Saturday, October 26, 2013

Grief: Looking At Myself Objectively

Ha!   Did you laugh when you read the title?  It is difficult to look at ourselves objectively.  Some people say, "Follow your bliss." as if it were easy.  I say. "I do follow my bliss, it just runs more quickly than I do."  I admit I am suspicious of people who say they are happy all the time.  I know too many people who wear that as their public face and are very different in private.  Maybe there are some folks who can transform whatever pain they have into joy immediately.  If so, they are lucky folk.  I am not one of them.  It takes work and practice for me.

I had a mother that was always very critical.  If I got a 98 on a spelling test she wanted to know why I got a word wrong.  When I published a short story she said, "I'm proud of you, it's too bad you wasted so much of your life."   My mother has been dead for many years but the sense she gave me that I cannot do anything right lives on in my bones.  Let's take yesterday for an example.  It was a day that had no social obligations - nor does today - so I can take care of various things.  I am tempted to talk about how much time I wasted.  I slept too much.  I didn't accomplish everything I set out to do.

Why do I do that to myself?  I wouldn't treat my friends or family that harshly.  If I had done nothing that would have been okay too but I did several things.  Oddly enough, the most important thing I did was take a shower and wash my hair.  My husband used to have a post-it note that said, "Take a shower."  I teased him about it.  Now I understand that taking a shower means I am taking care of myself.  I'm not seeing anyone I know today.  I took a shower just for me.  Sometimes the dark side of grief appears in personal chaos.  Taking proper care of my body, taking proper care of my environment makes me feel better.  Unfortunately, so does eating ice cream and being lazy.  For me it's always about shifting the balance.  I'm never going to get it completely right, so I have to learn to be proud of the parts I do get done.

I finished reading a book.  My husband and I always read together.  Part of the fun of reading was sharing. I used to read 2 or 3 books a week.  I haven't read much since Artie died.  That I chose to read was a good thing.  That I actually finished reading the entire book was a very good thing.

I did other things, went out to deposit checks, did my Facebook page Grief Speaks Out.  I'm someone who has a difficult time sticking to any routine, any practice.  The fact that I have not missed a day posting on the page and responding to other people's posts is a totally new behavior for me.  Why do we look at what we haven't done instead of what we have?

The same is true for our emotions.  I hear all the time that the pain is unbearable.  This can't be true because we are bearing it.  We have strengths we don't acknowledge.  We say we cry all the time.  At the beginning I cried a lot but I don't think it is physically possible to cry all the time.  I keep saying I have the fifth year blues.  I do; but only some days, some moments.  There is a technique where you put an imaginary black cloud in the palm of your hand.  In that black cloud you imagine all that is making you sad, angry, lonely, everything that is part of your pain.  You picture the cloud clearly.  Then you blow it away.  You know why I am telling you this?  Someone I had taught this technique to reminded me of it.  I had totally forgotten I had ever learned it.  She asked me to step out of my black cloud.  The truth is I ignored her because when I read it I was too comfy being sad.  But then later I paid attention and blew the black cloud away.

I had one day where I felt sluggish like I was walking through quicksand.  When I finally got dressed and out I felt like the light itself hurt.  My body hurt.  I kept walking.  As much as my mind insisted on chattering I kept forcing it to look outward at all that was around me.  The longer I was out the better I felt.  The physical pain went away because the body likes to move.  The light didn't hurt any more.  I won't lie.  I was glad to get back home to my safe little hideaway in my black room.  But it would be wrong to say it was a dark day.  Only part of it was a dark day.  Sometimes going outside and walking is a lot.

I spend time with grieving people who tell me they are always sad and lonely.  Yet, while we are together they laugh and smile and tell interesting stores.  I need to catch myself when I use the words always and never.  I am not always anything - or never anything.  It is always sometimes.

There are people who are arrogant and act entitled.  Many more people, though, have a hard time recognizing the good in themselves.  It is objective to pay attention to your strengths as well as your weaknesses.  It is objective to focus on what you have accomplished not on what you have not gotten to yet.  Artie was the person who made me feel loved and lovable.  I know.  I know.  It's supposed to come from inside.  Well, a lot of times, it doesn't.  When he looked into my eyes and I looked into his you could feel the solid energy of the love going back and forth.  I say this all the time - I am lucky.  I have a lot of people who love me.  It's not the same as that one special person loving me.  It doesn't have to be a husband - it can be anyone who has died.  We miss that person's physical presence so much.  It leaves a gap.

To look at yourself objectively probably means with more kindness and acceptance than you do now.  You have to feel the love from someone when you can't see them any more, can't touch them any more.  Grief can make you feel you are paralyzed.  If you feel you are paralyzed wiggle your fingers.  You aren't.

I still have to do all the things I didn't have the will to do yesterday.  It won't help me get them done if I add to the weight I already carry by thinking badly of myself for not accomplishing more.  It never helps to compare myself to other people.  I don't know if the person I think is achieving more than I am is scared inside knowing they are a failure.  I don't know if the person I think is farther along in the grieving process than I am cries themselves to sleep every night.

Looking at myself objectively means feeling good about what I am doing - even if it is just breathing.  It means noticing where I can improve but without judgment.  Here are my strengths, here are my flaws.  Appreciate the strengths; work on the flaws.  When someone says I am inspiring or amazing the answer should be "Thank you." not" Oh, no I'm not - not really."

I'm not there yet.  Kill your critic.  Don't bite the hook.  I know what I know and forget what I know or am too whatever to practice it.  That's the word.  Practice.  I heard a professional piano player working on a new piece of music.  It sounded terrible.  It didn't matter how good he was, he hadn't practiced enough yet.  If I go ice skating and I've never practiced, not only will I not be in the Olympics - I will probably be sitting down most of the time.  Transforming grief into something that makes you feel fully alive is like that.  It takes practice.  Having memories make you smile instead of cry takes practice.  Loving yourself takes practice.  Noticing your happy moments takes practice.  Noticing the beautiful things in the world takes practice.

Maybe some day I will be someone who leaps out of bed and enjoys every bit of my day and goes to bed at night to dream sweet dreams.  Probably not.  That's never been my nature.  That's one of the reasons I miss Artie so much.  He knew my damaged parts, as I did his, and loved/loves them as much as the rest of me.  Be easy on yourself today.  Keep practicing, keep searching.  What is lost can be found, and if it is lost again can be found again.  Maybe we need to take self pride and self satisfaction and clip it on like a child's mother clips on their mittens so they don't get lost.  (Do they still do that?)  Take good care of yourself today.  You deserve it.  xo

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Grief: A Crazy Carousel

Grief doesn't seem much like stages to me.  It seems more like a crazy carousel.  Here are the lyrics to an old Jacques Brel song: 

We're on a carousel
A crazy carousel
We're on a carousel
A crazy carousel
And now we go around
Again we go around
And now we spin around
We're high above the ground
And down again around
And up again around

The singers sing each verse faster and faster until you feel like you are spinning out of control.

When i try to stay in my "what a wonderful life" space I get tired.  When I fall into my "I'm exhausted.  It's too hard"  space  i know that isn't the whole truth.  The whole isn't in the hole - it's outside it.  

I went back and looked through all the blog posts I have written. I only read a little, and looked through the titles.  It made me a little dizzy, a little bored and a little frustrated.  I seem to repeat the same topics over and over again.  I have read about people who don't feel sad very long.  I say that they aren't uncaring and I don't judge them but that's not entirely true.  There are people I have known who have died that I don't grieve for the way I grieve for my husband Artie.  I had difficult parents and I didn't grieve for them at all.  I have friends that I loved very much and I am sad that I they are dead but I don't have the kind of loneliness around them that I have with Artie.  It isn't that I don't love my friends properly; it's only that they weren't the heart and soul of my life the way Artie is.  If i loved Artie less perhaps I would grieve less.  There is a part of me that really does think that the depth of grief has to do with the depth of love.  It's difficult for me to believe that you could love someone deeply and completely and not miss them every day for the rest of your life.

It doesn't have to be a spouse.  People on this carousel about their parent's death, a child or a grandchild's death, a friend, a sibling, a pet.  It isn't about the relationship - it's about the essential nature of the relationship.  It's a very crowded carousel.  

I say the same words.  That grief can be transformative so that it inspires you to live fully instead of deadening you.  I can look into my husband Artie's eyes and listen to what he would say to me; feel his love still surrounding me.  I keep his smile going by living double for him and for me.  I plan my weeks so that I have fun things to do. I could write stories all day about my granddaughter.  Gwendy blue eye's pink fish died and was caught in a plastic plant in the tank.  She said, "Fish stucky.  Fish stucky."  When Erin got the net it was obvious as the fish floated up to the top of the tank that it iwas definitely dead.  Erin couldn't just replace it.  Gwendy was right there so Erin told her that her fish had gone to the "Great Unknown".  Gwendy said, "Okay."  Then Erin flushed it down the toilet - to help it on the way to the "Great Unknown."  Gwendy said "Bye Bye."  That night Gwendy asked about the fish and repeated "Great Unkown."  I wonder where she thinks that is.  Does she think her fish is gone to swim with Nemo and Dory?  I told Erin, laughing, "Terrific! Now if I tell her that Grandpa Artie and your best friend Jon are with pink fish in the "Great Unknown" Gwendy will think we all wind up flushed down the toilet one day.

A sense of humor.  That helps. A gratitude list.  That helps.  I am grateful for so many things.  Chocolate ice cream shouldn't help but it does.  My friends and family help.  Helping others helps.  Showing up helps.  Then it all collapses and I'm tired.  

The old disinterest comes back.  I do fun things and suffer through them.  I forget to open my eyes and see what there is to see.  It's not depression.  I hate that I can't be sad without someone saying - Oh, you're depressed.  Don't label me.  Sometimes I am depressed.  There's a difference.  Having what someone calls a grief burst isn't depression.  It's me missing my husband and not being able to stand it one more minute - knowing at the same time I will stand it - I do stand it - sometimes I ride high on it.  My husband's strong shoulders still hold me high above the crowd when I can let myself feel them.

I want to write to you say - it's over four years now.  i don't mind that Artie's birthday is Dec. 11th and the holidays are coming up.  I'm all better now.  I can't.  It would be a lie.  That's why I don't think it's stages.  I think it's roundabouts.  You do, hopefully,  play the grief at a higher skill level.  I don't have the despair I had those first few months.  When someone dies grief is like a newborn baby.  It needs tender care.  You wouldn't expect a newborn baby to get up and walk.  It does gentle down after time.  I do have more happy moments than I did in the beginning.  I do have more productive time.  But - fill in your favorite curse word here - none of that makes me stop feeling the empty space where Artie should be.  None of that makes me stop pleading, "I know you can't come back but please come back."

Maybe that's part of it.  When I get to the place where the disinterest creeps back in, where I am all sorrow and black quicksand I am more impatient with myself than I used to be.  I am buying into the false idea that I am supposed to be better.   I alway write about light and dark.  That we each have a light that we need to let shine.  We can rest in the love of our beloved dead and they will show us what that light is when we cannot find it ourselves.  I wish people courage and love and tell them to forgive themselves.  I say that sometimes just breathing is enough.  When I get into the dark place I told someone - if someone said to me what I say to other people I'd tell them to shut the f up.  Part of grief's seductive dark side is to make being stuck in pain seem the only way.  But the light of grief can lift us out of that stuck in pain place.  Maybe I should tell the dark side of grief to shut the f up.  That doesn't work for me though.  I have to set the alarm and give it a half hour or 10 minutes or however much time it needs that day.  If I feed it a little, pet it a little - it will go away for a while.

One thing I know for sure is that we all have to find our own path.  Grief is a normal process; not a mental disorder.  Get help, use the resources out in the world and in your own heart and consciousness.  If your path has let you off the carousel and you are on a gentle swing - I am glad for you.  When I get off, it only seems to be for a while.  Then the ride pulls me back on.  There's a Tennesse Williams line, "I tried so hard to leave you behind me but I am more faithful than I intended to be."  I have never really tried to leave Artie behind but I think somehow that I have been more faithful than I intended to be.  People keep asking me about dating.  I say I would if something happened - but nothing does, probably because I don't do anything to make it happen.  I didn't know how married I would feel for probably the rest of my life.  I didn't know that I would be so faithful to my one true love.  Yes I did.  Artie did.  

It's a strange thing death.  For some of us our dead remain so alive.  For others dead just seems to be dead.  What I wish you for all of you is what I guess I wish for myself.  Not necessarily to get off the carousel permanently but for it to slow down enough more often that I don't get sick of the world spinning by.  To have more ups than downs.  To go back for the ride when I need to but not to be forced back on by this emotional rip tide.  

I don't want to let go.  That is my truth.  And if I don't want to let go I am tethered to a dream of past and present love.  Can I remain tethered and still feel free and alive and full of joy?  Sometimes.   Maybe even a lot of the time.  All the time?  What kind of a person am I, that when someone tells  me they are happy all the time I don't believe them.  A few people I have met seem to rest easy on the earth but most people have some kind of struggle.  Let's at least turn the struggle into a series of triumphs.  Le's not forget to look at what it still quite lovely and hold it in our hearts as strongly as we hold our sorrows.  With love.  xo 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Grief: Shifting My Vision

I have been spending a lot of time lately feeling sorry for myself.  I tell people I am changing my first name to Malcontenta.  Why is that?  Partly it's just what I call the 5 year blues.  I'm tired of missing my husband.  I wish he was here.  However,  I know better.  I know that I can change how I feel by changing what I think and how I act.

There is nothing wrong with paying attention to the part of me that is lonely and sad and tired.  My granddaughter and daughter visited and I was very tired.  Now I am sick with a boring miserable old cold.  Whine whine whine.  I like a good whine.

I will be happier if I pay attention to the part of me that is lucky and happy and grateful.  I swing too easily to the dark than to the light.  There.  That very sentence.  What if I said I swing or - I wing more easily to the light than to the dark.  Our brains are in some ways like computers.  Our language choices program them.  The more I say I am sad the more sad I will be.  The more I notice the times I am happy the more happy I can be.  I'm not a robot but I can influence myself by the choices I make.

We take too often something and make it a box for us to climb in and close the lid.  We define ourselves too narrowly.  I am not suddenly an optimist.  I do not believe we create our own reality.  If I wanted to become an Olympic ice skating gold winner it would be impossible.  However we can make changes in our reality and changes in how we see that reality.

Those sentences above.  My granddaughter and daughter visited and I was very tired.  I was.  But what I could be writing is that my granddaughter and daughter visited and we did a lot of fun things.  We went to see a children's group from Australia called the Wiggles and we danced and laughed.  We did a photo shoot with a friend.  It was mainly for my granddaughter but I was walking down the street and she was fixing my hair and taking pictures of me.  I had paparazzi for a few minutes.

I am sick with a boring miserable old cold.  What's pleasant about that?  Well, I managed to do three loads of laundry yesterday and remake the bed.  Now being sick gives me an excuse to cuddle in and write this in my clean and comfy sheets.  Maybe having a cold is telling me to eat healthy and remember to take my vitamins.

Same event - different way of looking at it.

My husband is dead.  I'm lonely.  I miss him.  What can I do with that?  I am so lucky to have had a great love in my life.  I read posts on my Facebook page about from people who deeply miss their parents.  I wasn't lucky enough to have loving parents and I am glad other people have loving families.  It is too late to have a happy childhood but it's not too late to have a happy now.  It is love that leaves us with grief but I, for one, would not trade a minute of that love to avoid the grief.  I am grateful too that I was there for my husband all the days of his life, and especially grateful that I was there to love him and support him in his dying time.  I am grateful (if sometimes annoyed and scared) that I am the one that has to be strong.

It's human nature to focus on what hurts, what isn't right.  I love to vent.  I love to rage sometimes.  You can look at the world and see all the truly horrific things and despair.  You can look at the world and see all the beauty and all the people who are loving to each other and have hope.  You can hold both.

I went out to dinner with my daughter and the service was genuinely terrible.   I complained. I didn't have to complain so much - I could have enjoyed her company instead.

Every minute of every day I have a choice of how I see the world I live in.  I don't have to fight fear, sadness, loneliness, pain.  I can welcome them to my life.  I can thank them for what they do to let me know that I am alive.  I can ask them to make room for happiness, joy, silliness, smiles.  I don't believe in being fake.  However, if I practice noticing the things that make me smile instead of the things that bring tears to my eyes - I can shift the balance.  I read that Yoko Ono did that when her great love and husband John Lennon was murdered.  She consciously practiced smiling - not fake smiling - but genuine heart felt smiling.

I remember my husband's illness.  I remember his body lying there with none of him left in it.  I remember the times we fought.  I remember the ways we failed each other.  I remember my husband being athletic.  I remember him full of life, his eyes so expressive with love and and laughter, his smile lighting up my world.  I remember the journey we took together, how we took care of each other and helped each other.  When it's written like that it seems easy to see which side I should spend most of my time looking at.  When it's minute to minute life it is definitely a practice.

I am going to attempt to spend more of the life I have left thinking of the things I am grateful for rather than the things that I do not have.  I am still sensitive and hurt and I will still need to express all of my emotions.  However if I continue to act in ways that help other people; if I continue to show up for fun things with good people - I will have more of those happy moments.

Even my darling dead husband.  I can be more sensitive to feeling his spirit comforting me.  He has not let me go because I do not want him to.  Some people want to be let go and that is fine.  I always wanted us to hold on to each other and we still are.  I always say that love triumphs over death.  I should remember that.

As the round of holidays come closer, as his birthday comes closer - I must keep the music of the goodness of life playing in my mind.  I feel like a heaving bulky elephant that has been pregnant for too long.  I have given birth to some things since my husband died.  What else is waiting to be born that I am holding back from because of those comfy sheets I talked about?

I am happy resting in memory and lingering for a while in sadness but I must spend more time valuing my days and nights here on earth.  They are limited and if I am to truly honor my husband I must continue to live for both of us.  If we get to be reunited - and so many people believe we will - I want to have a lot of stories to tell him.

I wish you all the practice of shifting your vision.  When your pain is great do not lose the ability to notice the moments of joy.  Do not inextricably tie pain and joy together.  Let joy rise by itself like a helium balloon that lifts you higher.  Don't fight the pain and loneliness - let them lighten knowing they are proof of love.  Take a step down your path - if you don't know what it is - take a step down any path - eventually you will find yours.  Today it leads you to your transformed self, some day it will lead you back into the same shape shifted form that your beloved dead already know.  xo