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