Sunday, December 16, 2012

Grief: Good Mourning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 9, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Grief: Kindness

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Naomi Shihab Nye

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