Sunday, December 29, 2013

Grief: How To Start A New Year

I don't make New Year's resolutions any more.  I see them as a recipe for failure. When my husband first died I bought a plaque that said, "Have An Adequate Day."  It made me laugh - but I also felt it was something I could live up to.  I don't like setting expectations for myself that I might not meet.  A lot of life coaches would disagree with me on this.  I find it works better to have a gratitude list and a forgiveness list.

The gratitude list contains the things I am grateful for that happened in 2013.  It forces me to look at the good things that happen to me instead of just employing my excellent skill set for self pity.  The forgiveness list contains things that I would like to accomplish but haven't yet.  They are kind of upside down resolutions.  I forgive myself for not achieving goals I might have with the hope that perhaps I will achieve them the next year.  But if I don't - they just go back on the forgiveness list.  There is no judgement list.  Living without my husband is hurtful in so many ways that I try not to hurt myself any more than I already am.  That means accepting myself where I am.  When I can't do that - I usually talk to someone who will tell me that they love me.  I have a friend I met on a grief site that has the uncanny ability to e-mail me and tell me how special I am and how much she loves me just when the dark place has grabbed hold of me and I am thinking that nobody loves me and I am worthless.  Her e-mail shatters the dark place and lets the light back in.

I am grateful for family and friends. I am grateful for all of you who are with me on this strange and unwanted journey.  I am grateful I seem to be gifted in some way to bring comfort to those who are suffering.  When I started writing the blog I said if it only helped one person it would be enough.  It has become much more than that.  I never thought  I would have a Facebook page with over 260,000 likes - that what I write would be able to reach millions of people all one the world.  It is still a little startling to me.  This year I saw a play where an actor told of a man whose wife of many years died.  He was sitting in a chair crying and people came to comfort him in his grief.  They did not know he was crying because he had no grief.  I am grateful that I learned this year from that story that my grief is a gift.  An uncomfortable one - but how much sadder it would have been to be married to someone I did not grieve for.  I am grateful always for the deep and abiding love that grief is paired with.  I also learned this year from a quote by Victor Frankl to be grateful that I outlived my husband.  What greater gift could I have given him than to take care of him all the days of his life and be the one who lives on.  (I hope he appreciates it!!)

I am grateful for many more things.  Good plays, good TV shows.  Newly fallen snow, the color of fall leaves.  A good joke, a bad pun.  A good political discussion.  I try to look every day outward to see what is outside me that I am grateful for instead of inward at my grief and my pain.  A new blanket that is soft and warm and makes it even more difficult to get out of bed!! Those questions.  What else? Who else?  I must keep asking it so my gratitude list grows every longer.

On my forgiveness list?  Still haven't written the book - still haven't given myself a healthy fit body.  All those moments staring at nothing.  All the frozen moments, the unappreciated wishing I was with my husband moments.  I would like to be healthier - I would feel better and have more energy.  i would like to write a book - maybe.  Would I like to have a new relationship? - that one is still firmly in the I don't know place.

I don't know what the new year will bring.  I know it won't bring my husband back to me.  I will have to keep finding ways to live with that.  I hope, though, that the balance will continue to shift so I continue to have more productive moments and more happy moments.  I hope that the pain will continue to gentle down and I will feel less vulnerable, less irritated by life.  I would like to look at the world more with my granddaughter's eyes.  She says "OOOO' and "Wow" a lot.  She laughs a lot.  But she is two.  I kiss her neck and she says, "Stop.  That's enough Gammy."  She is feisty and feeling very powerful.  She also knows that she is loved.  I can learn a lot from her.

I don't know what I'll do on New Year's Eve.  Maybe I'll read some old love letters.  Maybe I'll watch DVDs.  Maybe I'll listen to some hypnosis CDs.  Maybe I'll cry or laugh or all those things.  Then it will be January 1st.  Then 2nd.  Then 3rd.  Each day brings me closer to my husband - but it is up to me not to wish those days away but to live them

Perhaps that is what I would like for all of us this new year - to not wish our days and nights away - but to live them fully.  To hold on if we want - and let go if we want.  To let love raise us above the pain so that we see things ever in new ways.  Not a new year - but a new day - one at a time.  A day in which we delight in things past - but also in things present.  With love. xo

Grief: It's Been Lovely But I Have To Scream Now

That is one of my favorite bumper stickers.  I have had it on my car, on my bathroom mirror, and other places.  When Artie was alive I had a bumper sticker on our bedroom door that said "Do Not Disturb:  Occupant Is Disturbed Enough Already."

It's been lovely but I have to scream now is what the holidays have felt like to me.  I had some lovely times (again - apologies to those of you who have had children and/or grandchildren die) with my daughter Erin and granddaughter Gwendy.  My granddaughter is two already and our holiday was her birthday.  She had a small party with myself and my daughter on Dec. 20th and then her big birthday party on Dec. 21st.  My daughter had "Curious Creatures" come.  They bring animals to children's parties.  There was a chinchilla, a skunk , a hedgehog, a flying squirrel and many others.  There is a picture of me holding a python.  I love holding pythons - the first time I held one was in the Amazon rainforest.  They are very strong and it makes me feel powerful as long as there is a trainer near me!  Gwendy got a child's trampoline and loves to bounce on it while I play her toy drum.  We had a small holiday tree with her picture on the top.  My idea - because she is an angel (when she's not being VERY two).  After her birthday she walked around for a day saying - Everyone ate MY cake.  We explained that birthday party cakes were for sharing - but she kept saying - It was MY cake.  You ate MY cake.  :)  We bought her a big girl bed and it arrived the day I left so I could see her bounce on it too.  She even slept in it that night.  My daughter was also lovely.  Our relationship improves all the time.

I was having such a good time.  I was also having a stomach ache that wouldn't go away.  My daughter and my husband (she is not his child) both liked to have me to themselves so when my daughter began living on her own I spent Thanksgiving with her and Christmas with my husband.  I didn't have a stomach ache during Thanksgiving.  I asked on my Facebook page Grief Speaks Out if grief causes people to be sick.  A lot of people said yes - they talked about colds and headaches and stomach aches. I had never thought of that as a connection.

When I was in the car on the way to the train station Gwendy kept saying - "I don't wan to leave Gammy."  I held her hand.  I always feel so sad when I leave her.  At the same time I am always glad to be back in my own space.  My husband said I was a malcontent and I disagreed with him.  He was right.  He was such a wonderful buffer between me and things in life I find difficult.

I have the same feelings when I go out with friends and have a good time.  Afterwards sometimes I have great memories to take with me - but sometimes I just feel like screaming:  "My husband is still dead.  Don't you get it? Why doesn't anyone understand me?"  I think Gwendy and I get along so well because I am so good at being two!

I always talk about transforming grief into joy - about being inspired by Artie's love of life to love it myself.  They call them grief bursts or grief attacks and I know they are normal.  I am still surprised by them sometimes.  What do I do with times that I cherished with my husband now that he is no longer physically here?  How do I get the lovely part without the painful screaming part?  Haven't figured that out for all the times.  Sometimes I am present in the happy moments but I am also always glad to get back to my solitude.  Then when I am back in my solitude I feel lonely because it is not easy to adjust to having a dead husband (no matter how alive his spirit is) instead of live one.  See... a malcontent!

I have gone out on New Year's Eve since he died but I have chosen this year to spend it alone - with him - which is alone and not alone.  He never really liked New Year's Eve so we always spent it together at home.  One year I covered all the clocks and we watched Monty Python movies.  When I uncovered the clocks it was after 1 am.  We laughed and kissed and wished each other Happy New Year.  We often watched the ball come down in Times Square on the television.  Our last New Year's Eve together boxing or something he wanted to watch was on.  When he came down after it was over and asked me if I wanted to watch the ball come down I said no.  I was angry that he didn't want to spend the entire night with me.  Of course, I didn't know it was our last New Year's Eve together.  I didn't even know the cancer was probably already spreading throughout his body.  All the precious moments wasted...and all the precious moments shared.  I like to remember it all.  I like to remember it as it was.  It makes the love mean more to me that it wasn't always perfect - that we were often bad at expressing it.  I wish I could have a do over though.  I want to go back to all those moments that we threw away and make them something different.  A perfect imperfect relationship. Yet we kept our promise - Nobody leaves.  A love that was truly for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.  And even death won't part us now.

Maybe that's part of the screaming part.  There is so much I want that is impossible.  I want him to come back.  I want to relive moments and change history.  I want to live to an old age so my family and friends never have to grieve for me - and I want to be with my husband as soon as possible.

At least I have more moments of "It's been lovely" than I used to.  The screaming is quieter.  The grief has gentled down.

What is it about holidays and dates that make the celebrations often have an undercurrent of stronger pain? My husband is just as dead today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow.  It's how I feel about his death that changes.  I have my birthday/anniversary (Artie married me for my birthday present) and Valentine's Day coming up.  I try to ignore that.  It's not being in the present to think of February while it is still December.  But like some people are waiting for January 2nd - part of me is waiting for March.

I have a lot of fun things scheduled in January and February.  They are things I am looking forward to. I know they will be lovely...but then will I have to scream?   I usually don't actually scream - but I do sometimes cry or curse.  I am impatient with life and with people.  I went out yesterday and was annoyed it was a beautiful day.  I wasn't in the mood for a beautiful day.  How silly is that?

Of course - I am trying to eat healthy food again.  Not medicating myself with sugar.  That makes me a lot more temperamental.  How normal and how self destructive improperly medicating ourselves is.

I am wandering off into a ramble.  Maybe finally writing this blog post is lovely but I am getting to the I have to scream now.  I do feel badly that I am not posting as often.  I am more productive than I used to be...but nowhere near where I could be.

I wish us all moments of pure loveliness and joy that are not colored with our grief.  I have those too.  I found myself wandering home after seeing a play with a friend and wound up in front of the giant Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.  I didn't feel sorry for myself.  I thought about my granddaughter and how much she loved some of the adventures she had in New York City with Gammy and Mommy.  I smiled a real smile.

Here's to those real smiles - the ones that go all the way through.  Here's to noticing them when they happen and training ourselves to have more of them.  With love. xo

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Grief: I Wish I Didn't Know The Code

I couldn't sleep so at 3 o'clock in the morning I turned on one of my favorite British murder mysteries - Inspector George Gently.  George is played by the intense and lovely actor Martin Shaw.  It started with him (an older gentleman) getting a doctor's exam.  The doctor tells him he is very fit.  Then the doctor says, "When does it hurt most?  In the morning or the last thing at night?"  They cut away to a totally different setting:  his partner being called to the scene of a murder.  I'm thinking...if George is healthy why is the doctor asking him when it hurts?  Two seconds, it takes me.  Oh.  The doctor is asking him about his wife's death.  When does that hurt most.

They cut back to the doctor's office.  The doctor says, "How long has it been?"  George says, "4 years, 3 months and two weeks.  I don't miss her less, I miss her differently.  I think what gets at me is the never again."

I got the code.  What else hurts first thing in the morning and last thing at night?  Someone you love has died.  I open my eyes and I remember.  My husband is still dead.  I turn over to go to sleep and, by choice I guess, I'm alone.  I'm sleeping with ashes and a Yankee jacket.  Still.  That's when I usually say, "Come back.  I know you can't but please come back."  It's the silence at the end of the day.  It's the time when we would be holding each other and sharing all our stories of what happened to us.

It's a 4 and half years for me.  I know Martin Shaw is and actor and George Gently is a character but there is a writer writing this that knows grief.  A writer who knows 4 years isn't such a long time and yet it is forever.  A writer who knows that you don't miss someone less but you miss them differently - that never again is impossible to accept and yet we have to accept it every minute of every day.

December 11th was my husband's birthday.  I did the usual post on Facebook asking people to do something kind for themselves or for someone else in his memory - to keep his smile alive.  I heard from some of his friends I don't usually hear from.  I went out with my daughter and granddaughter and had a good time.  Then I had a bang up fight with my daughter about something to stupid to even mention.  It continued the next morning and she said i was "too easily wounded."

Damn straight.  I am too easily wounded.  I always have been.  When my husband was alive I would say "I can't do it, it's too hard." and he would hold me.  He was my buffer against the world.  He was my anchor.  He was my safe place.  I want to change all the "was" to "is" but I have been feeling too easily wounded for a long time now.  Part of me stopped breathing when he died.  I have to keep pounding my heart to keep it going.

I bore myself sometimes with the repetition.  I tell other people to accept themselves where they are.  I know that people deeply miss the ones they love 40, 50 years after they die.  Yet part of me now asks, "Still?"  I don't miss him less, I miss him differently.  There is a trajectory from the night he died until today.  I haven't stood still.  Yet some days it is just too much to bear.  Then I bear it.  But there's a certain tiredness that goes along with it.

There are still days of falling backwards with no one to catch me except myself.  I have so many friends and so many good things in my life.  Yet I am drawn back to the malcontented part.  My granddaughter is going to be 2 already.  She is so smart.  She makes me laugh and love.  We took her to a Rod Stewart concert at Madison Square Garden and she danced and jumped and danced.  I have work that satisfies me.  I have done a lot to make my husband proud.

But when does it hurt more - first thing in the morning or last thing at night?

Dates and holidays and memories and hope for reunion some day and being present in my present and creating meaning and round and round.

Grief and I walk hand in hand.  Sometimes I can dance with it, sometimes it still thwacks me upside the head and I lie down rather dazed.

I have a cold.  Colds are miserable.  Not serious but miserable.  Once I had a cold and I asked Artie to buy me some chicken soup.  He went to the store and came back and said he couldn't find any.  When I got better I bought about different kinds of chicken soup and didn't say a word - just piled the cans up on the kitchen counter.  I miss stuff like that.  All the little private jokes that no one else can really understand.  We had a code too.  I liked that code - the one where we understood each other the way no one else ever could.  Where being too easily wounded was okay because he could be my protector.

I wish you ways of creating new traditions and memories to carry you along through the holidays.  I wish us all the ability to remember the smiling part of us - the laughing part of us.  Now that we know the code...maybe we can be extra tender to ourselves so that even if the hurt doesn't go away we are able to be fully alive with it as a part of us - not the whole of us.  Don't make the hole the whole.  I guess I wish us silliness as well and the ability to look at the world through the eyes of a small child - with wonder.  

What I really wish is that I had a magic wand that could bring all our people back even for a day.  The planet would be very crowded that day but what a precious day that would be.  With love.  xo

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Grief: The Word Is Vulnerable

I like to write more during the holidays because I know they are difficult for so many people.  I have spent the last 10 days not quite getting around to doing that.  I have spend the last however much time not quite getting around to doing a lot of things.  That sounds worse than it is.  I have had many lovely times.  I have been with my daughter and granddaughter and many friends. I have been trying to think of how to describe how I feel.  The word I came up with today is vulnerable.

It is as if my physical immune system isn't bad...but my emotional immune system is almost non-existent.  I know it is a combination of the holidays and New Year's Eve and Artie's birthday on December 11th.  I know that I say grief has no timeline.  I know that people hurt for years.  I know I tell people to be gentle with themselves but somehow I am feeling enough.  It's enough.  It's time for Artie to come back.  Wait:  that's impossible.  It's time for me to stop caring so much.  Wait:  that seems to be impossible.  I've been writing and doing so much work around this why am I spending time still staring into space trying to motivate myself to do things?  Why does it still hurt so much?  Because it does.

People might say I need to join the living.  I have.  I do quite a lot.  In fact I am busy almost every day.  Sometimes. a lot of times. I have a good time.  But then I fold up again.  I hit the same wall and it doesn't matter how much protective gear I have on; when I hit the wall - the wall wins.

I look and sound strong.  I look and sound happy -most of the time.  I talk about being alive with grief.  I talk about tasting the sweetness of life.  I talk about wanting Artie to be proud of me.  I have a long list of accomplishments and happy moments.  But I feel weak and vulnerable.  I feel like I am still an easy target for the dark side of grief.

I went to see a play today.  It was an impossible ticket to get and my source got me a single ticket.  I sat there wanting to be happy I was there and I was in so much pain.  I couldn't share being there with Artie.  I couldn't call him up when it was over and talk about it.  I remembered seeing plays with Artie and holding hands and snuggling up.  I remembered seeing plays by myself and if they were good I would buy two copies of the script and take them back to California where we lived and we would read them out loud.  He would take all the male parts and I would take all the female parts.

This was a Beckett play.  A sad play.  There are two simple lines:  "It's a fine day for the races."  "But will it hold?"  It didn't hold - by the end it was pouring rain.  It's a metaphor for life - but for me - a metaphor for grief.  Nothing seems to hold.  It's always sunny with a thunderstorm or blizzard about to hit.  I have succeeded in becoming more productive and generally happier but it doesn't hold.  I have a lovely time and come home to what I haven't done in a long time - that simple crying out of wanting the impossible.

In the theater I used the technique of feeling the pain and then looking around at what was there to bring myself into the present.  It worked a little.  The clutching in my chest went away.  I counted the lights.  I noticed what people were wearing.  There was a woman with a red jacket sitting a row behind a man with a red baseball cap as if they had decided to match.  The women behind me were having a funny conversation.  But then I kept almost falling asleep during the play.  Why?  I think it was because it was an elderly couple together.  Miserable - it's Beckett - but together.  To see them laugh together - and cry together - was more than I could absorb.  I'm vulnerable.  I wanted that.  I don't like laughing and crying without Artie.

Other people understand me - to a point.  He understood me completely.  He adored me.  I was his raison d'ĂȘtre (reason for being) and he was mine.  But almost 5 years.  Enough already.  I want to die and be with him.  I want to live and be there for my granddaughter who if you say, "Where does Gammy live?"  She says, "New York."  I don't ever want that little girl to be said.  I don't want Gammy to be living in Heaven.  Gammy always comes back.  If I'm in Heaven or wherever you go... I can't come back. I don't want my daughter and friends to be sad.  I don't want to miss things here.

So I'm caught in this vulnerable place.  I've made a space for myself where it is impossible to be happy because I want two things that can't happen at the same time.

I want the pain to go away - but I don't want the pain to go away.  The pain is part of loving a man who died.  I could take the wedding rings off again but I don't want to.

So that's how I've been feeling.  Vulnerable and devastated while all the while I go about doing fun things and having a good time.  Erin and Gwendy are coming in tomorrow and we are going to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, and the Nutcracker Ballet, and Rod Stewart at Madison Square Garden because Gwendy has to go to at least one rock concert before she's two.  It's going to be a good week while they are here.

But I'm still going to be vulnerable.  I am going to see some married couple holding hands or kissing and I am going to forget the happy part of me.  I am going to wake up in the morning or turn over to go to sleep and wonder again what the reason is that I'm still here.  I know the reason...I am a mother and grandmother and a friend.  I write this blog and I do a Facebook page.  There are some other good works I have been doing lately.

Nothing is Artie.  I still haven't learned how not to be vulnerable to what some people call grief bursts.  You are walking along singing Tra la la and all of a sudden it's like you are shot in the heart - again - and you just have to pull out the bullet and go back to singing.

This is starting to sound like something Artie would laugh at.  He would tell me to get away from my self pity - get out of my head.  He would call me a malcontent.  The glass seems half empty and poisoned when actually the glass is overflowing with sweet nectar.

I wish for you this holiday season that you don't feel vulnerable.  I wish you to be inspired by all the love and laughter you have had and that still exists around you.  I wish you the ability to be present with all that is good in your lives.  I wish it for me.  Here it is - oops there it goes - here it is again.

Maybe that's just the way it is.  Appreciate the openness to the delight - and have the dark be a backdrop.  Don't stop trying.  Celebrate when you can and weep when you can't.

Tomorrow I am having lunch with two wonderful women and then we are seeing a play - Waiting for Godot.  It is a Beckett weekend.  Then I am meeting my daughter and granddaughter.  What better day could there be for a Sunday?  (the ones when Artie was still alive)  Leave out the parentheses and let me present for the joy that will be there for me tomorrow if I am willing to feel it.   With love. xo

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Grief: Holidays Again?

I feel like 2014 is coming before 2013 even happened.  How can it be another Thanksgiving coming around without my husband somehow miraculously returned to life to sit in his chair?  One year I was eating Thanksgiving dinner with just my husband and my daughter.  I said, "Let's we say what we are thankful for before we eat."  Going first, I gave a long and thoughtful list of things I was thankful.  They looked at each other and then at me and then said, unplanned, but together, "We're thankful for everything.  Let's eat."  What could I do but laugh?

What can I do but laugh at that memory?  I am thankful that most of memories are no longer tainted by the knowledge of my husband's death.  I can remember them with only the emotions I had when they happened.  I was once in Dallas, Texas, on a short trip, studying John F. Kennedy's assassination.  One of the things we did was eerie.  We rode the route that he took through Dallas.  He was smiling and waving; maybe even enjoying the enthusiasm of the crowds.  He didn't know that these were the last minutes of his life.  We did.  As we got ever closer to the place where he died the tension grew.  So it can be with our memories.  We don't remember them with the purity they had at the time.  We remember them with the tension and the pain that the person we shared them with has died.  So many memories in their true, original form are beautiful, and funny, and full of joy and comfort.  Remember them as they were.  Go back in time to those lovely moments and then bring the good feelings forward into the present.  I've practiced that a lot - and I am thankful that I can laugh at that memory.  Perhaps I will get a chance to tell that story this year during Thanksgiving dinner.

One person wrote me and said he was afraid that the sadness he was feeling would ruin the holidays for others, especially the children.  I hadn't thought of something so simple.  I suggested the technique that I have said before - that he look down for a minute and acknowledge the sadness and then look up and really put himself in the present moment...noticing all the colors, the smells, the sound of chatter.  This isn't simple - this takes practice.  The simple thing is that you can always excuse yourself from the table for the moment to use the bathroom.  Everyone has to use the bathroom.  If you need to - you can always go into the bathroom, have a good cry, splash water on your face and come out again.

It is difficult to believe the world goes on when the person we love so much has died.  How can that be?  How can this be the 5th Thanksgiving since my husband died?  I just counted on my fingers 3 times.  It is.  Impossible and yet true.  The world has gone on and so have I.  I have stumbled and wept.  I have cursed and hidden myself away.  I have also gotten up and laughed.  I have acknowledged blessings and made myself part of the world.  I learned this year to even be grateful for my grief.  The biggest gift I ever could give my husband is to grieve for him so he does have anguish of grieving for me.  I never would have imagined I would learn that this year.  Doesn't mean I still don't feel the burden of it...I do.  When people say I inspire them I am grateful - but also glad you all don't see me still in my pajamas at noon eating ice cream and watching bad TV.  I have those days too.  I still cry sometimes.  I miss my husband every day in so many ways.  However, if I am to be honest, my grief has gentled down.  I am more productive.  I do laugh more.  I have transformed my grief so that I more alive with it.  My husband alive in my heart and soul inspires me more often now that my husband dead in reality makes me want only death.

I have had some of the fifth year blues.  I have felt exhausted and disinterested.  I have gotten help.  I have - I think - accepted that this is how my life is.  Moments of loveliness where life is - dare I say it - good.  Moments where the idea of going through one more day again - one more holiday again - without my husband sitting in the chair next to me seems devastating.  Devastating.  When I went for my therapy tune-up I was asked how my husband's death makes me feel.  I said, "Devastated."  I surprised myself.  I thought I didn't feel that way anymore.  I do.  There is a part of me that will always stay devastated.  The question is - what will I build around the devastated part?  Like a house that is turned to sticks by a tornado - or burned to the ground - and another is built in its place.  Like the World Trade Center destroyed by terrorists - which has both a memorial and a shining new building rising toward the sky. I go with this part of my year.  Thanksgiving.  Chanukah.  My husband's birthday.  Christmas.  New Year's Eve.  My birthday and my wedding anniversary on the same day, Valentine's Day.   I must take them one at a time.  I will celebrate them and make a space for tears as well.

Thanksgiving is first.  I am thankful for each and every grief warrior.  I wish I had super powers and I could bring all our people back.  I wish we had met because of another reason than grief.  Yet, I am glad that we understand and support each other.  I am glad we can be honest with each other.  In 25 years if I am still alive I will probably be writing some of the same things.  A stranger asked me if I was trapped in the past.  I said, "Absolutely not."  I love my husband - his spirit is very much alive.  It is my love for him and his for me that I am most grateful.  This love enriches my present and my future.  What a silly thing it would be for me to forget about it or make it less important that it is.  It isn't my prison; it is my open door.  If I let it be, my grief is my angel wings that allows me to fly.

I am thankful for my little family - my daughter and granddaughter.  I am thankful for loving friends.  I am thankful for good books and good theater.  I am thankful for kind and funny strangers.  i am grateful for ice cream and elephants and indoor plumbing.  I am thankful for warm clothes and the way stars look at night.  This is a good what else question.  Ask yourself what you are thankful for and say or write it down.  When you run out of things - ask yourself again - What am I thankful for?  Think of more things.  If your answer is I am so angry or sad I'm not thankful for anything - say..."Yes, I am so angry...I am so sad...I feel like I am not thankful for anything.  But what else?  What small thing can I be thankful for."  I know you are thankful for the time you had with person you are grieving for.  That's one. You can find more.

In the United States Thanksgiving seems to have become very small this year.  Many countries do not celebrate it - or celebrate it on a different day.  What ever is happening each day....find something to celebrate.  Find something to be thankful for.  I hope for you that during this holiday season you are surprised by many moments in which you find yourself smiling instead of crying.

I just realized.  I have been longing for my husband to sit beside me again.  I have forgotten.  He always is.  Nobody leaves is what we used to say.  Death is final in so many ways.  However, if I do not feel him sitting beside me, perhaps that is my fault - not his.

I wish you extra love and give you many hugs during a time when seeing happy intact families can hurt.  I wish you the ability to feel your beloved dead's spirit all around you.  I am grateful for each and every one of you.  I think you are very special and very brave.  Take tender care of yourself.  xo

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Grief: The Fun Is Done...Find Some Fun

Content Warning:  Some of this post is about my daughter and my granddaughter so if you are sensitive to those kind of stories I wanted to let you know.  When my husband first died it was hard for me to listen to people talk about their husbands or wives.  Today someone told me her daughter was engaged and I was able to be happy for her.  Sometimes things change.  Sometimes they stay the same.  Sometimes you thought they changed and they didn't.  Sometimes you thought they stayed the same and they changed and you forgot to notice.

General confusion in that paragraph.  However; with all we share I could probably write blah blah blah, tea la la and you would understand.

My daughter is kind enough to have given my own room in her house in Marblehead, near Boston.  I spend about 10 days a month there because my granddaughter Gwendy blue eyes is not quite two and she changes so much.  I hate missing things.  Now she is talking and she is able to express how much she misses me.  She doesn't like it when I leave.  One thing I have been teaching her is that in order to do the next fun thing you have to say goodbye to the fun thing you are doing now.  So if we are at the aquarium we say goodbye penguins. goodbye fish and I tell her something else fun we are going to do.  That way she doesn't cry or throw a temper tantrum.

I had an idea.  Yesterday morning when I was leaving to go back to my apartment in New York City i took two little dolls.  A Grandma doll and a Gwendy doll.  They hugged and kissed.  Then I took the Grandma doll over to her train set - which is little - so the Grandma doll rode on top of the train car  to New York City and hung out for a while.  Then she came back on top of another train car and hugged and kissed the Gwendy doll.  When we went to the car to take me to the train station Gwendy wanted to take a purple bucket.  I put the Grandma and Gwendy dolls in the bucket, thereby inventing the saying, "We will always be together in the bucket."

On the way to the train station Gwendy looked at me and said, "The fun is done."  What a complicated concept for a little girl.  I said, "Yes, the fun is done."  I'm all about validating people's feelings even when they are tiny.  But then I said, "The fun is done but you will have fun with all your friends."  I named as many of her friends as I could think of. "  She named her friends after me; counting them on her fingers.  Then I said, "I will miss you but when I come back we will have fun again.  The fun won't be done any more."  When we got to the station I kissed and hugged her goodbye and this time she didn't cry or ask me not to leave.

What does any of this have to do with grief?  The fun is done.  With those we love - people and pets - we have a lot of wonderful old memories but no new ones so in some ways the fun is done.  The dark side of grief tells us the pain will be all we will ever feel.  The work in transforming the grief is to acknowledge the part of that which is true - but then to count on our fingers and in our hearts all the ways we can still have fun - or put in better terms - how we can still find happiness and meaning.  If you stay only with "the fun is done" you will not be alive with grief - you will be dead with grief.  The fun and happiness you had teaches you to appreciate the fun and happiness you can have.  My husband's love for life and the fun (and the bad times but always the love) teach me that I have the possibility in me for more fun.  I have to show up.  I have to be willing to be broken open instead of just broken.  When I do laugh and have a good time I have to notice it and let it in.  I know that I don't have to feel guilty - either way.  If I am living my life fully I am honoring my husband's memory and life in the best way.  If I am staying in bed staring at the wall - I am being perfectly human.  I know he understands and I must forgive myself.  Sometimes I do that and time it.  I set the alarm for ten minutes or a half hour.  Sometimes I don't need as much time as I think.  I had another dentist appointment this morning and I tried to go back to sleep for an hour or just suffer.  I couldn't.  I got up and started doing things.  I feel better now.

I wake up every morning and remember - my husband is dead.  I ask myself. "How will I live today without him?"  The answer to that is...there is no answer.  Just do it.  Just take the next action and if I can't, stop and rest.  Yesterday I got up early in the morning to post on my Facebook page.  Then I took care of my granddaughter because she and my daughter both have colds.  Then I took the train from Boston to New York City (four hours).  On the train I did work on the computer.  I had an hour at home and then I went out to a lecture with a friend.  When my husband first died that kind of day would have been impossible.  What I am dealing with now is feeling slightly overwhelmed with how much I am doing.  I am missing my down time.  Sometimes I feel a little crazy.  Sometimes I am a little crazy.  But I am doing it.  If I can do it - you can too.  I am a very ordinary person. We are all ordinary and extraordinary both.

Am I healed?  Nope.  I also turn over every night and feel how alone I am that he is not in bed next to me.  I have nightmares some nights where I search for him and I can't find him anywhere.  Morning and evening bookends of sadness - with flurries of sadness throughout the day.  However...there are so many more happy and productive moments every day.  I see occassional comments about how I am supposed to turn some switch - accept - pray - something - and then I will be happy all the time.  If that's you - I'm happy for you.  It's not me.  I'm still okay with not being okay.  I don't need or want to be fixed - I just want to keep looking for where the life is at the same time I miss my husband and wish we were together again in the same form.  I don't have trouble holding both.

The difference between grief and my story with my granddaughter is that she knows I am coming back for more fun.  My husband isn't coming back to me in my lifetime.  His beautiful face and body don't exist any more.  His voice is gone.  But, when I die I won't have mine either.  I hope that we will be reunited and we will have fun together again too.  What does it feel like not to have a body?  I don't know.  How will we hold each other if we don't have any arms?  I don't know.  Perhaps not having a body is more fun than having one.  He knows.  I will too some day - or I won't.  What matters is what I do with this moment and the next.

I know that I have to learn and relearn what I so glibly teach Gwendy blue eyes.  You have to move from moment to moment.  You can't stay in one moment forever.  That's not the way life works.  What I wish for you is that with whatever pain and sadness you have - and may have forever - that you are also finding fun - ways to help others - ways to tenderly take care of yourself.  I think the favorite sound our beloved dead hear is the sound of our laughter.  I don't believe, as some do, that they are hurt by our tears.  I think they simply try to wipe them away and hold us tenderly with great love.  But I do think they love the sound of our laughter.  I wish you laughter.  Why?  Because you will always be together in the bucket.  (If that doesn't make any sense go back to the last line in paragraph four. If it still doesn't make any sense...may it's not supposed to. Maybe it's nonsense.  Nonsense is often more fun than sense.)    With love.  xo

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Grief: Can It Possibly Be A Gift?

I hope this isn't confusing.  I wrote it on the train last night and am posting it with some comments added.  If it sounds like it is written in two different spaces and times - it is.  I left it that way because isn't that how our lives are as grief warriors? They take place in two different spaces and times.  I don't always sound disjointed but I always feel a little disjointed - as with my husband dead I still don't know exactly who and where I am.  I do - but I don't.  Maybe I should have called this post - welcome to my confusion! 

I am on an Amtrak train and the internet is not working. (It never started working so this is the first blog post I ever written on a stickie note.  Not a big deal for some but sometimes the littlest thing throws me back into a very dark place.)  I am going home to my empty apartment and feeling very sorry for myself.  (I did.  I got home and felt very sorry for myself.  I am better this morning - actually - afternoon.)  Fell right back into the dark place in spite of all my tools and techniques for being happy.  Aha.  Sometimes they just don't work.  Here is all the gratitude for all the wondrous things (oh - and the lights on the train keep going off as well and it is dark out so I can't read) in my life and all the lovely loving memories of my husband who loves me and would tell me to stop being so malcontented and still I am going poor me in my head.  I must be the only sad person in the world right now.  In my crazy head anyway.  My blog and my Facebook page are Grief Speaks Out and I want to say shut up grief you are making me exhausted.  You are taking my life and blah blah blah.

I went to a one man play last week.  Eamon Morrissey told the story of Maeve Brennan who was an Irish short story writer in New York City and Washington D.C. in the 1900's.  When the actor was young (he is 70 now) he ws reading an story in the New Yorker and all the descriptions seemed very familiar.  That was because his family lived in the house that Maeve Brennan had lived in when she was still in Ireland and she used it as the locale in many of her stories.  So now....doing a show about her late in his life it is as if his memory has come full circle.

As part of this story he tells another story about a story that Maeve wrote.  A man and a wife have been married for many many years.  They don't even sleep in the same bedroom any more.  One night she is having chest pains and he asks if he should call the doctor.  She says yes.  She dies anyway.  The next morning he is sitting in a chair crying.  His sister tries to comfort him, thinking the death of his life long partner has caused him great grief.  No; he is crying for his wife Rose because he has no grief at all.  He thinks that she deserved better.  After all those years together she should have her husband grieve for her - and he does not.  He is also crying for himself that he is as empty of grief as he was empty of love.  He deserved better than to spend his life with someone whose death causes him not a single tear.

As I walked home from the theater I felt something shift inside of me.  What if grief was in fact a gift?  What if all this pain and loneliness were the gift I was given because I was lucky to have such a great love in my life?  I want so much for Artie, my husband, to be here with me.  I don't think it's fair that he left me; even though he couldn't help leaving me - his body was too sick to stay.  And yet, better that I should suffer life wihtout him than he life without me.  Better I should suffer life without him than a life that never had him in it at all. 

When Artie was dying his hospital bed was in the living room.  I brought his favorite things from all over the house into the living room so everywhere his eyes looked there was something beuatiful or something to make him laugh. Jazz was always playing, and the front door was left unlocked from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m..  Many people came to visit to tell him how much they loved him.  We spent many  loving moments together.  I am proud that I was able to do that for him even though I was feeling so sad and scared inside.  I am glad I was with him when he took his last breath.  How can it be he exhaled and didn't inhale?  We used to say staying alive is easy - just keep breathing. Then he didn't. 

I know he wouldn't have been strong enough to take care of me that way.  I know it because I was once in the hospital for 10 days after surgery.  i was angry with Artie because even though he took great  and loving care of me when I got home; when I was in the hospital he spent almost no time with me.  I stopped being angry when he told me he was so afraid I was going to die he was at home by himself lying in bed crying. As much as I depended upon him - it seemed - for my very breath, as much as I leaned on him - I was still emotionally stronger than he was. 

I still have to be the strong one.  I am the one with the unwanted gift - but a gift just the same.  The gift of grief.  It is my grief that tells me how important we were - are - to each other.  It is my grief that tells me of the depth of our love; the special uniqueness of our relationship.  (Although I know from so many of you that you too have deep, special, unique loves.)  He was a real man that I love who loves me.  If grief is the price I have to pay for that than I am grateful for it.  I would not give up a second of my life with him; either the wonderful moments or the hurtful horrible ones.  If I gave up my grief I would be giving up my love.

I have to keep working on transforming that grief.  I have to keep working on making that grief be something that makes me feel inspired - not crushed like I do this very moment.  Even though I am having a not so good time right now - I had many lovely times last week and will have many more in the future (even though I have TWO dentist appointments next week.)

Maybe I can remember how light I felt walking home that evening after the play.  How lucky I felt that brief moment to be a grieving person.  

it was a memory circle for me too.  Many years ago I went to Ireland for the first time because a friend invited me to go to Sligo for the Yeats Festival.  I had never even heard of Sligo.  I made many friends, I fell in love (with the wrong person) - Artie was the right person.  I met my daughter's father (the right person to create my splendid daughter but also the wrong person for me).  I have many glorious memories of my youthful days in Sligo.  When I got to the theater there was a flyer about the Yeats Society that does the Yeats School.  They have a branch in New York City now.  It was a memory come full circle for me as well.  

I don't know how much my past is my future.  Some of it is.  Some times I feel a certain warmth in the past that I don't feel in the future.  Everyone around me right now seems to be partnering up.  I am happy for all of them and hope it all works out.  Any chance I want to be one of them?  One of those widows who date and then remarry?  That's still definitely in the I don't know column.  After reading posts on my Facebook page from women who are quite content not looking for a new love I wonder if struggling with this issue is causing some of my pain.  Perhaps it is best not to try to figure it out, but accept it and see what happens next. 

Is part of the gift of grief that it tells you if you were happy in the past you can be happy in the future?  Could be.  So many grieving people either feel guilty about feeling joy or say they can't feel any joy at all.  Sometimes when I am talking to someone who says they are sad all the time I hear them laugh.  I hear them talk about good times they had.  We have to do more than have joyous moments.  We have to notice them and hold them in our hearts and remember them.  It is not wrong that we are still alive when someone we love is not.  We are meant to be here even though sometimes we don't understand why.  

Joy is one of the things we are here for.  I know my husband wants me to cherish my life even though he knows how hard that sometimes is for me.  I keep my granddaughter's smiling face in front of me.  A child's eyes filled with wonder always go back and forth between sadness and happiness more quickly than and adult's.  A tear rolls down their face - they kick their feet and scream - and then suddenly they are laughing and running about with great glee.  I wish for all of us grief warrors that we are surprised by joy - if not tonight - maybe tomorrow or even yesterday.  xo 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Grief: Looking At Myself Objectively

Ha!   Did you laugh when you read the title?  It is difficult to look at ourselves objectively.  Some people say, "Follow your bliss." as if it were easy.  I say. "I do follow my bliss, it just runs more quickly than I do."  I admit I am suspicious of people who say they are happy all the time.  I know too many people who wear that as their public face and are very different in private.  Maybe there are some folks who can transform whatever pain they have into joy immediately.  If so, they are lucky folk.  I am not one of them.  It takes work and practice for me.

I had a mother that was always very critical.  If I got a 98 on a spelling test she wanted to know why I got a word wrong.  When I published a short story she said, "I'm proud of you, it's too bad you wasted so much of your life."   My mother has been dead for many years but the sense she gave me that I cannot do anything right lives on in my bones.  Let's take yesterday for an example.  It was a day that had no social obligations - nor does today - so I can take care of various things.  I am tempted to talk about how much time I wasted.  I slept too much.  I didn't accomplish everything I set out to do.

Why do I do that to myself?  I wouldn't treat my friends or family that harshly.  If I had done nothing that would have been okay too but I did several things.  Oddly enough, the most important thing I did was take a shower and wash my hair.  My husband used to have a post-it note that said, "Take a shower."  I teased him about it.  Now I understand that taking a shower means I am taking care of myself.  I'm not seeing anyone I know today.  I took a shower just for me.  Sometimes the dark side of grief appears in personal chaos.  Taking proper care of my body, taking proper care of my environment makes me feel better.  Unfortunately, so does eating ice cream and being lazy.  For me it's always about shifting the balance.  I'm never going to get it completely right, so I have to learn to be proud of the parts I do get done.

I finished reading a book.  My husband and I always read together.  Part of the fun of reading was sharing. I used to read 2 or 3 books a week.  I haven't read much since Artie died.  That I chose to read was a good thing.  That I actually finished reading the entire book was a very good thing.

I did other things, went out to deposit checks, did my Facebook page Grief Speaks Out.  I'm someone who has a difficult time sticking to any routine, any practice.  The fact that I have not missed a day posting on the page and responding to other people's posts is a totally new behavior for me.  Why do we look at what we haven't done instead of what we have?

The same is true for our emotions.  I hear all the time that the pain is unbearable.  This can't be true because we are bearing it.  We have strengths we don't acknowledge.  We say we cry all the time.  At the beginning I cried a lot but I don't think it is physically possible to cry all the time.  I keep saying I have the fifth year blues.  I do; but only some days, some moments.  There is a technique where you put an imaginary black cloud in the palm of your hand.  In that black cloud you imagine all that is making you sad, angry, lonely, everything that is part of your pain.  You picture the cloud clearly.  Then you blow it away.  You know why I am telling you this?  Someone I had taught this technique to reminded me of it.  I had totally forgotten I had ever learned it.  She asked me to step out of my black cloud.  The truth is I ignored her because when I read it I was too comfy being sad.  But then later I paid attention and blew the black cloud away.

I had one day where I felt sluggish like I was walking through quicksand.  When I finally got dressed and out I felt like the light itself hurt.  My body hurt.  I kept walking.  As much as my mind insisted on chattering I kept forcing it to look outward at all that was around me.  The longer I was out the better I felt.  The physical pain went away because the body likes to move.  The light didn't hurt any more.  I won't lie.  I was glad to get back home to my safe little hideaway in my black room.  But it would be wrong to say it was a dark day.  Only part of it was a dark day.  Sometimes going outside and walking is a lot.

I spend time with grieving people who tell me they are always sad and lonely.  Yet, while we are together they laugh and smile and tell interesting stores.  I need to catch myself when I use the words always and never.  I am not always anything - or never anything.  It is always sometimes.

There are people who are arrogant and act entitled.  Many more people, though, have a hard time recognizing the good in themselves.  It is objective to pay attention to your strengths as well as your weaknesses.  It is objective to focus on what you have accomplished not on what you have not gotten to yet.  Artie was the person who made me feel loved and lovable.  I know.  I know.  It's supposed to come from inside.  Well, a lot of times, it doesn't.  When he looked into my eyes and I looked into his you could feel the solid energy of the love going back and forth.  I say this all the time - I am lucky.  I have a lot of people who love me.  It's not the same as that one special person loving me.  It doesn't have to be a husband - it can be anyone who has died.  We miss that person's physical presence so much.  It leaves a gap.

To look at yourself objectively probably means with more kindness and acceptance than you do now.  You have to feel the love from someone when you can't see them any more, can't touch them any more.  Grief can make you feel you are paralyzed.  If you feel you are paralyzed wiggle your fingers.  You aren't.

I still have to do all the things I didn't have the will to do yesterday.  It won't help me get them done if I add to the weight I already carry by thinking badly of myself for not accomplishing more.  It never helps to compare myself to other people.  I don't know if the person I think is achieving more than I am is scared inside knowing they are a failure.  I don't know if the person I think is farther along in the grieving process than I am cries themselves to sleep every night.

Looking at myself objectively means feeling good about what I am doing - even if it is just breathing.  It means noticing where I can improve but without judgment.  Here are my strengths, here are my flaws.  Appreciate the strengths; work on the flaws.  When someone says I am inspiring or amazing the answer should be "Thank you." not" Oh, no I'm not - not really."

I'm not there yet.  Kill your critic.  Don't bite the hook.  I know what I know and forget what I know or am too whatever to practice it.  That's the word.  Practice.  I heard a professional piano player working on a new piece of music.  It sounded terrible.  It didn't matter how good he was, he hadn't practiced enough yet.  If I go ice skating and I've never practiced, not only will I not be in the Olympics - I will probably be sitting down most of the time.  Transforming grief into something that makes you feel fully alive is like that.  It takes practice.  Having memories make you smile instead of cry takes practice.  Loving yourself takes practice.  Noticing your happy moments takes practice.  Noticing the beautiful things in the world takes practice.

Maybe some day I will be someone who leaps out of bed and enjoys every bit of my day and goes to bed at night to dream sweet dreams.  Probably not.  That's never been my nature.  That's one of the reasons I miss Artie so much.  He knew my damaged parts, as I did his, and loved/loves them as much as the rest of me.  Be easy on yourself today.  Keep practicing, keep searching.  What is lost can be found, and if it is lost again can be found again.  Maybe we need to take self pride and self satisfaction and clip it on like a child's mother clips on their mittens so they don't get lost.  (Do they still do that?)  Take good care of yourself today.  You deserve it.  xo

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Grief: A Crazy Carousel

Grief doesn't seem much like stages to me.  It seems more like a crazy carousel.  Here are the lyrics to an old Jacques Brel song: 

We're on a carousel
A crazy carousel
We're on a carousel
A crazy carousel
And now we go around
Again we go around
And now we spin around
We're high above the ground
And down again around
And up again around

The singers sing each verse faster and faster until you feel like you are spinning out of control.

When i try to stay in my "what a wonderful life" space I get tired.  When I fall into my "I'm exhausted.  It's too hard"  space  i know that isn't the whole truth.  The whole isn't in the hole - it's outside it.  

I went back and looked through all the blog posts I have written. I only read a little, and looked through the titles.  It made me a little dizzy, a little bored and a little frustrated.  I seem to repeat the same topics over and over again.  I have read about people who don't feel sad very long.  I say that they aren't uncaring and I don't judge them but that's not entirely true.  There are people I have known who have died that I don't grieve for the way I grieve for my husband Artie.  I had difficult parents and I didn't grieve for them at all.  I have friends that I loved very much and I am sad that I they are dead but I don't have the kind of loneliness around them that I have with Artie.  It isn't that I don't love my friends properly; it's only that they weren't the heart and soul of my life the way Artie is.  If i loved Artie less perhaps I would grieve less.  There is a part of me that really does think that the depth of grief has to do with the depth of love.  It's difficult for me to believe that you could love someone deeply and completely and not miss them every day for the rest of your life.

It doesn't have to be a spouse.  People on this carousel about their parent's death, a child or a grandchild's death, a friend, a sibling, a pet.  It isn't about the relationship - it's about the essential nature of the relationship.  It's a very crowded carousel.  

I say the same words.  That grief can be transformative so that it inspires you to live fully instead of deadening you.  I can look into my husband Artie's eyes and listen to what he would say to me; feel his love still surrounding me.  I keep his smile going by living double for him and for me.  I plan my weeks so that I have fun things to do. I could write stories all day about my granddaughter.  Gwendy blue eye's pink fish died and was caught in a plastic plant in the tank.  She said, "Fish stucky.  Fish stucky."  When Erin got the net it was obvious as the fish floated up to the top of the tank that it iwas definitely dead.  Erin couldn't just replace it.  Gwendy was right there so Erin told her that her fish had gone to the "Great Unknown".  Gwendy said, "Okay."  Then Erin flushed it down the toilet - to help it on the way to the "Great Unknown."  Gwendy said "Bye Bye."  That night Gwendy asked about the fish and repeated "Great Unkown."  I wonder where she thinks that is.  Does she think her fish is gone to swim with Nemo and Dory?  I told Erin, laughing, "Terrific! Now if I tell her that Grandpa Artie and your best friend Jon are with pink fish in the "Great Unknown" Gwendy will think we all wind up flushed down the toilet one day.

A sense of humor.  That helps. A gratitude list.  That helps.  I am grateful for so many things.  Chocolate ice cream shouldn't help but it does.  My friends and family help.  Helping others helps.  Showing up helps.  Then it all collapses and I'm tired.  

The old disinterest comes back.  I do fun things and suffer through them.  I forget to open my eyes and see what there is to see.  It's not depression.  I hate that I can't be sad without someone saying - Oh, you're depressed.  Don't label me.  Sometimes I am depressed.  There's a difference.  Having what someone calls a grief burst isn't depression.  It's me missing my husband and not being able to stand it one more minute - knowing at the same time I will stand it - I do stand it - sometimes I ride high on it.  My husband's strong shoulders still hold me high above the crowd when I can let myself feel them.

I want to write to you say - it's over four years now.  i don't mind that Artie's birthday is Dec. 11th and the holidays are coming up.  I'm all better now.  I can't.  It would be a lie.  That's why I don't think it's stages.  I think it's roundabouts.  You do, hopefully,  play the grief at a higher skill level.  I don't have the despair I had those first few months.  When someone dies grief is like a newborn baby.  It needs tender care.  You wouldn't expect a newborn baby to get up and walk.  It does gentle down after time.  I do have more happy moments than I did in the beginning.  I do have more productive time.  But - fill in your favorite curse word here - none of that makes me stop feeling the empty space where Artie should be.  None of that makes me stop pleading, "I know you can't come back but please come back."

Maybe that's part of it.  When I get to the place where the disinterest creeps back in, where I am all sorrow and black quicksand I am more impatient with myself than I used to be.  I am buying into the false idea that I am supposed to be better.   I alway write about light and dark.  That we each have a light that we need to let shine.  We can rest in the love of our beloved dead and they will show us what that light is when we cannot find it ourselves.  I wish people courage and love and tell them to forgive themselves.  I say that sometimes just breathing is enough.  When I get into the dark place I told someone - if someone said to me what I say to other people I'd tell them to shut the f up.  Part of grief's seductive dark side is to make being stuck in pain seem the only way.  But the light of grief can lift us out of that stuck in pain place.  Maybe I should tell the dark side of grief to shut the f up.  That doesn't work for me though.  I have to set the alarm and give it a half hour or 10 minutes or however much time it needs that day.  If I feed it a little, pet it a little - it will go away for a while.

One thing I know for sure is that we all have to find our own path.  Grief is a normal process; not a mental disorder.  Get help, use the resources out in the world and in your own heart and consciousness.  If your path has let you off the carousel and you are on a gentle swing - I am glad for you.  When I get off, it only seems to be for a while.  Then the ride pulls me back on.  There's a Tennesse Williams line, "I tried so hard to leave you behind me but I am more faithful than I intended to be."  I have never really tried to leave Artie behind but I think somehow that I have been more faithful than I intended to be.  People keep asking me about dating.  I say I would if something happened - but nothing does, probably because I don't do anything to make it happen.  I didn't know how married I would feel for probably the rest of my life.  I didn't know that I would be so faithful to my one true love.  Yes I did.  Artie did.  

It's a strange thing death.  For some of us our dead remain so alive.  For others dead just seems to be dead.  What I wish you for all of you is what I guess I wish for myself.  Not necessarily to get off the carousel permanently but for it to slow down enough more often that I don't get sick of the world spinning by.  To have more ups than downs.  To go back for the ride when I need to but not to be forced back on by this emotional rip tide.  

I don't want to let go.  That is my truth.  And if I don't want to let go I am tethered to a dream of past and present love.  Can I remain tethered and still feel free and alive and full of joy?  Sometimes.   Maybe even a lot of the time.  All the time?  What kind of a person am I, that when someone tells  me they are happy all the time I don't believe them.  A few people I have met seem to rest easy on the earth but most people have some kind of struggle.  Let's at least turn the struggle into a series of triumphs.  Le's not forget to look at what it still quite lovely and hold it in our hearts as strongly as we hold our sorrows.  With love.  xo 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Grief: Shifting My Vision

I have been spending a lot of time lately feeling sorry for myself.  I tell people I am changing my first name to Malcontenta.  Why is that?  Partly it's just what I call the 5 year blues.  I'm tired of missing my husband.  I wish he was here.  However,  I know better.  I know that I can change how I feel by changing what I think and how I act.

There is nothing wrong with paying attention to the part of me that is lonely and sad and tired.  My granddaughter and daughter visited and I was very tired.  Now I am sick with a boring miserable old cold.  Whine whine whine.  I like a good whine.

I will be happier if I pay attention to the part of me that is lucky and happy and grateful.  I swing too easily to the dark than to the light.  There.  That very sentence.  What if I said I swing or - I wing more easily to the light than to the dark.  Our brains are in some ways like computers.  Our language choices program them.  The more I say I am sad the more sad I will be.  The more I notice the times I am happy the more happy I can be.  I'm not a robot but I can influence myself by the choices I make.

We take too often something and make it a box for us to climb in and close the lid.  We define ourselves too narrowly.  I am not suddenly an optimist.  I do not believe we create our own reality.  If I wanted to become an Olympic ice skating gold winner it would be impossible.  However we can make changes in our reality and changes in how we see that reality.

Those sentences above.  My granddaughter and daughter visited and I was very tired.  I was.  But what I could be writing is that my granddaughter and daughter visited and we did a lot of fun things.  We went to see a children's group from Australia called the Wiggles and we danced and laughed.  We did a photo shoot with a friend.  It was mainly for my granddaughter but I was walking down the street and she was fixing my hair and taking pictures of me.  I had paparazzi for a few minutes.

I am sick with a boring miserable old cold.  What's pleasant about that?  Well, I managed to do three loads of laundry yesterday and remake the bed.  Now being sick gives me an excuse to cuddle in and write this in my clean and comfy sheets.  Maybe having a cold is telling me to eat healthy and remember to take my vitamins.

Same event - different way of looking at it.

My husband is dead.  I'm lonely.  I miss him.  What can I do with that?  I am so lucky to have had a great love in my life.  I read posts on my Facebook page about from people who deeply miss their parents.  I wasn't lucky enough to have loving parents and I am glad other people have loving families.  It is too late to have a happy childhood but it's not too late to have a happy now.  It is love that leaves us with grief but I, for one, would not trade a minute of that love to avoid the grief.  I am grateful too that I was there for my husband all the days of his life, and especially grateful that I was there to love him and support him in his dying time.  I am grateful (if sometimes annoyed and scared) that I am the one that has to be strong.

It's human nature to focus on what hurts, what isn't right.  I love to vent.  I love to rage sometimes.  You can look at the world and see all the truly horrific things and despair.  You can look at the world and see all the beauty and all the people who are loving to each other and have hope.  You can hold both.

I went out to dinner with my daughter and the service was genuinely terrible.   I complained. I didn't have to complain so much - I could have enjoyed her company instead.

Every minute of every day I have a choice of how I see the world I live in.  I don't have to fight fear, sadness, loneliness, pain.  I can welcome them to my life.  I can thank them for what they do to let me know that I am alive.  I can ask them to make room for happiness, joy, silliness, smiles.  I don't believe in being fake.  However, if I practice noticing the things that make me smile instead of the things that bring tears to my eyes - I can shift the balance.  I read that Yoko Ono did that when her great love and husband John Lennon was murdered.  She consciously practiced smiling - not fake smiling - but genuine heart felt smiling.

I remember my husband's illness.  I remember his body lying there with none of him left in it.  I remember the times we fought.  I remember the ways we failed each other.  I remember my husband being athletic.  I remember him full of life, his eyes so expressive with love and and laughter, his smile lighting up my world.  I remember the journey we took together, how we took care of each other and helped each other.  When it's written like that it seems easy to see which side I should spend most of my time looking at.  When it's minute to minute life it is definitely a practice.

I am going to attempt to spend more of the life I have left thinking of the things I am grateful for rather than the things that I do not have.  I am still sensitive and hurt and I will still need to express all of my emotions.  However if I continue to act in ways that help other people; if I continue to show up for fun things with good people - I will have more of those happy moments.

Even my darling dead husband.  I can be more sensitive to feeling his spirit comforting me.  He has not let me go because I do not want him to.  Some people want to be let go and that is fine.  I always wanted us to hold on to each other and we still are.  I always say that love triumphs over death.  I should remember that.

As the round of holidays come closer, as his birthday comes closer - I must keep the music of the goodness of life playing in my mind.  I feel like a heaving bulky elephant that has been pregnant for too long.  I have given birth to some things since my husband died.  What else is waiting to be born that I am holding back from because of those comfy sheets I talked about?

I am happy resting in memory and lingering for a while in sadness but I must spend more time valuing my days and nights here on earth.  They are limited and if I am to truly honor my husband I must continue to live for both of us.  If we get to be reunited - and so many people believe we will - I want to have a lot of stories to tell him.

I wish you all the practice of shifting your vision.  When your pain is great do not lose the ability to notice the moments of joy.  Do not inextricably tie pain and joy together.  Let joy rise by itself like a helium balloon that lifts you higher.  Don't fight the pain and loneliness - let them lighten knowing they are proof of love.  Take a step down your path - if you don't know what it is - take a step down any path - eventually you will find yours.  Today it leads you to your transformed self, some day it will lead you back into the same shape shifted form that your beloved dead already know.  xo

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Grief: Creating Meaning for Your New Life, Your New Self

For some people the meaning of their life isn't even something they think about.  For others it is obvious.  They know from an early age who they are and what they are meant to be.  Some people feel their life is meaningless and others feel that their life could have meaning but don't know how to find it.  For many people their friends and family know what they mean to others and the world but the person doesn't feel it themselves.  That's why I often ask you to think of someone who loves you (whether they are still alive or not) and look at yourself through their eyes instead of your own.  Listen to what they are whispering in your ear and let that whispering be louder than your own.

Even if you are on the most secure path; knowing who you are and what your purpose is - grief can shatter that.  I know someone who is very prominent in his field.  He was passionate about what he did on a daily basis.  Then his only child, a son, died of a drug overdose.  All of a sudden nothing had any meaning to him.  It didn't matter that he has people who love him; an enviable career, and a comfortable  life.  He felt the death of his son was the death of his present and his future.

That is the empty space.  That is the question - who am I now?  That is the question - where is the meaning now?

Feeling that your life has purpose and meaning may not just happen.  It often has to be worked toward; created.  When the person who shares everything with you; your mentor, your companion, your child, your anyone - including your animal - dies - it is like the pieces of the puzzle you have spent your life putting together lie scattered on the floor.  You know if you pick them up and put them together again they will make a different picture. You question if you have the strength to even try.  You do.

One of the ways of putting meaning back into your life is to do something in honor of your beloved dead.  Let them inspire you.  It can be something small...or something large.  When my husband first died I felt that all meaning had gone out of my life.  I couldn't even feel what I meant to my family and friends.  I knew in my head that I was important to them - but I didn't feel it in my heart.  I wrote a beautiful obituary for Artie and put it in the local newspaper.  On the first anniversary of his death I wrote a memory piece for the same newspaper.  I put a plaque on a bench in Central Park.  I was searching; always searching.  Then, as many of you know - I got the idea that my life would have meaning if I followed his example.  He was a recovering alcoholic who made himself always available to other drunks and addicts.  I would make myself available to other grieving people.  I started this blog.  Over four years after his death I started the Facebook page Grief Speaks Out.  It continues to startle me.  I have almost 100,000 like but the important thing is that I am reaching people from all over the world and am able to bring comfort to some of them.  Everything I have done or tried to do from the moment Artie died is part of this accomplishment.  He inspires me and still shows me the way.

There is a widow who loved to travel with her husband who now does volunteer work in Ecuador.  There is a man who spends his time helping his brother. There is a mother whose son committed suicide because he was bullied who raises awareness about bullying.  There is a mother whose adult son died who constantly nurture her nieces and nephews. There is a father who does cancer research. There is a woman who runs an animal sanctuary.  There is a child who welcomed a new cat merrily into her heart conquering her fear that it would remind her of her cat that died.

Sometimes we think that in order for our life to have meaning we must change the world.  It must be big.  That's not true.  It can simply be taking the time to listen to someone tell their story.  It may be a random act of kindness to a stranger, or a random act of kindness to someone in our own family. Any idea is like a breath upon a window pane.  If you don't give it shape by taking action, it disappears.

Don't let the why bother? win.  Don't let the disinterest win.  Think about the person, the people, the pets that you love.  Scan your environment.  Think about the one thing you can do today that will help you feel proud of yourself when you go to sleep tonight.  If you can't do something today - you can do something today - you can forgive yourself and be gentle with yourself.  Maybe the first meaning is to be loving to yourself.  Sometimes if you are looking, something presents itself to you.  I was walking down the street yesterday.  I'm a New Yorker so I'm always in a hurry.  :)  An elderly woman asked me where a store was.  I told her where I thought it was.  Then I rushed past it.  I stopped.  I turned around and I could still see her.  I walked back and told her where it was.  I didn't feel like I had done anything - but she was so grateful.  I saw someone helping someone carry a walker down the subway steps.  Those are the little things that present themselves to us every day.  We can ignore them - or we can respond to them.

I'm not having such a great time right now.  I'm having the fifth year blues.  I don't understand how I can be alive so many days without my husband.  I question my courage to continue - and then I continue.  I'm not writing blog posts as often as I'd like.  Sometimes people tell me I am inspiring.  What I think is inspiring about me - and what is inspiring about my husband - is that we don't walk easy on the earth.  We are damaged.  We hurt.  Yet, with all that - we find ways to make a difference.  I'm talking about him in the present tense again - but the people that he shared his hope and experience with who are sober - are sharing what he taught them with others - so even dead - his work continues.  That it also continues through me is one of my greatest comforts.

You are not betraying the person who has died by finding ways to fill that empty space - or at least to build around it.  You are living double - triple  - quadruple - for yourself and for your beloved dead.  You are taking them with you wherever you go.  You are celebrating their life by learning how to live your own.

People make fun of Facebook because of people who only post about where they are having coffee.  I like Facebook because if I don't have the whatever it takes to move - I can still post on someone's page who is having a difficult time.  I look for small things to do when I cannot find big things.  Some days I do very little.

If you are reading this you are a grief warrior.  You are a searcher.  You may have already figured out what to do to feel that once again you know who you are.  You may already know what gives your life meaning.  If you think you don't,      give yourself credit for what you are already doing. If you are someone who is there for a family member, a friend, an animal - acknowledge yourself for that.  If you have time there is volunteer work you can seek out.  Each of us is a bright light.  The wind and the darkness of grief create the illusion that it has blown out.  It is like a fire in a fireplace that looks like it is no longer burning but if you fan the flames they burst into fire once again.  That is your task.     Keep your fire - your passion burning.  If you do not have one - create one, discover one.  Do it in the memory of your beloved dead.  Do it for yourself.

Someone said today - if I can be happy - anyone can be happy.  I tell you - with all my snarkiness, with all my dark times - if I can be inspiring - anyone can be inspiring.  It may be a smooth path or one that is rough with stones and blocked with low lying fog.  It doesn't matter.  Your beloved dead are not only walking beside you - they are holding your hand and leading the way.  Allow yourself to be led.  xo

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Grief: Getting Out of My Black Room

September 12th.  Writing a blog post every two weeks is not writing a blog post once a week.  Does that make me a terrible person?  Probably not.  However it makes me someone who isn't following through on what I want to do.

My Facebook page Grief Speaks Out now has over 81,000 likes from all over the world.  How did that happen?  What am I doing?  I know that I am using everything I have learned over the past over four years.  I know that it is easier to respond to someone else; to pick a moving image and write something to go with it than it is to follow my own advice.

I call this post getting out of my black room because I have a beautiful apartment.  My bedroom is painted black and there is a velvet shawl nailed over the window.  I think I accidentally nailed the window open when I did this - but I like the window open so that's okay.  I was looking for privacy in my bedroom while I was still unpacking and it actually looks pretty even if it isn't very functional so I will probably never change it.  Hmmm - that's kind of me.  I can look pretty even if I'm not very functional.  The difference is I am trying - and sometimes succeeding - to change me.  My personal window often feels nailed shut even when it already wide open.

Which is all going sideways when i meant to go forward.  My living room is unusual for NYC.  It is two stories tall and has a skylight.  Filled with books and antiques, and even a huge stuffed woolly mammoth -  it is always shines with light.  Painted a light blue it looks as though the day has come to visit.  I walk through this room sometimes on the way to take a shower or to look for a book.  However, I only stay in this room when I have company.  I never sit in it myself.  I like to be in the black room.  Why will I not allow myself to enjoy the beauty of this space I have created?  I feel uncomfortable with beauty.  When I go outside and it is a particularly fine day sometimes it hurts and I can't wait to get back inside.

My husband used to say, "What's wrong? Nothing's wrong.  That's what's wrong."  Of course, something is terribly wrong.  My husband is dead.  I miss him every day.  I say wise things about letting our beloved dead inspire us, letting their light lead the way, being alive with grief - and all the while I am typing on the computer in the black room.  A short hallway and I could be typing in a room full of light and wonder and I choose the darkness.  I'm like a small animal that burrows under the earth.

The truth is my life is very good these days.  I have worked very hard over the past four years to get here.  I have had friends stop speaking to me, friends fail to understand me as most grieving people do.  That hurts.  However, I have friends who want to listen to me talk about Artie and my sadness as well as my happiness.  I have made new friends.  Some of them are a little embarrassed.  They say they read my blog and do I mind that they know so much about me.  I say no - that's just the way it is.  I also let them know that the blog is about grief and I spend a lot of time doing things besides thinking about grief and talking about grief.  I have made new friends from grief sites and one from a bereavement group.  Those are friends whose understanding comes from a shared experience.  Sometimes it's intertwined.  I met someone with a very interesting job who also reads the Facebook page.  They told me the how it has changed the way they feel.  It made me feel proud and also a little embarrassed.  When someone compliments me I am still learning to receive say a simple "Thank you." instead of a stammering - "Oh no - that's not true - not really."

I can't absorb it.  I'm wanting to breathe it all in.  I'm wanting to feel all this happiness and usefulness and success in my very bones.  It feels good.  I am proud.  I am grateful.  However, I am also uncomfortable.  It doesn't feel like me.  I'm not guilty.  I know Artie would be - probably is - very proud of me.

I have a particularly good time and then I want to eat too much and watch a terribly mindless program on television.  I often do.  I am showing up and doing and helping others - all the things I tell people to do.  Yet, at the same time I am running from instead of to.  What is that all about?

Part of it may be that it is difficult to have all these wonderful things happening without having Artie here in the flesh to share them with.  I have started again calling out at night - "Artie.  Come back.  I know you can't but please come back."  I love sharing things with the people I share them with.  None of them is Artie.  I am especially grateful for my granddaughter.  If I close my eyes she says, "Gammy. Are you takin' a nap?"  That's what she would say to me about my private moments - "Gammy, are you takin' a nap?"   Why am I closing my eyes at the very moment they should be open?

I realized that I was ignoring my daughter because I was so focused on my granddaughter.  I have started paying more attention to her.  I praise her not just for being a great Mom but for being herself.  I ask her about what she is doing.  I tell her how beautiful she is.  It has made our relationship so much better.  Why don't I treat myself that way?

No one is Artie.  No one can fill his space.  Jess Walter wrote "What kind of wife would I be if I left your father simply because he was dead?".  I can see Artie's eyes twinkling as he tells me that living my life with all my senses brimming over with happiness is not leaving him.  It is continuing an adventure in which he is with me every step of the way. 

I've got the 5 year thing.  More than one person has told me that the fifth year is difficult.  It's not like the first year difficult.  There is a trajectory.  The first year was constant crying and desperation and disinterest.  I know now that when I agree to do something I probably won't want to - but if I go I'll have a good time.  I'm just falling back into that peculiar kind of stuckedness (there's a literary word!!).  I stop and's too hard.  I can't do it.  When I say that there is no Artie to hold me and scratch my back and pat my head and tell me he loves me and it will be okay.  I don't want to be my own Artie.  I don't want to listen for the sounds, watch for the signs from a dead guy.  I am throwing an emotional temper tantrum.  i want the one thing I cannot have and if I am not careful that will taint all the things I can have.

There it is.  When I write I only know where I am going to start, not where I am going to end up.  I can spend as much time as I want,  as much time as I need in the black room of grief and sadness and frustration and exhaustion.  As foolish as it would be to stop missing Artie, to stop remembering our love - isn't it just as foolish to let that very real part of me spill over into the other parts of me.  If I want some pure sadness with no joy in it - fine - but then let me have some pure joy without mixing some sadness in.

Hold my hand and let's walk together out of our black rooms.  They'll be there when we need them again.  Let me learn to be alive with grief not just in my words and my actions - but in my bones and in my soul.  If not today - maybe yesterday I have already done it and not noticed - or tomorrow I will find it easy.  So many locks have already fallen off of the doors - or been meticulously picket off - and the doors are swinging open.  Let us - one step at a time - walk through them.  With love.  xo