Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grief: An Imbalancing Act - One for the Seesaw

I have never been a particularly balanced person.  I actually like being a little off center.  With Artie's death, though, I'm no longer even sure where the balance line is.  I feel all the time like I am an only child wanting to play on the seesaw and my best friend can't sit on the other side any more.  Maybe I am thinking that because in Dubrovnik, of all places, my granddaughter dGwendy and I went on a bouncing seesaw in a playground.  Our guide helped give her more weight and up and down we went.  You just can't do a seesaw by yourself.  So...do I find other things to play on?

Artie was my balancer.  He would catch me when I fell emotionally.  Oh, we fought.  I think I have said before that when we had a bad fight - when it was over - we would look at each other and say, "Who were those people and how did they get into our house?"  I was his balancer too.  We understood each other in a way no one ever did before in our lives.  We were interdependent.  We took care of each other.  Is he taking care of me now?  I think he is.  It matters but it doesn't matter.  There is no weight on his side of the seesaw.  I can't go up by myself.  I have to move over to the swings and push.  Sometimes I don't have the energy.

If I write too much about the dark times do I feel and others feel that I am living in a negative loop that I know how to get out of?  If I write too much about the positive steps I take and the happy moments do I feel and do others feel that I have left the truth behind?  I don't have balance because for me grief doesn't have balance.  One moment I am full of energy; the next I am stopped.  One moment I am laughing, the next crying.  One moment I am surrounded by friends and family, the next I am totally alone in the world.

I've lost my personal advisor.  How am I doing Artie?  Should I edit this?  Should I take a day off?

I've lost my go to guy.  Here's what I did today.  Are you proud?  Can I make you giggle?

I've lost my compass, my north star.  Together we could map the route.  Alone I find my way but the paths are overgrown.

This is silly but my domain name is expiring on August 11th and I can't find the place to change my credit card.  Artie wouldn't have had a clue how to do it.  He used to have people come over to set the clocks when the power went off before he met me.  But he would hold me and pet my head because I was frustrated.

Ballet dancers balance on their toes for hours. Gymnasts do stunts on a balance beam.  Maybe the trick isn't to try to be a ballet dancer or a gymnast.  Better to try to be a clown, a comedian.  I'm good at pratfalls.  I can fall and not hurt myself.  I can even get back up without help.  Sometimes quickly; sometimes slowly and with pain.

Maybe part of being alive with grief is to nurture oneself in a different way.  Maybe all that talk about being centered and balanced is a myth.  I'm starting to think that being present means taking in what comes - rocking with it - and then letting go to go on to the next bit.  There is a move I've been taught from Aikido.  If you stand your ground with clenched teeth and fists and someone tries to push you over - it's easy for them to do.  If you stand loosely and when they push you, you go with the push - they can't move you at all.  You have gotten power by going with the movement presented to you.

So balancing is easier if I welcome all my feelings which means allowing the possibility of light and dark, fear and courage, joy and despair, loneliness and community.  Honor the one that is present instead of fighting and then ask it's opposite to come in.  Today I am frightened - hello fear - meet courage.

So much of learning is remembering what we already know but keep forgetting because that person, those people, those animals - are no longer here to remind us.  Remember when they reminded us of something and we said, "NO!"   There are a lot of things Artie told me about myself I didn't recognize were true until he was no longer here to tell me.

I'm not going to take my seesaw out of my garden.  I had too many good times on it.  I'm going to try to remember the slide and the swings.  I have to find different ways.  I've always said my role models for depression are Carrie Fisher and Winston Churchill.  Maybe I can use my imbalances to give me strength and creativity.

I am alive.  I am breathing.  I will figure some of it out.  The rest...hopefully...Artie will tell me about some day when we are no longer separate but are both in the same form.  Maybe that was the truth all along; the balance that I'm lacking now waits for me further along in my journey.  Artie and I stood once in a concert hall and sang..."Lean on Me".   I hope some day we can lean on each other again and not fall over into empty space.  Until that time - all us grief warriors - we will lean on each other.  xo

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Grief: Taking My Grief On A Cruise

I am docked in the port of Kusadasi, Turkey with my daughter and granddaughter.  I survived being on a plane on the fourth anniversary of my husband's death.  The folks around me survived too.  I am a little less irritable but still not an easy traveling companion.  Since I am alone, it is difficult not to be alone.  I find I need times to retreat and just be instead of do.

On Corfu, a Greek island, I learned that widows still wear black for the rest of their lives.  I like being able to choose what I want to wear, but part of me wishes we hadn't abandoned that tradition.  At least when you are wearing mourning clothes it tells people something about you.  I wear all kinds of color and I have to say "My husband's dead." or no one will know.  Why do I want everyone to know?  I haven't figured that out yet.  I could talk about other things but usually within 10 minutes of a conversation I have mentioned Artie and then added that he died.  There are a lot of important things I could share about myself.  Why does my husband's life and death always seem the most important?

In Santorini, another Greek island, I bought a ring with small black and clear diamonds.  It seemed symbolic.  With the black for death and the white for life - although in some cultures people wear white for mourning - and sparkle for love; I thought I could replace my wedding ring I wear along with Artie's.  I did that for about 8 hours.  I still feel married.  I still feel more comfortable with the rings on.

In Dubrovnik, Croatia there were pictures of the partisans who died in the recent war.  Faces of beautiful young men.  I looked closely at each of their faces.  I wanted to look into the eyes in the photographs and think of those who love them.  When Artie was alive I wouldn't have thought of doing that.  There is in my mind a magical kind of balance...if I will make an effort to remember others perhaps others will remember Artie.  We must remember that each individual life mean something.  Our loved ones must not disappear in to a teeming sea of dead people.  Artie matters.  Whoever you are thinking about right now (animals included) because you are reading this matters. 

There have been many fun times.  My granddaughter Gwendy saw her first dolphins today.  She charms people wherever she goes.  We have seen some exquisitely beautiful scenery.  The deep blue of first the Ionian Sea and then the Aegean.  It is difficult to let all the beauty in.  My eyes see it but there is a place that feeling to deeply can still hurt.  There is a place that still wants to shut my eyes because there is no one at home waiting for me that I can call and tell my stories too.

With or without me the stories continue to be told.  I hear so many stories and learn so much about people as I travel around.  I don't think you can understand a country by reading about it.  I think you have to be there and hear the stories and taste the food and smell the air.  

Always...how to live in the present moment.  How to know that Artie finds me wherever I am.  When he was alive I travelled around on my own sometimes.  Every morning and every evening I talked to him.  When I got home I told him stories as he was going to sleep.  

His story continues because of the people who talk about him and in whose heart he still lives.  Perhaps his story continues somewhere (as I believe it does) that I cannot travel to yet.  I don't have a passport for that place.  It is he who must come to me in my dreams and in my awake.  

My story must continue as well because if I am alive I must be alive.  How we all travel together on this blue and green planet.  How people grief and laugh and love and not love in every country.  

Together...we can do it.  At home or away...what will our story be today?  Tomorrow is Athens.  Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Byzantium and more.  For centuries there are those who have died and know the secret of what comes next and those of us who wait to join them trying to make each day have within its hours at least one special moment. Here is to you finding your special moments - and having the finding of them get easier with each passing day.  xo 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Grief: Up the Down Staircase: The Fourth Anniversary of My Husband's Death

There was a book a long time ago called Up the Down Staircase.  I was thinking what to call this weird unwanted yet sometimes quite amazing thing that has been my life since Artie died.  Maybe it should be Up the Down Escalator.  You have to train to run quickly up an elevator going down to get to the top.  Or if you have a key (like the men who carry bags for you at Penn Station) you can just turn the key and the down escalator will start going up.  Sometimes I have that key, sometimes I have it and forget to use it.  Sometimes I don't even remember what the key looks like.

I was going to write this yesterday.  Four years ago I didn't know that Artie was going to die in the early morning hours of July 17, 2009.  On the 16th he was with two of his best friends and a caregiver and I went out to take a break.  I bought a bag full of CDs for us to listen to together.  That bag stayed unopened by the front door for a very long time.  I never understood why people would say, "I was surprised when he died." when they knew the person was dying.  I learned that day that you never expect them to die that day, that hour, that minute.  Just a little more time.  Please don't go yet.  Yesterday was Artie's dying day.

I started out doing well yesterday.  Even the days before.  I had fun with friends.  i saw Emmylou Harris who makes 66 years old powerful and sexy.  I couldn't have done that even last year.  Yesterday morning I ran errands.  I had all intentions of getting things done.  I wanted to write and say how I had changed and how proud I was that I could get through the day.  Then about 4 pm the old familiar sinkhole opened up.  There I was with the overwhelming anxiety and an almost palpable pain in my chest. Artie was dying and I couldn't stop it.  It didn't feel like past time, it felt like present time.  I stopped.  I watched TV, I ate, I stared.  I kept setting the alarm so I could get up and do things.  I didn't.  All my techniques and tools weren't even in my thoughts.  My only thought was my husband might be here in spirit but he is never coming back to hold me again and tell me that he loves me.  He tells me every day - but not in his old voice.  I have his ashes at home and for the first time in a long time I held them on my lap.  I know he's not in his ashes, but they are the only bits I have left of what used to be him.

Today is different.  Today is the actual anniversary of his death.  The first "person" I told when I wandered into our bedroom and finally lay down was his teddy bear.  I said, "I'm so sorry but your person isn't coming back.  I'll try to take care of you."  Today I have to get everything done that I didn't do yesterday.  I am leaving today for Venice, Italy with my daughter and granddaughter - little Gwendy blue eyes.  We are going on a cruise to Dubrovnik, Greece and Ephesus in Turkey.  I couldn't have done that on any other anniversary of his death.  I am more alive with grief now that I am dead with grief.  Most of the time.

Someone wrote beautifully about how long the gestation of our new self takes.  This new self we are forced to give birth to.  The self that lives on without the physical presence of the beloved.  I read again today someone whining about people who mourn too long.  They do not understand that if love is deep and true the missing is life long.  I also read Betty White saying that even after 30 years her husband Allen Ludden is in her home and heart.  My daughter asked me how I would be today.  I said I didn't know.  I don't.  I asked for permission to be quiet or sad or distant - or even happy and involved.  Sometimes I can let in the light - sometimes the window shades are pulled so tight I can't even remember where the windows are.

One thing I know is that for a loner and very private person in normal life - the community of grief warriors has been of tremendous help to me.  Helping each other helps every one of us.  I am grateful for those of you that dance these complicated dance steps with me.  Showing up when I didn't want to has given me many happy memories.  Trying to help others has brought me numerous joys.

I didn't have room for Artie's drums when I moved.  I gave them to a dear friend of his.  I asked him to bang the drums today for Artie.  He said he'd bang them for Artie and for me.  Bang your drums everyone.  Make a lot of noise.  On Facebook I ask people to do something for someone else to keep Artie's smile going.  I got the idea from another widow who asked people to pay it forward for her husband Don.  We make a difference.   You make a difference.

Why bother?  I can't answer that for you but if you bang your drums hard enough you might find the answer in the rhythm of the sound you make.  xo

Friday, July 12, 2013

Grief: Facebook Page - www.facebook.com/GriefSpeaksOut

This isn't really a post - I'm not sure if my Facebook Badge is updated correctly.  A dear friend asked me to start a Facebook page on grief.  It has quotes, pictures, links to blog posts and anyone is welcome to share whatever they want.  I want it to be a place to come for support.  You are as welcome there as you are here.  The name of the page is Grief Speaks Out because I believe that we have a right to our grief.  It shouldn't have to go underground.  We have a right to feel what we are feeling, to talk about it.  We also have a right to talk about those we love who have died.  They are gone from the earth but not from our hearts and minds.  We want them to be remembered.  We want to tell our stories.  As long as I am alive who Artie was and what he had to teach will continue through me.

I always am humbled and greatly appreciate anyone who reads my words.  Anything I post belongs to anyone who wants to use it.  You may copy any post for private and/or public distribution with or without attribution.  This applies to private people, grief counselors, publishers, other grief sites, teachers - everyone.

Also feel free to e-mail me at eyeseepic@aol.com if you want to share.  I don't always answer right away but I do answer.

Even though sometimes I try to go backward or come to a dead stop (funny use of words that) like riding on a train it seems I have to move forward.  I want you to come with me.  I know each of you has a special light to give and a special meaning to your life.  Thank you for spending time with me.  xo

Grief: The Day After and The Day After and The Day After

I was going to write this on July 5th.  I actually had fun on July 4th.  My granddaughter is a year and a half and every time a firework exploded she said, "Wow!".  When she was tired she said, "All done." and kept saying it until we put her in her car seat to take her home.  She fell asleep immediately.

Some people have a difficult time on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, death anniversaries.  People pray for them on that day,  if they pray.  People are more sympathetic - if you are lucky to have sympathetic people in your life.  I have learned how to cushion those days.  I either plan special things with friends and family or I plan to hide comfortably in my bed  It is the day after that things often come crashing down.  My grief doesn't let me skip over it.  It wants my attention.

This might also be called The Days Before.  It is the 4th anniversary of my husband's death on July 17th.  I call this his dying time.  Things start happening.  I cry more.  I put my clothes on backwards again.  I drop things.  I have difficulty sleeping.  My body and my mind are remembering how hard I worked to give him a good death.  They are also remembering that he was misdiagnosed and because of that wouldn't go into the hospital.  They are remembering when he finally went in and instead of being fixed was properly diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.  When the new doctor first told me I said, "That sounds like Peter Jennings (a news anchor) who left to fight lung caner and was dead in 3 months."  I expected the doctor to say, "Don't exaggerate."  He was silent.  I asked the oncologist what I should tell people who wanted to come from out of town.  He said, "Tell them to come right away."  Artie was dead in six weeks.  Some of you have had people die more quickly.  I was lucky to have time to say goodbye.  We held hands and listened to jazz.  We apologized for the ways in which we failed each other.  His last words to me were, "I love you."  My last words to him - when he could hear them with his earth  ears - were "I love you too."

I don't talk about Artie as much as I used to but now every day is full of Artie stories.  In my dreams I am searching for him and I can't find him.

See, I was going to write about the 4th of July and it is all about the anniversary of Artie's death.

It is the days before and the days after.  It is hard for people to understand that this period of time is exhausting and stressful.  I have trained my mind to think of Artie in memory: alive and vital and full of fun.  Around these times that becomes more difficult for me. I relive his death. I can feel myself wrapping his dead arm around me in a last hug.  I can hear myself sobbing into his still shoulder. I also remember half expecting him to sit up and say, "Just kidding."  I still make myself show up.  I still try to help others.  But I am more damaged.

I say often that things aren't better but they are different.  This year I am actually flying to Venice, Italy with my daughter and granddaughter on the anniversary of Artie's death.  That would have been impossible in the years before.  My daughter asked how I will be on the plane.  I told her I can't tell her.  I don't plan to be any particular way.  I try to stay in the present moment.  It doesn't matter - things happen around me.  My sadness gets bigger.

There is a quote I put on my new Facebook Page called Grief Speaks Out.  When I read it I started to cry.  It is:  “There's a fine edge to new grief, it severs nerves, disconnects reality--there's mercy in a sharp blade. Only with time, as the edge wears, does the real ache begin.”  Christopher Moore

This is what I think grief warriors understand and yearn for others to understand with them.  Life goes on.  You can be inspired by all the qualities of the love you have for those who have died.  You can live a full and happy life.  However with this is coupled the ache.  The ache of loneliness and missing doesn't go away.  It is a mark of love, but a mark all the same.  It seems to throb a little more - or a lot more - around these holidays and special dates.  

Know that whatever you go through at these times that you are not alone.  If it effects you on the day, or the days before or the days after or every day; honor and respect that part of you.  Know that there can be happiness as well.  Alway ask those questions I repeat.  Who else am I?  I am a grieving widow but I am much more than that.  What else do I feel?  I feel sad and lonely and sometimes angry and abandoned.  It is not reasonable.  Artie promised he would never leave me but his body wouldn't let him stay.  Sometimes I feel abandoned anyway.  It's important that I recognize that I feel happy, satisfied, grateful, and many other things as well.  Emotional movement.  Let your mind, body, heart and soul see and breathe in the joy as well as the pain.  It is there.  I promise you.  It is there.  Like a blades of grass growing through a cement sidewalk. 

July 17th.  Four years.  How can I have lived almost 4 years without Artie living beside me?  I have.  That's what makes us warriors.  We fight for our lives.  We live not only for ourselves but for those whose lives have ended.  Wishing you - and me too! - love and strength.  xo 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Grief: Fireworks, Family and The Empty Space

Holidays are for celebrating  Today is Independence Day.  All over the United States people will be getting together with family and friends to have a good time.  All over the United States many people who don't have family and friends may feel an extra pang of loneliness.  All over the United States many of us will be able to have a good time but be conscious of the empty space where the person, people and/or pets we love should be and can never be again because they are dead.

The thing about holidays is expectation.  Marketing surrounds us with them.  They are in our e-mails, in our drugstores, on the news.  Holidays are group days.  it takes a certain amount of courage to spend a holiday alone.  It takes a certain amount of wisdom to spend a holiday alone and not feel as though there is something essentially wrong with your life.

Sometimes I walk down the street and it seems as though everyone is part of a couple.  I look for people walking down the street by themselves.  Sometimes I go see a play with friends.  When I go by myself I don't mind doing that.  I'm an independent woman.  I still look around to see if there are other people by themselves, as if there is something wrong with me that I am - as they say - a party of one.  How can one be a party?

When Artie first died and I still lived in Carmel, CA I would go out to dinner with a married couple we loved to eat dinner with.  Then the empty chair was a huge thing.  Sitting at a table for four with an empty seat next to me was heartbreaking.  I know today some of you will be eating at a table and for the first time there will be that empty chair.  It won't be easy but you will get through it.  It's okay to talk about who ever used to be in that space.  I'm finding as I get closer to the fourth anniversary of Artie's death everything is turning into an Artie story.  There may not be new memories but there are a lot of old stories to tell.

Something odd about today for me is that I can't remember if Artie liked fireworks or not.  I think he did but I'm not sure.  I want to ask him.  He probably doesn't care about them now - but I know he cares about me.

When Artie died I got an unwanted Independence Day.  I got to be be very uncomfortably independent.  I am still uncomfortably independent.  I liked being dependent on him.  Some people feel being dependent on someone is wrong.  They call it co-dependence.  Artie and I used to call it interdependence.  My independence has been a challenge.  Finding out who I am without Artie.  I have had many good experiences along the way.  It still hurts.

Someone, who has a chronic illness, wrote that when she is happy - please don't think she is better.  That is how I feel about grief.  I am often happy, but I am never "better".  Artie is still dead.  When he first died sometimes I would pretend.  I would come home and say, "Hi honey.  I'm home.  Oh, you're not here.  I'll see you later."  I couldn't face the finality of the empty space.    I don't do that any more...but the reason I'm not "better" is that the empty space will always be there.  It may be filled with his spiritual non-body being if that is what you believe - and it is what I believe both because of evidence but also for my sanity - but that is not his physical being.

It's okay to go out today and a have a good time with family and/or friends.  It's okay to stay home and not do anything.  It's okay to go out and have a good time by yourself.  The empty space accompanies you wherever you go.  I used to slightly cup my hand outwards while I was walking down the street and pretend Artie was holding it.  I don't do that any more but I kind of wish I did.

When there is a death there is a space created in the world and in your heart and body and soul that will stay empty.  I honor that space.  I don't try to fill that space.  That space belongs to my beloved husband.  I don't want to try to have anything or anyone take THAT space.  What I have done is try to fill as many of the spaces I can around it with laughter and helping others and the creation of good memories.  Because I have done a good job of that someone said to me, "You LOVE your life."  I made a face but she couldn't see me.  She couldn't see what the people who really know me see.  I love parts of my life.  I will never love the empty space.  The empty space hurts.  I want my husband back and to want the impossible is a daily challenge.

I love fireworks.  I am lucky to have a daughter and a granddaughter.  My little blue eyed Gwendy is a year and half and is getting very fierce in her opinions. She is sitting on the bed next to me watching a cartoon called Peppa Pig.  She is waiting for me to finish writing.  They live near Boston.  I live in New York City.  When I go home Gwendy comes into my room in her house and looks for me.  She was sleeping this time when my daughter picked me up at the train station.  She opened her eyes and there I was.  She looked a little surprised.  She first looked away - because I had left her - but then she smiled.  When I said "Bye bye" before we went to sleep last night she didn't look up at me.  Then i said..."I'll be here in the morning.  I'm not going away tonight."  With that reassurance she smiled and said, "Bye!"

We are all that small child.  We are searching for the person who is not coming back.  Whether we had a chance to say goodbye or not we are sad and angry that there can be no returning in this life.  That is okay.  We are our own fireworks!!  Sometimes every day.  But for all the noise and bang and explosions - fireworks are beautiful.  They don't last very long that doesn't make them less special.

Here's to a day every day where the beautiful memories linger to caress and support us.  Here's to a lot of meaningful and happy moments to surround and support the empty space.  I think today I'll make a toast to Artie.  Having a good time, wish you were has taken on a whole new meaning.  xo