Sunday, December 29, 2013

Grief: How To Start A New Year

I don't make New Year's resolutions any more.  I see them as a recipe for failure. When my husband first died I bought a plaque that said, "Have An Adequate Day."  It made me laugh - but I also felt it was something I could live up to.  I don't like setting expectations for myself that I might not meet.  A lot of life coaches would disagree with me on this.  I find it works better to have a gratitude list and a forgiveness list.

The gratitude list contains the things I am grateful for that happened in 2013.  It forces me to look at the good things that happen to me instead of just employing my excellent skill set for self pity.  The forgiveness list contains things that I would like to accomplish but haven't yet.  They are kind of upside down resolutions.  I forgive myself for not achieving goals I might have with the hope that perhaps I will achieve them the next year.  But if I don't - they just go back on the forgiveness list.  There is no judgement list.  Living without my husband is hurtful in so many ways that I try not to hurt myself any more than I already am.  That means accepting myself where I am.  When I can't do that - I usually talk to someone who will tell me that they love me.  I have a friend I met on a grief site that has the uncanny ability to e-mail me and tell me how special I am and how much she loves me just when the dark place has grabbed hold of me and I am thinking that nobody loves me and I am worthless.  Her e-mail shatters the dark place and lets the light back in.

I am grateful for family and friends. I am grateful for all of you who are with me on this strange and unwanted journey.  I am grateful I seem to be gifted in some way to bring comfort to those who are suffering.  When I started writing the blog I said if it only helped one person it would be enough.  It has become much more than that.  I never thought  I would have a Facebook page with over 260,000 likes - that what I write would be able to reach millions of people all one the world.  It is still a little startling to me.  This year I saw a play where an actor told of a man whose wife of many years died.  He was sitting in a chair crying and people came to comfort him in his grief.  They did not know he was crying because he had no grief.  I am grateful that I learned this year from that story that my grief is a gift.  An uncomfortable one - but how much sadder it would have been to be married to someone I did not grieve for.  I am grateful always for the deep and abiding love that grief is paired with.  I also learned this year from a quote by Victor Frankl to be grateful that I outlived my husband.  What greater gift could I have given him than to take care of him all the days of his life and be the one who lives on.  (I hope he appreciates it!!)

I am grateful for many more things.  Good plays, good TV shows.  Newly fallen snow, the color of fall leaves.  A good joke, a bad pun.  A good political discussion.  I try to look every day outward to see what is outside me that I am grateful for instead of inward at my grief and my pain.  A new blanket that is soft and warm and makes it even more difficult to get out of bed!! Those questions.  What else? Who else?  I must keep asking it so my gratitude list grows every longer.

On my forgiveness list?  Still haven't written the book - still haven't given myself a healthy fit body.  All those moments staring at nothing.  All the frozen moments, the unappreciated wishing I was with my husband moments.  I would like to be healthier - I would feel better and have more energy.  i would like to write a book - maybe.  Would I like to have a new relationship? - that one is still firmly in the I don't know place.

I don't know what the new year will bring.  I know it won't bring my husband back to me.  I will have to keep finding ways to live with that.  I hope, though, that the balance will continue to shift so I continue to have more productive moments and more happy moments.  I hope that the pain will continue to gentle down and I will feel less vulnerable, less irritated by life.  I would like to look at the world more with my granddaughter's eyes.  She says "OOOO' and "Wow" a lot.  She laughs a lot.  But she is two.  I kiss her neck and she says, "Stop.  That's enough Gammy."  She is feisty and feeling very powerful.  She also knows that she is loved.  I can learn a lot from her.

I don't know what I'll do on New Year's Eve.  Maybe I'll read some old love letters.  Maybe I'll watch DVDs.  Maybe I'll listen to some hypnosis CDs.  Maybe I'll cry or laugh or all those things.  Then it will be January 1st.  Then 2nd.  Then 3rd.  Each day brings me closer to my husband - but it is up to me not to wish those days away but to live them

Perhaps that is what I would like for all of us this new year - to not wish our days and nights away - but to live them fully.  To hold on if we want - and let go if we want.  To let love raise us above the pain so that we see things ever in new ways.  Not a new year - but a new day - one at a time.  A day in which we delight in things past - but also in things present.  With love. xo

Grief: It's Been Lovely But I Have To Scream Now

That is one of my favorite bumper stickers.  I have had it on my car, on my bathroom mirror, and other places.  When Artie was alive I had a bumper sticker on our bedroom door that said "Do Not Disturb:  Occupant Is Disturbed Enough Already."

It's been lovely but I have to scream now is what the holidays have felt like to me.  I had some lovely times (again - apologies to those of you who have had children and/or grandchildren die) with my daughter Erin and granddaughter Gwendy.  My granddaughter is two already and our holiday was her birthday.  She had a small party with myself and my daughter on Dec. 20th and then her big birthday party on Dec. 21st.  My daughter had "Curious Creatures" come.  They bring animals to children's parties.  There was a chinchilla, a skunk , a hedgehog, a flying squirrel and many others.  There is a picture of me holding a python.  I love holding pythons - the first time I held one was in the Amazon rainforest.  They are very strong and it makes me feel powerful as long as there is a trainer near me!  Gwendy got a child's trampoline and loves to bounce on it while I play her toy drum.  We had a small holiday tree with her picture on the top.  My idea - because she is an angel (when she's not being VERY two).  After her birthday she walked around for a day saying - Everyone ate MY cake.  We explained that birthday party cakes were for sharing - but she kept saying - It was MY cake.  You ate MY cake.  :)  We bought her a big girl bed and it arrived the day I left so I could see her bounce on it too.  She even slept in it that night.  My daughter was also lovely.  Our relationship improves all the time.

I was having such a good time.  I was also having a stomach ache that wouldn't go away.  My daughter and my husband (she is not his child) both liked to have me to themselves so when my daughter began living on her own I spent Thanksgiving with her and Christmas with my husband.  I didn't have a stomach ache during Thanksgiving.  I asked on my Facebook page Grief Speaks Out if grief causes people to be sick.  A lot of people said yes - they talked about colds and headaches and stomach aches. I had never thought of that as a connection.

When I was in the car on the way to the train station Gwendy kept saying - "I don't wan to leave Gammy."  I held her hand.  I always feel so sad when I leave her.  At the same time I am always glad to be back in my own space.  My husband said I was a malcontent and I disagreed with him.  He was right.  He was such a wonderful buffer between me and things in life I find difficult.

I have the same feelings when I go out with friends and have a good time.  Afterwards sometimes I have great memories to take with me - but sometimes I just feel like screaming:  "My husband is still dead.  Don't you get it? Why doesn't anyone understand me?"  I think Gwendy and I get along so well because I am so good at being two!

I always talk about transforming grief into joy - about being inspired by Artie's love of life to love it myself.  They call them grief bursts or grief attacks and I know they are normal.  I am still surprised by them sometimes.  What do I do with times that I cherished with my husband now that he is no longer physically here?  How do I get the lovely part without the painful screaming part?  Haven't figured that out for all the times.  Sometimes I am present in the happy moments but I am also always glad to get back to my solitude.  Then when I am back in my solitude I feel lonely because it is not easy to adjust to having a dead husband (no matter how alive his spirit is) instead of live one.  See... a malcontent!

I have gone out on New Year's Eve since he died but I have chosen this year to spend it alone - with him - which is alone and not alone.  He never really liked New Year's Eve so we always spent it together at home.  One year I covered all the clocks and we watched Monty Python movies.  When I uncovered the clocks it was after 1 am.  We laughed and kissed and wished each other Happy New Year.  We often watched the ball come down in Times Square on the television.  Our last New Year's Eve together boxing or something he wanted to watch was on.  When he came down after it was over and asked me if I wanted to watch the ball come down I said no.  I was angry that he didn't want to spend the entire night with me.  Of course, I didn't know it was our last New Year's Eve together.  I didn't even know the cancer was probably already spreading throughout his body.  All the precious moments wasted...and all the precious moments shared.  I like to remember it all.  I like to remember it as it was.  It makes the love mean more to me that it wasn't always perfect - that we were often bad at expressing it.  I wish I could have a do over though.  I want to go back to all those moments that we threw away and make them something different.  A perfect imperfect relationship. Yet we kept our promise - Nobody leaves.  A love that was truly for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.  And even death won't part us now.

Maybe that's part of the screaming part.  There is so much I want that is impossible.  I want him to come back.  I want to relive moments and change history.  I want to live to an old age so my family and friends never have to grieve for me - and I want to be with my husband as soon as possible.

At least I have more moments of "It's been lovely" than I used to.  The screaming is quieter.  The grief has gentled down.

What is it about holidays and dates that make the celebrations often have an undercurrent of stronger pain? My husband is just as dead today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow.  It's how I feel about his death that changes.  I have my birthday/anniversary (Artie married me for my birthday present) and Valentine's Day coming up.  I try to ignore that.  It's not being in the present to think of February while it is still December.  But like some people are waiting for January 2nd - part of me is waiting for March.

I have a lot of fun things scheduled in January and February.  They are things I am looking forward to. I know they will be lovely...but then will I have to scream?   I usually don't actually scream - but I do sometimes cry or curse.  I am impatient with life and with people.  I went out yesterday and was annoyed it was a beautiful day.  I wasn't in the mood for a beautiful day.  How silly is that?

Of course - I am trying to eat healthy food again.  Not medicating myself with sugar.  That makes me a lot more temperamental.  How normal and how self destructive improperly medicating ourselves is.

I am wandering off into a ramble.  Maybe finally writing this blog post is lovely but I am getting to the I have to scream now.  I do feel badly that I am not posting as often.  I am more productive than I used to be...but nowhere near where I could be.

I wish us all moments of pure loveliness and joy that are not colored with our grief.  I have those too.  I found myself wandering home after seeing a play with a friend and wound up in front of the giant Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.  I didn't feel sorry for myself.  I thought about my granddaughter and how much she loved some of the adventures she had in New York City with Gammy and Mommy.  I smiled a real smile.

Here's to those real smiles - the ones that go all the way through.  Here's to noticing them when they happen and training ourselves to have more of them.  With love. xo

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Grief: I Wish I Didn't Know The Code

I couldn't sleep so at 3 o'clock in the morning I turned on one of my favorite British murder mysteries - Inspector George Gently.  George is played by the intense and lovely actor Martin Shaw.  It started with him (an older gentleman) getting a doctor's exam.  The doctor tells him he is very fit.  Then the doctor says, "When does it hurt most?  In the morning or the last thing at night?"  They cut away to a totally different setting:  his partner being called to the scene of a murder.  I'm thinking...if George is healthy why is the doctor asking him when it hurts?  Two seconds, it takes me.  Oh.  The doctor is asking him about his wife's death.  When does that hurt most.

They cut back to the doctor's office.  The doctor says, "How long has it been?"  George says, "4 years, 3 months and two weeks.  I don't miss her less, I miss her differently.  I think what gets at me is the never again."

I got the code.  What else hurts first thing in the morning and last thing at night?  Someone you love has died.  I open my eyes and I remember.  My husband is still dead.  I turn over to go to sleep and, by choice I guess, I'm alone.  I'm sleeping with ashes and a Yankee jacket.  Still.  That's when I usually say, "Come back.  I know you can't but please come back."  It's the silence at the end of the day.  It's the time when we would be holding each other and sharing all our stories of what happened to us.

It's a 4 and half years for me.  I know Martin Shaw is and actor and George Gently is a character but there is a writer writing this that knows grief.  A writer who knows 4 years isn't such a long time and yet it is forever.  A writer who knows that you don't miss someone less but you miss them differently - that never again is impossible to accept and yet we have to accept it every minute of every day.

December 11th was my husband's birthday.  I did the usual post on Facebook asking people to do something kind for themselves or for someone else in his memory - to keep his smile alive.  I heard from some of his friends I don't usually hear from.  I went out with my daughter and granddaughter and had a good time.  Then I had a bang up fight with my daughter about something to stupid to even mention.  It continued the next morning and she said i was "too easily wounded."

Damn straight.  I am too easily wounded.  I always have been.  When my husband was alive I would say "I can't do it, it's too hard." and he would hold me.  He was my buffer against the world.  He was my anchor.  He was my safe place.  I want to change all the "was" to "is" but I have been feeling too easily wounded for a long time now.  Part of me stopped breathing when he died.  I have to keep pounding my heart to keep it going.

I bore myself sometimes with the repetition.  I tell other people to accept themselves where they are.  I know that people deeply miss the ones they love 40, 50 years after they die.  Yet part of me now asks, "Still?"  I don't miss him less, I miss him differently.  There is a trajectory from the night he died until today.  I haven't stood still.  Yet some days it is just too much to bear.  Then I bear it.  But there's a certain tiredness that goes along with it.

There are still days of falling backwards with no one to catch me except myself.  I have so many friends and so many good things in my life.  Yet I am drawn back to the malcontented part.  My granddaughter is going to be 2 already.  She is so smart.  She makes me laugh and love.  We took her to a Rod Stewart concert at Madison Square Garden and she danced and jumped and danced.  I have work that satisfies me.  I have done a lot to make my husband proud.

But when does it hurt more - first thing in the morning or last thing at night?

Dates and holidays and memories and hope for reunion some day and being present in my present and creating meaning and round and round.

Grief and I walk hand in hand.  Sometimes I can dance with it, sometimes it still thwacks me upside the head and I lie down rather dazed.

I have a cold.  Colds are miserable.  Not serious but miserable.  Once I had a cold and I asked Artie to buy me some chicken soup.  He went to the store and came back and said he couldn't find any.  When I got better I bought about different kinds of chicken soup and didn't say a word - just piled the cans up on the kitchen counter.  I miss stuff like that.  All the little private jokes that no one else can really understand.  We had a code too.  I liked that code - the one where we understood each other the way no one else ever could.  Where being too easily wounded was okay because he could be my protector.

I wish you ways of creating new traditions and memories to carry you along through the holidays.  I wish us all the ability to remember the smiling part of us - the laughing part of us.  Now that we know the code...maybe we can be extra tender to ourselves so that even if the hurt doesn't go away we are able to be fully alive with it as a part of us - not the whole of us.  Don't make the hole the whole.  I guess I wish us silliness as well and the ability to look at the world through the eyes of a small child - with wonder.  

What I really wish is that I had a magic wand that could bring all our people back even for a day.  The planet would be very crowded that day but what a precious day that would be.  With love.  xo

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Grief: The Word Is Vulnerable

I like to write more during the holidays because I know they are difficult for so many people.  I have spent the last 10 days not quite getting around to doing that.  I have spend the last however much time not quite getting around to doing a lot of things.  That sounds worse than it is.  I have had many lovely times.  I have been with my daughter and granddaughter and many friends. I have been trying to think of how to describe how I feel.  The word I came up with today is vulnerable.

It is as if my physical immune system isn't bad...but my emotional immune system is almost non-existent.  I know it is a combination of the holidays and New Year's Eve and Artie's birthday on December 11th.  I know that I say grief has no timeline.  I know that people hurt for years.  I know I tell people to be gentle with themselves but somehow I am feeling enough.  It's enough.  It's time for Artie to come back.  Wait:  that's impossible.  It's time for me to stop caring so much.  Wait:  that seems to be impossible.  I've been writing and doing so much work around this why am I spending time still staring into space trying to motivate myself to do things?  Why does it still hurt so much?  Because it does.

People might say I need to join the living.  I have.  I do quite a lot.  In fact I am busy almost every day.  Sometimes. a lot of times. I have a good time.  But then I fold up again.  I hit the same wall and it doesn't matter how much protective gear I have on; when I hit the wall - the wall wins.

I look and sound strong.  I look and sound happy -most of the time.  I talk about being alive with grief.  I talk about tasting the sweetness of life.  I talk about wanting Artie to be proud of me.  I have a long list of accomplishments and happy moments.  But I feel weak and vulnerable.  I feel like I am still an easy target for the dark side of grief.

I went to see a play today.  It was an impossible ticket to get and my source got me a single ticket.  I sat there wanting to be happy I was there and I was in so much pain.  I couldn't share being there with Artie.  I couldn't call him up when it was over and talk about it.  I remembered seeing plays with Artie and holding hands and snuggling up.  I remembered seeing plays by myself and if they were good I would buy two copies of the script and take them back to California where we lived and we would read them out loud.  He would take all the male parts and I would take all the female parts.

This was a Beckett play.  A sad play.  There are two simple lines:  "It's a fine day for the races."  "But will it hold?"  It didn't hold - by the end it was pouring rain.  It's a metaphor for life - but for me - a metaphor for grief.  Nothing seems to hold.  It's always sunny with a thunderstorm or blizzard about to hit.  I have succeeded in becoming more productive and generally happier but it doesn't hold.  I have a lovely time and come home to what I haven't done in a long time - that simple crying out of wanting the impossible.

In the theater I used the technique of feeling the pain and then looking around at what was there to bring myself into the present.  It worked a little.  The clutching in my chest went away.  I counted the lights.  I noticed what people were wearing.  There was a woman with a red jacket sitting a row behind a man with a red baseball cap as if they had decided to match.  The women behind me were having a funny conversation.  But then I kept almost falling asleep during the play.  Why?  I think it was because it was an elderly couple together.  Miserable - it's Beckett - but together.  To see them laugh together - and cry together - was more than I could absorb.  I'm vulnerable.  I wanted that.  I don't like laughing and crying without Artie.

Other people understand me - to a point.  He understood me completely.  He adored me.  I was his raison d'ĂȘtre (reason for being) and he was mine.  But almost 5 years.  Enough already.  I want to die and be with him.  I want to live and be there for my granddaughter who if you say, "Where does Gammy live?"  She says, "New York."  I don't ever want that little girl to be said.  I don't want Gammy to be living in Heaven.  Gammy always comes back.  If I'm in Heaven or wherever you go... I can't come back. I don't want my daughter and friends to be sad.  I don't want to miss things here.

So I'm caught in this vulnerable place.  I've made a space for myself where it is impossible to be happy because I want two things that can't happen at the same time.

I want the pain to go away - but I don't want the pain to go away.  The pain is part of loving a man who died.  I could take the wedding rings off again but I don't want to.

So that's how I've been feeling.  Vulnerable and devastated while all the while I go about doing fun things and having a good time.  Erin and Gwendy are coming in tomorrow and we are going to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, and the Nutcracker Ballet, and Rod Stewart at Madison Square Garden because Gwendy has to go to at least one rock concert before she's two.  It's going to be a good week while they are here.

But I'm still going to be vulnerable.  I am going to see some married couple holding hands or kissing and I am going to forget the happy part of me.  I am going to wake up in the morning or turn over to go to sleep and wonder again what the reason is that I'm still here.  I know the reason...I am a mother and grandmother and a friend.  I write this blog and I do a Facebook page.  There are some other good works I have been doing lately.

Nothing is Artie.  I still haven't learned how not to be vulnerable to what some people call grief bursts.  You are walking along singing Tra la la and all of a sudden it's like you are shot in the heart - again - and you just have to pull out the bullet and go back to singing.

This is starting to sound like something Artie would laugh at.  He would tell me to get away from my self pity - get out of my head.  He would call me a malcontent.  The glass seems half empty and poisoned when actually the glass is overflowing with sweet nectar.

I wish for you this holiday season that you don't feel vulnerable.  I wish you to be inspired by all the love and laughter you have had and that still exists around you.  I wish you the ability to be present with all that is good in your lives.  I wish it for me.  Here it is - oops there it goes - here it is again.

Maybe that's just the way it is.  Appreciate the openness to the delight - and have the dark be a backdrop.  Don't stop trying.  Celebrate when you can and weep when you can't.

Tomorrow I am having lunch with two wonderful women and then we are seeing a play - Waiting for Godot.  It is a Beckett weekend.  Then I am meeting my daughter and granddaughter.  What better day could there be for a Sunday?  (the ones when Artie was still alive)  Leave out the parentheses and let me present for the joy that will be there for me tomorrow if I am willing to feel it.   With love. xo