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


  1. Jan.

    I am so glad to see you are back on here. So much time had gone by I was beginning to worry and wonder if we would hear from you and be able to grow with you in your writings. You do it so well!


  2. I just read this post about resilience. Many of the things you wrote about in this post are things I am trying to deal with. I want to write more but at this moment I am overwhelmed with "why bother." Thank you and I will keep checking back so I hope you write more, I found it comforting to read.

    Thank you