Sunday, February 24, 2013

Grief: Why Am I Still Here?

Someone just e-mailed me that Oprah is doing a class on something similar.  Maybe that's because it's a question some of us ask ourselves all the time.  What gives our life meaning?  Or - why doesn't my life mean anything?   I have a bit of envy for folks who just pop out of bed in the morning, do their day, and then sleep soundly at night.  I've never been one of those.  After Artie died it became worse.  He was my buffer for all these feelings that life is too hard.  His holding me made me feel safe.  And...of course my life had purpose.  How would either of us live without the other?  Oops.  It was me.  I am still learning how to live without him.

I could talk about my daughter and granddaughter.  I won't right here because I am sensitive to how people without children and grandchildren - and especially those whose only child or whose grandchild has died feel that their future has been taken from them.  That's why I never compare grieving people.  We each have our own sadness and anger; our own struggle.  We also have our way of dealing with things the best way we can.

I considered suicide when Artie first died.  Even today I've never gone back and read my blogs from that time.   Sometimes it feels harder now than then but I know that I no longer have that initial sense of constant desperation and confusion.  I could never understand how he could leave me and not take me with him.  I decided not to kill myself because of how that feels to other people.  I felt a responsibility to my family and friends - even to whoever would find my body not to hurt them in that way.  That left me with the emptiness.

One of the things that I did was start to show up where life was and hope it would enter me.  It did...slowly.  It's still about showing up.  With a lot of opportunities my initial reaction is to cuddle in and not go, especially when I am stressed.  I go anyway, most of the time.  Most of the time I have a good time and have some more happy moments to add to my life.  I have to pay attention to those happy moments as well as the sad, lonely ones.  It wasn't easy.  I used to love theater.  The first plays I went to I slept through.  Then I saw Carrie Fisher's one woman show and not only did I stay awake, I laughed from my heart.  She's one of my models for depression - someone who struggles and yet accomplishes a lot and has a great sense of humor.

Then I asked myself - what would give me life meaning?  Artie was a recovering alcoholic.  He failed in a lot of things but he was sober for 47 years and during those years helped a lot of other drunks and addicts by sharing what he knew and being available to them.  I decided to make myself available to other grieving people.  That's how this blog started.  Sending my honest self out into cyberspace, not knowing what would happen.  I hoped to reach at least one person.  It has turned into so much more.

I am so grateful for the community of people who read this, and so sorry that they need to!   People kept reading even when I wasn't writing.  To come back and know so many people were thinking about me.  As I started to be more present other opportunities of finding meaning opened up. With family and friends.  Even, as I often say, the small things.  I'm not going to change the world.  However if I do something as simple as compliment a store clerk on their hair or their earrings I might change their day.  I often get a big smile.  Not always.  Also being honest about my grief and pain as well as my happiness throws odd things my way.  Like a woman in a supermarket line in a small chat where she told me her husband died 8 months ago.  I told her I used to be a psychotherapist and not to worry - whatever she was feeling was normal.  She said that made her feel better - especially as I used to be a therapist.  I was given - or came up with the right words - but I was also willing to make a space to say them.

I still ask myself - why am I still here? all the time.  With all the meaning and joy and gratitude it doesn't make any sense to me to be alive when Artie is dead.  I guess it doesn't have to.  Every morning I open my eyes and ask the same question.  I sometimes continue to ask it throughout the day.  It's okay that I know all the answers.  It's okay that I still have that longing to rejoin my husband.  That's  one reason why I keep writing.  To remind folks it's okay to feel both.  The sense and the senselessness, the connection and the separation, the sadness and the joy.  You don't have to move on from one to have the other.

For some people it's easy.  The meaning of their life is obvious to them.  For those that don't have it - the task is to create it.  What is the one thing I can do today that I will be proud of?  It could be an amazing charitable act.  It could be taking a shower.  In this doing doing doing culture we miss the truth that who we are is enough.  Just sitting there breathing is life.  Wish things.  Make some of them come true.  Rest.  Strive.  Keep asking who else.  Who else am I?  What else?  What else can I do?  What else gives my life meaning.  When you get stuck with the questions who else am I? and what else am I? what else can give my life meaning?  is the time to keep going.

Who am I?  I am a woman who is so lonely without her living husband.  I am so lonely.  Who else am I?  I am someone who makes people laugh.  I make people laugh.  Who else am I?  I am someone who laughs at a lot of things.  And who else...   What else can I do today?  Nothing.  I can do nothing.  What else can I do today?  I can get up.  Yes.  I can get up.  What else?  I can write someone who is lonely and maybe make them feel better.  And what else...

I know that your life has meaning.  I hope you do too.  If you don't, I hope you discover what that meaning is.  Why am I still here?  If nothing else because that's the way it is.  What can I make of today?  If it is a lot - hooray for me. If it is a little - there will be a lot of tomorrows. If it is nothing - I am being perfectly human and that in itself has meaning.  I am a survivor.  One day tomorrow will see me on the other side with my husband and all those I love who have died.  What will I have to tell them that they already know about the days in between?  I hope I have the strength and the least some make them - especially Artie - proud.  xo

Monday, February 18, 2013

Grief: What Is Resilience?

I'm back.  Kinda.  I bought a new apartment which I now live in.  It is beautiful and cosy and I was going to write I think my husband lives here too - but I know he does.  He just doesn't live here in a way I can touch.  I miss touch.

The past three months were spent getting ripped off by various people; jobs done badly that were expensive, things that will be funny some day like a grey toilet with a white seat, literally a problem every day.  I was supposed to move in November and didn't make it until January.  Lived on a futon in my old apartment which wasn't that bad.  What was bad was handling all this without my husband.  I withdrew from almost everything.  I handled things and then hid.  I was going to have my stuff moved on Artie's birthday (Dec. 11th) to make a new memory for that day.  I came to the new apartment on Dec. 10th and it looked like a construction site.  No one told me.  I rescheduled the move for December 27th.  Luckily I had great movers and they were very understanding.  I was going to unpack on New Year's Eve.  Make it a postive night.  I got to the apartment and a worker had unsealed a bathroom door and then left it open so the apartment was full of fumes and I had to leave and go back to my futon.  That's the short list.  Nothing seemed to be working except playing with my granddaughter and e-mailing supportive friends. Then, of course, it was the holidays and my birthday/anniversary and Valentine's day.  I was all sludge and very little movement.

So what is resilience?  I always think of it as being people who go through suffering and then achieve amazing things.  I learned that sometimes it is getting up in the morning.  It is staying alive when staying alive seems way too hard without the support of someone we love who is dead.  Sometimes it is waiting and doing things to try to regain the energy of life.

I let some opportunities slip away.  However, I didn't quit.  I created a beautiful home for myself.  I was going to just have Artie's pictures in one room, but they are all over the place.  I am more and more conscious how I am choosing loneliness.  My life is beginning to be full again with friends and activities.  However, by staying in love with a dead guy, being happily and unhappily married to a dead guy, I insure that I come home to an empty house.  I want to share it with my husband but there is no use wishing for impossible things.  There is still that struggle. 

I wish I was someone who writes more when under stress.  When my emotions shut down, my ability to write disappears with it.  I have a writing room in my apartment.  I hope some day to be a person that can take time to stretch like a cat in the morning but then go into that room and write: my blog, my book, my poetry.

Or not.  I have a dear friend who tells me not to be hard on myself.  Resilience is sometimes just flailing around knowing that there is another side and if you can't get to it today, it will wait for you to get there tomorrow - or the next day.

Showing up.  I had the opportunity to speak at a small seminar at Columbia University.  It was about a short documentary called Poetry of Resilience based on a conference I co-produced several years ago.  Poets who survived genocide and other political terror got together to tell their stories.  One of them was so sad at the conference.  Now she is married to a man who makes her very happy and has a small child.  The conference was called Resilience of the Human Spirit.  People I look at and call resilient may not think they are.  People call me resilient and I don't think I am.  But I am.

When I use the word resilient I don't mean an effortless bouncing back.  I mean the ability to grow and change because of and also in spite of what makes us suffer.  I always mistrust instant happiness.  I want to be happy at happy things and I want my happiness to be real.  I also know it can co-exist with sadness.

I wish I hadn't let so much slide away.  However, I kept going.  I am almost all unpacked.  We judge ourselves so often too harshly.  We compare ourselves to others without knowing what is truly in their hearts.

I am alive.  Still trying to figure out what that means when my husband is dead.  Maybe it means nothing more than what it says.  I am alive.  That means that every day I have a new chance to create meaning, be lazy, accomplish something, just play around, do a little of everything or a lot of nothing.

I have thought about people who take the time to read this blog.  I have missed writing to you.  It is a little strange, sharing things in cyber space.  Anyone can use my words in any way they want.  I know the blog posts are sometimes used by grief counselors.  I got an e-mail from a teacher asking if she could use it.  I hadn't thought of teachers - but so many students experience grief.  When I first started writing I didn't know if anyone would read what I had to say.  Then I thought that only people whose partner had died would read it.  I have learned that grief is a struggle for everyone.  Everyone doesn't act the same way - but so many of us have this continual ache combined with all the gratitude and new actions.  We are alive with grief - trying to have it inspire us so we can be not just alive but fully alive.

Resilience.  If you are reading this you are resilient because you are reaching out.  You are searching.  I think that searchers are the best kind of people.  What can I do today....and then OOPS if today was a day in which I slept too much, hid too much...tomorrow will come.

Remember, I always call us grief warriors.  Sometimes we fight by moving forward, sometimes by looking backward, sometimes by standing still.  However, we have to look not at what we fail to do, but what we do.  Show up where life is.  Give yourself permission to be the best thing you can be...simply... your wonderful unique self. 

I'm sorry I disappeared from these pages for two months...but I'm glad to be writing again.  xo