Thursday, September 12, 2013

Grief: Getting Out of My Black Room

September 12th.  Writing a blog post every two weeks is not writing a blog post once a week.  Does that make me a terrible person?  Probably not.  However it makes me someone who isn't following through on what I want to do.

My Facebook page Grief Speaks Out now has over 81,000 likes from all over the world.  How did that happen?  What am I doing?  I know that I am using everything I have learned over the past over four years.  I know that it is easier to respond to someone else; to pick a moving image and write something to go with it than it is to follow my own advice.

I call this post getting out of my black room because I have a beautiful apartment.  My bedroom is painted black and there is a velvet shawl nailed over the window.  I think I accidentally nailed the window open when I did this - but I like the window open so that's okay.  I was looking for privacy in my bedroom while I was still unpacking and it actually looks pretty even if it isn't very functional so I will probably never change it.  Hmmm - that's kind of me.  I can look pretty even if I'm not very functional.  The difference is I am trying - and sometimes succeeding - to change me.  My personal window often feels nailed shut even when it already wide open.

Which is all going sideways when i meant to go forward.  My living room is unusual for NYC.  It is two stories tall and has a skylight.  Filled with books and antiques, and even a huge stuffed woolly mammoth -  it is always shines with light.  Painted a light blue it looks as though the day has come to visit.  I walk through this room sometimes on the way to take a shower or to look for a book.  However, I only stay in this room when I have company.  I never sit in it myself.  I like to be in the black room.  Why will I not allow myself to enjoy the beauty of this space I have created?  I feel uncomfortable with beauty.  When I go outside and it is a particularly fine day sometimes it hurts and I can't wait to get back inside.

My husband used to say, "What's wrong? Nothing's wrong.  That's what's wrong."  Of course, something is terribly wrong.  My husband is dead.  I miss him every day.  I say wise things about letting our beloved dead inspire us, letting their light lead the way, being alive with grief - and all the while I am typing on the computer in the black room.  A short hallway and I could be typing in a room full of light and wonder and I choose the darkness.  I'm like a small animal that burrows under the earth.

The truth is my life is very good these days.  I have worked very hard over the past four years to get here.  I have had friends stop speaking to me, friends fail to understand me as most grieving people do.  That hurts.  However, I have friends who want to listen to me talk about Artie and my sadness as well as my happiness.  I have made new friends.  Some of them are a little embarrassed.  They say they read my blog and do I mind that they know so much about me.  I say no - that's just the way it is.  I also let them know that the blog is about grief and I spend a lot of time doing things besides thinking about grief and talking about grief.  I have made new friends from grief sites and one from a bereavement group.  Those are friends whose understanding comes from a shared experience.  Sometimes it's intertwined.  I met someone with a very interesting job who also reads the Facebook page.  They told me the how it has changed the way they feel.  It made me feel proud and also a little embarrassed.  When someone compliments me I am still learning to receive say a simple "Thank you." instead of a stammering - "Oh no - that's not true - not really."

I can't absorb it.  I'm wanting to breathe it all in.  I'm wanting to feel all this happiness and usefulness and success in my very bones.  It feels good.  I am proud.  I am grateful.  However, I am also uncomfortable.  It doesn't feel like me.  I'm not guilty.  I know Artie would be - probably is - very proud of me.

I have a particularly good time and then I want to eat too much and watch a terribly mindless program on television.  I often do.  I am showing up and doing and helping others - all the things I tell people to do.  Yet, at the same time I am running from instead of to.  What is that all about?

Part of it may be that it is difficult to have all these wonderful things happening without having Artie here in the flesh to share them with.  I have started again calling out at night - "Artie.  Come back.  I know you can't but please come back."  I love sharing things with the people I share them with.  None of them is Artie.  I am especially grateful for my granddaughter.  If I close my eyes she says, "Gammy. Are you takin' a nap?"  That's what she would say to me about my private moments - "Gammy, are you takin' a nap?"   Why am I closing my eyes at the very moment they should be open?

I realized that I was ignoring my daughter because I was so focused on my granddaughter.  I have started paying more attention to her.  I praise her not just for being a great Mom but for being herself.  I ask her about what she is doing.  I tell her how beautiful she is.  It has made our relationship so much better.  Why don't I treat myself that way?

No one is Artie.  No one can fill his space.  Jess Walter wrote "What kind of wife would I be if I left your father simply because he was dead?".  I can see Artie's eyes twinkling as he tells me that living my life with all my senses brimming over with happiness is not leaving him.  It is continuing an adventure in which he is with me every step of the way. 

I've got the 5 year thing.  More than one person has told me that the fifth year is difficult.  It's not like the first year difficult.  There is a trajectory.  The first year was constant crying and desperation and disinterest.  I know now that when I agree to do something I probably won't want to - but if I go I'll have a good time.  I'm just falling back into that peculiar kind of stuckedness (there's a literary word!!).  I stop and's too hard.  I can't do it.  When I say that there is no Artie to hold me and scratch my back and pat my head and tell me he loves me and it will be okay.  I don't want to be my own Artie.  I don't want to listen for the sounds, watch for the signs from a dead guy.  I am throwing an emotional temper tantrum.  i want the one thing I cannot have and if I am not careful that will taint all the things I can have.

There it is.  When I write I only know where I am going to start, not where I am going to end up.  I can spend as much time as I want,  as much time as I need in the black room of grief and sadness and frustration and exhaustion.  As foolish as it would be to stop missing Artie, to stop remembering our love - isn't it just as foolish to let that very real part of me spill over into the other parts of me.  If I want some pure sadness with no joy in it - fine - but then let me have some pure joy without mixing some sadness in.

Hold my hand and let's walk together out of our black rooms.  They'll be there when we need them again.  Let me learn to be alive with grief not just in my words and my actions - but in my bones and in my soul.  If not today - maybe yesterday I have already done it and not noticed - or tomorrow I will find it easy.  So many locks have already fallen off of the doors - or been meticulously picket off - and the doors are swinging open.  Let us - one step at a time - walk through them.  With love.  xo

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