Sunday, November 24, 2013

Grief: Holidays Again?

I feel like 2014 is coming before 2013 even happened.  How can it be another Thanksgiving coming around without my husband somehow miraculously returned to life to sit in his chair?  One year I was eating Thanksgiving dinner with just my husband and my daughter.  I said, "Let's we say what we are thankful for before we eat."  Going first, I gave a long and thoughtful list of things I was thankful.  They looked at each other and then at me and then said, unplanned, but together, "We're thankful for everything.  Let's eat."  What could I do but laugh?

What can I do but laugh at that memory?  I am thankful that most of memories are no longer tainted by the knowledge of my husband's death.  I can remember them with only the emotions I had when they happened.  I was once in Dallas, Texas, on a short trip, studying John F. Kennedy's assassination.  One of the things we did was eerie.  We rode the route that he took through Dallas.  He was smiling and waving; maybe even enjoying the enthusiasm of the crowds.  He didn't know that these were the last minutes of his life.  We did.  As we got ever closer to the place where he died the tension grew.  So it can be with our memories.  We don't remember them with the purity they had at the time.  We remember them with the tension and the pain that the person we shared them with has died.  So many memories in their true, original form are beautiful, and funny, and full of joy and comfort.  Remember them as they were.  Go back in time to those lovely moments and then bring the good feelings forward into the present.  I've practiced that a lot - and I am thankful that I can laugh at that memory.  Perhaps I will get a chance to tell that story this year during Thanksgiving dinner.

One person wrote me and said he was afraid that the sadness he was feeling would ruin the holidays for others, especially the children.  I hadn't thought of something so simple.  I suggested the technique that I have said before - that he look down for a minute and acknowledge the sadness and then look up and really put himself in the present moment...noticing all the colors, the smells, the sound of chatter.  This isn't simple - this takes practice.  The simple thing is that you can always excuse yourself from the table for the moment to use the bathroom.  Everyone has to use the bathroom.  If you need to - you can always go into the bathroom, have a good cry, splash water on your face and come out again.

It is difficult to believe the world goes on when the person we love so much has died.  How can that be?  How can this be the 5th Thanksgiving since my husband died?  I just counted on my fingers 3 times.  It is.  Impossible and yet true.  The world has gone on and so have I.  I have stumbled and wept.  I have cursed and hidden myself away.  I have also gotten up and laughed.  I have acknowledged blessings and made myself part of the world.  I learned this year to even be grateful for my grief.  The biggest gift I ever could give my husband is to grieve for him so he does have anguish of grieving for me.  I never would have imagined I would learn that this year.  Doesn't mean I still don't feel the burden of it...I do.  When people say I inspire them I am grateful - but also glad you all don't see me still in my pajamas at noon eating ice cream and watching bad TV.  I have those days too.  I still cry sometimes.  I miss my husband every day in so many ways.  However, if I am to be honest, my grief has gentled down.  I am more productive.  I do laugh more.  I have transformed my grief so that I more alive with it.  My husband alive in my heart and soul inspires me more often now that my husband dead in reality makes me want only death.

I have had some of the fifth year blues.  I have felt exhausted and disinterested.  I have gotten help.  I have - I think - accepted that this is how my life is.  Moments of loveliness where life is - dare I say it - good.  Moments where the idea of going through one more day again - one more holiday again - without my husband sitting in the chair next to me seems devastating.  Devastating.  When I went for my therapy tune-up I was asked how my husband's death makes me feel.  I said, "Devastated."  I surprised myself.  I thought I didn't feel that way anymore.  I do.  There is a part of me that will always stay devastated.  The question is - what will I build around the devastated part?  Like a house that is turned to sticks by a tornado - or burned to the ground - and another is built in its place.  Like the World Trade Center destroyed by terrorists - which has both a memorial and a shining new building rising toward the sky. I go with this part of my year.  Thanksgiving.  Chanukah.  My husband's birthday.  Christmas.  New Year's Eve.  My birthday and my wedding anniversary on the same day, Valentine's Day.   I must take them one at a time.  I will celebrate them and make a space for tears as well.

Thanksgiving is first.  I am thankful for each and every grief warrior.  I wish I had super powers and I could bring all our people back.  I wish we had met because of another reason than grief.  Yet, I am glad that we understand and support each other.  I am glad we can be honest with each other.  In 25 years if I am still alive I will probably be writing some of the same things.  A stranger asked me if I was trapped in the past.  I said, "Absolutely not."  I love my husband - his spirit is very much alive.  It is my love for him and his for me that I am most grateful.  This love enriches my present and my future.  What a silly thing it would be for me to forget about it or make it less important that it is.  It isn't my prison; it is my open door.  If I let it be, my grief is my angel wings that allows me to fly.

I am thankful for my little family - my daughter and granddaughter.  I am thankful for loving friends.  I am thankful for good books and good theater.  I am thankful for kind and funny strangers.  i am grateful for ice cream and elephants and indoor plumbing.  I am thankful for warm clothes and the way stars look at night.  This is a good what else question.  Ask yourself what you are thankful for and say or write it down.  When you run out of things - ask yourself again - What am I thankful for?  Think of more things.  If your answer is I am so angry or sad I'm not thankful for anything - say..."Yes, I am so angry...I am so sad...I feel like I am not thankful for anything.  But what else?  What small thing can I be thankful for."  I know you are thankful for the time you had with person you are grieving for.  That's one. You can find more.

In the United States Thanksgiving seems to have become very small this year.  Many countries do not celebrate it - or celebrate it on a different day.  What ever is happening each day....find something to celebrate.  Find something to be thankful for.  I hope for you that during this holiday season you are surprised by many moments in which you find yourself smiling instead of crying.

I just realized.  I have been longing for my husband to sit beside me again.  I have forgotten.  He always is.  Nobody leaves is what we used to say.  Death is final in so many ways.  However, if I do not feel him sitting beside me, perhaps that is my fault - not his.

I wish you extra love and give you many hugs during a time when seeing happy intact families can hurt.  I wish you the ability to feel your beloved dead's spirit all around you.  I am grateful for each and every one of you.  I think you are very special and very brave.  Take tender care of yourself.  xo

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Grief: The Fun Is Done...Find Some Fun

Content Warning:  Some of this post is about my daughter and my granddaughter so if you are sensitive to those kind of stories I wanted to let you know.  When my husband first died it was hard for me to listen to people talk about their husbands or wives.  Today someone told me her daughter was engaged and I was able to be happy for her.  Sometimes things change.  Sometimes they stay the same.  Sometimes you thought they changed and they didn't.  Sometimes you thought they stayed the same and they changed and you forgot to notice.

General confusion in that paragraph.  However; with all we share I could probably write blah blah blah, tea la la and you would understand.

My daughter is kind enough to have given my own room in her house in Marblehead, near Boston.  I spend about 10 days a month there because my granddaughter Gwendy blue eyes is not quite two and she changes so much.  I hate missing things.  Now she is talking and she is able to express how much she misses me.  She doesn't like it when I leave.  One thing I have been teaching her is that in order to do the next fun thing you have to say goodbye to the fun thing you are doing now.  So if we are at the aquarium we say goodbye penguins. goodbye fish and I tell her something else fun we are going to do.  That way she doesn't cry or throw a temper tantrum.

I had an idea.  Yesterday morning when I was leaving to go back to my apartment in New York City i took two little dolls.  A Grandma doll and a Gwendy doll.  They hugged and kissed.  Then I took the Grandma doll over to her train set - which is little - so the Grandma doll rode on top of the train car  to New York City and hung out for a while.  Then she came back on top of another train car and hugged and kissed the Gwendy doll.  When we went to the car to take me to the train station Gwendy wanted to take a purple bucket.  I put the Grandma and Gwendy dolls in the bucket, thereby inventing the saying, "We will always be together in the bucket."

On the way to the train station Gwendy looked at me and said, "The fun is done."  What a complicated concept for a little girl.  I said, "Yes, the fun is done."  I'm all about validating people's feelings even when they are tiny.  But then I said, "The fun is done but you will have fun with all your friends."  I named as many of her friends as I could think of. "  She named her friends after me; counting them on her fingers.  Then I said, "I will miss you but when I come back we will have fun again.  The fun won't be done any more."  When we got to the station I kissed and hugged her goodbye and this time she didn't cry or ask me not to leave.

What does any of this have to do with grief?  The fun is done.  With those we love - people and pets - we have a lot of wonderful old memories but no new ones so in some ways the fun is done.  The dark side of grief tells us the pain will be all we will ever feel.  The work in transforming the grief is to acknowledge the part of that which is true - but then to count on our fingers and in our hearts all the ways we can still have fun - or put in better terms - how we can still find happiness and meaning.  If you stay only with "the fun is done" you will not be alive with grief - you will be dead with grief.  The fun and happiness you had teaches you to appreciate the fun and happiness you can have.  My husband's love for life and the fun (and the bad times but always the love) teach me that I have the possibility in me for more fun.  I have to show up.  I have to be willing to be broken open instead of just broken.  When I do laugh and have a good time I have to notice it and let it in.  I know that I don't have to feel guilty - either way.  If I am living my life fully I am honoring my husband's memory and life in the best way.  If I am staying in bed staring at the wall - I am being perfectly human.  I know he understands and I must forgive myself.  Sometimes I do that and time it.  I set the alarm for ten minutes or a half hour.  Sometimes I don't need as much time as I think.  I had another dentist appointment this morning and I tried to go back to sleep for an hour or just suffer.  I couldn't.  I got up and started doing things.  I feel better now.

I wake up every morning and remember - my husband is dead.  I ask myself. "How will I live today without him?"  The answer to that is...there is no answer.  Just do it.  Just take the next action and if I can't, stop and rest.  Yesterday I got up early in the morning to post on my Facebook page.  Then I took care of my granddaughter because she and my daughter both have colds.  Then I took the train from Boston to New York City (four hours).  On the train I did work on the computer.  I had an hour at home and then I went out to a lecture with a friend.  When my husband first died that kind of day would have been impossible.  What I am dealing with now is feeling slightly overwhelmed with how much I am doing.  I am missing my down time.  Sometimes I feel a little crazy.  Sometimes I am a little crazy.  But I am doing it.  If I can do it - you can too.  I am a very ordinary person. We are all ordinary and extraordinary both.

Am I healed?  Nope.  I also turn over every night and feel how alone I am that he is not in bed next to me.  I have nightmares some nights where I search for him and I can't find him anywhere.  Morning and evening bookends of sadness - with flurries of sadness throughout the day.  However...there are so many more happy and productive moments every day.  I see occassional comments about how I am supposed to turn some switch - accept - pray - something - and then I will be happy all the time.  If that's you - I'm happy for you.  It's not me.  I'm still okay with not being okay.  I don't need or want to be fixed - I just want to keep looking for where the life is at the same time I miss my husband and wish we were together again in the same form.  I don't have trouble holding both.

The difference between grief and my story with my granddaughter is that she knows I am coming back for more fun.  My husband isn't coming back to me in my lifetime.  His beautiful face and body don't exist any more.  His voice is gone.  But, when I die I won't have mine either.  I hope that we will be reunited and we will have fun together again too.  What does it feel like not to have a body?  I don't know.  How will we hold each other if we don't have any arms?  I don't know.  Perhaps not having a body is more fun than having one.  He knows.  I will too some day - or I won't.  What matters is what I do with this moment and the next.

I know that I have to learn and relearn what I so glibly teach Gwendy blue eyes.  You have to move from moment to moment.  You can't stay in one moment forever.  That's not the way life works.  What I wish for you is that with whatever pain and sadness you have - and may have forever - that you are also finding fun - ways to help others - ways to tenderly take care of yourself.  I think the favorite sound our beloved dead hear is the sound of our laughter.  I don't believe, as some do, that they are hurt by our tears.  I think they simply try to wipe them away and hold us tenderly with great love.  But I do think they love the sound of our laughter.  I wish you laughter.  Why?  Because you will always be together in the bucket.  (If that doesn't make any sense go back to the last line in paragraph four. If it still doesn't make any sense...may it's not supposed to. Maybe it's nonsense.  Nonsense is often more fun than sense.)    With love.  xo

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Grief: Can It Possibly Be A Gift?

I hope this isn't confusing.  I wrote it on the train last night and am posting it with some comments added.  If it sounds like it is written in two different spaces and times - it is.  I left it that way because isn't that how our lives are as grief warriors? They take place in two different spaces and times.  I don't always sound disjointed but I always feel a little disjointed - as with my husband dead I still don't know exactly who and where I am.  I do - but I don't.  Maybe I should have called this post - welcome to my confusion! 

I am on an Amtrak train and the internet is not working. (It never started working so this is the first blog post I ever written on a stickie note.  Not a big deal for some but sometimes the littlest thing throws me back into a very dark place.)  I am going home to my empty apartment and feeling very sorry for myself.  (I did.  I got home and felt very sorry for myself.  I am better this morning - actually - afternoon.)  Fell right back into the dark place in spite of all my tools and techniques for being happy.  Aha.  Sometimes they just don't work.  Here is all the gratitude for all the wondrous things (oh - and the lights on the train keep going off as well and it is dark out so I can't read) in my life and all the lovely loving memories of my husband who loves me and would tell me to stop being so malcontented and still I am going poor me in my head.  I must be the only sad person in the world right now.  In my crazy head anyway.  My blog and my Facebook page are Grief Speaks Out and I want to say shut up grief you are making me exhausted.  You are taking my life and blah blah blah.

I went to a one man play last week.  Eamon Morrissey told the story of Maeve Brennan who was an Irish short story writer in New York City and Washington D.C. in the 1900's.  When the actor was young (he is 70 now) he ws reading an story in the New Yorker and all the descriptions seemed very familiar.  That was because his family lived in the house that Maeve Brennan had lived in when she was still in Ireland and she used it as the locale in many of her stories.  So now....doing a show about her late in his life it is as if his memory has come full circle.

As part of this story he tells another story about a story that Maeve wrote.  A man and a wife have been married for many many years.  They don't even sleep in the same bedroom any more.  One night she is having chest pains and he asks if he should call the doctor.  She says yes.  She dies anyway.  The next morning he is sitting in a chair crying.  His sister tries to comfort him, thinking the death of his life long partner has caused him great grief.  No; he is crying for his wife Rose because he has no grief at all.  He thinks that she deserved better.  After all those years together she should have her husband grieve for her - and he does not.  He is also crying for himself that he is as empty of grief as he was empty of love.  He deserved better than to spend his life with someone whose death causes him not a single tear.

As I walked home from the theater I felt something shift inside of me.  What if grief was in fact a gift?  What if all this pain and loneliness were the gift I was given because I was lucky to have such a great love in my life?  I want so much for Artie, my husband, to be here with me.  I don't think it's fair that he left me; even though he couldn't help leaving me - his body was too sick to stay.  And yet, better that I should suffer life wihtout him than he life without me.  Better I should suffer life without him than a life that never had him in it at all. 

When Artie was dying his hospital bed was in the living room.  I brought his favorite things from all over the house into the living room so everywhere his eyes looked there was something beuatiful or something to make him laugh. Jazz was always playing, and the front door was left unlocked from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m..  Many people came to visit to tell him how much they loved him.  We spent many  loving moments together.  I am proud that I was able to do that for him even though I was feeling so sad and scared inside.  I am glad I was with him when he took his last breath.  How can it be he exhaled and didn't inhale?  We used to say staying alive is easy - just keep breathing. Then he didn't. 

I know he wouldn't have been strong enough to take care of me that way.  I know it because I was once in the hospital for 10 days after surgery.  i was angry with Artie because even though he took great  and loving care of me when I got home; when I was in the hospital he spent almost no time with me.  I stopped being angry when he told me he was so afraid I was going to die he was at home by himself lying in bed crying. As much as I depended upon him - it seemed - for my very breath, as much as I leaned on him - I was still emotionally stronger than he was. 

I still have to be the strong one.  I am the one with the unwanted gift - but a gift just the same.  The gift of grief.  It is my grief that tells me how important we were - are - to each other.  It is my grief that tells me of the depth of our love; the special uniqueness of our relationship.  (Although I know from so many of you that you too have deep, special, unique loves.)  He was a real man that I love who loves me.  If grief is the price I have to pay for that than I am grateful for it.  I would not give up a second of my life with him; either the wonderful moments or the hurtful horrible ones.  If I gave up my grief I would be giving up my love.

I have to keep working on transforming that grief.  I have to keep working on making that grief be something that makes me feel inspired - not crushed like I do this very moment.  Even though I am having a not so good time right now - I had many lovely times last week and will have many more in the future (even though I have TWO dentist appointments next week.)

Maybe I can remember how light I felt walking home that evening after the play.  How lucky I felt that brief moment to be a grieving person.  

it was a memory circle for me too.  Many years ago I went to Ireland for the first time because a friend invited me to go to Sligo for the Yeats Festival.  I had never even heard of Sligo.  I made many friends, I fell in love (with the wrong person) - Artie was the right person.  I met my daughter's father (the right person to create my splendid daughter but also the wrong person for me).  I have many glorious memories of my youthful days in Sligo.  When I got to the theater there was a flyer about the Yeats Society that does the Yeats School.  They have a branch in New York City now.  It was a memory come full circle for me as well.  

I don't know how much my past is my future.  Some of it is.  Some times I feel a certain warmth in the past that I don't feel in the future.  Everyone around me right now seems to be partnering up.  I am happy for all of them and hope it all works out.  Any chance I want to be one of them?  One of those widows who date and then remarry?  That's still definitely in the I don't know column.  After reading posts on my Facebook page from women who are quite content not looking for a new love I wonder if struggling with this issue is causing some of my pain.  Perhaps it is best not to try to figure it out, but accept it and see what happens next. 

Is part of the gift of grief that it tells you if you were happy in the past you can be happy in the future?  Could be.  So many grieving people either feel guilty about feeling joy or say they can't feel any joy at all.  Sometimes when I am talking to someone who says they are sad all the time I hear them laugh.  I hear them talk about good times they had.  We have to do more than have joyous moments.  We have to notice them and hold them in our hearts and remember them.  It is not wrong that we are still alive when someone we love is not.  We are meant to be here even though sometimes we don't understand why.  

Joy is one of the things we are here for.  I know my husband wants me to cherish my life even though he knows how hard that sometimes is for me.  I keep my granddaughter's smiling face in front of me.  A child's eyes filled with wonder always go back and forth between sadness and happiness more quickly than and adult's.  A tear rolls down their face - they kick their feet and scream - and then suddenly they are laughing and running about with great glee.  I wish for all of us grief warrors that we are surprised by joy - if not tonight - maybe tomorrow or even yesterday.  xo