Monday, May 27, 2013

Grief: Memorial Day

There was a time when Memorial Day was about picnics and family get togethers. Memorial Day was first enacted in memory of the soldiers who fought in the American Civil War.  Later it was expanded to commemorate the soldiers who fought in all wars. I have been on battlefields and cried.  I am grateful for those who gave and still give their lives that we might live.  I never forget they make my sunshine freedom day possible.

Without taking away the special status of those who fight in battle, for me every day is Memorial Day.  Every day is for remembering and honoring and cherishing.

When Artie died I had a plaque put on a bench in Central Park.  When Erin's best friend Jon died I had a plaque put on a bench in Central Park.  When I walk through the park I stop and read the plaques.  I think about the people they represent.  I know that Jon's family gathers at his bench.  I know that I am comforted by the plaque on Artie's bench.  I want people to remember.

I talk about Artie all the time.  People that have never met him feel that they know him.  He had things to share and teach and I don't want that to stop.  I used to say he was the most alive dead person I know.  It's not true.  I know too many people who laugh, love, cry, and joke with their dead.  Sometimes a memory can seem more real than the present.  Sometimes the present is infused with a memory.  That is love.

It doesn't mean that the picnics should stop.  It doesn't mean that families shouldn't get together.  It does mean that in the midst of the good food and the fun we should take time to remember, not only our own dead but those many others.  I have read that the dead are called the great majority.  There are a lot of people who have gone before us to show us the way.

When I was in England I passed monuments, plaques, and books that listed names.  The names are mostly of the men who died in WWI and WWII.  It is England, though.  There was a book at Windsor in St. George's Chapel that lists the names of gallant knights.  The tour guide talks but I stop and read the names.  I try to read them not with my mind but with my heart.  I stop in church graveyards and take pictures.  I am cheered by the stones that are chiseled, "Reunited."

I went to the car park (parking lot) where the bones of the English King Richard III who was killed at Bosworth Field in 1485 were recently found.  I was excited to be at this place I had heard about.  I went back later to acknowledge that this archaeological hole in the ground covered by a tent that you could not approach was in fact sacred ground.  A man's bones had lain here for over 600 years.  Was he of his times?  Was he good or evil?  No matter.  He was a King killed in battle and even this many centuries later his descendants are in High Court defending his right to be reburied in York where they think he would have wanted to be buried.  (He was discovered in Leicester and Leicester wants him buried there.)

There are too many graves.  There are too many ashes.  It is, of course. quite the natural process.  We live and then we die.  Our brains know that.  However, our eyes weep and our hearts break.

People keep telling me how happy I look.  I am happy.  I am happy about many things.  I am also happy that I am sad.  I am happy that I remember.  I am happy that Memorial Day has a depth of meaning for me it never had before.  My own sorrow gives me greater empathy for the sorrow of others.  My own sorrow gives my greater compassion for the families of those who send their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers to war - not knowing whether they will have the earthly reunion they hope for.

We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?
 — Wilfred Wilson Gibson, Lament

Peace to each manly soul that sleepeth;
Rest to each faithful eye that weepeth…
 — Thomas Moore, How Oft Has the Banshee Cried

Are they dead that yet speak louder than we can speak, and a more universal language? Are they dead that yet act? Are they dead that yet move upon society and inspire the people with nobler motives and more heroic patriotism?— Henry Ward Beecher

May this Memorial Day have room for both tears and laughter.  May your dead speak to you with words of inspiration and encouragement so that you can find your own heroism no matter how small or how large your battle.  I promise my husband and every man and woman that for me remembrance is holy.  Healing, moving on do not mean I forget you.  

Memorial Day is a day of gratitude, sorrow, joy and hopefully...even peace.  xo 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grief: Why Is It So Hard To Understand How I Feel?

I didn't realize the post about other people being unable to understand our grief would be a series.  I thought I had it handled.  Like many aspects of grieving all you have to do is think you have it handled for it to come back over and over again.

I talk about it.  I write about it.  I am surprised when people who are close to me don't understand that grieving doesn't stop.  They don't understand that it is always one of the layers of who I am.  Hello.  I'm writing it again.  My daughter (who is 38) did a very good job of supporting me when my husband died.  Then, most sadly, her best friend was killed by cancer.  Now she understands.  She knows that no one will ever replace him.  She knows that things will happen in her life that she will want to share with him and she is heartbroken that she can't.  She looks at her daughter and thinks of how she wanted - and he wanted - to be there as little Gwendy learned everything new thing.  Gwendy will only know him through stories and pictures.

I didn't start with this in mind - is it possible if you haven't experienced death that matters yourself you cannot understand?  I hope not.

I wrote in a previous post about my good friend who I sat down and asked to stop saying "We create our own reality."  and "Everything is all right,"  because in my life that makes me sad.  I didn't create my own reality.  If my husband could create his own reality he would have beat cancer rather than die from it.  With Artie dead nothing is ALL right.  It can be partly right but never ALL right.  I felt good that she respected what I said and changed her behavior.

Then, one friend went home and I was joined on this lovely in many ways trip, by another.  We were sitting in a restaurant having a delightfully sinful dinner of hot chocolate and pastry.  It had been a long day of touring and I was tired.  If I wasn't I might not have jumped at her quite so strongly.  This lovely older man sat down at a piano and began to play.  The first song he played was As Time Goes By.

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is still (just) a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by

And when two lovers woo
They still say: I love you
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by

Moonlight and love songs - never out of date
Hearts full of passion - jealousy and hate
Woman needs man - and man must have his mate
That no one can deny

It's still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by

Artie used to hold me in his arms, sing that song in my ear and we would dance.  He was very rhythmical and I am clunky.  We called in thug dancing.  I shared this with my friend.  I was surrounded by memory. In my head I was struggling. I tried with all my skills to roll my memories back and make myself feel as loved and happy as I had in those moments.  The memory kept coming back to the pain of the present moment.  Never again will I dance with Artie.  Never again will he sing to me (and listen to my off key singing).  It is over.  Done.  Time has gone by and my husband is dead.  "Go back into the happy column!" I silently ordered the memory as the music played.  Out it popped again into the painful column.

At that point my friend said, "I'm so glad that all your memories of Artie are good ones."  What?  How did she get there?  She said, "Because you cherish him."  I was astonished.  I asked her, "Do you read my blog."  "Yes."  But still...she doesn't understand.  I apologized after because I didn't let her off the hook.  I told her the following. 

I make a point of saying over and over that I want to remember my husband as he really was - not as some fictional idealized creation.  I remember the beautiful moments.  I also remember the screaming, the lack of understanding.  I remember turning away from him when I should have turn towards him.  I remember when he did the same to me.  My first thought when I found out he had cancer was, "Wow.  We really messed that up."  We did have a perfect love but we had an incredibly imperfect marriage.  I cherish him.  I regret all the moments we threw away because we were both damaged people and were too often very bad at expressing our love.  All my memories aren't good ones.  The beauty of our love  -  what I cherish about it - is the fact that in spite of anger, disappointment etc... it is steadfast.  Even death can't touch it.  We made a promise, "Nobody leaves.".   Forgetting the bad memories would dishonor that commitment.  It would dishonor the miracle of someone loving you not at your best - but at your worst.

The second part is that if you are truthful you might not have all good memories of whoever has died.  The reason is that some times the good memories hurt.  The good memories accentuate the loneliness, the waiting, even the despair.  I have talked about techniques to get those memories into the happy feeling place they belong but it isn't always automatic.  Now, almost four years later when I think of living Artie often and many memories make me smile - I still at times - like listening to that song get hit by flying pain arrows.  

When we left the restaurant I thanked the gentleman for being so delightful.  I said, "You played a song my husband used to sing to me when he was alive."  The gentleman was quite happy to receive a compliment and asked me what song it was.  I said, "As Time Goes By".  I left the restaurant to that song.  I live my life to that song.  Sometimes it's a good thing.  Sometimes it's a terrifically lonely thing.

Then my friend - who I hope if she reads this knows I love her (and if you think it's you it could as well be someone else) saw my new apartment for the first time.  I am grateful for my new apartment.  It is a beautiful and cosy space.  She said, "I'm so glad things are better for you."  My poor friend.  I said, "My husband is still dead.  Nothing is ever better."  I don't even mean that in a bad way.   

All I want is for people to understand that I am now layered.  In one of those layers always lies pain, loneliness, sorrow and sometimes anger.  It's not my only layer.  I have many layers.  I have many happy moments.  I especially adore my granddaughter.  I arrange my life to have happy moments.  I do more now than when Artie first died.  I have accomplishments I am proud of.  That is why I call it Alive With Grief.  I have taken many of my resistant parts that want to stay dead and be with my husband and taught them how to appreciate and find joy in the present.  Should I have faulted my two friends for making the mistake of having a good time with me, seeing me laugh with genuine feeling, and then thinking that I am better or things are all right?  My truth is I never, even for one moment, forget that my husband died and without his being here in his physical body I am forever wounded.  Even if I remarry I will be wounded.  If I forget for a while with my conscious mind, my unconscious mind and my body remember.  

Being so deeply wounded is because I was given the gift of loving deeply.  Our tour guide - a wonderful woman said, "Queen Victoria made mourning into an art."  I thought, but didn't say, "That's because when the tour is over you will go home to your husband.  If he dies - then you will understand."

So...a short post turned into a long post.  I will keep speaking out.  It's my job.  I want to be understood.  I also want my close friends to remain close friends and if you don't understand this basic part of me you don't know me.  I want to be known so much I am known by strangers.  Often, it is the strangers who understand.  I want my friends to understand too.  

I honor the struggle each of you go through every day.  I honor and acknowledge the pain and the loneliness and the stumbling.  I also honor - and hope for life to be there as well.  We are like flowers that push their way through rough ground.  Purple flowers I saw growing through ancient stone castle walls.  A bright yellow dandelion growing in the small space in between sidewalk paving stones.  A brilliant pink flower emerging from a prickly cactus.  Those are our moments of happiness.   I know how hard the ground can be - may the amount of flowers it produces ever increase and surprise you.  May, in flowering, you have those many moments of happiness that your beloved dead would want for you.  xo 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Grief: A Heartfelt Thank You To Rosie O'Donnell Who Tweeted About This Blog and Those Who Retweeted - How Did This Happen To Me?

I think that is the longest title ever.  I am in London and when I saw my blog statistics I wondered what had gone wrong.  (The power of negative thinking.)  Someone was kind enough to let me know that Rosie O'Donnell had tweeted that is a wonderful blog on grief.  My daughter was more impressed when Cyndi Lauper retweeted.  I am still surprised and humbled that my words can bring some measure of comfort to people at a time when comfort seems impossible. I am grateful that more people are being reached and I want to say again that any post can be used with or without attribution.

I want to tell you how this rather surreal thing happened.

I often talk about showing up.  When Artie first died I wasn't interested in anything but I made myself go places.  I waited for life to seep back in, and wondered if it would.  For example I used to love theatre.  I went.  I slept.  One night Carrie Fisher kept me awake. She made me laugh.  It was a beginning. I could give many examples.  I still at times have to force myself to show up.  One of things I did was get involved with Rosie's Theater Kids.  That organization supports children not just with dance, music, acting and other theater arts classes but academically and emotionally as well.  I have been consistently impressed with both the staff and the students.  I have never met Rosie O'Donnell in person. 

I often talk about discovering and creating meaning.  When Artie first died life didn't seem to have any meaning at all.  I seriously considered suicide for about three months.  I couldn't believe he wasn't going to come back to get me and thought as a loyal wife I should go to him.  I was wrong.  I didn't want to hurt my daughter, most of all, but also other friends and loved ones.  It seems I have work left to do.  My husband was a recovering alcoholic that failed at a lot of things but always helped other alcoholics and addicts.  I decided to honor him by being available to other grieving people.  I started writing this blog.  I thought it might reach one or two people and that they, like me, would have experienced the death of a spouse.  I am always touched at how many people it has reached. 

Grief has universal challenges.  I had been in therapy with a lovely woman when I was told that I had "morbid grieving".  Being sad and missing my husband after six months had been turned into a mental disorder.  Thus came my mission in life - to keep repeating that putting a time limit on grief is a big lie.  Grief doesn't have stages, it is a revolving door - a roller coaster.  Someone posted on FB that love and grief go together.  They do.  When a person or a pet dies you grieve for the rest of your life.  That is normal.  My goal is not to get over Artie's death (how could I? why would I want to?) - but to be ALIVE with grief not deadened by grief. 

I am shy about what feels like self promotion. I try to remember that telling people about this blog isn't about me - it's about the blog.  I have e-mailed Oprah and others and never received a response.  I realized that I knew people that were connected to Rosie.  I had to shake off my I'm not good enough, it's bad to ask for things self.  I was given a contact for her assistant.  I asked if Rosie would be willing to mention my blog.  I took an action.  I am so grateful that I did, and I am grateful that she responded.

Yesterday was a good day.  I am in what seems to me the very odd position of having famous people mention my writing.  I got a ticket to a play that was impossible to get.  My friend who I asked not to say "Everything is all right." and "We create our own reality." because those sentences remind of how impossible everything still seems without Artie here sent me a loving e-mail.  I was afraid she would be angry but she has accepted me for who I am. 

A good day.  My husband used to talk about not giving up failure without a fight.  Sometimes it is difficult to rest easy in a good day.  A day that aligns itself with life and gives you joy.  How can I call my husband and share the fact that people are reading what I write and that I have created meaning for myself when it is the very fact that he died that made this possible.  It is good that I have allowed his death to inspire me in this way.  It hurts my heart that he is not here physically and yet I feel that his spirit is proud of me.

I still have to say hello to the pain and the loneliness.  I still have days when hello isn't enough - when Artie's death whacks me on the head and in the heart and sends me to bed.  Maybe that's okay.  Maybe what I tell everyone else is true for me too.  Wherever I am - there I am - and it's okay.  If I don't like how I'm feeling and acting I can use all the techniques I have to build something else.  But...not before I pay respect to my feelings.  We are given a full rainbow of feelings.  We are depriving ourself of our humanity if we only want to have "happy" ones - especially if those happy ones are gained by lying to ourselves and others. 

This morning I met the historian Alison Weir who is leading a tour I am taking about Lancaster/York.  She gave me a big hug - remembering me from last year.  This is the dilemna we all face.  So many things to do, so many things to experience...and yet how long do we have to wait to be reunited with those we love - hoping that in fact we will be reunited.  If you see me, if you know me, you know that I am happy, sad, angry, lonely, loved all at the same time and that is what I want.

Magic doesn't happen just for me.  I'm not different than anyone reading this.  Magic is hard to find sometimes but you can find signs of it.  You don't have to give up anything - just add in a little possibility.  Add in a little giggle.  Sometimes it might be all right - some times it might suck.  You can learn how to hold both.  You can learn how to be alive with your grief.  xo

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Grief: Taking My Grief to England

Yes.  My grief comes with me everywhere like a familiar companion. There are so many rituals of travelling that don't exist any more.  I used to call Artie when I arrived.  Then I used to talk to him once in the morning and always to say good night.  I knew he was waiting for me at home.  We liked spending time apart (which is hard not to regret now) because we liked missing each other.  When I came home he loved hearing all my stories.  He always left a welcome home love note on the door.  It was the first thing I saw.  Then I would call up the stairs to his man cave to say I was home and down he would come to hug me and kiss me. 

I'm having a good time.  I am.  But I'm sad. Everything I do is lessened by not being able to talk to Artie about it.  It's just the way it is.  I wrote - as requested - about what other people say.  The lovely woman I was with at the beginning of the trip (hello - if you are reading this) is someone I love.  She is someone who is very spiritual and says things like, "It's all right."  "We create our own reality."  After a couple of days I had to tell her that every time she said those things it hurt me because my inner voice responded by acknowledging that my husband is dead and nothing will ever be all right again.  If I could create my own reality he would walk in right now and kiss me on the neck.  I wouldn't say - honey, I'm busy - I would stop what I am doing and be with him completely because now I know those moments are no longer possible.  At first she said that I shouldn't give that much power to other peoples' words.  I explained because I valued our friendship I had to be honest about my response.  I want to accept people the way they are and mostly I do but in this case I felt I needed to tell her how I felt.  She understood and stopped saying those things out loud.  Sometimes simple, non judgemental communication works.

I wish that people understood that grief doesn't have an end point for a lot of us.  It isn't a bad thing or a good thing.  It just is.  She also asked what she could do to help.  Nothing is the answer.  I think that is what hurts our dearest friends.  They want to help and we tell them it's impossible.  I love my friends.  I love my family.  I'm grateful for them.  None of them is Artie.  I miss Artie.  In some ways, now that he has been dead for almost 4 years, I miss him more not less.  I've racked up more days and nights of loneliness for him and that takes its toll.

I miss my granddaughter too.  Not that I don't miss my daughter - but she won't change in three weeks - Gwendy will.  Her laughing big blue eyes that demand - Granny Jan - be with me here in the present.  Play with me.  Laugh with me.  Cuddle me. 

And yet...there is always the and yet.  I am still alive.  I am travelling again.  I have seen some beautiful paintings and some wonderful plays.  I have laughed at Eddie Izzard who Artie and I loved to watch on DVDs but who is even more brilliant in person.  I am doing what I say.  Showing up and having new experiences while sometimes taking a moment to cry or curse.  I saw a window display that said, "Stay calm and love M&Ms".  I was on the way to the Queen's Gallery and accidentally saw and heard the Changing of the Guard.  At the Queen's Gallery there was a painting by Rembrandt that was so beautiful I sat and looked at it for quite a while.  I had great fun with my friend and when she left I am still doing things on my own.  Tomorrow my other friend will arrive and we are doing a historical tour on Lancaster/York.  After all these centuries they have found the bones of Richard III.  I love history. There is much more but then this would be a travel journal.

Sadness through the centuries.  Joy through the centuries.  Sadness through my day.  Joy through my day.  I don't ever want to deny the sadness.  I think that by making room for the sadness I make even more room for the joy.  Artie holds me through both.  I even miss his ashes.  I know he's not in them - but they are what I have left to welcome me home.

Someone said, "Wherever you go...there you are."  I saw an amazing exhibit on David Bowie.  There was a big sign that said, "David Bowie is someone else."  Jan Warner is someone else.  We are all someone else - partly in that we are more than we think we are - partly in that we never completely know another person.  One of the things I miss about Artie was how much of me he knew - and he loved/loves me because of and in spite of it all. 

Remember sometimes to wrap your silver lining around the outside of your dark cloud so it can glimmer in the sunshine and the starshine.  xo

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Grief: Mother's Day Isn't Always Easy, but Maybe...

I'm lucky.  I have a lovely daughter and granddaughter.  My daughter and I laugh together and fight together but we have had a chance to improve our relationship over the years.  I have a granddaughter because my daughter is alive and gave me one.  I can't begin to understand what Mother's Day feels like when you have a child die - a child with you in spirit - but locked in time and not with you in their physical body.  My Mother's Day is Valentine's Day.  Advertisements everywhere.  Things to buy in every store.  I usually deal with Valentine's Day by running and hiding.

I had a thought though.  If you got and get joy from being a mother maybe Mother's Day could be a memorial to that.  There really is no hiding.  It seems to seek you out every where you go.  What if this Mother's Day you said hello to the pain and spent time with it.  But...what if you also asked the pain to make room for the joy.  What if when you heard or saw the word Mother you were overcome with memories of so many special moments you shared with your son and/or daughter that you found yourself smiling.  What if you rolled your memories backward to when they were alive and you pictured their happy face and their eyes looking at you with love?  What if you remembered all the times you laughed together?

Can you do it?  Can you try?  Is it possible to take a day that seems full of other people celebrating with their children not understanding that you are so lonely missing your child and have it fill up with happiness?  Is it possible to take a day that reminds you of all the experiences you were cheated out of and make your own kind of celebration honoring yourself as a mother?  Is it possible to make room for both joy and sadness, anger and gratitude.  Even if you had a difficult relationship with your child - if there is love...   So many people have said to me how lucky I was to be Artie's love and have him be mine.  So many people never find that.  So many people want children and can't have them - and you did.  Even if not for long enough.  It is never long enough.

I am writing this not knowing if you now think I have lost all understanding.  I may be hiding under the covers on Valentine's Day.  I'll tell you something interesting, though.  I'm going on a cruise with my daughter and granddaughter in July.  By pure accident we are leaving on the anniversary of Artie's death.  My daughter asked me how I will be.  I said, "I don't know."  I don't know is a great leap.  For three years I have been certain that I will be miserable.  Maybe I don't have to be.  Maybe I can find some time during that day to be sad but spend the rest of the time appreciating what there is to appreciate.

This is a very strange post for me.  It puts out the possibility of turning a day that is difficult for so many reasons - into something that may have darkness but also shines with the brightness of the love a mother has for her child.  That the brightness of the love a mother has for her child can triumph even over death.  xo

Grief: What Other People Say...and Don't Say

People have asked me to write about this.  There are two categories.  The first is the things people say that you find hurtful.  The second is when people act like the person who died never existed and won't talk about them and don't want you to either.

When people are trying to be helpful in a hurtful way  some times I can nod my head and other times I can be mean in an attempt to make them understand.  We all have different ways in which we feel supported.  I hate, "I'm sorry for your loss." especially when it is a throw away line.  I didn't lose Artie.  He died.  Some people can accept whatever people say because they understand they are trying to be comforting.  When Artie first died I thought, "I'm okay with not being okay." was a good answer to the kind of stupid question, "How are you?" until only three weeks after his death a good friend said, "Still?".  People, especially people who love you, want to feel better themselves by making you say  you feel better when you really don't.  It's up to you if you want to be honest about how you feel.  There's nothing wrong with choosing to express your true feelings.  There's also nothing wrong with being silent.

Another thing people often say  is "Do you need anything."  Unfortunately the answer to that can be, "Yes.  And it's not you."  That's the hardest thing for people who love you to understand.  I need the support, love, and laughter of my friends but that doesn't take away the need I have for Artie.  What I need is for him to be alive and that is impossible.  Because I have a snarky sense of humor I would say in response to that, "Can you resurrect dead people?"  When they said, "No.", I would reply "I'm okay then.  Just wanted to check."  Humor always helps me.  I look for friends who don't mind snarky humor.

It was different when Artie first died and my unhappiness had a much large quality of desperation to it. However, then and now, who I find most supportive, whether strangers or friends, are people who look me in the eyes and acknowledge the pain I feel missing my husband.  Their words aren't important.  It's the connection with a feeling - the understanding that when Artie died my life changed in ways that even now I struggle with.  That's what I would say to someone who asked, "What do I say to a grieving person?"  Acknowledge the reality of their suffering (even if the person died many many years ago).  What I say now when I meet someone who has had someone die is, "Whatever you want me to say that would be most helpful, pretend that I have just said it."  That acknowledges their feelings and the impossibility of me understanding what will bring comfort where there is no comfort.  I also let people know that whatever they are feeling is normal.

Sometimes in response to someone, I make it personal.  I pick someone in their life that they love more than anything and ask them, "If your wife died - or your child died - would you get over it in 6 months?"  One man had tears in his eyes when he thought of how he would feel if his little girl died.   I call this mean because I don't like to hurt people.   On the other hand, it gives them an understanding that they don't seem to get in any other way.

There are always people who are so uncomfortable with grief that they disappear from your life.  That can be very hurtful.  A woman at a bereavement group said that out of the 700 people who attended her husband's funeral none of them were in contact with her.  If this happens to you, you are not the only one.  I am lucky that two or three of Artie's friends keep in supportive touch with me.  I have friends and family who are always with the real me.  I had someone who was a "best" friend stop speaking to me.  I have also made new friends.  Some of the most understanding, dearest friends come form other people who are also grieving.  How did I find these people?  That goes back to what I always talk about.  Show up.  Show up even when you don't want to.

We can't control what other people say.  I hope that   you find someone to talk with that understands.  If you don't have people in your life that do this - there a lot of on line resources.  There are people I've met through these resources that I am still in touch with regularly.  We are life lines to each other because we have been through similar experiences.

As far as the problem of family and friends not talking about the person that has died - I don't understand that.  I have 23 years of living Artie stories.  I have stories about him since he died.  People who never met him feel like they know him.  I'm lucky that people listen to the stories.  I will say, "My husband used to say "Always leave room for miracles and the inadvertent."  Or something simple - if someone is talking about flowers I might say, "Artie loved roses."  or if they are talking about fighting, I might say how I broke plates once - throwing them on the floor because I was angry.   I was with someone last night and she got a loving message from her partner.  I said, "I'm so glad that you got that message.  I hope you appreciate it.  My message sender is dead."

I've never had anyone tell me not to mention Artie.  If I did, I think I would say that's not possible.  He's a very alive dead person to me and he is still part of my life.  There was a line in a television show.  A man's wife was dead.  Someone asked him, "How long were you together?"  He said, "We still are."   Don't be afraid to tell people not to be afraid to mention someone's name.  Don't be afraid to say you like talking about them.  I do know stories of people who have broken off relationships because people don't want to hear about someone who has died.  In that situation I can only say that I am so sorry when people are cruel, even if that isn't their intention.

You always have the right to respond to what other people say in whatever way is the best for you.  However, if silence is more comfortable with some people than expressing your true self I still hope you find the blessing of at least one person who loves and understands your honest, flawed and beautiful self.  Remember it is okay to say to someone who offers help, "Please listen and accept what I have to say."  I have found that if I take a risk and say or ask what i want to but am afraid to, 90% of the time I get a good response.  When I am honest about my feelings it makes a space for other people to be honest about their feelings.  When I ask for something I am surprised at how often I am given it.

With the percentage of people that walk away from that kind of being in the world - or the people who I walk away from because I don't allow people to mistreat me - there is confusion and pain.  However, what I get from taking the risk far outweighs having to deal with occasional rejection.

It's normal and praiseworthy that we want those we love not to be forgotten.  When I die, I hope there are people who share funny and tender memories of me.  Healing is not getting over it.  Healing is not moving on. Healing is being alive and grieving.  I believe very strongly that grief isn't about stages - it's a roller coaster.  I know people who have happily remarried and still miss the person who has died.  We need to bring grief out of the closet.

I wish always for the world that people tell their stories and that people listen to each others' stories with an understanding rather than a critical ear.  You are normal.  You are brave.  You are a grief warrior. xo

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Grief: Who Am I Since My Husband Died?

I woke up the other morning thinking that anyone who meet me knows within five minutes that I have a dead husband.  I define myself first and always as the Widow Warner, Jan without Artie, the woman who is grieving.  That's not untrue.  I am that.  However, there are many other ways I can define myself.

I am a mother, and a grandmother.  I am lucky in my friends because I am a good friend. It is important to me to help other people. I have a snarky sense of humor.  I am creative.  I am lazy.  I write, I read.  I have people who consult me when they are making a documentary.  I love theater.  I have started reading and traveling again.  I am opinionated.  That technique I have mentioned before - and who else am I?  I could continue asking myself that question and come up with many more answers.

Why is what I have lost, my sadness and my loneliness, always put front and center? I know that it is partly because I write this blog and I always want to be available to other grieving people.

On the other hand, what would happen if only for a week, I didn't always talk about Artie.  What would happen if I met someone and just said, "Hi, I'm Jan."

In some ways I might feel cut off from my real self.  I know too many people who are afraid to talk about those they love who have died.  They are afraid people will roll their eyes and tell them to accept it and move on.  I want to keep educating people about what grief is - that it may shift but true grief doesn't end.  My goal is never to get over my grief - merely to spend more time being productive - more time showing up - more time learning how to have happy moments.

What is my real self?  Maybe it is made up of many parts.  Maybe the grieving part can sometimes not be first in line.  Maybe the other parts of me want a chance to be up front.  If I go a day without mentioning Artie I don't need to feel guilty.  He knows how much I love him.  He might ask for some attention.  I can stop and give it to him.

I don't have a nice clean end to this post.  I am pondering what it means to be Jan without Artie.  That's not right.  I am never Jan without Artie.  I am pondering what it means to let Jan with Artie be someone who doesn't say "My husband died almost 4 years ago." at the beginning of every conversation.  A lot of the time while Artie was alive I went out and did things without him.  Maybe I can do the same ting now that he is dead.  It's a little scary.

It's always a little scary waking up without being able to cuddle with him in the morning.  It's always lonely coming home and not having him there to share things with in a physical way - so that I can hear his voice, look into his eyes, see his smile.

I do it though.  Every day.

How do I define myself now that my husband is dead?  Still working on that one.  xo

Grief: Signs and Wonders

Some people have an organized faith that hopefully gives them strength and support.  Some people have faith that comes from their own spirituality.  Some people are atheists.  I am a skeptic whose belief in something other seems to increase daily.  Signs and wonders are everywhere.  It is up to each person whether they notice them or not.

I am writing about this because of three things that happened to me recently.  I got an e-mail from a poet friend who was visiting New York City.  She was sitting with someone on a bench in Central Park chatting and eating a hot dog.  Before they left they turned around to read the plaque on the bench.  It said, "Artie and Jan Warner, Mr. Dazzle and Mrs. Panache, I love you, You're my heart. Always."  Central Park is huge.  There are many, many benches.  What are the odds that they would be sitting on the one with the plaque I had put on for Artie when he died?  Was it a coincidence?  Was it a sign?  It was certainly a wonder.  It gave me chills - in a good way.  That was my favorite thing he said to me, "I love you. You're my heart."

I have changed one of my behaviors (drum roll please!).  Most mornings when I get up instead of turning on the television and being depressed by the news I have been reading.  I read from This I Believe, a book of short statements from people about what they believe in that inspires them.  I read part of Finding Sarah - the book that the Duchess of York sent me - which details how she began to find her true self.  In the chapter I was reading in her book she included the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.  While I have always found this so meaningful - I had quite forgotten about it.  That's not the weird thing.  Immediately after than I began reading the book Sharon Tate's family wrote about how the Manson murders have affected them their whole lives.  There it was again:  the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.   For those of you who don't know it - here it is:

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

It doesn't matter what religion you are - or if you have no religion.  This prayer is a road map for how to live.  It's not always easy.  I'm in an anger loop with someone at the moment and need to let it go. Sometimes I don't have the energy or the willingness to to live like this - but it is always something for me to aspire to.

Thirdly - I was lucky enough to have a dear friend invite myself, my daughter, and my granddaughter to her house at the sea shore.  Before I went I did my normal, what if I have a bad time? silliness.  Why can't I expect to have a good time?  I did actually have a wonderful time.  When I went out on the beach with my granddaughter in the morning before the others joined us I could feel Artie all around me.  I could feel my husband in every grain of sand, in every drop of water in every wave, in the blueness of the sky and the brightness of the sun.  I fell sad and happy, comforted and discontented, lonely and very loved.  I let all those emotions rush through me and then went back to throwing sand in my granddaughter's bucket.

My bedroom is painted black.  There is very little light in there.  I like to spend time there.  Maybe too much time.  Sometimes it seems as if since Artie died all the beauty in the world is too painful to see.  That's okay, as long as I move out of that space.  If I never close my eyes they will be irritated.  However, if I never open my eyes I will miss so much.

I have described rather big signs and wonders.  Sometimes a sign or a wonder is a simple as the taste of a sweet strawberry or a smile on a stranger's face.  The thing a small child teaches us is that there is wonder in almost everything.  How do we, as adults, reclaim that sense of newness and curiosity.

I will say to myself every day - and perhaps you can to - I know where my pain is...where is my wonder?  What am I not seeing because my mind is jumping about telling me only sad stories.  Dear mind, tell me happy stories.  Dear eyes, open to the beauty in the world.  Touch, taste, hearing, smell as well.  Even if I think - Oh Artie - why I am not sharing this with you - Oh Artie - I am sharing it with you.  I see your smile as it was - and now - I feel you everywhere. That is the biggest wonder of all.  How can someone who died be nowhere and everywhere at the same time?  I don't need to answer that question...just breathe in the mystery.  xo