Sunday, June 23, 2013

Grief: Do I Look Like I'm Falling Apart?

Do I look like I'm falling apart?  No.  When you see me out in the world I usually look pretty normal.  I laugh and I carry on intelligent conversations.  If you are a good friend you know some of the damage missing Artie every minute of every day does to me because I talk about it.  Maybe you don't really understand it because I don't usually get tears in my eyes any more.  I joke about it.  When I was out with a group of women friends and there was a question of how late we would stay in a restaurant I said, "I'm good with any time.  Artie's ashes don't care what time I get home."  See, I almost said my ashes.  They're his ashes - not mine.  One friend said something lovely, "Maybe they do."

If you live with me for a time - for example, if you share a hotel room with me or when I stay at my daughter's house - then you see more.  I need time to myself.  I still don't do a whole day and night very well.  I need time to just stop and hurt and regroup.  I'm irritable.  If I'm with you all the time I'm not going to be able to hide that part.  I'm honest about it.  I always say I'm not easy to be with.  Grief has a throbbing pounding accumulation as the days go by.  Someone asked me on the first anniversary of his 36 year old son's death, "Does it get easier?"  I said, "It gets different."

Am I falling apart?  Do I do myself a disservice by only describing myself to myself in terms of the bits that don't work well instead of those that do?  I still have a terrible time getting up in the morning.  I have trouble sleeping.  I watch too much TV.  My body aches from not being held.  I feel like I haven't physically or psychologically relaxed - no matter how comfortable my apartment is - for almost four years.  I still bang my head because I'm not paying attention.  I just did that.  I still put my clothes on backwards.  I still have that, "Why bother?"

Do you remember the questions, Who else are you?,  What else do you do?  That's the part I don't honor enough.  That same group of women I was with love me.  They think I'm amazing.  A lot of people do.  I haven't written a book - but I write this blog.  I'm involved in a lot of different projects.  I'm a good grandmother.  I pay my bills on time.  I make people laugh.

I finally asked someone to be my food coach.  I'm tired of looking in the mirror and seeing the way I look.  I'm not going to get younger but I could get fitter.  I would feel better.

At 62, I'm still a work in progress.  That's a good thing.  I want Artie to be a part of that.  Maybe he is.

How many of us look at what we haven't done instead of what we have.  I have the same experience with friends.  I think they are amazing.  I think they accomplish more than I do.  They are looking at what they haven't done.

I don't know where this all leads.  I know that Artie - through his work in Alcoholics Anonymous - saved a lot of lives.  I know that he felt like a failure. It didn't matter what I said.  Then when he was dying we left the front door unlocked from 10 am to 10 pm and a lot of people dropped by to tell him they loved him and to thank him for the ways in which he had helped them.  It took him until those last two weeks of his long life to say to me - and to believe, "I really did do some good in this world.  People really do love me."  I was so happy he finally got it.  I said, "Of course."  Everyone knew it except him.

Maybe that's the task.  Don't wait until the last two weeks of your life to look around and find the people who love you  Don't wait until the last two weeks of your life to look around and pay attention to the things you do instead of the things you don't do.

Part of holding both sides - is having both sides.  Have the grieving part; the missing part; the lonely part but don't forget to find ways to have the alive, happy, meaningful, joyful part.  When you have those parts - don't forget to pay attention to them and give them weight.

Sometimes the alive parts feel hollow.  Especially in the silence.  They usually don't feel hollow when you are living them.  It's only afterwards when you want to share them and the person you want to share them with isn't alive.

I found out something interesting about taking a shower.  It feels good to have the hot water running on my body.  It's a good time to think.  It's nice to feel clean.  Just for me.  Not for anyone else.  That's a simple thing but it took me a long time to get there.

The fourth anniversary of Artie's death is July 17th.  Part of me feels like I can't go on with out him another day.  Another part of me is having a heck of a good time.  I want to die today and be reunited with the man I love.  I want to live a long time and watch my granddaughter grow up and have new experiences.  Both.

I usually try to tie these posts up in a nice little something or other.  Why?  I want to give you a way to not fall apart but maybe that's not the answer.  Life itself is a falling apart.  It's what I do with the falling apart bits and the not falling apart bits that make a difference.

Another Sunday without Artie.  I hope I make it one with happy moments.  xo

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Grief: A Rambling Post For Father's Day

My understanding of the world of grief keeps expanding.  I kinda wish it wouldn't.  When I wrote about Mother's Day I was thinking about mothers whose children had died.  I wrote about the possibility of staying firmly in the good memory parts and how difficult or easy that might be.

Someone wrote a comment.  My post for Father's Day has to change.  Father's Day is like so many holidays.  They are everywhere.  You can't avoid them.  If they are a trigger for sadness or anger you either duck and run or deny or cry or rant or maybe all of that. 

My daughter's best friend died at the age of 36 in June 2012.  This is his father's first Father's Day without him. My daughter asked me what should say.  Something.  Say something. His Dad is going to be thinking about him. Honor that.  So many fathers crying for their dead children.  Hopefully they know it's okay to cry.

What I realized is that Father's Day is also a difficult day for many mothers.  How do you get through Father's Day if your husband has died and you have to explain to your children why their Daddy isn't coming home?  You have to deal with your own grief and your children's as well.  You have to find the energy to creatively comfort them while finding some comfort for yourself.  Come to us, comfortless comfort.

Father's Day can be a difficult day for little children who don't entirely understand about death.  It can be a difficult day for grown up children.  I saw a post on Facebook. Someone wished their father in heaven a Happy Father's Day and said she will always be Daddy's little girl.  Little sons and daughters need a father's love and advice but so do big sons and daughters.

Now I'm starting to feel like Mrs. Doom and Gloom. Honestly, I'm tired.  I just came home and I can't get used to coming home when Artie isn't here. My train was late and I had a big wave of self pity hit when I heard people around me calling their special folks to say they would be late.  How many times did I have the privilege - without knowing it was a privilege - to make that phone call to Artie. I'm feeling a bit out of sorts but didn't want to fail to acknowledge the date coming up tomorrow.

It doesn't mean we can't be happy.  It doesn't mean we can't throw steaks on the grill and have a picnic or see a movie.  It doesn't mean we can't tell stories.  I keep writing about these things because I want people to be aware.  Before you say, "Happy Father's Day", think about who you are talking to.  If you know someone who is struggling, don't back away.  Talk about the person that has died.  Offer to take a kid out somewhere to do guy things. 

I think I'm feeling grouchy today.  I want my words to smooth out and they won't.  Artie used to call it the rumbling under the volcano.  Death sucks.  That's the bottom line.

Remember that whether father, child, widow, they all remember.  You don't help by being silent.  Dead or alive Father's Day is a time to celebrate what the true meaning of fatherhood is.  Layers.  Holding it all.  Allowing other's to hold it all. this awkward post I'm myself again.  May you find the way to put the loneliness in the forgetting place and all the joyful and funny memories in the remembering place.  Fathers and daughters, fathers and sons.  If you were lucky enough to have that be a beautiful relationship for you treasure that.  Maybe I'm struggling because I didn't have a loving father. Maybe I'm struggling because it's my nature to struggle - and laugh at myself for still struggling.

Ramble ramble ramble.

 I hope on Father's Day something makes you smile, even if it's my own inadequate self.   xo

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Grief: What Part Of Me Doesn't Know You're Dead?

The other night I had a dream.  Someone called and told me that you (my dead husband) were in California.  You were sick and wanted me to see you again and take care of you.  They didn't know where you were.  I searched and searched.  I called everyone I knew who knew you.  I hired a private detective.  I was so glad you wanted me to be with you again but I couldn't get to you, even though you needed me.  Finally, frustrated and a desperate kind of sad I woke up. 

It's been almost four years.  I know you are dead.  I know you left me because your body was too sick to stay, not because you wanted to.  I know how to change the course of my dreams, how to influence their content.  None of that matters.  I often dream a version of that dream.  I dream that I am looking for you and I can't find you.  One morning it was nice.  There was a pillow leaning against my back and for a minute I thought it was you.  Most of the time, though, I'm not dreaming that we are having good times together.  I am dreaming this fruitless impossible search.

We lived together in a house in Carmel, CA.  After Artie died I packed up and put the house on the market.  I always loved NYC and we fought about where we should live - because Artie loved Carmel.  I came to live in an apartment I already had in NYC.  One he never visited because as much as he loved NYC he was afraid to travel once he found out he had a wonky heart.  A man with only half of one artery open in his heart who died of cancer.  How ironic is that?  I packed up and moved fairly quickly.  The house was too empty and too painful without Artie in it.  I went back before it sold because I hadn't said goodbye properly.  I did a funny thing before I left for the last time.  I looked for him.  I knew he wasn't there.  I knew he was dead.  I looked in all the closets.  I even looked places he couldn't fit, like the cupboards under the sink.  I wanted to make sure.  I didn't want to leave him behind.  The last place I looked was in the mirror where he shaved every morning.  I wanted to see his face in the mirror.  In a phone call with a medium (Yes, I do that once a year on our anniversary which is my birthday.  My birthday present in 1996 was to get married.) he said to me, "The reason why you didn't see me in the mirror was that I was standing right behind you."

I know Artie is dead in my mind.  I remember those last weeks, those last moments, that last breath.  I remember the men from the Neptune Society (who cremate you) coming to my door.  I told them, "I know he's dead but he's my husband.  Please don't call him "the deceased" or "the remains".  He has a name.  Call him Artie."  Before they wheeled him out the door I said to him, "I'm sorry I'm not coming with you but that would be stupid because you're dead."  I can't remember what I did yesterday but I remember that last night and day in vivid detail.  I stood at the door and watched his body being driven away.  When he exhaled his last breath I watched him - I want to say fly - so I will - fly away. 

I know Artie is dead in my body.  I haven't been held in almost 4 years.  I haven't looked into his eyes in almost 4 years.  I feel as though, as comfortable as my new apartment is, I haven't relaxed physically in 4 years.  I miss his touch.  I miss his smile.  I miss his every thing.  I even miss our ridiculously terrible arguments. 

I know Artie is dead in my heart.  I keep him alive by remembering him but there are no new memories - only the old ones.  There is hope that he looks over me and holds me in whatever his new form is.  There is hope that one day we will be reunited...but my heart grieves because the form that I so loved is gone.  His face, his voice, his body are gone never to return.  All the pictures I have are of a dead man.  When I die those parts of me will be gone too.  But I'm still here on earth so I crave earthly things.  My heart knows that I am in love with a dead man.  It even questions if that is the right thing to do.  Should I be looking for a living man to share the rest of my days with?  What does loyalty and marriage mean when Artie is definitely dead. 

I don't know what part of me still thinks he's alive.  Awake, I feel like I have no denial.  I have the illusion or truth of communication with his spirit.  Awake, I know that communication with his spirit is not the same thing as communication with a living being.  I even sense when I think certain thoughts - that he might like a TV show or a t-shirt - that he says to me, "No body."   Still, in my sleeping state, I look for him everywhere.  Gore Vidal called them frustration dreams.  Dreams where you are pursuing the impossible with increasing levels of dis-ease.  Who am I without my husband?  I'm living more of my life in the alive side of grief and yet...

The fourth anniversary of Artie's death is July 17th.  Is the dark side of grief pulling me towards it, even now?

All this, no matter how I analyze it - remains a mystery.  I don't know, I only believe.  Is Artie's spirit reaching for me?  Does he miss being alive with me?  Does his spirit need me to take care of it?  Am I limited in my understanding of the way he takes care of me now?  Am I limited in my understanding of the way he needs me to take care of him now?  Can a spirit need to be taken care of?  Can a spirit be jealous? 

This is a post about questions - not answers.  If I had a secure faith there might be answers but for me there is uncertainty.   All I know is that Artie will never come home to me in the way I want him to.  I have to continue this life journey without my alive him.  I have to be brave when I am frightened.  I have to deal every day with the unthinkable.  My dead husband is very alive to me.  I can't bear it any other way.   Someone said, "My past is my future."  In my love life that might be true.  Sometimes that is okay, sometimes it is incredibly lonely.  Most of the time I can hold both.

That's the part I always try to end with (begin with?).  Now that I've written this all down - I can get up and get dressed and be present in my life today.  Ready.  Steady.  Go....                xo

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Grief: What Is A Grief Warrior?

Grief can take you down.  Way down.  My husband was 20 years older than I was.  When I first met him, he lied about his age.  When he admitted his real age my first thought was sickness and death.  People would ask - how can you be in love with someone so much older than you are?  Then I would show them his picture and they would know.  He was handsome and charming and until the end didn't look his age.  I didn't wake up one morning and decide to fall in love with an older man.  I woke up one morning and this older man walked into my bookstore and we knew that one way or another we would be together forever. 

While he was living I imagined his death.  The age difference meant that he would probably die before me.  I thought I would be very sad but also that I would have a certain freedom to live the way I wanted to.  Then Artie got very sick.  For six weeks he was misdiagnosed with diverticulitis by a very bad doctor who didn't listen to me and some how missed the fact that Artie had stage 4 cancer that had spread throughout his body.  He was dead six weeks after he was examined by a good doctor. Unfortunately the misdiagnosis took away his chance to fight.

I never understood when people said they were surprised when someone who was dying actually died.  I do now.  No matter how sick someone is, no matter how long they have been sick, you don't expect them to die that minute, that day. Artie had two friends visiting him in addition to his caregiver.  His hospital bed was in the living room of our house. We enjoyed holding hands and listening to music.  (Artie was lucky to have a good death - if there is such a thing - at home.)  I went out and bought CDs.  Jazz musicians he loved.  New artists I though he might like.  The bag of CDs stayed unopened by the front door for many days.  When I went out I thought we had time.  I came home and he was spiraling down.  If I had known he was going to die that night I would never have left his side. I didn't know he was going to die that night. If I had know that I wouldn't have gone  He died in July, I had thought August. I was lucky though.  Artie and I got to create lovely memories while he was dying.  I didn't have the traumatic experience of having him walk out the door and never come back.

I used to say "we died" instead of "he died".  Part of me still feels that way. I did a funny thing - I put my clothes on backwards.  I would look and see where the tags were and still have to turn them around three or four times to get them right.  I lost interest in everything.  We had this rule, nobody leaves.  He didn't leave because he wanted to; his body was too sick to stay.  His last words to me were, "I love you."  My last words to him were, "I love you too."  I couldn't understand why he didn't come back and get me.

Now over almost four years later I wake up every morning and my first thought is, "Artie's dead."  Then I have to figure out how to live my life again without him.  One day at a time.  I can't explain why some people don't react this way.  I want to be as accepting of their process as I want them to be of mine.  Secretly, maybe unfairly, I think the depth of grief is a measure of the depth of love.  I didn't grieve for my parents.   They weren't nice people, to me or to each other.  I grieve for friends, but not the way I do for my husband.  He is my soul mate.  We called each other "raison d'etre" - French for reason for being.  He leaves a place in my life that even if I were to fall madly in love again (could I?  would I?) that will never be filled.  I know many people who are happily remarried and still miss the spouse that has died. If you have 10 children and one dies you miss that child.  If you buy a new puppy you miss the dog that you love that is dead. I took my wedding ring and his wedding ring (he never wore one in any of his other marriages and he had other marriages) off for a while but I put them back on.  I like wearing them. 

So many words without answering the question.  I call us grief warriors because we do battle every day.  Some days we win, some days not so much.  I have heard from people who 10 or 20 years after a death say that the battle continues.  The battle isn't so much with grief as it is with the dark side of grief.  There is a side of grief that mimics depression.  It makes you want to die.  It makes you want to never do anything ever again because it all seems pointless.  That is not the only side of grief.  There is another side which I call being alive with grief.  That is the side of grief that lets me know how lucky I am to have that kind of love in my life.  It is the side of grief that inspires me to live life fully because I live for two.  My husband loved life and he would hate me wasting mine.  It is the side of grief that inspires me to create meaning in my life in honor of my husband.  It is the side of grief that says laugh with me, dance with me, let me motivate you to be fully alive while you live.  

Sometimes being a grief warrior means taking a shower.  I still some times think, why should I take a shower?  Who cares if I do?  Artie used to have a note that said, "Take a shower."  As a recovering alcoholic he knew that taking a shower was a sign that he was taking care of himself.   My husband is dead.  I am alive.  I take a shower.  I put on earrings.  The why bother? question keeps coming back.  I need to have as weapons good answers for it.  You need to have your own answers.  Create them.  If you have one - find one more.  If you have ten, find ten more.

Since I started writing this blog I have learned that there are a lot of people who pretend to be fine.  Their grief is secret.  That is okay.  It can be exhausting trying to explain to others what you are feeling when even if they love you, maybe because they love you, they don't want to hear about it.  However because I keep talking about it people tell me things they don't tell anyone else.  I had a TSA agent stop me and tell me that her husband died 11 years ago and her grief never stops.  She had just gone to a wedding and it brought it all back.  Going through customs in London, the customs agent told my about her father dying.  A woman in a grocery store check out line (in my dear NYC where we aren't very chatty with strangers) told me her husband had died.  I told her everything she was feeling was normal.  This anecdotal evidence proves that there is a wide range of normalcy in grief.  It also proves that grief isn't about stages and recovery.  It is about riding a wild bull; accepting the dark while learning and using techniques that allow you to spend as much time as you can in the alive part. When you get thrown off yet again, you will be able to get up more quickly and stay on longer.

In a poetry workshop a woman wrote, "My mother always dies in March."  If you ignore the darker side of grief your body will tell you it's there.  You will lose things.  You will get sick.  You will find that you are exhausted.  Find someone to tell the truth to - even if it is the pages of a journal.  I have a friend I e-mail almost every day.  I can tell her I wish I was dead, that life is impossible without Artie and she understands.  I'm giving voice to the dark side.  Then I can go on and have happy moments.

That is where the showing up comes in.  Putting yourself over and over in places where life is.  Doing things that you have lost interest in - or trying new things.  Thinking about how many times you laughed today.  Looking around for something beautiful and sharing it with yourself.  Waiting, maybe, for the day you will be reunited with the people and animals you love - but making the best you can of the time you have left here on earth.

If you are reading this you are a grief warrior.  Every breath you take is being a grief warrior.  You build from there.  I'm breathing.  Now what.  I'm so sad.  What else?  I have a rule I'm only allowed to stay in my house one day in a row.  Sometimes I set the alarm for 10 minutes and turn over in bed and do nothing but miss my husband.  Sometimes I set the alarm for another 10 minutes.  Then I get up and try to do something that I feel would make Artie proud. I want to look back on my day and feel that I have done at least one good thing - no matter how simple.  Sometimes I don't make it.  Sometimes I do.  In some ways time going by makes it more difficult. Almost 4 years of missing my darling husband.  When I was in England I saw the gravestone of the Queeen Mother.  She waited 50 years to be reunited with her husband.  She appeared to be full of life.  Like Betty White.  Like so many other people.  How do they do it?  I would say I don't know - but I do.

They do it by stringing together as many happy moments as they can.  They acknowledge those moments as well as the sad ones.  Usually they do something to help other people.   I saw on television a man who had been a child during the Cambodian genocide.  He plays the flute.  He said -
"It hurts.  I can't ever bring back my little sister and brother."  Then he talked about how there is a whole generation of Cambodians missing.  He uses his music to feel better himself, but he also teaches others.  He teaches them to create beautiful music, but he also teaches them to be teachers.  He is alive with grief. 

Don't compare yourself with others.  Don't make the mistake of thinking big things are more important than small things.

That is what I wish for you, and for me.  I wish that the darker moments of grief take up less space in your day.  I wish that the inspiring parts of grief allow you live your life in ways that feel increasingly full (without guilt).  If you had a happy moment today - notice it.  Water it.  Nurture it.  If you didn't - look for one tomorrow.  Sometimes happy moments are all around us but grief becomes a blindfold and we can't see them.  If we see them we can't feel them.  Let happy moments fill you up the way the sadness does.  There is room for both.  What you are is enough.  What you do is enough.  My granddaughter hurt her leg going down a slide and she stopped walking for a while.  She was scared to put her foot down. Even when it didn't hurt as much as it did the very idea of having her foot on the ground set her shrieking.  A horrible wounded sound.  Then she tried it.  Then she held someone's hand and took a step.  Now she's walking again.  Being a grief warrior is like that.  Shrieking may be part of it - but so is learning to walk again.  Learning to skip and jump and run.  With love.  xo