Sunday, April 14, 2013

Grief: Carol Burnett Talks and Writes about Her Daughter Carrie Who Was Killed By Cancer

Sometimes I feel like I am a death or grief magnet.  I turned on the TV the other morning to get ready while watching the news.  There was Carol Burnett talking about her new book.  I didn't even know she had a daughter who was killed by cancer.  I looked up when Carrie died.  It was in 2002, almost 11 years ago.  During the entire interview Carol, a great comedienne, had tears in her eyes as she talked about the wonderful woman her daughter was and her enthusiasm for life.  Then came the question.  The question so many of us get.  "What did you and your two other daughters do to recover from her death?"  Carol looked a little unsettled and paused.  Thinking of all the slapstick skits she has done, I kind of wanted someone to dump a bucket of cold water over the interviewer's head or slap him with a huge fake hand.  Didn't happen.  I can't know what she was thinking but what she said was, "We learn how to cope but Carrie is in my heart every day."

I thought about why I tell all these celebrity stories.  I am looking for commonality of experience (although so many young people haven't heard of the people I know so well from movies and television) but also for validation.  There is this pervasive idea that if you don't "recover" or "heal" that there is something wrong.  There is this terrible diagnosis of morbid grief if you don't "recover" or
"heal" in six months.  There are so many well meaning people that don't understand why you are still talking about someone who died "such a long time ago".  They even ask you why you don't just move on.  The danger is that we will think there IS something wrong with us that we are still sad, that we still feel pain.  News flash.  There's nothing wrong with me - or with you.

The truth is that although I have not done scientific studies my anecdotal evidence is that if you really truly love someone - or a pet - that you miss them for the rest of your life.  Time makes it different but sometimes the passage of time makes it harder not easier.  Why?  Because you have ten years of living with the loneliness of missing someone instead of just two.  It hurts.  I watch true crime programs too.  (Now you are learning all my vices!)  I used to watch them because it is unbelievable to me what people do to each other.  Now I watch them for that, but also because of the compassion I have for the victim's family and friends.  I can not tell you how many big burly tough guys I have seen with tears filling their eyes talking about a brother or a son or a parent that was killed - no matter how many years ago.  Women, children, so many people.  Normal people.  They cry.

People I have seen only on television and people I have met in real life.  Personal friends and strangers. People who have e-mailed me.  People who are stuck - but many people who live full productive happy lives.  I believe that the truth is normalcy is not "recovery" "healing" "getting over it" but living with the sadness, loneliness, anger or whatever feelings come to you.  It can come in strange ways.  I was talking to someone who said they lived somewhere for 23 years.  Artie and I were together 23 years.  When I heard that number I felt so sad.  I acknowledged that sadness silently and then came back to the fun of being with a friend.  Later, I told her about it.  I think it is easier to find your path to that productive life with a lot of happy moments if you don't have to waste time criticizing yourself for feeling what you feel.

When I look at the statistics on my blog one post that gets many hits over time is called Thank you, I am NOT wallowing...    I would like to still change my pattern of behavior so that I spend less time in bed feeling like I've been thwacked on the head - or in the heart - and more time having those happy moments.  Although, I've done so many interesting things in the last couple of weeks that if I wasn't the one doing them I would think I was making it up!   I need to spend time with the loneliness.  With all the gratitude and love I have - I can't imagine ever not being lonely without Artie here in the flesh to comfort and annoy me!

So...spread the word.  As I tell people - if you are a teacher or a pastor or a grief counselor  or a grieving person - these words are yours.  You can use any post you want with or without attribution.  Let's get the word out.  I want us to be a society that honors grief.  I want us to be a society that honors the fact hat we can be wounded by grief and still be whole, fully alive people.  I want grieving people to feel that they don't need to remain silent in case they are judged.

What you feel is normal.  Someone may be doing better than you.  Someone may look like they are doing better than you but not really.  Someone may be doing not better than you.  It's about who you are and who you want to be.  Work on changing the bits that will give you more happy moments; that will help you feel better about your life.  Never stop looking for and shining that beautiful light that is you.  There are no stages of grief.  Grief is the number 23 that you never knew about until someone said it.  It's a roller coaster.  Some times you will be swinging at the top close to the stars.  Then roundabout you go and there you are on the bottom.

You can be grieving and funny and smart and loving.  That's the lesson I keep learning.  While some may disagree with me - and bless them - we all have the right to be us (not that always act like that!) I still feel the same way I did when I called this blog "Stop Thief - Don't Steal My Grief".  I love my husband.  Even if I remarried some day (probably not but who knows) I would still love Artie and miss him.  It's my recovery not to be recovered; my healing not to be healed; my moving on not to move on.

Any yet...the life I have in me - the miraculous friends - the unbelievable experiences that I share with you - have come because with my grief I have learned ways to allow life to come back into my heart - a heart that four years ago this July was so shattered - I never thought I would have these adventures and stories to tell.  That's the journey.  Crafting a life big enough for all the emotions - even the joyous, peaceful ones.  I wish you those moments and adventures big and small.  xo

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