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

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