little black bow tie and the female bear has a pink flower ribbon around her neck.  I wanted to buy them for Artie and me.  I thought that was silly.  He's dead.  I can't buy him a present.  I picked out a pair of earrings and a house warming present for my daughter.  I kept coming back to the tiny kissing bears.  Oh heck, I thought.  They make me smile.  It doesn't matter if Artie can see them or not - I can.  I bought them and put them with the little shrine - pics of Artie and me, his obituary, black roses, a crystal pyramid, his last Alcoholics Anonymous chips, and adding the fact that life continues - a large picture of my daughter with my granddaughter and granddog.  I'm glad I bought the little crystal bears.  If where Artie is, presents don't matter, perhaps my loving him and smiling at the little bears does matter.

The Bad:  Still having trouble eating healthy food.  Still having trouble writing.  Still sleeping too much.  My daughter drove with the grandbaby and the dog and a friend to Massachussetts from NYC today.  I had this absolutely paralyzing fear as they drove off that my whole family would disappear.  I couldn't do anything until I got the phone call they had arrived safely.  I don't like when fear gets in they way of things I have to do, or want to feel.  Sometimes when I hold little Gwendy blue eyes - already almost 4 months old - my heart breaks open.  I love her so much and somehow loss and love got tangled up when Artie died.  I want to be able to love my family and friends without fearing I will lose them.  No.  I will lose them some day.  I want to be present with them when they are here and not taint the joy of moments with them with what may not happen for many years. 

The Good:  I'm having a session with my good hypnotherapist friend Doug O'Brien on Thursday.  He helped me so much with not letting being sad about Artie get in the way of my being fully alive most of the time.  I think he can help me get past these blocks I have left.  The good for me is not in being perfect - I haven't a clue how to be that!   The good for me is to keep searching for ways to be more of the person I want to be.

The Very Good: On Friday I decided to walk home from exercise through Times Square and think of the crowds of tourists as fun and interesting instead of annoying.  An emotional shift.  (Sorry, guys - we tend to walk fast here and forget that you are interested in stopping and looking and taking pictures)  I met a man from West Virginia who has a farm, a wife and a child.  He spends time standing on street corners in different cities to talk to people about finding things we have in common so we can work together to make this a better country, a better world. What an example of a simple and powerful thing to do to create change. I mentioned Artie (I always do!).  He told me a story about a young friend of his - only 20 - who died from cancer.  He sat by his friend's side while his friend was in great pain and almost at the point of death.  He was crying and his friend used all his strength to reach over and pat him to console him.  He said if his friend could be that "bad ass" so could he.  Courage.  That the courage of the dying could give him the courage to be alive. I was so glad that I talk about Artie so that I could hear that story of courage and compassion.  So we can all rememer to be "bad ass" in a good way.  Because he does this work - which is simple communication - finding commonality not difference - I will always remember him.  He was probably a foot taller than I am and before I walked on - he bent down and gave me a big hug.  A young man who has a farm in W. Va. hugging a NYC gal. 

I have to keep remembering that although bad stuff can happen out there in the world - so can a lot of good stuff.  Let's see if we can find the energy to get out there and find those simple ways to connect to life and to people.  We can love our dead and still be alive.  It's the only way for me to give Artie's death meaning - to keep trying.  Today was a crazily neurotic stuck day.  Tonight ain't bad.  Maybe tomorrow will be wonderful. For all of us grief warriors and depression warriors and sad warriors.  Let's jump out of the boxes people try to put us in and be sad and happy and lie down and cry and get up and dance and be - well just be whoever we are!  xo

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Grief: From Anger to Laughter

I keep moving.  Grief is still an emotional whirlwind for me.  Sometimes I manage to connect with calm, but not very often.  I was proud of myself after Friday the 13th I continued showing up for everything I had planned.  I did a lot of laughing.  I did some crying too.  I was talking to someone whose only child had died and he looked like he was doing better so I made the mistake of commenting on that.  It was like he broke apart in front of me.  He started crying.  He told me how when he was obviously upset someone said, "Still?"  I hate that.  The answer for me is always - but what else.

I know several people with cancer and some times it seems like it is too much.  Some times it seems like everything is too much.  There is an NLP exercise where you physically walk through a tunnel.  You open a door - walk through whatever emotion is in the tunnel - and when you get to the end you close the door firmly and let yourself feel a new emotion.  It works.  I can close the door on my grief and experience other things.  The thing is, sometimes the door swings open again!

I made an appointment with the hypnotherapist who helped me a lot the last time. I want to find out how to get out of my own way.  There are things I am doing much better - but I want to find out what is blocking me from doing other things I want to. I want my blocks to dissolve.  For me, living without Artie here phsycially is a constant search for things that will help me be willing to live in the world instead of curl up in bed and sleep. 

It's like having a sore tooth and you keep touching it to see if it's still sore.  I can do other things.  I know it's still sore - I don't have to touch it.  Sometimes I focus on things that don't go well.  I had someone I thought was a friend who treated me irrationally and unkindly.  I saw her name somewhere and I was thinking about it over and over again.  Then someone e-mailed me and said I was awesome.  Someone told me that someone said I was an angel. (I'm not, or if I am - it's with a very crooked halo.)  The thing is why not focus on all the good things I have happening in my life.  Why don't I keep being a thought sharpshooter and when I'm thinking something that makes me unhappy, shoot down or blow away that thought, and replace it with something that will make me laugh? I have the skills - I want to use them more.

I am going to Michigan  today to see a friend.  I know I will feel better after I see her.  I need to keep adding those things into my life.  The things that make me content, the things that make me laugh.

I signed up for a hiking trip in Tanzania in December.  That gives me 9 months to get in physical shape.  Maybe that's like my emotional life.  My body hurts but I still have to keep moving to reach my goals.  My heart hurts but I still have to keep moving to reach my goals. 

Living with grief without sugar. It's ridiculous really - but good.  I'm ready to give up another unhealthy prop.  I'm learning to find comfort in different ways. 

Melting down.  Showing up.  Being real.  I feel Artie with me cheering me on.  I hope he's waiting for me when it's time.  It's okay for me to laugh and enjoy life.  It's not a betrayal.  I know my husband wants me to enjoy life as much as I can.  Still working on it. Love to all of us that have to go through this without the people we want to cuddle up next to and tell our stories to.  Grief warriors!   xo

Friday, April 13, 2012

Grief: Listening To My Anger

I was walking home from exercise today.  It is beautiful here in NYC.  Perfect weather; sunny but not too hot.  I have many good things planned this weekend.  Very little, actually, to complain about.  Then it occurred to me that I am angry.  I have never thought of myself as being angry about Artie's death.  Sad, lonely, confused - but not angry.  He had a good long life and I gave him a comfortable loving death.  I have - as people have been following me know - tried hard to let him be an inspiration.  To let our love continue to bring me the happiness it did when we were alive. 

I don't mind anger.  I rather like it.  It has a lot energy to it and if it is directed appropriately can be a useful tool.  I don't know why I haven't thought about it in terms of Artie's death.  I've let anger be directed in a lot of places.  I want to be the calm in the eye of the storm but I get angry when people don't take responsibility for their actions.  I get angry at people who are cruel, or who even lack simple courtesy.  Sometimes I get angry at silly things like tourists walking too slowly because they are amazed by the city I am used to living in.  My anger is often out of proportion to what is causing it.  Why?  I think because I have been ignoring the fact that I want to have a terrific temper tantrum about the simple fact my husband is dead. The anger that should be focused like a laser on that is shooting out at other things.

My shoulders are sore from exercise.  I'm angry that Artie can't rub my back.  I'm angry that I can't share this great new TV series with him.  I'm angry that I learned something today and I can't see the look on his face when I tell him.  I'm angry that I can't go for a walk through the park with him. I'm angry that he can't hold me.  I'm even angry we can't have a fight.  I know that he didn't leave me because he wanted to.  He left because his body was too sick to stay.  I believe now - I hope - as many do - that he is with me.  I always stand on his shoulders. I'm always supported by his love.  But damn, I've got this earthly existence and I want to be sharing it with him.  I don't want to try to find a new love.  I have a one true love.

There is a character on a British TV show New Tricks.  His wife is dead and in the back yard are lit paving stones and a plaque to her.  He often goes out and talks to her.  His guy friends were talking about him having sex and he got angry.  He said, "Don't talk about me like that.  I'm married."  I know he is an actor playing a character but I like the way his character is written.  I'm angry that I'm married and not married at the same time.  I don't want to have figure out all this stuff that is impossible to figure out.  I just want Artie to smile at me.  I want to see a face that doesn't exist anymore.  I want to see the twinkle in eyes that don't exist any more.  I used to like to look at our hands when they were clasped together.  He doesn't have hands now. 

This can't be solved by falling in love with a new person.  I might. But the best man in the world will be a new person, it won't be Artie.  This can't be solved by going out and doing fun things.  I do.  This can't be solved by helping other people.  I do.  I have a situation that is mine for the rest of my life.  I'm angry about it.  Someone once asked, "What's the best way to die?" and the other person answered, "First.  Die first."

Do I want to be dead?  No.  I have many things I am grateful for and many adventures to experience.  I have my daughter and grandbaby.  And yet...I'm angry that as long as I keep living I can't be with my husband. 

So there.  That's it.  My temper tantrum.  I'm still going out tonight.  I'm still trying to get my energy to flow.  I think, though, I'm going to allow these moments of anger through and not try to be happy about something I'm not happy about.  Maybe part of the part of me that is still stuck is the part that is trying to hold the anger down.  Maybe if I say once a day, "Hey - you - Artie Dazzle - I love you but I'm angry that you're dead.  We promised each other that nobody would leave.  I don't blame you but I hate being left here alone!" I can let it go and focus on other things.

All I know is today - for these few minutes - I am embracing my anger.  Then when I finish - I can put it back in my emotional closet and have time to express other emotions.  I spent too much of my life saying, "It's okay." when it wasn't okay.  So many people - especially after all this time want me to not care about it any more.  Well, I do.  A lot. 

I also had a great week and I hope I have a great weekend.  Keep showing up.  Keep allowing the happy moments in along with the other ones.  I've been telling people I'm going to change my first name to Malcontenta.  Maybe if I express my anger sometimes I won't have to. I can be Joy too. 

Here's to every side of life.  I may be different that others but I think I'll miss my bliss if I don't get to be real wherever I am, whatever I'm feeling.  I don't want a fake smile.  I want a smile that goes all the way through - that I don't have to work so hard for.  I don't want to lie like I hear so many people doing - saying they are fine when it is obvious they are falling apart.  Tomorrow maybe I'll be standing up for peace and love - today I'm standing up for anger.   Whew.  That actually felt good.  With extra love and hugs.  xo

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Holiday Joy and The Empty Chair(s)

I was missing in action for a while there.  I did show up for scheduled things.  I only missed one exercise session.  I told a six minute story in my second invited show - among people with a lot of credits - and was told I did very well.  It's hard for me to judge myself in those things.  I took a student from Rosie's Theater Kids to a tech rehearsal of a Broadway play.  Rosie's Theater Kids is a great organization that not only provides children with lessons in things like singing and dancing - but supports them academically and in all areas of their lives.  My daughter and grandbaby arrived on Friday. I did other things as well. I'm saying all this not to brag on myself but to say that showing up for those things made me feel a lot more like a person than if I had given in to my other self and stayed curled up in bed.  

I got an e-mail from someone saying she felt like she was on auto pilot; that she was fighting her way out of a bad emotional space.  Sometimes it feels that Artie's death saps both my energy and my desire.  In those times I do my best to do at least one thing a day.  I also have a rule I can only stay in the house one day in a row - even if I just go out to do an errand.  It's been that kind of time right now. I'm sorry one thing I let slip was writing the blog.

Oh yeah - I got my taxes done too!  I guess showing up is about fun things and about being responsible.

For many people this is an important holiday weekend.  Passover and Easter.  It's spring as well.  Rebirth, freedom. Family.  I wanted to write something upbeat and cheery; all about bunnies and matzoh - about new life after death.  All that is true.  That's the most important thing we can do.  Take our pain and keep figuring out creative ways to have it generate new life in ourself and for ourself.  You don't have to believe in life after death to let the love you have be a springboard for all good things. 

Yet, there is always the empty chair - or chairs.  It is a Jewish tradition to set a place at the table for the prophet Elijah - fill his glass with wine - and leave the door open to allow him to come in to announce the coming of the Messiah.  Christians, of course believe that the Messiah has come - Jesus.  Some people don't believe in a Messiah - or that the Messiah is somehow within ourselves.  The important image to me is that even though, year after year, Elijah doesn't come, Jewish people throughout time and history continue to keep his chair waiting and his glass filled.  They continue to keep the door open.  Someone called Artie my "late husband".  I laughed.  No one had ever used that expression with me before.  It seemed so silly.  I looked at my wrist where a watch would be and said, "He is late.  He's always late.  In fact, he's so late I don't think he's going to show up at all."  He can't show up physically and yet he is there for me spiritually - in my mind and my heart.  In reality?  That's the secret no one knows.  I always have a chair for him.  Not an actual chair these days, but a place. 

When he first died, before I moved, couples we had eaten with would take me out to dinner.  Three people at a table for four.  Then the empty chair was huge and painful.   Now the empty chair is a mix of many emotions.  I am so lucky that I had that chair filled with so much joy for so long.  I have so many lessons and memories and love from the man who sat in that chair - who lay in our bed - who was by my side no matter where we were.  If I was in Timbuktu (and I did go to Timbuktu - it's in Mali on the west coast of Africa) and he stayed in California because he hated to travel we were still side by side.  Now that he is wherever people go when they die, I need to remember that we are still side by side.  Sometimes I can't...but sometimes I quite gloriously can.

I was worried when my daughter and grandbaby arrived I wouldn't have any room for them.  I was afraid my sadness would crowd them out.  (I'm sorry, so sorry if it is a child or a grandchild that has died in your life.)  It didn't.  Gwendy blue eyes pushes at that sadness with her little hands.  She smiles and it breaks the sadness apart. My daughter is a recovering crystal meth addict and is almost 6 years sober. I am so proud of her.  She is a great mom.  As a single parent it all falls on her but she is loving and fierce and puts Gwendy's needs ahead of her own. 

I find myself looking, this holiday weekend, through Gwendy's almost four month old eyes.  So much to learn.  Something simple like grabbing a toy and getting it into her mouth.  Something warm, like how she feels curled up on my lap.  Something amazing, like when I say "I love you." and she smiles.  Grandpa Artie can't hold her but I can.  I can make him a big part of her life with stories and pictures.  I can tell her how much he loves her from wherever he is.  All she wants and needs is to be fed and clean and loved and safe.  I love her being so little.  I get to protect her now.  All that love and yet sometimes she cries and cries.  Even when you're a tiny baby laughing and crying are both part of being human.

Life is meant to go on.  Our choice is whether we join in or not.  Sometimes it doesn't feel like a choice.  It is though.  I hope that whatever you are are doing this weekend - every weekend - every day - you have lots of moments where you are flowing in the stream of your life.  I hope, no matter how many empty chairs are at your table, you find them full of the sight and sound and smell and feel of the people who once sat in them.  Echoes of past conversations, jokes, wisdom mixed with present laughter and hope.  There's time for crying but there's time for other things as well.  We are a small family - three generations - myself - my daughter - my granddaughter. We are going to have a little picnic in Central Park.  I've always wanted to be part of a large family - but how lucky I am to have my small one.

I hope to be writing more often.  I always manage in the midst of everything to hope.  With love.  xo