Saturday, August 31, 2013

Grief: I Want To Be Seen, I Want To Be Heard but I Don't Need To Be Fixed

Lately I have been having experiences where people who I think understand me completely - because they are intelligent, creative, funny people - say things that make me wonder if they have ever truly heard what I say.  People who have had deep grief in their life seem to often get it immediately, people who haven't - not so much.  The latest one was - if you have been reading my posts - you know I often wonder if I will some day want to have another relationship.  When I expressed this uncertainty to someone they interpreted it as my being ready to have another man in my life.  I am still wearing my wedding ring and my husband's wedding ring on the finger on which you wear wedding rings.  I took them off for a while - but I like wearing them so I put them back on.  I talk about Artie all the time.  I explained to this wise person that no thank you, I am still wondering.  I am not ready to take action because I already have a soulmate.  I already have the great love of my life.  He unfortunately is dead.  This person couldn't hear that.  That along with people who say other things that are far from what I am expressing - even people when they read my blog - have made me have doubts. (I said that - no, to be honest because I was tired, yelled it - at someone once when they said something to me so far from who I am - Don't you read my blog?!? They said Yes, they did.   I don't know what they were reading.)

I always say that I am lucky to have friends who listen to me talk about Artie; who listen to me talk about my sad and lonely part.  I wonder now what they say when I am not in the room.  This is not a good path to take since unless I set up spy cameras I have no way of knowing.  I don't want to be healed.  I have more and more a full life.  I am happy with my unhappiness as well as my moments of joy.  I wonder if my being outspoken about grief leads people to say or think that I am stuck or living in the past.  I wonder if people want me to move on even though they don't tell me that because they know I will argue with them.  I wonder if people wish I would stop talking about Artie but are too polite to say so.

I guess it is a problem for all people to feel that lack of deep understanding from people who have not had a similar experience.  My husband was a recovering alcoholic.  He felt - and rightly so - that it was alcoholics and other addicts that could understand each other best. I have often thought that you shouldn't work in child abuse prevention if you have never had children.  It is hard to understand the joy and also difficulties of raising a child if you are an observer.  Was I effective when I worked on suicide hotlines because I had attempted suicide many years ago and knew what it felt like to want to give up?  Maybe as much as I talk and write those who understand me best will always be other grieving people.  Should I lower my expectations?

It makes me sad.  I understand the loving gift of someone wanting to help me.  On the other hand, when I think I am so clear in my speech and expression it feels very strange for someone to want to help me in a way that has nothing to do with who I am.  I have started to call what I believe in transformative grief.  A grief that does not end - but transforms both itself and the grieving person.  I am learning how to be alive with grief.  That is so different from thinking that grief will some day fly out of the window and I will no longer be sad that my husband is dead.  I love our love and him and wait to be together again.

I am alive and can remarry - can love again - but I don't have to.  It is not as stupid as telling someone whose child has died that luckily they have other children.  I can't believe people actually say that.  But, they do.  Why is it so difficult for some people to understand that there are people in our lives that are central to our lives?  Each person is unique and takes a unique space.  They cannot be replaced and it is foolish and unfeeling to think they can.

I do not want to forget Artie or to stop missing him.  I wish I could live my life fully with the full understanding of those who are close me.  It might be easier if I chose silence as so many do - but I am astonished when people say certain things to me and I keep explaining myself whether they can hear me or not.

My Facebook page Grief Speaks Out has, as I write this, over 56,000 likes from all around the world.  It is astonishing me.  It is not that I am a good writer (although I think I am) or that I choose interesting pictures - which I do.  I think it is what one person said - they just wanted someone to tell them that their feelings aren't crap.  I like that word - crap - because it was so direct.  Grief must be a common language because people have posted in German, in Arabic, in Spanish and in Japanese.  Unlike my blog, more people read my Facebook page in Egypt , Pakistan, Bangladesh,  Kenya, Vietnam and Mexico than in the United States.

This is what I want.  I want people to know that after 4 years for me - six months for some - 21 years for others - time doesn't matter.  Our feeling aren't crap.  They don't need to be fixed or healed.  There is no disease to treat.  There was a quote by the actor Gregory Peck.  He said in an interview that many years after his son died he doesn't miss him every day - he misses him every hour of every day.  We see our beloved dead in every blade of grass, we feel them in every breath we take.  They are a part of us.
Grief is not a disease to be cured, or a mental disorder to be medicated.  That doesn't mean that we shouldn't seek therapy if we need it, or take medication if it helps.  I did a lot of that.  Still do if I need it.  Grief is not depression - but if it has depression as a side effect then we should treat that depression.

When we find our uneasy balance - when we see that we are living and loving and grieving all at the same time - when we move in rhythms of being stuck and unstuck - I would like people to honor that in us.  I want people to know that we have learned to be okay without being okay.

Having beloved dead is not easy.  It can be made easier with understanding, with listening, with acceptance.  I have many new relationships and many old ones (though some have disappeared).  I am lucky to have loving people in my life.  None of them are Artie - nor could they be.  That is my loneliness.  It is part of me.

I wish for you people in your life that understand and accept you as you really are.  I wish that the others would get hearing aids or have the Wizard of Oz give them a new heart or whatever it is they need to know that grief speaks out because it wants to be heard.  Whatever you are feeling is normal.  I wish - as always - for you to have happy and sad moments both - for you to experience the full component of emotions that you have been given.  I wish you love.  xo

Friday, August 23, 2013

Grief: Exhaustion: Like Water Wearing Away A Stone

People do grieve differently.  I grieve differently for different people.  My parents were not good parents.  The details aren't necessary - they have been dead for a long time.  I didn't grieve for them.  I was, as honest as this is, rather relieved when they died.  I always tried to be loving to them but it was never easy.  With my mother I felt badly because, as difficult a mother as she was, she was a wonderful grandmother.  I will always miss my friend Judy who fought a brave battle with cancer.  She had the warmest heart.  She would see someone I wouldn't notice, someone sweeping the street or handling garbage, and she would stop to talk to them to ask them how they were doing.  She always had a big smile for everyone.  I wanted to call her in April to arrange a time to get together.  She died in March. I hope she forgives me since I knew better.  You can't wait.  Death isn't a respecter of human schedules.  However a good and loving friend Judy was, I don't grieve for her the way I grieve for Artie.

There are some people who play such a central role in our lives that the emptiness and pain their death leaves is something that cannot be fully expressed.  People who have not had that kind of grief get confused.  They don't understand what it is like.  I didn't understand until my husband died.  He was older than I was (is he still?).  I thought when he died I would be very sad and miss him a lot.  I didn't know that I would feel so broken and desperate.  I didn't know that I would begin this life of finding out who I am without him.  I didn't know it would be so unending and difficult - and still - in many ways rewarding.  We were grateful for each other while he was alive.  There were also lots of things I didn't appreciate until I no longer had them.

A dear friend whose only child, a wonderful son, died told me that she had a meltdown in the 5th year. I am sad that she went through that but it helps that she told me about it.  People who think you should be over it by now don't understand the exhaustion factor.  It tires me out waking up every morning and knowing once again Artie is dead.  It wears on me every day having things happen that I want, need to share with him and am unable to in the old way.  I can talk to him about them, and I do, but I can't hear his voice.  My body misses all the hugs and kisses and back scratches.  Because my parents were not nurturing Artie was the first person who took care of me.  I was the first person who took care of him.  We talked about that.  I have a lot of love in my life.  I am lucky.  That is not the same as having one person to whom I am the center.  We got a kick out of saying we were each other's raison d'ĂȘtre (reason for being).  I look into a lot of beautiful eyes.  It tires me out that I no longer look into eyes that adore me.  For a long time Artie was frightened of the intimacy of that kind of eye contact.  He would look away.  So, when he delighted in our gazing in each other's eyes, the love flowing back and forward was a kind of triumph.

Whether it's a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a child, a sibling, a friend, an animal, (who have I left out) there are people who are so special in our lives it is hard to miss them day after day after day.  It is that peculiar kind of loneliness that exists even in the most crowded room.

I am doing what I write about.  I am showing up.  I have had some very happy times in the past weeks. I am going to stay with a friend in her beach house.  I had a friend stay with me.  I am going to be with my daughter and granddaughter.  It's when I'm alone.  I'm spending too much time sleeping and watching TV.  I want to escape this feeling of exhaustion.

I'm being productive.  My Facebook page Grief Speaks Out has almost 38,000 likes from all around the world.  I am proud of that and a little amazed.  I'm also comforted that all around the world grief is a common language.  As much as I may feel alone, I am part of that very special community of grief warriors.  I post something every morning at around 7 a.m..  I shut down the voice that says, "Why bother?" but then it comes back later and I don't want to do things.  I make a joke of it and say I have excellent procrastination skills.  The truth is I am tired of Artie being dead.  I can't change it. I accept it. Yet, I am just tired.

I meant to write this blog post earlier.  I like to write once a week.  I didn't.  I was pleased with myself that I always paid my bills on  time, even at the beginning.  I've missed a couple.  Some days I feel confused.

I have been eating healthy on a lot of days but some times I still dive into the ice cream and cookies as if they somehow replace my husband's love.  They don't.  They add to the exhaustion but unhealthy eating and sleep are an escape.

I am tired of holding a Yankee jacket and patting ashes.  I am grateful I am loved and that I love.  I see how far I have come, how alive with grief I am.  But I am tired.  I want to be alive for all I will experience.  I want to be alive for all I have to share.  At the same time I want to be with my husband.  I am tired of not being able to be with my husband.

The metaphor is water wearing away a stone.  It's not that simple though.  That water can wear away a stone  shows how constant pressure can make even the strongest material disintegrate.  On the other hand, water wearing away a stone polishes it.  It makes it smooth and shiny.  It reshapes it.  In California there is a place called Moonstone Beach.  The ocean has made the stones that lie on it beautiful.  They are like jewels.  I have learned that each moment of grief has its own time.  My exhaustion will pass, my strength will regather.  At least I am looking at what I am doing as well as what I am not doing.  I am making sure that I do not stop having happy moments.  I can't make the water stop - but I can admire what I have become with this wearing away.

I am sorry that I took so long to write to you all again.  I hope that in the places where you feel worn out and exhausted you can also see new and glorious shapes and textures emerging.  They are there if you open your eyes to them when you wake up from your nap.  xo

Monday, August 12, 2013

Grief: Disbelief is not Denial

I think along with the death of loved one for many of us there is a continuing feeling of disbelief.  I want to share with you that this is both common and normal.  It is not the same thing as denial.  I know that Artie is dead.  As I have written, I was lucky to be with him during the process of his dying. Seeing him inhale, exhale and not inhale again was like walking along the sea shore - watching the tide go out - waiting - only to realize that it was never coming in again.  That's how enormous the death of the force of nature that was my husband is to me.  I was lucky to be able to spend time with his body - to say goodbye to that as well.  As many times as I am told, and I believe, that his spirit is with me - I miss his body.  Those of us here in our earthly and earthy bodies find it hard to figure out how to be in a relationship with spirit lacking flesh.

So...I know that Artie is dead.  Although I often go back in time, using the technique of rolling my memories backwards, to connect with a loving, comfortable, taken care of feeling - I know I am not really time traveling.  There is no where I can go where Artie is still alive.  I can think of him as alive Artie but his life story as Artie Warner, as well as all his physical attributes of Artie Warner are gone forever.  A bag of ashes, as ridiculously fond I am of them, is not a man.  It doesn't contain his essential nature; his humor, his stubbornness, his wisdom, his Artieness.  I wonder if in his new form he has a name.  Never thought of that.

It doesn't matter.  When i wake up in the morning I'm still a little surprised he's not next to me. One morning I had a pillow leaning against my back.  For a second I thought it was him.  When I travel I sometimes find myself reaching for the phone.  If I watch something I know he'd enjoy - or would have enjoyed - the impulse to share it with him is still there.  While I don't believe wherever he is he is still interested in tennis, or politics I do think he is interested in me.  It's that sense of disbelief that contributes to my sense of loneliness.  I have had friends say I can call them any time.  I know I can.  I am lucky that way.  I want to talk to Artie.  I want to hear his voice.  I can guess what he would say.  Sometimes I even hear him telling me something.  How can that be?  How can it be that never is when I will look into his eyes, never is when I feel his arms around me, never is when I will hear his voice? How can the world go on without him in it?  It does.  How can I go on without him?  I do. How well I go on is up to me.

Sometimes there's even a voice, or the back of a head in a crowd.  I think for a minute - there he is - and then I remember.  Maybe that is what memorials and doing random acts of kindness in someone's name is for.  To keep them near.  To keep them alive.  That's not a bad thing.

I found out another widow is married, another has found someone else.  I keep looking at that in myself.  Is Artie too alive to me?  I hear him saying - No.  I am your one true love.  But he also says - you don't have to be alone.  You can find another man.  I wonder if it is different now that he is dead.  When we first started dating he still dated other women.  I went out with another man.  I knew that as much as Artie wanted to play fair, if I had had a sexual relationship with this man it would have been the end of Artie and me.  Is it like that now?  Does his spirit really want me to be free to love again or is it a test?  That's part of my disbelief.  I can believe that my husband is dead and that we can be spiritual soul mates and yet I am free to have a new love relationship because I am still alive.  However - it is difficult for me to believe my marriage and all that entails is dead as well.  Every time I take my wedding ring and his off I get so uncomfortable I put them back on.

I always wind up somewhere different than where I started when I write.  I wonder now if disbelief is normal and common but problematic when it holds us back from being fully alive.  Can I be fully alive with grief if I cut myself off from the possibility of having a new love relationship - someone to share the rest of my life with?

There is one thing I know for sure.  It is a complete and humbling surprise for me that my Facebook page Grief Speaks Out already has almost 11,000 likes from over 45 countries.  Grief has no borders, no boundaries.  We turn to Facebook pages and blogs because we need a way to express ourselves, we need to feel we are understood.  I am sorry there is so much grief in the world - but I, a natural loner, am grateful for this community of grief warriors that fight for each other across religions, ages, languages, ideologies.

Alongside my disbelief in so many things besides Artie's death - why o why are you dead? - is the growing belief that the common language of grief can bring us together in ways that nothing else can.  If only more friends and family would give us the support that strangers do.  Those that do...they are very special.

Wishing you companions along your way.  Wishing that you discover friends and maybe (if you don't have one) a life partner and that when they appear you not only notice them, but that you allow your heart to open to let them in.   xo

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Grief: Hello, I'm Not Wallowing, I'm Grieving Part 293848

The blog post that has gotten the most hits over time is the one with the title that starts: Hello, I'm NOT Wallowing...  Some people have a need or a want to put you in a category.  You're not moving on fast enough and you need to be fixed.  You should follow your bliss.  I always say I do follow my bliss, it just runs faster than I do.  You're moving on too fast and you need to cry more.  Aren't you over it already?  You should talk more.  You should talk less.  If people would stop and listen, and not think they know, I think it would go a little easier for all of us.

I write a blog on grief.  I now have a Facebook page on grief.  Someone commented that if I stopped spending all day on the computer focused on death and went out more I might meet a new love in a bookstore or a library.  It never occurred to that person to ask me how I spend my day.  I rarely spend more than an hour or two on the computer - sometimes less.  I talk about my grief and that of others because so many people don't.  If I wrote a blog on fun things to do in NYC, or a day in the life of... you would get a different side of me.  The funny thing is I did meet my love in a bookstore.  My love is my husband Artie and I met him in the bookstore I owned in Phoenix, AZ called the Turning Page.  I don't mind if you find a new partner if you are a widow or a widower.  Why should you mind if I want to be like the Queen Mother or Betty White and have a full life while remaining in love with my dead guy?  

I'm not sure why it's difficult to grasp the truth that for many of us that sadness and happiness coexist.  There is a difference between grief and depression.  When I came home from my trip to the Mediterranean (because I have such a boring life - giggle) I had a couple of very bad days.  I think I didn't give the fourth anniversary of Artie's death enough attention and it came back at me.  Those days were the dark, black hole kind of days.  I still managed to get things done; but it was difficult.  My sleep got all messed up and my eating did too.  Those days feel like they will last forever but for me, now, they don't.  They are the days of why bother, the days of nothing means anything without Artie here physically.   They are days of a multi-ton grief home invasion.  What helps me move out of that?  Not hiding completely.  I make myself share what is happening to me.  I have friends who listen and give me permission to grieve as well as encouragement to climb out of my hole.  I showed up.  I kept going out with people and, surprise, found myself having a good time.  I kept working on my Facebook page and found many other pages full of sadness, courage and lovely insane humor.  There are various places to share in the virtual world if you don't have somewhere to do it in the real world.  I have learned to turn myself outward when inward is not a good direction.

My husband used to say, "If you live in your head, you live in a very bad neighborhood."  What he meant by that was our mind is often our biggest critic, our worst enemy.  You have to practice turning outward to where life is.  The inner/outer connection will come.  Those days I knew what I was grateful for, but I didn't feel grateful.  I knew what I loved about being alive but I had a longing for death.  Wallowing isn't feeling what you feel and sometimes coming to a stuck place.  Wallowing is if you stay there every moment of the rest of your life.  Set aside 3 hours and feel sorry for yourself the entire time.  Don't let your thoughts drift to something else.  It's actually not that easy.  There is a life force in all of us.  It pokes through - and if you stop playing Whack a Mole with it - it can come through all the way. 

I am sad all the time that Artie is dead.  What isn't complicated for me and seems to be for some people, is that a lot of the time I am also happy.  I do fun things.  I just spent part of today getting tickets for various things that I will enjoy in the next few months.  I spend time arranging things with friends.  I spend time with my daughter and granddaughter.  I read a blog post written along time ago saying: maybe today I will start writing my book.  I haven't started.  Maybe I will this month.  Whether I do or not, I have to look at what I am doing not what I'm not doing.  I also can't compare myself to anyone else.  

Sometimes taking a shower is enough.  Sometimes taking a 5 minute walk because you can't stand being outside for 6 minutes is enough.  

It's difficult facing the sadness there is in the world.  There is a Facebook page that has pictures of beautiful people, many of them young, who have committed suicide.  I think it is important to remember and to be a witness.  Not all day.  There is time to be there in dark places and then put down the black crayon and pick up the purple, red, green, and yellow ones.

You can't help me.  My husband is going to stay dead.  What you can do is understand me.  Listen when I am sad, and laugh with me when I am happy.  The unfortunate thing is that I meet people because they have experienced the death of a most beloved person or pet.  The fortunate thing is that I meet wonderful people.  

The Facebook page is amazing because I have likes on it from countries on every continent except Antarctica.  I am startled and humbled and gratified by the response.  A little scared.  But what it tells me is that there is hope in grief.  If we share grief around the planet perhaps we will learn to share other things.  No one should have to hold a dead body in their arms - but they should especially not have to hold a dead body in their arms from a homicide or an act of war or terror.  Disease and old age causes enough grief without the ways we add to it.

Okay - usually I keep politics out of it.  The point is that in order to understand each other we have to be willing to see beyond the surface, beyond the mask.  We have to stop watching how someone acts and decide for them how they feel and how they need to change.  It's the hardest with the people who are closest.  Ask my daughter.  To just accept people where they are and then give them a hand to do something a little different to make their days and nights more full of joy - that's a true blessing.

I'm very lucky that Artie was a recovering alcoholic who whatever he failed at always made himself available to other addicts and alcoholics.  It was to honor him that I started all this.  I think he's proud of me.  I hope so.  I'm a loner by nature but this community of grief warriors holds me up.  It helps me cross boundaries I wouldn't normally cross.  From the widow in a small village in Corfu who will wear black for the rest of her life to a woman who wears red and remarries within a year...from the man whose brother dies who plants a tree to a man whose child dies who sets up a foundation to help others...there are so many acts of kindness done in the memory of those who we breathe for.  

This grouchy lady, me,  has to admit that with all the terrible things happening every day - including my one big terrible thing - my loneliness without my soulmate and greatest love - there are some pretty splendid things happening every day - some darn funny things happening every day.  It's my job as a human being to be increasingly aware of this great variety.  I think you lose something if all you feel is joy just as much as if all you feel is pain.

Bit of a rant this one.  So...feel what you feel.  Know that you are normal.  Know that the sun is going to rise in the morning and we can choose if it is a day to close tight the curtains or swing them wide open and step out into the light.  xo