Sunday, June 17, 2012

Grief: Father's Day Isn't Always Easy

I wrote a post talking about how difficult Mother's Day is for some people.  Now I have to do the same for Father's Day.  I'm bad at acceptance.  I'm sad that today people are sad and lonely because of the death or absence of their fathers, and children.  I'm angry too.  I can't help it.  The hurt in the world affects me.  I don't mind going through that.  It helps me have compassion and understanding.  It's the same as Mother's Day.  Too many people running around expecting that everyone else is celebrating.  Too many Happy Happys taken for granted.

I'm not saying you can't get there.  You can honor a father who has died, a child that has died by having a day full of the life and love they gave you - or if they gave you none - then full of forgiveness.  There is a technique I have described before. It is rolling your memories backwards.  I was taught to do it with circus music - but I like jazz.  It is used with soldiers who have PTSD.  When Artie first died whenever I thought of him I thought of dead Artie and I was sad and lonely.  Now I often try to think of him alive with his dazzling smile (I called him Dazzle) and make my remembering him live memories.  If I am fully in the memory of him before death I am laughing or comforted.  I still know he is dead - but for that moment the memory is pure and it radiates all the good feelings it radiated at the time.  I can't live there.  I have a life in the present.  I can visit, though.  A very simple example is that when boxing is on I used to feel sad that Artie wasn't here to watch it.  It was his favorite sport.  Now when I see that boxing is on I remember him being excited and hearing him shout at the TV screen.  I've practiced so it is automatic.  There are lots of other examples - but that is an easy one of changing the thought about a memory that is triggered to make it happy instead of sad.  There is much more than thoughts of dead Artie - there are lots of wonderful ones of live Artie. 

All the techniques there are - some people interpret that as being told you should push your feelings away.  Not in my opinion.  That's why I call this blog, "Stop Thief, Don't Steal My Grief."  My personal goal is not to stop grieving, even to heal.  For me genuine healing  is to feel my all my emotions, but not to be ruled by any one emotion.  Those questions I mention often, "What else am I feeling?  Who else am I?"  I also make myself show up where life is happening.  Yesterday I was feeling incredibly bad about someone dying but I forced myself out of bed to be with my daughter and granddaughter.  Sitting with my granddaughter in the park - creating new memories - teaching her about grass and trees - watching her eat mashed potatoes for the first time.  Simple things that didn't take away my sadness - but added a lot to my what else? who else?  Happy moments in a sad situation.  Happy moments that I made happen by being present for them.

Today, my daughter's best friend is still on life support in ICU.  He will probably die tomorrow.  The cancer has filled his lungs and his stomach and his family who wanted to keep hoping is going to have to make a tough decision tomorrow morning.  His father sits, today, in the ICU waiting room.  His father has to visit him wearing gloves and a gown because his son has a bacterial skin infection on top of everthing else.  The dying man's brother, a war hero, is also there.  He has, he said, seen a lot of death, but not like this.  He can't be with his own son today because he is waiting for for his brother to die. 

A good friend of mine had a young friend die from cancer on Wednesday.  He has a wife and two small children.  The thing is, the true thing, is that these are people I know but this story is repeated throughout the world, throughout history, throughout time. 

My daughter has bought her friend's father a cigar case for Father's Day.  She didn't get a card because what card says something about your son dying?  She didn't know what to say.  I suggested, "I wanted to acknowledge what a wonderful father you are."  I said she could say it was from his son - through her - but he might cry.  That wouldn't be a bad thing - but there are people that don't appreciate it when you say something that cuts through to their real feelings instead of the one's they are pretending to have.

What I ask for is a little sensitivity.  In schools, in marketing, in all situations.  We assume that Father's Day is full of joy for everyone.  I'm not even going to go into the grief of having your father abandon you or your child refuse to have anything to do with you.  That is just as important and just as painful.  For those of us who have not suffered this particular loss, let us be kind today to those who have.  I have a friend whose son died and I always ask if they mind my talking about my daughter and granddaughter. 

If you are the person whose beloved father is dead - or the father whose beloved child or children is dead this will always be an uneasy day for you.  That's normal.  It doesn't mean that the feeling of loss can't be lightened with the gratitude you feel if you have been lucky enough to have loving moments with another person.  You can have a day that is filled with mourning and celebration - if you are ready.  You can have a day that is just mourning.  Mourning spelled differently is morning.  Morning is the beginning of a new day with new possibilities.  What I strive for always while on my own rollercoaster - how to make my life a celebration of the lives of my beloved dead.  How to bask in the love and memories and gratitude for the time I had to spend with them.  How not to lose my way in the dark of loneliness.  How to believe - as I have come to - that they are with me in spirit and someday my own little earthbound self will know the secret too and Artie will laugh at me when I find out. 

Don't use words like never and always.  I had someone say their son never had a happy moment until he died.  He must have had one - one is a beginning.  People - even me - say I always or I never - it's not true.  We have to be searchers for the happy moments - we have to train ourselves to have them and then to notice and remember them.

There is definitely life after death - if you don't believe in it for those who have died - than please, doubly make sure you find ways to create it for yourself.  Wishing you strength and courage and moments of something called joy.  xo

Friday, June 15, 2012

Grief: Sitting At A Death Bed

Sometimes I feel like I'm sitting at my own death bed.  Then I remember, it's my husband who died, not me.  I have to get up and do things.  It's been difficult this week which is why I haven't written in too long.  I don't like to go more than a week without writing.  Some people ask if I will stop writing completely.  Some people do.  I think this blog is part of my life.  I will always be sad that Artie died, I will always miss him.  I will always have something to say about that.  Also, unfortunately, so many people have new and old grief they need to learn how to handle so they can live their real, full life.  I want you to find whatever solace my words can give you as I stumble through this difficult territory.  With so many people dead over the course of history, you would think there was a better path mapped out for grief.  There doesn't seem to be.

The reason I haven't written and that I'm not going to proofread this - so forgive any errors - is that my daughter's best friend is dying.  He is ICU and I spent the first three days of the week in hospital with her to take care of my grandbaby so she could sit with him and to support her and his family and friends.  I don't know if I am supportive - they are still clinging to hope and I know there is none. Before he was sedated and hooked up to machines he asked to say goodbye to me.  He knew he could and I wouldn't freak out.  It has made me feel exhausted. Emotionally and physically. I didn't know how much. 

The only deathbed I have ever sat at is my husband's.  He was allowed to die at home and at the end was assisted by a hospice nurse so he didn't suffer.  It was the saddest thing I ever did - letting him go.  I told him that.  I said, "If you have found somewhere you need to be that is more beautiful and healing for you than here on earth I want you to go."  His last words to me were, "I love you."  and I turned away for a moment because I didn't want any tears in my voice when I said, "I love you too." It took my husband 2 or three hours - the death rattle lasted a long time - but I left the room for a moment - and it gave him the freedome to graduate life and go on to whereever his there is now.  For me, choosing to let him die naturally was what needed to happen because of how full of cancer his body was and how unable he was to fight it.

This death is different.  Erin's friend is much younger, and he is in a hospital attached to many machines.  Cancer is eating away his body but the machines are keeping him alive.  He is sedated and not conscious.  I find this very difficult to be around. I always say there is no wrong way to grieve.  Each family has to decide for their family member the best way for them to die. I know that. I respect that -  but it makes me feel trapped.  My daughter is angry at me because I told her that I felt her friend is ready to be released.  I have always hated hospitals. I spent three days in the ICU waiting room - and then yesterday I took the day off.  I want to support her and his family and friends - but I find myself falling apart.

Artie's death anniversary is July 17th.  This experience for some reason is bringing back the old terror.  I'm always frightened in the morning but I get up and start doing things and feel better.  Now...that terror is creeping in again.  The sense of paralysis.  I don't think I can give up my exercise, and the things I do to take care of myself to sit in a hospital waiting room all day.  If I don't stay in the ICU waiting room with Gwendy I'm not supporting my daughter.  I wouldn't mind if her friend was conscious - but my daughter feels that she needs to be with him anyway.  So one of those no win situations.

I guess the bottom line is that I hate death.  Not for the dead, but for the suffering of the living. 

I hope to write sooner next time.  I hope to have some cheery words.  I did get out yesterday and go on a walking history tour class.  It was good to get fresh air.  That's good.  That I still want to do things.  I'm going to exercise this morning.  That's good.  That I care about exercising and am sorry I cancelled two sessions.

I guess there is no easy way to watch a young person die.  There is no easy way to watch families choose what they choose.  There is no easy way to grieve.  However if I fall apart which I do quite nicely - I can put myself back together again.  That's my task today.  Repairing things.  Figuring out how.  Not giving up.  The kind of showing up we have to do every day when we are grief warriors.  I have had some support from some lovely people.  Life sucks.  Life is wonderful.  We can hold opposites.  With extra love and hugs and strength.  xo

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Grief: On Being Lonely and Not Wanting to Admit It

Now I am.  I'm telling all of you - strangers and friends - and strangers who are friends - I am lonely.  I am so lonesome I could cry and sometimes I do.  Why am I ashamed of that?  Is loneliness a sign of weakness to me?  I have a loving daughter and a delightful granddaughter.  I have friends.  I even, many days, have a life.  I have a lucky life.  I have a life I am grateful for.  My loneliness for my husband is like my friend's for her son and my daughter's for her dog and my other friend's for her grandmother and even a woman who wrote me she was lonely for the grandchildren she will never have.  My loneliness is a constant ache.  I try to laugh it away.  I try to be present in the moment and will it away.  I try to show up for people and events and act it away.  It doesn't go away.  I don't want to accept this.  I want to say, "I'm fine with being alone.  My husband is with me in spirit.  He was my true love and some day we will be together again."  I do say it.  It's a lie.  Sometimes it's a lie.  Sometimes it works a little.

My daughter's best friend is dying young from cancer.  The people I paid a lot of money to, to clean my apartment used chemicals that made me sick after they promised not to - and my apartment is filthy.  Big problems like the first, little problems like the second.  Darn.  I want a hug.  I want an Artie hug!   Not a spirit hug - a physical warm cuddly hug.  I want an Artie whisper in my ear.  I whisper in my grandbaby's ear "I love you Gwendy blue eyes."  No one whispers in my ear anymore.  It sound so pathetic when I write it.  Whine. Whine. Whine. 

Everyone tells me how well I'm doing.  They aren't wrong.  I told someone I look good on paper but I'm wobbly inside.  She liked that.  I am doing well.  Well for someone with a hole in her heart.  Well for someone for whom grief is a daily kind of thing.  Yes, it inspires me - but wouldn't I like to not have it at all.

There are a lot of people around me with new relationships, even engagements and marriages.  I don't hate people in love like I did when Artie first died.  I don't mind hearing about love or seeing people holding hands.  It's when I come home that the word LONELY screams at me.  No breathing in my house except my own.  No talking except me and the people on the TV screen.  My daughter was so sweet - she said whenever I feel lonely I could come stay with her.  When I write that I am grateful because I think of those of you who are lonely for your children and want to hear that - the way I want to hear Artie. 

I know the kind of man I'd like to be with but I'm not going to find him with our wedding rings on.  I even feel as if Artie would understand.  Part of me wants to be strong and faithful - even to a dead man.  Another part wants a new love.  Is there one?  I know many widows and widowers remarry.  It's not wrong.  It's wonderful. 

I want to be special to someone - I want to share - I want to fight, even. I want to date?  Do I want to risk?  Do I want to compromise, maybe be lied to, maybe be hurt?   This is too honest....sometimes I get tired of pictures and love letters and ashes.  I am so grateful for them.  I am so grateful for the journey Artie and I take together.  Can it, should it, fit another person in? 

Do they sell guys on E-bay?  Buy Him Now.  Is there a used man lot - like a used car lot?  I'd need a used one - I'm too old for a new one.  Now I'm getting silly.  I tried on line dating - maybe not hard enough. I'm too ambivalent.

So.  There.  I've told you my secret that you probably already know.  I'm lonely.  I'm grateful for my daughter, for my grandbaby, for my friends.  If you have a partner - be grateful for them.  You never know when that day comes when there are no more alive chances to be with them.

Oddly, though, it does help that we are lonely together.  It helps me to know my feelings are normal - that I'm not the only person who feels this way.  Today is my day for whining - so you be happy today - and tomorrow I'll be happy and you can whine then if you want.  Wish it was easy.  Wish it was fair.  It ain't.  So.  I'm lonely.  What else am I?  Lots of things.  Maybe I'll go do something and forget for a minute that I'm............              xo

Friday, June 1, 2012

Grief: Seeing Progress not Perfection

That was one of my husband's lines from his experience as a recovering alcoholic.  Progress not perfection.  I've said I would look back at my first blog posts but that frightens me.  It's the same fear that is making me procrastinate about writing my book/journal on grief.  I don't want to open up to the pain I felt the first months after Artie died.  I'm not someone who believes it "getting over it" or "moving on" or "letting go" but at the same time I have to acknowledge that I have worked hard to change.  Honestly, and truly without avoiding things too much.  For those of you who have had someone die in the last six months, that first wave of grief is the strongest.  Someone at my beginning told me that grief doesn't go away but it gentles down a bit.  Part of me wants to fight that.  I want to claim that I am as broken now as I was almost three years ago.  It's not cheating on Artie to say that's not true.  I don't have to feel guilty.  I know he would hate it if I didn't miss him at all; but he wouldn't want me to be in constant pain either.

When Artie first died I was busy.  I was lonely and sad but I planned a fabulous Celebration of His Life.  I moved permanently from our house in California to NYC.  I couldn't stand being in the house without him, it was too lonely.  I insisted on doing everything by myself - the constant whirl of busyness helped.  I still cried.  I was a little in shock.  Then I came to NYC and I literally cried and screamed.  I would reach my arm up to the sky when I was lying in bed and beg him to grab my hand and take me with him.  I honestly believed he didn't wouldn't leave me here alone.  When I realized this was going to happen I thought about suicide. Seriously.  I researched it on the internet.  It's odd and sad how some people like Heath Ledger can take a small mixture of pills and die and other people can take massive doses of drugs and wake up four days later and still be alive.  I had the delusion most suicidal people have, that my friends and family should let me go.  I thought of suicide as a destination.  I twisted things around to believe that if I loved Artie I should take the risk to try and be with him.

I wasn't interested in anything or anyone.  I still loved my daughter.  I loved my friends and didn't want to hurt them.  I didn't even want to hurt the strangers that would come in contact with my body if I killed myself.  But there is a difference in loving people and being interested.  I talked a lot about it.  I asked my daughter once how many times I mentioned Artie in one day - she said she had no idea - she would need a clicker! I started writing the blog to throw my feelings into cyberspace.  I thought if I could help one person that it would be worth it.

I started putting my body places where life was.  I went to theater.  The first plays I saw I slept through.  How could I enjoy something without Artie?  I went to a wonderful meet up group called Culture Circle where artists of all kinds come to share their work.  Someone might read a poem, someone might sing a song, someone brought the most delicious vegan food.  I went to a bereavement group and to therapy.  dI found everything sad and depressing so I took  a class in comedy sketch writing.  My Facebook page has the most ridiculous cartoons on it.  I looked for things to make me laugh.

I was lucky to have friends who held me up during these days and continue to do so.  I was lucky to find new friends through the blog and sites on Facebook.  However, luck is only part of it.  Part of it is being willing to be a searcher.  To force yourself out of the corner of pain you are hiding in and see if there is another way.  This journey has been to save my own life.  At moments it was literal - I didn't know if I could stay alive - now it is a metaphor.  How do I transform myself to be the me I was meant to be?

Because I put my body where life was happening I started to feel more alive.  My moments of happiness increased.  It took me three months to decide to stay alive - not to commit suicide.  I was doing it for other people.  Then I realized, if I was going to be stuck here one earth, maybe I should learn how to stay alive for me.

I got bored being a client so I got training in NLP and neo-Ericksonian hypnosis.  I learned about Provocative Therapy.  In the blog posts there are various techniques I learned that help.  The ones I personally use the most are to remember that I am one thought away from a different feeling - to be a sniper and shoot out the bad thoughts and replace them with good ones.  I choose what I think. When I saw tennis was on my first thought was sad, Artie can't watch it anymore - quickly - it changed to how much he enjoyed it.  If I'm walking through the part thinking about death and being alone I force myself to look outside me and notice the colors and movement.

I love rolling my memories backwards.  I can be with my husband in my imagination whenever I want to.   I believe his spirit is with me.  I also ask the questions, Isn't that interesting?  Isn't that curious? and what else?  whenever I am stuck.  I don't want to judge myself - I want to think about my nonproductive actions and their positive intentions for me - and then how I can change.  The what else?  is always what else I am feeling? What else could I do?   With what else? is also who else?  Yes...I am a widow, a grieving woman who misses her husband.  Who else am I?  The answers are many.  The more I ask the question the more answers I come up with.

I also use people to find answers.  When my beautiful grandbaby was born I asked another widow about having mixed feelings - the way love and loss were tangled up in my mind.  She told me her experience with her granddaughter.  Aha.  I am normal.  That's one of the most important things - and why I continue to write this blog.  There aren't stages of grief there are bumps and twists and unexpected earthquakes and hurricanes.  What we feel and do is NORMAL for grieving people.  Yes, you can follow the model of pasting on a fake smile and pretending that you aren't sad.   I don't like that model.  I like the tedious and fulfilling work of transforming myself and my grief so that I become authentically a happier person.

Another thing was to do at least one thing a day I felt proud of.  Even if it was washing one dish.  Showing up.  Being willing to turn corners.  All the while taking time to spend with Artie - saying I love you, I miss you, I'm sad.

Today, I write the blog.  I support people who support me.  I'm getting fit.  I'm traveling more, reading more.  I laugh more.  I'm going to a wonderful person, Doug O'Brien, to help me not look at my past.  He is so good at deflecting whining about my past.  He even killed my inner child.  It's too late to have a happy childhood.  It's not too late to be a happy fulfilled 61 year old.  What are my intentions for my own life and how do I fulfill them?  Awkwardly sometimes - but still searching, still trying.  How do I reprogram my brain to make me more alive.  My sadness, loneliness, and pain haven't gone away but they have gentled down.  I still hide and escape and get stuck - but not as often.  I have work to do on earth - it's not my time to die - so I should make the best of it.  Keep searching to find ways to free me from myself so I can be fully alive.  My past informs my present and I learn from and love Artie every day.  That's different than being stuck there.  I refuse to live in any box someone wants to define with me.  I'm just me.

Thank you to those of you that are fellow searchers.  Together we hold each other up, catch each other when we fall, and cheer each other on.  The rest of our life may be like a marathon.  The NYC marathon come by my window.  Those people in wheelchairs speeding by. The pack in the front.  The stragglers who can barely walk as it turns dark but are determined to finish.  Some of it has to do with preparation, some with determination, a lot with attitude.  How to get an attitude of joy and confidence. We are in this race together and we are all the winners.  Even when we have to stop because it is an effort just to breath.  The finish line is the mystery - where I hope Artie and I will be back together in the same form and we will be laughing because it will seem easy then.

If I had died I would have missed so many things; so many happy times.  I would have left so much work unfinished.  I still want to be with Artie but I know waiting is okay too.  I'm so glad I stayed around to met my grandbaby, Gwendy blue eyes.  I'm so glad i stayed around to meet you.  xo