Monday, May 28, 2012

Grief: Memorial Day: Today and Every Day

A day for remembering.  Remembering those who gave their lives for us.  Remembering those who dearly miss those who gave their lives for us.  Yes.  For us.  Freedom has a cost and there are people who have been willing to pay it.  At the Columbia University graduation I went to for my daughter's friend who is dying from cancer a retired general gave a speech.  I was surprised to hear a general talk about the thousands of people grieving.  A general talking about the thousands of people living with terrible phsycial and emotional wounds and the people who love and care for them.  Even if you are a pacificist you can honor and remember those people. 

For some of us every day is memorial day.  Every day is a day to spend time rembering our dead.  Someone commented on an old post that I have not accepted what life has given me.  It said something about sunshine beams coming down from the sky.  I have accepted what life has given me.  There are sunshine beams coming down from the sky.  There are also thunderstorms and hurricanes.  I prefer living in the real world.  The real world is a palette of mixed emotions.  I've never like the idea of pasting on a fake smile and pretending. I also am a fighter.  I don't want to accept what life gives me.  I want to be sad when I'm sad and angry when I'm angry.  That allows me to be happy and full of joy when I'm happy and full of joy. 

It's why I keep writing the blog.  Some people start and then stop after a year or two.  The people I know don't stop missing their loved ones because time passes.  They live and love and do many good things.  They also remember what loss feels like.  They miss a smile, a touch, a private joke.  Not accepting life in all its colors would limit me.  I don't think that not being all cheerful and positive and "living my bliss" is a bad thing.  I think it makes me honestly human.  It also gives others the freedom not to hide from me.  They can feel safe sharing their sadness as well as their joy with me.  Someone once said that friendship means something different to me than to a lot of people.  I don't know if that's true or not...but to me friendship means being there for each other and accepting people where they are.  I only judge cruelty and I can get awfully impatient with an unwillingness to take the time to  understand.

Someone wanted me to be peaceful.  I don't want to be peaceful.  There is too much unhappiness in the world.  I don't want to take it for granted.  I want to be motivated to look at what is unpleasant and when I can, do small things to help.  If I can't help I want at least to acknowledge that there are people who suffer.  Not because they choose to.  Some people do choose suffering.  However, others suffer because no matter how hard they try life is difficult for them. 

I'm working hard to change.  I'm working hard to be someone Artie would be proud of.  The funny thing about that is that I already am.  He always loves me just the way I am.  I measure my success in my relationships with others. Not everyone likes me - but those that do are very special people - and they like me as I am - because they know who I am.  I'm not hiding.

I like keeping Artie alive through telling his story, telling our story.  I like being in the past and the present at the same time.  I like that I keep searching and trying.  I am having someone deep clean my apartment while I am visiting my daughter and granddaughter so I only have 2 pictures of Artie out.  That's okay.  Remembering is okay.  Living is okay.  Confusion is okay. 

I guess that's what I have to offer.  Complexity.  If you want to be told a way to be happy all the time I'm not the person to come to.  If you want to be told that life is sometimes easy, sometimes difficult but there are ways to have more and more happy, alive moments strung together - that's the path I'm on.  Without my living husband.  With my dead husband.  Remembering and honoring him and all the living and the dead today and every day.  Being grateful for my story and all of your stories.  Being grateful for those of you who can have a good cry so that you can have a good laugh. 

For all of those who have been killed or wounded - to all of those who love them - this is a weekend to say thank you.  Freedom comes at a price.  I thank those throughout history who have paid that price...I will let others decide who was just and who was unjust. For all the horrors in the world - there are also many blessings.  That's what I wish for people - that their genuine blessings far outnumber their horrors.  That is different than cheapening blessings by making everything become one. 

Memorial Day.  We all deserve a memorial.  The best memorial is in the heart of someone who knew us, loves us, and doesn't think moving on means forgetting.  xo

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Grief: Transforming Fear Into Accidental Good Stuff

I couldn't think of the best title for this.  Every morning when I wake up I'm fearful.  In the old days they called it free floating anxiety.  I don't know what they call it now.  I know why I feel fearful.  It's partly because my first unconscious thought when I open my eyes is, "Another day without Artie being alive."  You would think after almost three years that wouldn't be so surprising.  Consciously, it's not.  Unconsciously it's still a driving sense of loss, fear, confusion and sorrow.  It shows up a lot in my dreams.  I have dreams where I search endlessly for my husband and I can't find him.  Other dreams are versions of re-experiencing him being dead.  That's another reason why I wake up the way I do.

I have nothing to be afraid of.  I'm safe.  I know I'm safe.  I know Artie is with me in spirit.  I still feel fearful without him.  One of the reasons I am procrastinating with my writing is that fear.  I can feel it in my chest even now.  What will the words on the page say?  How can I write without him being my first reader? How will I feel love and life without all that sadness creeping in?  I want to say unbearable sadness - but it isn't.  I am bearing it.  If you are reading this you are bearing your sadness as well.  I am always searching for ways to bear it with a little more determination, a little more grace, a little more accomplishment. 

I tried what someone recommended, giving up media for a day.  I didn't.  They are my people; those TV characters.  I know they aren't real but they fill the emptiness when I am alone.  They come and go at the touch of button to distract me from my life.  Silly that.  I should be engaging deeply in my life.  That's my goal.  Even when Artie was alive I had a bad habit of saying, "It's too hard.  I can't do it."  I don't know how to separate myself from the pain of others.  I feel it and use my sensitivity to try to comfort.  When Artie was alive and I felt that way he would hold me.  I would grab on to his shirt like a little girl and cling to him.  Once when I thanked him for holding me, he said, "I need it as much as you do."  When I wrote that line there was a huge burst of thunder - I call them thundercracks.  Coincidence - or a shout from the sky? 

The only thing I still know to do is to force myself to show up.  That's why I call it accidental good stuff.  A lot of times I'm not planning to be happy.  However, I've put myself places where happiness happens and I am having a good time.  I am laughing.  A lot of times I'm not planning to accomplish anything.  But, if I'm sitting at the computer I might write something.  Yesterday there was an e-mail from someone about a place to send 1500 word stories.  I took two old stories, modified them and submitted them.  It's been a long time since I did that.  Submitted my work.  I did it "accidentally" because I was sitting in the right place to do it.  I show up at exercise.  I am "getting fit" someone said.  When I'm on the rowing machine if I picture Artie beckoning to me I can row faster and and stronger. 

What I said in the first sentence of the last paragraph isn't true.  There are lots of techniques I can use to feel better.   I have to use them, though.  Sometimes I do.  Some have become automatic.  If I see a store where I used to buy Artie something I don't feel sad anymore.  I feel happy that I found things for him that made him smile.  That change happened because I consciously changed my thought every time and now it comes automatically.  I wish I would practice those techniques more. 

I would like the fear to go away.  I don't know if it ever will.  I miss so many things.  So much happens that I want to share with a physical being.  There's that thing again.  If I want that - I have to take the wedding rings off.  I have to be open to meeting someone.  Not ready to show up for that.  Maybe someone will magically appear.  The thing with all this transformation - all this making Artie's death an inspiration instead of something that keeps me paralyzed - is that it takes effort.  I read and hear people say the same things over and over again.  I watch them absolutely refuse to change.  You have to choose change.  You have to make an effort.  On the days when I make that effort the fear goes away.  Oddly enough, when my body hurts a lot and I want to cancel exercise but I go anyway - I feel better afterwards.  Movement takes emotional and physical pain away.

The first step is the hardest one.  It might even be what I say to myself.  I was walking through Central Park on last Sunday, a beautiful sunny day.  I walked past the bench that has our plaque on it and wiped it clean.  I was thinking of death.  I was thinking of being lonely.  I was choosing that.  It's not a bad thing - but it's not going to make me cheerful!   Yesterday when I was walking home I kept my attention on things outside of me.  There was a woman wearing a black and white dress with bright red shoes.  I saw a lot of things.  Maybe when I wake up in the morning I should say, "Hello fear. (there's a second thunder crack! - is fear answering me?) Welcome.  I'll spend five minutes with you today and then do other things."  What else can I do?  What can I do today to make me feel good about my day? For the whole day?  Not quite up to that yet.  Although some days I do quite a lot.

Take the actions that will bring you accidental happiness, accidental confidence.  It's purposeful in some ways.  In other ways it's okay to let it surprise you.  You're not cheating on your beloved dead.  They  - I believe - love it when we find a way to remember and honor them with smiles and accomplishments. 

I'm putting some of my things away because I've never had this apartment professionally cleaned.  I'm going to when I'm with my daughter.  Cleaning my apartment, cleaning my mind, cleaning my body.  One thing is for sure.  I'll always have Artie's clean, shining face before my eyes and in my heart.  Keep strong, grief warriors.  It's a worthy battle you are fighting - and one that you win with every breath you take.  xo

Friday, May 18, 2012

Grief: You Did Amazing Things Today, You Really Did

I was talking to someone last night.  They told me they took a notebook one day and made a mark every time they made a judgement about someone or something.  The page was black by the end of the day.  I have this conversation all the time, and most of the time I'm not even listening.  Why do we give so much weight to the things we don't do instead of things we accomplish?  Why do we give so much weight to the things that go wrong instead of the things that go right?

If you're reading this you are still breathing.  That's one.  Staying alive through grief is amazing.  If you're reading this you are searching for something.  That's two.  Searching instead of staying still is amazing.  I know there are a lot more.  The problem is we look at the big things.  Damn, I haven't written my book yet.  That's true.  Millions of people have written books and I haven't.  I'm writing the blog.  Why don't I notice that?  We all have things we'd like to be accomplishing.  It's good to set goals.  It's good to notice how to change so that you can accomplish them.  However, while you're doing that, don't  forget to look at all you do every day.  When I was in the darkest place, wanting to die to be with Artie, I tried to do one thing a day that I could be proud of.  Even if it was only a five minute something.

Now I'm trying to accomplish more.  I agreed to do a "media fast".  The person that asked me had a week in mind - but understood when I said I'd start with one day.  I always talk about how many DVDs I watch.  On Sunday, when I have nothing planned I'm not going to watch any DVDs or go online except if I want to write.  I'm also not allowed to deal with any discomfort by drowning myself delightfully in sugar.  I'm curious what I'll do.

If you ask my friends who I am they will describe a different person than I will.  They will tell you about my good qualities.  I'll tell you about how I've failed.  Same person.  Different perspective.  A lot of people I love who are very successful do the same thing.  They don't see their own successes - but they see mine.  I can't accomplish more if I don't feel good about myself and about life.  I can't feel good about myself and about life if I feed myself bitterness all the time.  I have to learn to look at myself differently.  Through the eyes of friends, of a pet, of Artie but really through my own eyes.  My mother was very critical of everything I did or tried to do.  She's dead.  Her voice is my voice.  I need voice lessons to train myself to be as nice to me as I am to others (most of the time!).  Why should I have patience and compassion for someone else but not for me?

I wear my wedding ring and Artie's because I love him.  I also wear them because to me they say, "I am loveable.  Someone loved me enough to marry me."  If I take them off do I stop being loveable?  No.  It just feels that way to me.  We attach so many meanings and feelings to our stories.  Someone told me today about taking your story and picturing it being on the outside of you instead of the inside of you.  Then you peel away all the layers of information and feeling until it is just energy.  Fill it up with a new layer of things - leaving out the ones that cause you pain.  Then put it back inside.  We talked about babies.  They cry and cry.  Then they smile and smile.  Without language they are totally present.  They aren't going back and thinking about what made them cry over and over again.  They aren't adding layers and layers of sadness and criticism and pain.  They are curious about what is going on right NOW.  How do we do that as adults? You can pay attention to what is happening now in the world, not what is happening in your head.  It's not easy - for me anyway.  But it's getting easier. 

I didn't work on my book today.  I did go to exercise and rowed a mile on the rowing machine among other things.  I went to a hypnotherapy session and hopefully made some changes.  I'm writing the blog.  I answered e-mails.  I talked to my daughter.  I walked.  Remember that question I keep asking?  And...what else?  Typically I would ignore all those things.  If I think of them as amazing - well, then it seems I've had a good day after all.  I've been accidentally happy more than once.  Many times.  Shifting the way you think shifts the way you feel.  It's okay to start really small.  Something really big is made of little things.  The whole universe is made of tiny particles we can't even see.  That's pretty amazing.

What did you do today that is amazing?  Pat yourself on the back.  Give yourself a high five. Imagine those who have died giving you a big hug. Now, what amazing things will you do tomorrow?  xo

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Grief: Mother's Day Isn't Always Easy

I was taking care of my grandbaby Gwendy.  She was smiling and happy.  We played and talked and then suddenly she was inconsolable.  She cried and cried and cried.  There was nothing I could do to comfort her or distract her.  All she wanted was her mother.  My daughter Erin came back.  Gwendy clung to her with her tiny hands and buried her face in her Mommy's neck.  She was all smiles again.  I asked Erin for a dirty t-shirt to try next time because it will smell like her. It probably won't work.  When you want your Mommy, you want your Mommy.

All of a sudden it occurred to me - isn't that just like grief?  One moment we're out having a good time, or in reading a book and quite content.  The next minute we are crying or falling apart.  The difference is - the person we want is dead so they can't come and cuddle us.  We have to find ways of comforting ourselves. 

Mother's Day for many people is like my Valentine's Day.  It is a big holiday celebrated by many people who assume that you want to celebrate too.  It is everywhere.  Yet, for someone whose mother has died, whose child has died, who even cannot have children - it may take some navigating to make it a happy day.  It may even be impossible.  I am writing this to honor those people. 

Some people are good at acceptance.  I'm not but I'm working on it.  It's a learning process to be able to show up at a celebration without the person you most want to be there and be present.  To make the person present by not being afraid to talk about them; to tell their story.  It's different.  There was a technique I mentioned in one of my other blog posts that I saw on an old DVD of Milton Erickson - the famous hypnotherapist - working with a client.  When you feel the pain of loss close your eyes - then open them and really concentrate - really pay attention to the happiness around you and see if you can let it enter your body, mind, and soul through your eyes and also through the eyes of the person who has died.  Notice little things, a color, a sound, the earrings someone is wearing.  Paying attention to every detail will help you to be present in the moment.  Think how pleased - if you believe our loved ones are with us - and I increasingly do - they will be to see us enjoying ourselves.  They know that it is difficult for us without them being here on earth - but I believe they also cheer us on and delight in the moments where we succeed in feeling alive.  I realized that with this technique it is important to reverse it before you go to sleep.  When you close your eyes before you go to sleep remember that in your dreams you can be anywhere with anyone.

I have promised this Mother's Day to be aware at all times how lucky I am to have my daughter and grandbaby alive.  Even if Gwendy is screaming as loud as she can.  That screaming proves how strong her lungs are.  After the screaming, the smiling comes.  After the crying, the laughter comes.  For us too.  For me, trying to be an adult - not always succeeding! - I have more control over what I feel than a four month old.  I can take my sad thoughts and think about something else.  I can think of all the good times Artie and I had.  I can roll my memories backwards to the time when he was alive.  I can believe that he is always here with me, holding me gently in whatever way is possible.

This is a journey we take together.  Is having a child die or a mother worse than having anyone else die?  I know a man, a dear friend, who told me (with love) that I could always find another husband but he wouldn't ever have another child or have grandchildren.  He's right.  I could some day have another husband - but I'll never have another Artie.  When Artie was alive if I said, "I wish somebody loved me." he would arch his eyebrow and say, "Somebody?"  I didn't - don't - want somebody to love me - I want Artie.  And he did love me and he still does.  I hope that you can feel the love of those who have died and that if your Mother's Day is like my Valentine's Day that you will find ways of making it a day full of happy moments.  Also be careful the day after.  Sometimes on a "date" like my anniversary or the day Artie died I protect the day so much that it is the next day that I'm knocked off my feet. 

Nothing wrong with crying.  Nothing wrong with sadness.  Nothing wrong with grief.  I haven't changed my mind about that at all.  I've just learned that I don't have to move forward, let go, or say goodbye to find ways to change my ideas about Artie's death so that I give less emphasis to the loss and more emphasis to how lucky I was to have him with me for the time I did. 

Whatever kind of Mother's Day you are going to have - I wish you courage, strength, companionship, and if possible - some hearty laughter.  I'll be thinking of you.  I'll also be thinking of my daughter's friend who is the first person in his family to get a college degree.  He is graduating on Mother's Day.  He also has terminal cancer.  That's why we have to try to train ourselves to appreciate all the moments.  I, who seriously thought of killing myself, now realize that I have a responsibility to Artie and to myself to live while I am alive.  I am still learning.  With extra love and hugs for those for whom tomorrow is a difficult day. xo

Grief: Making the Hole Whole

     I was writing metaphors in my hypnosis class and I noticed this strange pairing.  A hole is an empty space.  The word that sounds the same means full, entire, complete. When Artie died - or shapeshifted! - a big hole appeared in my heart and in my life.  Since that moment I have been trying to become whole again.  I rely on the help of others:  you, friends, loved ones, but also Artie. I rely on my search for different techniques that sent me reeling forward instead of back. There is loneliness.  There is sadness.  Yet, there are many wonderful memories and a sense of a love that continues. I show up more for life.  Sometimes it makes me very tired, emotionally and physically.  I am going to have another session with Doug, who has helped me so much, to try and fix that.  Today I was feeling very grouchy and after I spent some time with a friend I felt much better.  The message that I need to show up and get more into the present moment is one that keeps repeating itself.

      I think it is normal to have an empty space where the person you love who has died used to be.  Some people like to pretend it isn't there, or just cover it up. I won't settle for that.  I want it to be genuinely whole.

     I have a friend.  She reads this - so - hello!  Her beloved son, her only child died.  When my daughter was pregnant I asked her if it was okay to share things about it with her.  She said yes.  Now she is in a relationship with a man.  She wanted to know if it was okay to share her happiness with me.  I said yes.  I will write more about Mother's Day tomorrow.  However, we have made a deal for this weekend.  I am going to be spending time with my daughter and grandbaby.  I have promised her that when I think about Artie in a way that takes me away from the happiness of the present moment I will close my eyes for a moment to be with that feeling and then open them to take in the preciousness and beauty of what is happening right now in my life.  I will cherish the fact that I have a living daughter and a living granddaughter.  She has promised me that when she thinks of her son in a way that takes her away from the happiness of her present moment she will close her eyes for a moment to be with that feeling and then open them to take in the preciousness and beauty of her new relationship with a loving and caring man.  For many years she has not gone out near Mother's Day because it is too painful.  That she is going to go out this year is very brave and I am very proud of her.  We have, bottom line, promised each other to try to do what we can to stay in the present and if the past floods in to have it be in a joyous way and if it is not - to honor it for that eye blink - and then come back to the things we can be grateful for in our present. 

       That's the difficult thing; the odd thing.  I have no idea what it would be like to have an empty space where my daughter is.  Other people have no idea what it would be like to have an empty space where their spouse is - or friend - or sibling- or pet.  Yet, the grief is the same.   The job of making the hole whole.  Not just for us but for our loved ones so they can have the peace of knowing that we are here on earth smiling and living our lives.  Knowing that we are being grief warriors!  

      I know two widows who have gotten engaged.  I am a little jealous.  I would like to have someone take care of me.  I told someone it might be easier to meet someone if I took off the wedding rings (Artie's and mine) that I still wear.  She told me I say that every time I see her.  I had no idea.  The part of me that wants to be faithful to Artie, the part of me that feels loved when I look at them is at odds with the part of me that is alive and wants to share things in that special way you do with someone that is also alive.  I don't know where I am going with that.  Forward?  Nowhere? 

      It is a lesson for me, though.  Knowing people who have had the tragedy of having a beloved child die makes me not want to take my own daughter for granted.  I hope people who love each other when they read this sometimes say, "I better appreciate having a partner.  What if I was like Jan and my partner died."  Even though Artie was older than I am it never occurred to me that the day would really come when there would be no more hugs or kisses, no more earthly conversations.  There are so many things I would do differently if I could have him back. We can't be careless with those we love.

      Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, stop for a moment and look around you.  There is a lot that causes pain.  It's okay to notice that.  However, make the effort to pay attention to the wondrous things and people in the world.  Sometimes the effort to make my heart hole, my life hole whole hurts.  Yet, it is worth the effort.  Showing up.  Repeating it again and again - daring to be wholly alive, wholly alove.  What a gift to give to Artie, what a gift to give to myself.  I wish you the courage to do this.  It might only be for a minute at the start.  But, with practice, life can take over more and more.  There is always time to be sad - we must also make time to relearn how to let happiness flow through us. 

      To be honest, I can't, even as I write this, imagine feeling whole while Artie is dead and I am alive.  I can imagine that some day, if I have hope and if I take action, I will wake up one morning and find it has already happened whether I can imagine it or not.  Maybe it has already happened for you and you can lead the way.  xo

Monday, May 7, 2012

Grief: What is Dead Anyway?

I was wondering about the word dead.  It is so final.  What if we said people shapeshifted?  Some folks believe in life after death, some don't.  The thing is nobody knows for sure.  It's the great secret. Artie's body is gone - I know that.  However, I had another Artie "sighting".  Someone I had only known for two or three days told me that she saw Artie standing behind me and that he was all gold and yellow.  He said, "I'm here."  This isn't the first time it happened.  I was in a storytelling class and someone I had just met told me she sensed Artie with me.  Someone I was in a summer training with told me that she could see Artie all around me and I needed to look at myself through his eyes. When Artie first died the man at the UPS store we used to mail packages from asked if he could carry some boxes to my car.  He told me that Artie had appeared to him and told him he must give me the message that Artie loves me very much.  I laughed and said, "That must have been a heck of a dream."  He said, "It wasn't a dream.  It was an apparition."  What does UPS deliver to you?

What's interesting to me about these experiences is that they weren't with friends who were trying to comfort me.  They were with people who were almost strangers.  The response wasn't elicited by anything I was saying at that moment.  I'm not the only one who has had these kind of experiences.  I'm still skeptical but the idea that Artie is still around in some kind of mysterious spirit form - and that we will be reunited some day in whatever form gives me great comfort. 

It also confuses me a little.  I waited 10 years before we got married.  Do I wait to be together with him again?  Do I try to find someone else to share my life with?  Am I still sharing my life with him, just not in a physical way?  I have no idea.  I know that I talk to him, joke with him, and sometimes even get a little angry with him.  I say "Come back."  I say, "I know you can't but come back anyway."  I feel like he answers me.  I feel like he is around me energetically.   Is he?  If he isn't, why can other people see him?

How long is too long to grieve?  I feel that I will love him and miss him for the rest of my life.  That doesn't mean that I can't be fully alive.  I am doing more, showing up more.  Sometimes it makes me feel emotionally and physically exhausted.  I'm going back for another session with the man who has helped me in the past.  Maybe he can come up with a trance for me that will give me more energy.  I am eating in a more healthy way and exercising and still the exhaustion comes.  Sometimes loving a dead person - or animal - is exhausting.

My heart is creaking open for my granddaughter.  For those of you who have children die - I can't imagine it.  I can only imagine having my husband die.  Gwendy blue eyes is a little over 4 months old now and I am getting better at separating love from grief.  That fits any grief.  We need to find ways to not only be fully alive but to open our hearts and feel love for others without the grief flooding in and tainting it.  Someone was nice enough to ask if I minded her talking about someone she met that might turn into a relationship.  I don't mind people falling in love and being happy.  I was.  I am.  We need to be fully alive and fully alove!

Shapeshifting.  Have our dead gone forever or have they just changed from earthbound into spirit?  Where are they?  Are they here with us?  It sure feels like it.  It's just darn difficult loving someone who doesn't have a body anymore when we still do. 

Strange old world.  Find some time to be happy in it.  Find some time to make someone else smile.  Don't do what I do.  Don't question everything.  What would happen if I accepted that Artie was with me - all bright and shiny saying "I'm here." loud enough so someone else can hear him?  Love triumphs over death.  Every time.  xo