Sunday, December 28, 2014

Grief: Another New Year Without You?

I threw out a couple more of your things today.  Not much.  But a little.  I still have your phone book. What for?

I have many things I am grateful for.  Good holidays with my daughter and my granddaughter Gwendy blue eyes who turned three on December 20th.  I'm going back on the 30th because after five and a half years I feel brave enough not to hide myself away.  I'm preparing for this fun sharing of the new year coming in by isolating - watching crap TV - and eating too much.  All those healthy options.  Why don't I do the healthy options?  I could be meditating, taking bubble baths, developing a taste for kale.  Okay - developing a taste for kale is never going to happen. I am cleaning up and throwing away a lot of my own unnecessary stuff as well.

For some odd reason my wedding ring and my husband's wedding ring were irritating the skin on my finger so instead I have been wearing a band with three rows of tiny black diamonds and two rows of tiny white diamonds.  Like my life...sparkly...but all the lovely moments are still surrounded by darkness.  There is so much I have done since you died that I love, that I am proud of.  I especially love my relationship with my granddaughter.

I just can't stand the though of starting another new year without you.  We had many fun and loving New Year's Eves together.  The last one you asked me to come upstairs with you but I was angry and I said no.  I didn't know it was the last chance I had to celebrate New Year's Eve with you.  I want another chance.  I want another chance for so many things.  I can't stand it but I will.  That's what we do.  Stand what we can't stand; bear what we can't bear.

I keep my husband alive in so many ways.  My granddaughter talks about Grandpa Artie - even though she never met him.  People all around the world know about us - about him.

I have made plans for the new year; in the new year.  I am going forward - I don't have a choice.  Time goes forward and drags me with it.  I was thinking of e-mailing all the people I still have e-mails for who knew Artie and ask them for stories about him.  Why?  They might make me smile but they won't be him.  He's dead.  There are no new memories.  Is this the year I'll try to date since I miss so much being held?  I don't know.  I want my husband to hold me - not some random man.  Yet maybe some random man will do a good job of holding me.

I need time to feel sorry for myself.  When I'm with my granddaughter I don't get much time for that. I don't even want much time then.  I like playing.  I like cuddling her.  I love it when she says something clever or when she just looks up and smiles at me.

I'm blessed in my family and friends.  I alway plan adventures for myself.

Who knows - I might even start that book I'm so good at not writing.  I don't do New Year's Resolutions.  I make a gratitude list - all the things that happened last year that I am grateful for.  Then I make a forgiveness list - things I would have liked to have done but didn't.  Some things on the forgiveness list (forgiving myself for not accomplishing them) go on the list of things to do this next year.  Or not.

A young friend asked me if I feel guilty about what I haven't done or don't do.  I said no.  Finally after 63 years I feel that what I do is enough.  Who I am is enough.  I could do more - but if I don't - nothing wrong with what I am doing.  I'm capable of so much more than I was in those desperate devastated first days after my husband's death.

But I'm not finished grieving.  I don't see how I ever could be.  I can do more and more and more.  I can have many exciting and content moments.  I can even triumph.  Nothing I do will ever stop me from looking up and wishing I could see a very loved face that no longer exists.

My new year will, hopefully, be full of many new things.  It will also be full of something old.  Death took my husband away.  The one person in the world who totally understood me and who tried so hard to take care of me is dead.  Dead doesn't change.  People often don't get that.  I don't believe in being happy about something I am sad about.  How can I be happy my husband is dead?  That would make me a liar.  I am happy about so much of the time we spent together.  I am happy about our love. I am happy about many things in my present.  But I cannot "follow my bliss".  My bliss is dead.  I must create a new meaning for bliss.

I take my grief with me into 2015.  Hopefully it will come with me in many new and exciting directions.  Hopefully my husband will be proud of me.

i don't know how to end this.  A new year is supposed to be a beginning not an ending.  Maybe what I wish for us all is that our beloved dead become more alive to us not less.  I wish for us all that their lives mean more to us than their death - that their love inspires us. That they make us laugh remembering so many things.  I wish that we continue to transform grief from something dark and deadly to something that shimmers and skips about leading us into wondrous places.

A Happy New Year?  A new year with happiness in it.  I love you my husband.  You love me.  That still makes me happy.  xo

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Grief: 'Tis the Season to Be Sad, Confused, Exhausted and Angry - Oops - I Mean Jolly

Welcome once again to the holiday season.  I apologize for not writing before Thanksgiving.  In the midst of all this cheer, I thought of myself hanging on the meat hook of the holidays.  Here's my run - Thanksgiving. My husband's birthday is December 11th, Chanukah, Gwendy's Birthday is Dec. 20th, Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.  My birthday and my wedding anniversary are Feb. 3rd (my husband married me for my birthday present) and finally - Valentine's Day.

Thanksgiving.  Am I thankful?  Definitely.  I am thankful for little things like a cosy blanket and big things like having a smart, healthy and beautiful granddaughter.  Gwendy's birthday is a good day  When my daughter was pregnant I didn't know if I could love this new person.  I can.  I do.  I love being a grandmother.  I love that she looks at my husband's picture and says, "There's grandpa!"  She may have never met him when he was alive but she knows all about him - and I have this strange feeling she's seen him more that once.

The holidays. I'm working on it.  I have so many presents in my hallway it looks like a toy store.  I'm going to have to choose which ones to bring to Marblehead near Boston which is where my daughter and granddaughter live.  I couldn't possibly carry everything.

I'm going out on my husband's birthday.  Never did that before.  I'm spending New Year's Eve and New Year's Day with my daughter and granddaughter. It's the first year I've been willing to do that.  I did go out with a friend once - wasn't very happy. My birthday.  We worked that one out.  We sing "Unhappy Birthday to You" and I laugh but no one is allowed to mention it's my wedding anniversary.  I love that I have a wedding anniversary but I can't handle spending that wonderful day without my husband.  My daughter tried singing, "Unhappy anniversary to you." but I stopped her.  I can laugh about having an unhappy birthday - and actually have a happy one.  I can't laugh about having an unhappy wedding anniversary.  I miss my husband too much.

This is what is going on now after almost five and half years. Things are different.  I am doing more.  I am enjoying more.  I am also having to accept that around these dates everything falls apart.  I'm going out - I'm cleaning up - I'm taking care of projects - but I'm also laying in bed watching lousy TV and eating ice cream to numb out.

In between the good times I'm a mess.  I couldn't find my purse this morning - it was on the door knob where I had put it.  I thought Dec. 26th was a Monday - I think it's a Saturday.  Oh - I just looked at the calendar - I think I'm leaving on Tuesday the 16th - the 16th is Wednesday. As if to prove my point, I just talked to my daughter. This is an edit.  The 16th is Tuesday not Wednesday.  And then she was quick to say - not TODAY.  I actually knew that one. 

I've been meaning to write a blog post for days.  I got a stupid taxi driver who was taking me to the wrong address - I told him he needed taxi driver lessons - he laughed.  I cursed him out.  Unnecessary - maybe.  There are lots of times now when I feel like a person.  Times like that mixed in with times as I am going to meet someone I say, "Please let me look and sound like a person."  There are things I would like to do that I'm not - but I finally at the age of 63 feel that what I do is enough - who I am is enough.  If I do more - okay.  If I don't - okay.  If I'm better behaved - okay.  If I'm not - okay.

I'm meeting with someone who thinks she is my friend to tell her if she can't be sensitive to who I am - and respectful of who I am - I can't be friends with her anymore.  I'll call her D.  Why did I feel punched in the throat?  R told us botha long time friend had been killed in a car accident.  R was willing to be vulnerable and take the risk of saying how sad she was. D responded,  "Something good has come out of his death because you are reconnecting with people."  I couldn't believe it.  In front of me - the radical griever.  I rounded on D and probably shouted, "Never tell a grieving person that something good has come out of the death of someone they love."  D said she was providing "comfort".  First of all - there is not comfort.  Second of all, comfort is never given by someone thinking the most painful thing that has ever happened to you is good - especially when in R's case it had only happened a couple of days ago. I asked D how she would feel if her phone rang and she found out her son was dead.  What would be the good in that?  Her eyes teared up and she said, "That's hurtful."  I said, "It's meant to be.  I have thousands of people who tell me how hurtful it is when people say things like you just said.  They won't tell you that - but I will."  I was so angry I couldn't sit next to her.  D. waited a while and then said - "I can't help loving you."  Blech.  R said I shouldn't feel bad about my reaction.  I don't.  I thought perhaps D said she couldn't help loving me because she thinks I'm always angry.  I sent her an e-mail saying that I have been out with a lot of people this week and had good times with all.  Not angry once. (Of course all my other friends are my friends because they understand about the not jolly part.)  I even sent her the Henri Nouwen quote:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."

I'm not sure why I'm ranting about this.  Maybe because I know similar things have happened to you.  Maybe because I am still so hurt by it.  The truth is D doesn't get it.  She probably won't get it when I explain it again for the last time.  I'm too hurt to be hurt by people who are not only  careless and insensitive but also not willing to be educated.  It's a new thing for me - consciously setting boundaries for myself.  

I need people to understand that grief goes on forever.  I am sad, confused, exhausted and angry.  I'm also happy, content, grateful and silly.  If you don't get the sad part - you don't know who I am.  If you don't get the happy part you don't know who I am.

I admit to watching true crime stories on television.  The ones that respect the victim's families.  The grief on their faces.  The homicide detectives who carry the picture of a victim with them even after 20 or more years.  The grief on the detectives' faces.  It doesn't stop.  It doesn't go away.  

I am aware of the ways my grief has shifted over the years.  More and more I am daily inspired by my husband.  More and more my gratitude for our time together fills my heart and soul.  I have done things in the past five and half years I am proud of - and I know he is proud of me too.  Now his life is more important to me than his death.  There are things I would have missed if I had indeed died when he did.  I say to him, "It's time.  Come and get me."  He always says, "But you want to..." and mentions something I want to do.  I say, "Okay...but after that."  But then there are new things.

It doesn't stop the shrieking.  I want to be in the same form as he is more than anything.  I also want to be alive to play with my granddaughter more than anything.  

It all tumbles together.

Maybe this is a holiday season to be simultaneously miserable and jolly.  Wouldn't it be something if I could pull that off?  Isn't it something that I am even considering the possibility of jolly?

I wish for you that in the midst of the genuine - real - normal - tumultuous pain that is grief - you also - when you are ready - find time for love - for sharing - for laughter.  Why?  For me it is now partly for myself - but largely it is because I want my husband to see what I learn from him every day.  I want him to know that I open my heart because of his love.

I also take too many naps.  I also numb out.

That's me.  Be on your guard.  You don't know when I show up who is going to appear.  There's one thing you can know for certain - don't ever tell me that there is anything good about my husband's death.  Everything I have done, everything I have achieved, every laugh I have laughed is hard fought for and the fight occurs every day when I wake up and have to accept all over again that he cannot come back.  The person I most want to share things with, the person who understands me, the person who is my reason for being has died.  No matter how much fun I am having when I am with you - if you love me - you must never forget that about me.  

Have a moment each day - when you are ready - for the possibility of beauty and joy.  

I leave you with a Mary Oliver quote.  It is a question worth asking yourself - and when you can - with the guidance of those who have died before you - answering - as only you can answer for your self.  If you don't know the answer - it will come to you - slowly over time or maybe in a split second.  Maybe you already know the answer and you just haven't become of aware of it yet. 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Grief: Can't Catch Up With Myself

Some people say they can't let go of grief.  Me, mine comes with me everywhere.  I don't expect to ever leave it behind.  I woke up the other morning and said my husband's name out loud.  Over five years and I miss him and long for him and will never get used to living without him.  However, it doesn't stop me as much as it once used to from doing things.

That's what I mean by I can't catch up with myself.  My life has gotten very busy lately.  I am traveling again.  I am spending time with my family.  I am putting myself in places where I don't have time to sit around and feel sorry for myself.  I don't have much time to crash any more.  I need that time.  Sometimes when I get home by myself that's what I do.  The first day I just stay in bed and don't move.

I'm not grieving less - just moving more.  That first year I did almost nothing.  I just wasn't capable.  Now I am.  But sometimes I still just don't care and it is difficult to motivate myself.  That's why I make plans.  I have to keep showing up so I don't become a hermit.  Nothing wrong with being a hermit - but I think my husband would want me to be part of the world.

I'm finding grief overwhelming though.  I have been meaning to write a blog post for a while and keep putting it off.  I still post every day on my Facebook page Grief Speaks Out - but I don't respond very much to individual people.  Grief is exhausting.  I don't want to write a book about it and do workshops.  I have read where people stop writing grief blogs saying they want to return to the land of the living.  I'm not going to stop writing - my grief comes with me into the land of the living - but I have realized that I will write less often.  I am sorry for that.  I know people are helped by what I write.  I just can't face it any more.  It's like I want my grief to be a solitary thing for a while.

Maybe it's the holidays and my husband's birthday coming up.  Grief, after more than five years, still makes me sad and irritable and confused.  I don't want to go through this season again.  Yet - I want to go through this season because of my granddaughter - who - can you believe it - will be three in December.  I told her I was 63 - much older than her.  She asked me, "Do you have to die?"  I said yes - but hopefully not today.  I told her that I will always come back and I will always love her but when I die I won't be able to come back on the train in my earth body any more.

So here I am - caught between two worlds.  When my husband first died all I wanted was death.  In spite of that - and because of him - I have made a life for myself.  I want to die to be with him - but not today.  Today I am supposed to be packing to go out of the country again.

I didn't want a life after he died - but I got help and showed up and did things for other people.  I wound up with a life.

I'm still married.  Someone wrote me to "help" me about someone she knew who was happily remarried.  As if I didn't know.  As if I live in a cave.  She wanted me to have love in my life.  I have a lot of love in my life.  My husband isn't replaceable.  She missed the most important thing about grief - the person we love is not replaceable.  Even if I did change my mind and started dating - I would miss my husband.  If your child dies and you have other children it doesn't matter.  If your sibling dies and you have other siblings - it doesn't matter.

Most of the time I make friends with my grief these days. you know from the last post - sometimes it all collapses again into the dark place.  The place where everything seems impossible.  Yet everything is still possible.  Maybe I don't have to catch up with myself.  My living self will go on if I let it - my grieving self will feel overwhelmed and sad and everything it feels.  It will lag behind, resist going, and yet will come anyway.

I have to go and pack for a trip I don't want to go on - yet I know I will have a good time when I get there.  It's who I am these days.  I wish my husband was here to kiss me goodbye.  I wish I could call him twice a day.  I wish I could rush into his arms when I come home.  I can't.  He is on a trip where you do not need to pack - and I have to wait to join him.  Maybe he is kissing me.  Hugging me.

Sometimes I feel foolish lying in bed hugging the stuffed animal he gave me, wearing his jacket.  But it's what I have left.

That's how it is these days...self pity - loneliness - then - gotta go.  There's life to be lived.  I want him to watch me and be proud.

That's what I'm thankful for this holiday season - all the wonderful moments of love and laughter.  I don't have it now - but how lucky I was to have it at all.  I am still grateful for the depth of grief that measure's the height of love.  I asked people with all the pain they were in if they thought it was worth it - if they knew about the grief that was to come -would they do it all again.  Everyone said yes. is my attempt - to make my husband's life more important than his death - to make loving him something motivates me instead of crushing me.

I wish for us all those moments of joy and even peace to balance all the pain and anguish.  There are pinpricks of light even in the darkest abyss.  May they shine brightly - because they are coming from those who have died who are trying to show us the way.

Take tender care of yourself.  You deserve it.  xo

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Grief: Rambling Mind Still Broken Heart

I looked to see when I had last posted.  Too long a time ago.  For a many years after my husband died I stopped traveling. (I'm a little strange in that I don't consider going to London where I once lived or to my daughter's house outside of Boston as traveling.)  I just came back from North Korea, am going to Scotland and then in November - Israel.  Such an exciting life.  I don't feel like I'm the one who is living it.  Every morning I get up and try to make myself care about things.  I feel overwhelmed.  I feel sad.  I have some good times but I am weighed down still.  I am tired of feeling weighed down.  I am not usually depressed.  I hate the way if you are unhappy about something or you want to withdraw that you are labelled depressed.  I just find my life exceedingly difficult without my husband (and sometimes I found it difficult with him!).  I know I have a magical life and yes I am grateful for it but I still have a hard time caring about it.

I am depressed today because my daughter is doing what many daughters with daughters do - she is staking her claim to my granddaughter.  By that I mean she thinks I should butt out and never have an opinion. She yells at me and says unkind things that aren't true.  It doesn't matter what I do for her, what actions I take - she just doesn't feel like I love her.  The thing is I can't handle it.  I'm not going to never say anything as some people choose although I do keep my mouth closed often.  I have a brilliant relationship with Gwendy blue eyes and I'm not going to let go of that - for her and for me.  But I have no bounce back from personal attack.  I have no husband to turn to.  My friends support me but my heart just hurts.

I went into a store and I unfolded a sweater and apologized for not being to refold it properly.  The woman said - but I bet you are good at other things.  I said -Yes, I am.  She said - That's why we all need each other.  I smiled and thought - that's why I go out - that's why I show up - for moments like this.

I used to say to my husband, "This is too hard.  I can't do it any more."  Then he would hold me and I would feel better.  He didn't care if I did a lot or a little.  He just loved me.  When I am wounded it is wrong to say I have no place to go.  I have a lot of places to go - but I want him.

I read so many stories about people who survive so many deaths.  I just have one to survive and here I am in my sixth year of grieving whining on a bad day.  So many people have family members and friends be unkind to them when they most need support.  Why is that?  Is it smelling the blood of weakness that lets people go on attack?

I know this depression of today won't last.  I have many good things in my life and I will connect with it again.  My daughter and I are going to therapy.  I am thinking about writing her a letter - maybe if I list actions I have taken I will be able to reach her and let her know I love her.  The thing is - it didn't work when she was a child.  She was an angry child.  But she's 40 now and she's too old to be having temper tantrums at my expense.  I know this is common.  I don't care.  Since my husband died I don't feel safe. I never feel safe.

I like to write blog posts with shape and reason and poetry.  Maybe sometimes it is good to just ramble - to say I too have that black abyss I fall back into and have to scramble out again.  My Facebook page Grief Speaks Out has almost 500,000 likes and I help a lot of people all around the world.  They say I bring them comfort.  I don't know how to find that comfort myself in healthy ways.   I don't know how to care for me.

I care about my granddaughter - and I must care deeply about my daughter or her words wouldn't hurt me so much.  I care about my friends.  I care about people who are hurting.  Maybe the person I can't seem to care much about is me.  I'm feeling disconnected again.  I said that I don't heal from grief - I'll heal when I die.  That's a downer.

I'm going to get dressed and go out.  I'm taking care of business.  I have folks to hang out with before I leave on Monday.  Maybe I'll cheer up.  There's that part of me though that doesn't cheer up.  I was watching a commercial.  A grandmother that reminded me of myself was being driven around.  They stopped and she and her granddaughter got out of the car near a tree.  She said, "I met your grandpa for the first time under this tree."  Her granddaughter hugged the tree.  I started crying hysterically.  It turned out it was a car commercial.  I was crying at a stupid car commercial.  It made me laugh.  I don't feel like it is stepping backwards - it's just a grief day.  I don't like feeling this way.

Someone said you can't dance with grief - you can't make it your friend - you can only drown in it.  Even on a day like today I know that isn't true.  Part of my climbing the ladder up is getting out of the house.  Is taking to people.  Is trying to look and sound like a person.  The temptation is to say I am never happy.  That's not true.  Sometimes I am happy.  When I am happy is when I best honor my husband.

Oh gee whiz - I looked up at the TV that was on mute.  There is program about an old woman who is being scammed by some guy who is using her for her money.  Someone she met on Christian Mingle of all places. Well, we know I won't be that woman. How can people be so cruel as to take advantage of lonely widows?

My tour guide in North Korea is a handsome young screenwriter named Gabriel.  He gave me one of the best compliments I have ever had - he said, "When I grow up I want to be you."  There's the split. There's the me that is funny and creative that many people enjoy and many find generous and comforting.  Then there's the me that just is getting through each day with gritted teeth.

So today I give you no answers.  Only feelings.  What I know is that we share these feelings. For every falling down there is a getting up - for every being lost there is being found.

I hope today some of you are having a better day than I am.  I hope later I am having a better day.  Let's hold hands and hang on.  There are so many - seen and unseen - who walk with us. xo

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Grief: Am I Having Fun Yet?

I knew I was feeling overwhelmed and confused but I didn't realize it had been so long since I had written.  I can't get in sync with my life.  At the beginning I cried all the time and I spent hours in bed watching DVDs or just staring at the wall.  Then I started doing a little more.  I made myself go out with no expectation of feeling anything or being present.  Then life crept back in and I started accomplishing more, having more happy moments.  But I still took a lot of down time.  Grief was a full time job for me.  I needed to shut off from everything and numb myself out to go back into the world again and do things.  My husband is dead.  It hurts all the time.  It just does.

Now I have created this very magical life.  I have friends who are good and loving people.  I have my blog and my Facebook page - Grief Speaks Out.  I have several book ideas - one on grief of course - some children's stories - and maybe other writing.  No - I haven't written a word.  I have movies I am consulting on.  I have started traveling again.  I have the time I spend with my daughter and granddaughter.  I am exhausted.  I don't know how to function as a full time person.  I never did, really.  But my husband was there to hold me up when I fell down.  He was there to tell me he loved me just the way I was.  I could curl in his arms and feel safe and loved.  I always write about him being with me in spirit - in every way he can - and I believe that.  It doesn't stop me from feeling that I am doing this all alone.

It is my daughter's 40th birthday and she is having a grand party in California.  My room is on the beach.  There are 26 adults and 13 children.  Everyone is having a great time.  On one side of me is a couple I really like who have been married many years - on the other side is a couple I really like who met late in life and feel so grateful to have each other.  Hello self pity!!

I thought about it last night.  I have never been an overly social person.  I remember one summer Artie and I rented a place on the beach.  He met a couple who invited us over to their place.  I asked him why he wanted to go.  He was my person.  He understood me.  I went out in the world, I had friends, I travelled but Artie was my person.  He was who I wanted to be with. He is who I want to be with. When I isolated myself I isolated myself with him.  He knew me.  He understood me.  He got my bad jokes.  Our love was forever - we used to say all the time - nobody leaves.  He called it buying the whole package.  Nothing either one of us could do would ever separate us.  Then came cancer.  He died.  He left.  He didn't want to but he was too sick to stay.

I so often stand outside of myself watching myself knowing I am having a really fun moment - a really beautiful moment - but I can't feel it.  I'm there but not there.  I'm smiling.  I'm laughing.  Sometimes when I go out, while I'm on my way I say to myself - Please let me look and sound like a person - as if a person is something I have forgotten how to be.  There is a gap between how others see me and how I feel myself.

It's not true that I never have fun.  My husband used to say that all we have are moments.  I have a lot of fun moments.  I have enjoyed some things very much on these special days.  I am so proud of my daughter and the woman she has become.  To see her surrounded by friends of all ages from all around the country makes my heart glad.

So why, this morning, am I sitting in my room - not even outside my room - by myself.  Why do I want to cry?  Why does the loneliness come up and strangle me?  Why did I come in last night so early when everyone would have loved me to stay?

It's funny really.  I was all settled in for the day - thinking I would hide out and read and catch up on things on the computer.  My daughter just came by and said she wants me on the beach with them - she doesn't want me to wait until the barbecue at six.  I said - give me an hour to get more social.

That's the thing isn't it.  Life keeps calling.  We are alive.  When life calls what are we going to do...go back into our rooms and slam the door shut or go out to meet it?

My answer is still a bit of both.  A lot more going out to meet it than at the beginning - but still too much slamming the door shut.

But the door won't stay shut.

The door keeps opening.

I think my husband is opening it.  I think he is saying, "I am holding you.  Go get 'em Panache."  Or as my granddaughter says, "You can do it, Gammy."

That is my work, my challenge, every day.  To take this enormous dark cloud of grief and put it to the side for enough time to be alive - to have fun - to be present for my life until it is time for me also not to be alive.

I still have my solitary hour.  Then I will go out into the sunshine and try to feel my husband's smile shining all around me warming the coldness of my heart into one that can authentically laugh, love and have fun.

Wish me luck!  xo

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Grief: Still Trying To Figure It Out After Almost Five Years

Five years?  How can my husband be dead for five years on July 17th?  How is that possible?  How is it possible I survived, some may argue even thrived?  Every day I still cry "Come back.  Please come back.  I know you can't, but please come back."  Some days I do say it out  loud.  Some days I do cry or get angry.  Even when I don't think it at all it feels like I still cry it out somewhere in my psyche.

I remember those first days and nights.  I would cry and reach my arm to the ceiling as if by doing so my husband would grab on to it and pull me up.  I got my images mixed up and pictured him with angel wings gathering me into a swan boat kind of flying thing.  Then I had to laugh because I realized I was on the 2nd floor of an apartment building. I pictured him with his feathers in his feathered air boat saying as he came down through all the ceilings and floors, "Excuse me.  Don't pay any attention to me...I'm just going to get my wife."

I even went and sat on the bench in Central Park with the plaque I bought that says "Artie and Jan Warner, Mr. Dazzle and Mrs. Panache, I love you. You're my heart.  Always".  I thought.  You can get me from here.  No ceilings, no floors, just take me straight up.  I knew by then he wouldn't.

I thought of going to him.  I was his wife - right?  So suicide was my obligation.  When he was alive we used to joke about my throwing myself on his funeral pyre.  I researched suicide for three months.  Really researched it.  I could't give my family and friends the grief and pain I was feeling.  In my fantasy they would let me go - but I knew in real life they would be beyond hurt and lost.  Especially my daughter.

So - what was I going to to do with this tattered thing I never really wanted?  My life.  It took me 10 years to become Mrs. Artie Warner, Mrs. Boss.  The people he sponsored in AA in Phoenix called him Boss - so I was Mrs. Boss.  Alcoholics Anonymous.  It was the center of his life.  I would make myself available to other grieving people the way he was always available to other alcoholics and addicts.  I would make sure to tell his story; our story.  Always.  I wouldn't be a waste of space (i never was - but that was how I felt) if I was helping others.  I sent my first blog post into cyberspace not knowing if anyone would every read it. I had no idea we would become an international love story.

My Facebook page was a year old on July 10th.  My husband's life by touching mine, my life by wanting to do something to honor him means that I, a very ordinary - definitely flawed human being -  have been able to reach many people who have in turn reached out to many other people. At the time I write this:  the blog Stop Thief Don't Steal My Grief gets over 4,000 hits a month - the Facebook page Grief Speaks Out reaches sometimes two million people from all over the world a week.  I am astonished.  I exchange messages with a12 year old girl in Pakistan - woman in Bosnia, a man in Namibia.  At a Buddhist retreat posting with a Buddhist man in Nepal.  All I am doing is saying My husband died and this is what I feel.  It turns out that people who have any kind of grief at all need to hear and say that.  If it has been a month or 40 years we all need to say - I love my beloved dead.  I miss then every day.  It never stops hurting.  We can support each other simply by listening.  I thought when I finally got the courage to share my biggest craziest secret  that my husband's ashes are in their original sealed plastic bag in a big decorative pillow on my bed so I still sleep with what I have left of him - that everyone would laugh and run away.  Instead I found out that a lot of people sleep with the ashes of the person they love either on their bed or near them

Nothing you do - nothing I do - is crazy.  If we are not hurting ourselves or others - it is all a normal part of grieving.  The question is - do the actions we take - does what we feel serve us?   Does it serve me?  Is what I think and feel and how I act something that makes my husband proud?  I'm good at falling down - have I also gotten good at standing up?

I am at a retreat.  The space that not talking made in my brain when the teacher asked us to look backward - not into our past - but into ourselves - to look into the looker - see into the see-er let a totally new thought come in.  This is me, "Hello.  I'm Jan.  My husband's dead."  That's how I identify myself.  Usually within the first 10 minutes of meeting someone.  With friends - by always talking about him and us.  That's a good thing.

Is it a good thing?  Why do I not say, "Hi.  I'm Jan.  I am a writer and and producer and creative consultant on documentaries."?  Why do I not say, "Hi. I'm Jan.  I'm Erin's mom and this amazing two year old Gwendy blue eyes' grandmother."?  That question.  Who am I?  I am a person who grieves her husband.  Yes. I am a person who grieves her husband but who else am I?  There are a lot of answers to who else am I?

My husband and I had/have a deep love.  We also fought a lot and I felt lonely when I was married.  Towards the end I was sad and frustrated.  Then I knew he was very ill and his doctor said I was wrong.  In Carl Bergstrom's office I was literally screaming at Carl that Artie needed to be in the hospital.  Carl looked at Artie; not at me and said, "Don't l listen to her.  She's hysterical." I went to NYC and said I wasn't coming home until he went to the emergency room.  I had learned during our 23 years how to out negotiate my negotiator.  I believed Carl enough that I thought when Artie got to the hospital they would fix him up and he would be fine.  He had stage 4 cancer that was in almost every organ.  His blood pressure was low (Carl told him to drink Gatorade) not because he needed more fluids but because he was bleeding internally.  He was hallucinating not because he was taking too much valium (he was taking it to try to cope with the pain) but because he had tumors in his brain.  He died only six weeks after he was correctly diagnosed.  Yet - it was a loving dying time.  People visiting.  Jazz always playing.  He told me he was sorry for all the ways in which he had failed me.  I said I was too and in that moment all the anger and sadness fell away so that deep and pure love could re-emerge.  We held hands and listened to music and talked of many things.  We were like teenagers in the midst of first love.  I watchedl husband finally understand that he was loved and that he had done good in this world. Those were lovely moments.

Then he was dead and I was saying goodbye to his body before they took it away.

Hello.  I'm Jan.  My husband's dead.  He's dying right now.  He died almost five years ago but it feels like it's happening right now and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

But I didn't die.  I used to say - and still do sometimes by mistake - We died instead of He died.  But I didn't die.  People say all the time - I can't breathe.  But I am breathing.  Is it time to acknowledge what he has known and I haven't seen - there is a Jan without Artie?  He is always with me - but I am alone without him.  I have down dark days.  I collapse sometimes - but I have created a rather magical life for myself.

When I described what I do with the blog and the FB page - Grief Speaks Out - the teacher at the retreat said I do heavy lifting.  I have never thought of it that way.  I am here with two dear women friends.  A lot of my friends I have made since he died.  I live a life of service in his honor.  I have a lot of fun with different people.  I have a granddaughter who says we hold each other up.  When my daughter yelled at me - my granddaughter ran after her saying - "Don't yell at my Gammy.  It's not nice to yell at my Gammy."  She says sometimes, "I love you my Gammy Gammy."  What could be sweeter than that?

Having my husband back would be sweeter. Five years and I still can't believe that face I'm looking at on the pictures on my bed in this smallish dormitory room doesn't exist - hasn't existed for five years. That voice on the recordings - it's gone.  They are gone forever.  When I die my physical self will be gone too.  Will we get to be together?  I hope so.  I believe in it because it keeps me able to function - believing that even though he died almost five years ago - our journey has continued - will continue for eternity.

The universe has pushed the pause button.  I keep hitting play and it won't play.  I am in love with a dead guy.  i wear his wedding ring with mine because he has no finger to put his on.  Do I continue to choose loneliness for myself or do I look for a live guy?  I have the love of family and friends.  Is that enough?  Am I supposed to be faithful until I die or do I get new arms to cuddle up with?  Is looking for new arms to hold me a betrayal? I don't know.  I know many widows who have found new arms even though they love and miss their husbands who died.

I just have this seed of a new idea.  I can be Jan.  Not Jan and Artie.  Not Mrs. Artie, Mrs. Boss.  I am uncomfortable even writing it.  My chest hurts. is possible that this is my next step.  Letting the interdependence (not co-dependence) not even go - I can't picture that without falling down on the floor and staying there for a long while -but letting the interdependence fall away to another level.  Hi.  I'm Jan.  A whole conversation without mentioning my husband.  It seems harder than climbing Mt. Everest.

I have no desire to climb Mt. Everest but maybe the me that is inside me want to come out as her own person.  Hi.  I'm Jan.  Who are you - each of you - if you identify yourself without talking or thinking about your beloved dead - even for only five minutes?  Yes you are grieving.  But...who else are you?  What happens if you let your name stand alone?

I wonder.  I'm Jan.  Who are you?  With love. xo

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Grief: I Never Get Used To...

I never get used much.

I was warned.  The fifth year is tough.

I am trying to change how I feel by changing my language.  I have a good time now - often - when I do something I've planned but I never look forward to anything.  I miss out the fun of anticipating things.  My brain is not easy to train.  Or my heart.  I am sitting in a hotel room waiting for my daughter to pick me up to take me to her house.  (I didn't sleep there because they are remodeling things and I am allergic to dust etc...)  We are taking Gwendy blue eyes (my granddaughter) with us to London.  She is so excited.  She loves a cartoon character called Peppa Pig and we are going to Peppa Pig World.  A friend of mine guides at Hampton Court - the palace that Henry VIII built for Anne Boleyn.  She is going to make a treasure hunt for Gwendy there - and has a little costume for her to wear.  There's the zoo and much more.  For me - when they leave I'm going with another friend to see the Monty Python reunion and Bill Nighy in a play.  Then flying back to Boston for the fourth of July with Erin and Gwendy.

So why am I sitting here with a knotted ball of fear in my chest?  I got in yesterday thinking I would like a little time by myself  I couldn't stand it.  Artie wasn't here - of course not - I mean - he's been dead for almost five years.  When I travelled by myself the first thing I did when I got to a hotel room was call him to tell him I was okay - and to make sure he had my phone number and room number.  Love before cell phones! Five years of not being able to do a simple thing like call him and hear his voice. I turned on the TV and ate through the mini-bar.

I could have gone for a walk - I could have written about my feeling - I could have meditated - I could have made so many other choices.  My whole being just went  - I can't stand this - I have to go numb.

Those stupid grief triggers - grief bursts - grief attacks - assassin grief.  Whatever you want to call it.  Ouch.

When my daughter and granddaughter came over for dinner I had a lovely pillow fight with my granddaughter.  She brought me a stuffed animal to sleep with.  She told me a story about how we love each other and we miss each other and that if I didn't dream about frogs I would get a time out!!  So much fun.

But now - in the in between time - I am frightened of nothing.  They used to call it free floating anxiety.  I don't know what they call it now.  I'm not in my familiar place.  I've left all my "Artie" things at home.  I took a picture of his picture.  Can't take a picture of him any more - so took the picture of his picture.  Self pity...a skill I really don't need.

If it was someone else I would have all kinds of good things to suggest.  Dark and light.  Sadness and joy.  Take tender care of yourself.  Sometimes it all feels like blah blah blah.

I will have a good time.  Somehow that doesn't help in the in between time.  There is that time when the layer of sadness and loss and ache and stumbling around rises to the top and covers everything else.  I wish I handled it better when that happens.  I do.  Some times.  Some times I don't. I go...taking my grief with me on more adventures.

Nothing fills that missing piece.  The place where my husband used to be.  He has moved out of town and I have to wait to join him.  He didn't move away because he wanted to.  He is still with me in a lot of ways.

It is not enough.  Some moments I just can't handle it.  Maybe that is okay.  Maybe next time I can handle it without the chocolate chip cookies!   or not.  I can remind myself what I am reminding myself of now...soon I will have another layer of me taking a turn.  The waiting lasts forever (or so it seems) but my sadness doesn't have to.  By the time you finish reading this I may be somewhere smiling or laughing.

Show up.  Take a chance.  Don't let the dark side of my grief win...take it out to explore the world.  Off I go...if not right now...soon..  xo

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Grief: Still Crazy After All These Years

I am sitting here on Father's Day trying to get many different things done.  The news is on in the background.  I am not really listening but every once in a while I hear yet another tale of grief or someone saying, "Happy Father's Day" without giving a thought to anyone who that simple phrase might feel more like a sharp blade through the heart than a cheery wish. I don't know why I don't play music.  It would be so much better.  Or those hypnosis CDs (I am so old I still write tapes and have to correct it) that I have been meaning to listen to for about three months now.

I'm coming up on the fifth anniversary of my husband's death.  I cannot believe I have lived so long after the day of his death.  I thought in the beginning surely he would come get me.  How much I would have missed if he had.  I wouldn't have known Gwendy blue eyes, my granddaughter, I wouldn't have  made so many memories with my daughter and new friends that came in to replace those who disappeared. I wouldn't have been here with old friends who stayed.  There are so many things I wouldn't have experienced.  There are so many people that would not have experienced me.  No blog.  No Grief Speaks Out.  It is confusing.

What is confusing?  How I want more than anything to just lie down and join my husband.  How I want more than anything to never have my daughter have to tell my granddaughter that Gammy isn't coming back.  I never want to make that little girl cry.

Five years ago I was desperate and devastated every second of every day.  Now that devastation and loneliness and agony is still there - but it is a layer of who I am.  I have a rather magical life and sometimes I can even be present to enjoy it.  Sometimes both at the same time.  I went to see with two woman friends an amazing production of the Shakespearian play Macbeth with Kenneth Branagh.  Part of the time I was dazzled - part of the time it was like I wasn't really there.  Why?  The last time I saw Kenneth Branagh he was playing Hamlet and I was sitting next to my husband holding hands.  When the play was over we talked about it all the way back to our hotel.  That happens a lot.  Me being present having a great time - a genuinely great time - and then the moment of OUCH! or getting sleepy - or wanting to go home and crawl into bed.

I have been feeling overwhelmed lately - doing more things as I wanted to - planned for - on this unwanted grief journey.  I posted about that on and within 3 seconds I had someone post that they felt the same way.  That's it, isn't it.  That's why we need to talk about it.  That's why I need to keep writing the blog.  I'm not the only one still crazy after all these years - most of us are - in one way or another.  I have people tell me after 35 years, after 50 years it all comes back.  It hurts every day...just in a different way.

I took little Gwendy to a cemetery and when she climbed over the graves I had her say hello to the people buried there.  There were two flat stones with red flowers blooming in between them.  On the husband's stone it said, "Gone Before."  I looked - he had died in 1933 - his wife (with the same name) had died in 1961.  Seems like a long time to wait.

It's not really crazy - it's just grieving.  Those who call it complicated or morbid are wrong.  It's just grief.  For some, perhaps, it goes away.  For most it gentles down, the contours of it change.  But  does it end?  Not in my life.  In my life every morning - and every waking minute - and then every sleeping minute I am conscious of my grief.  As much as I feel my husband with me spiritually - even talking with him and hearing what he says (not in his voice - he doesn't have a voice - it isn't an auditory hallucination) he is not HERE - he cannot come back HERE and HERE with me is where I want him.

So my grief - my craziness - is something I walk around - use - get knocked down by - get disoriented by - get challenged by.  Some days I transform it beautifully.  Other days not so much.

I don't know why I still meet new people with the news my husband is dead.  I don't know why I tell people his opinion about things.  I don't know why I keep telling his stories.  That's not true.  I still can't imagine Jan without Artie.  I don't want to imagine myself that way.  Why is he still so much a part of me.  I don't know.  He is.  When someone is alive you expect their loved one to talk about them and share things with them.  Who says this has to stop just because they died?

People ask me more often if I'm dating.  I say now if someone I liked asked me out or fixed me up I wouldn't say no.  But nothing happens that way.  I still wear my husband's wedding ring and mine and I think I must have a neon sign on my head that says "Married to a dead guy."  For some reason - no matter how many widows I see who are quite happily remarried - it still feel like cheating to me.  I still feel married.

I guess the best thing - if it isn't hurting you too much - and isn't hurting others too much - is to learn to love your crazy.  This year I made arrangements to go on a retreat with two women friends in July.  I didn't realize I will be there in silence on the fifth anniversary of my husband's death.  I am bringing chocolate.  I am asking my friends to leave me alone and not worry about me if I stay in my room all day - or be surprised if I show up somewhere.  I don't want to be hugged or patted.  Almost five years and as i wrote that last sentence tears came to my eyes along with though, "No.  He can't be dead."

He is.

I'm alive.

So are you.  Alive.  Whatever you do that you think is crazy probably isn't - it's probably being felt or done by millions of other people in the world who just aren't telling anyone either.

Mary Oliver asks,  "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

The first thing is to find a way to actually think of your life as still precious.  The second thing is to show up and keep showing up.  No that's wrong.  The first thing is just to breathe.  To accept each breath as having a reason.

Gwendy blue eyes says we hold each other up.  She means when we hold hands we don't fall down or maybe she understands that "We hold each other up" has a deeper meaning.  I have a lot to learn from that little two year old.

If you are still breathing - what else are you going to do?  What else am I going to do so every day my husband will be saying - "You go girl!!  I called it right when I nicknamed you Panache!"

What am I going to do with my wild and precious life?  Some moments it is still watching too much TV and eating too much or even staring at the wall - but other days it really is quite splendid.  Why?  Because my husband loves me and being fully alive with grief is the best way to honor that love. xo

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Grief: No no no - No More Normal

Why do we always want know what is normal?  Perhaps that is completely the wrong question.  The medical profession and the helping professions are taking normal and making it such a narrow category that very few people meet their definition any more.  When my daughter was little she often didn't behave the way people wanted her to.  Now she would have oppositional-defiant disorder.  I have good moments and bad moments.  I once had a psychiatrist prescribe lithium for me.  I read about it and quickly threw it away.  Having normal mood swings is not bipolar - as anyone who genuinely is bipolar would know.  Now they have made grief into a mental disorder called "Complicated or Morbid" grief.  The measuring stick they use to determine this is ridiculous.  How long should grief last - 6 months?  When i know and you know that it lasts as long as it lasts - often forever.  Grief can lead to depression and PTSD but grief is not depression or PTSD - it is...well, it is grief.  When you love someone and they die - it hurts.  It hurts every day for the rest of your life.  The question is not how long does this hurt last - but whether or not you are capable of turning it - as someone wrote on my Facebook page - from your enemy into your companion.  My grief for my husband - my missing him - my longing for his physical presence - will be with me always.  Will I use that grief to enrich my life or let it oppress me?

We don't even acknowledge that what is normal is different for different people.  Normal for a small child is different than normal for a teenager which is different from normal for an adult which is different from normal for an elderly person.  Normal for a healthy person is different than normal for a person with a chronic illness.  Normal for a person who has never experienced deep grief is different for someone who has.  What I find now that I have so much contact with grieving people of different ages, religions, nationalities is that everything we think is not normal - is.  Do you feel angry - sad - numb - lost - like you can't breathe - like you are going crazy - having trouble sleeping? - feeling good one day then hit with an unexpected wave of grief - and on and on - guess what.  That is all normal.  People all over the world are feeling the same things.  Maybe in different ways and different proportions - but whatever you are experiencing - someone else is too.  The people who tell you to move on or that you are stuck - or that what you are experiencing isn't healthy or normal are in the dark themselves.  They don't know that grieving people take to lying about how they really feel in order not to hear things that are hurtful - in order not to be rejected - or medicated - or fixed.  Ask the person who thinks you are grieving too much if they got a phone call in five minutes that their child was killed in a car accident - or their husband or wife - when they would get over it.  I did that once to a man I know - he started to cry.  I had to comfort him for something that hadn't even happened.  He stopped trying to make me feel better.

The question isn't whether or not what I am doing is normal.  The question is whether or not what I am doing is allowing me to live the life I want.  The past almost five years have been a continuous spiral up and down of learning how to be more productive - how to have more and more happy moments - how to be more fully alive with grief.  Staying in bed and staring at the wall (this fifth year - as I had been warned - is full of a lot of despair - although since I have tools now to deal with it a little better) actually works for me in small increments.  I find it helpful to spend time with my grief.  It doesn't work for me if I do it all day every day.  I have never lost the feeling of great sadness every time I return home knowing that my husband will not be waiting for me.  It occurred to me that maybe this is something I can change.  I'm not sure how yet.  I have the ability to change things - I have done it with other things.  Most of my memories now make me smile instead of cry.  Most places I walk past that we were together make me think about our happy moments.  When I see an advertisement for boxing or tennis I remember how much joy my husband got from watching then instead of cursing things for going on without him.  My eating is still weird.  My sleeping gets off track.  I get confused between wanting to die to be with him and wanting to live to do everything else.  I remind myself that what is a long time to me on Earth is a blink of the eye in terms of eternity.

I don't want to be fixed.  I don't want to be happy all the time.  I don't care if I am "normal".  When i see what normal is - sometimes I laugh and wonder why anyone would want that!  It is like wanting to be ordinary when we are all really extraordinary - in our own ways.

I was watching a soap opera of all things and someone said something like we disrespect the life of our loved one if we let their death mean more to us than their life.  It made me stop and think.  It is not so much what my husband would want for me - or even what I want for myself.  It was - yeah - that's it.  Do I not somehow do a disservice to all the happy times and fighting times and loving times if I remember them with pain instead of joy?  Can I not look at our love - constant - enduring - splendid - even if our relationship was sometimes troubled and less than it might have been - with clear eyes not shadowed by grief?  That's wrong.  In some ways grief sharpens the way I remember Artie.  I don't take anything for granted any more.  I can treasure our moments together even more than I did when he was alive.  The fact that there are no more of them in the same form makes them more precious. I was given - am still being given so much by my husband - am I rejecting those gifts if all I do is feel sorry for myself rather than feeling blessed and grateful?  My husband's life mattered - it still matters - more than his death.  How can I embody that?  How can I live that?

I am not there.  I will never be there.  I don't even know where there is.  However - I can continue every day to do the best I can to take this monster grief and tame it so that I ride on its back to many magical places I would not have gone without it.  Missing Artie, loving Artie, feeling somehow not whole without him - yet at the same time never letting the darkness dim the light - never letting my grief diminish the power of what we had and have.

If you figure out how to do this easily...let me know.  Until then - I described it as driving a car on a multi-lane highway.  One lane will always be grief - but may we all have ever more lanes - and when we drift or drive deliberately back into the grief lane - may we learn how to just put on our signal light and turn the wheel so we can move again into which ever lane is best for us.

Almost five years later I have a rather magical life.  I don't talk about it that much because I write about grief.  It is a life I have worked hard to create.  I am ordinary in many anything I can create - you can too.  Do I always feel the magic - no.  Do I feel it more often.  Yes.  Did grief gentle down - yes.  Most days.  Throw out normal.  Oscar Wilde said - "Be yourself.  Everyone else is taken."  It's been quite an effort to even imagine a Jan without her Artie (he says I am never without him - but you know what I mean) but there is one.  I'm learning more about her every day.  She is the woman my husband loves.  Here's to you being you again - not a "normal" you - but a newly discovered ever growing you.  Not being there yet maybe...but finding moments of life and happiness breaking through - finding the unbearable bearable - breathing when you cannot breathe - doing it all because you would not be grieving if you had lived your life without experiencing love -  as far too many people do.  With love. xo

Monday, May 12, 2014

Grief: Skating on Thin Ice

Just to prove I'm perfectly human - if you read the last post - Yes, folks, I did manage to leave my laptop on the train.  So...I am winging it in so many ways.  Learning that I am more dependent on it than I thought.  I am working now on a computer I don't know how to use.  Trying to figure it out.  Kind of like grief.  Nothing familiar any more but still typing away.

So...late at night when I should be doing other things - like sleeping!!  This is what I wanted to write about and haven't for many many days and nights.

I was in London a while ago and was lucky to see Dancing on Ice with Torvill and Dean.  Torvill and Dean won Olympic Gold in 1984 ice dancing to Bolero.  It is amazing.  You can find it on You Tube.  I can't give you the link because...well - unfamiliar computer.  They have been sponsoring Dancing on Ice for, I think, 9 years.  It is like Dancing with the Stars.  Amateur ice skaters learning from professionals and then competing. 

I always feel like I'm skating on thin ice with grief.  I think I'm doing fine, even balancing, trying a new move, and then the ice breaks under me and I'm flailing around again - gasping for air.

When people ice dance or ice skate as a couple they have to be in perfect unison.  You can do beautiful and exciting things as a solo ice dancer - but you cannot do alone what you can do with a partner.  One of the judges said it is all about placing.  The professional skaters go too fast to see it.  With the other ones you can see them signaling each other.  You can watch how carefully the man places the woman exactly where she should be.  If the woman falls, it is not her fault.  It is both their faults.  He may not have placed her gently exactly where she should land in order to go to the next move.  There is also this incredible trust as the man lifts the woman - twirls her - sometimes her head just inches from the ice - sometime her body spinning high about his head as he holds her up with one arm.  There is a move called the death spiral because of how close the woman's head is to the ice.  We grieving people know all about the death spiral, don't we?  I remembered - not physically of course - my husband never would have let me come near him if I had sharp blades on my feet or anywhere!! - how I was lifted.  How I was held.  How I was placed.  How together we could do things we couldn't do separately.  I had welcome tears running down my face as I thought about that.

I also had smiles.  And more tears at lyrics to some of the love songs.  And more smiles.

I saw Torvill and Dean many years ago when they were still young.  I have never seen anything quite as brilliant.  Then they came to where my husband and I lived.  I couldn't go -  I had to be out of town.  So I told my husband how brilliant they were and got him two excellent seats so he could go with a friend..  When I came home he said to me, "The women I gave the tickets to had a very good time."  I almost killed him.  I couldn't believe I had given him such a special present and he gave it away.  I didn't kill him.  I forgave him.  We did that a lot - hurt each other, disappointed each other, forgave each other.  The love lasted through everything.

Torvill and Dean are now each close to 60.  They don't ice dance like they did when they were young.  They don't do Bolero like they did when they were young.  But they are willing to do it imperfectly - as they can now - for themselves and for us.  British people don't give standing ovations as often as Americans do - but when Torvill and Dean did Bolero at Wembley Arena  (which is a huge stadium) everyone stood and cheered and cheered and cheered.  Christopher Dean said it would be sad when they performed it for the last time - but they would always have it in their hearts.  Being willing to do something differently, imperfectly.  Knowing that some things do eventually end - but they live in our hearts.  We can be sad that they can't be done any more, but we can be oh so happy that they once were.

When Christopher Dean was making his way around the ice I was one of the people whose hand he shook.  For a while I had ice dancer DNA on my hand!!

One of the amateur skaters fell.  She made a funny face as if to say - Oops - but she didn't stay down - she got right back up and finished her routine. Isn't that what it's all about.  Getting back up.

I wanted so much to share all this with my husband.  I can't - not the way I want to.  But I went by myself.  I had such a good time.  I showed up and allowed myself to be delighted.

It was raining.  I can't walk and think at the same time.  So after it was over I was thinking of each splendid moment as I walked out into the rain. I fell down.  My umbrella went flying.  It was London so people came up to see if I was okay.  I kept saying so they would know I was all right, "It's okay.  I don't know how to ice dance but I know how to fall!"  I do.  I know how to fall physically and not hurt myself.  Partly from doing comedy improv and doing pratfalls - partly just from being klutzy and having my body react to protect itself.  Since my husband died I've fallen a lot emotionally.  Sometimes it takes a long time to get back up - sometimes a short time.   I know how to fall. 

When one of the ice dancers was about to go on the ice he said, "Let's go make shapes!!"  The blades make patterns in the ice.  Isn't that what life is all about? Each day - no - each moment - gives us clean ice.  We need to go make shapes.  We can't make the shapes we used to make.  The shapes will different.  But they can still be beautiful.  That's it, folks.  That was what I took away from the night - Go make shapes!!  xo

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Grief: Mother's Day: Skating On Thin Ice

Here I am wanting to finally write a blog post and I am away from home.  When I opened my bag my computer was not in it.  Still proving I'm perfectly human.  I am on a borrowed computer and will have to wait until late Monday night to write something to you.  I don't even have a way to know if my computer is at home or it fell out of my bag on the train.  Life.

I haven't stopped writing.  My Facebook page ( is a dialogue with many people and I spend time every day posting and answering people.  I think the blog will go down to maybe one post a month.  I don't want to stop  writing it.  I know a lot of people - especially with blogs on grief - do stop after a time.  It is important to me to continue.  Yet, I often find I lack emotional stamina.  Especially with the fifth year blues of my own grief.

The above title is my title.  I owe you all so much and a blog post.

I didn't want to let Mother's Day go by without saying I am thinking of you.  All the mothers who are still mothers but their children have died.  All the children who feel lost because their mothers have died.  People always assume that everyone is having a "Happy" Mother's Day.  We know many, too many, people are not.

I hope tomorrow no matter your sadness, your longing, your pain - you will find something to celebrate in love and memory.  xo

Monday, April 7, 2014

Grief: Why Is It So Hard To Take Care of Myself?

I'm trying to go to a different level in this grieving process.  It's not working very well.  It's like the children's game Chutes and Ladders (or Snakes and Ladders).  I climb up and then get a wrong turn of the dice and slide back down.  I don't slide all the way down to the bottom of the board any more.  That's not true.  Sometimes I do. But not as often. In many ways I have a magical life.  In many ways I still feel this dark bleak loneliness. Back and forth.  Up and down.  As many times as I slide down it is up to me to climb back up.

I was wondering if I was obsessed with my dead husband.  I think about him all the time.  I love him more every day.  I miss him.  I want to be with him; not with someone new.  I asked a friend whose son, her only child, died 12 years ago.   "Am I obsessed?"  I thought she'd say, "Of course not."  Instead she said, "Of course you are.  We all are."  It made me wonder some more.  When my husband was alive, even though we were very independent people, we were the center of each other's world.  I always say he held my kite string so I could soar.  He was who I came home to.  He was home.  He is home.  I thought about him a lot.  I made decisions with him and because of him.  In his dying time I gave up everything to be there to take care of him. It was a privilege to do so.  That wasn't obsession - it was a marriage.  It was love.  So my feelings really haven't changed.  It is just that the person I have these unchangeable feelings about and for is longer living.  Maybe that's what people who tell you to move on don't understand.  Just because someone you love dies doesn't mean your feelings for them change.  My husband isn't here physically for me to interact with on a daily basis - but he is spiritually.  My feelings of loyalty and faithfulness and love and respect haven't changed.  You don't stop loving someone when they die...sometimes you even love them more.

Understanding.  I saw someone yesterday who lives in a different city.  I only see him once a year. His only child, a son, died around the same time my husband died.  When he saw me his eyes were full of kindness and he gave me a big hug.  There was an understanding, a being present with each other because we both know grief.  We know it doesn't end.  We know the tears are always near the surface if not actually spilling over.  We can be heart to heart honest with each other.  I write this blog, I do the Facebook page...people I know read them and still I get hurt because I don't have that kind of understanding with them.  How can they know me and not know me at the same time?  Especially when I bang my drum so loud.  

I want to take better care of myself.  I want to eat better.  I'm so proud of my daughter who is losing weight and looks wonderful.  I will feel better if I eat better and move more.  Is that news?  It is to me when laying in bed watching TV and eating ice cream does such a good job of numbing me out.  It seems like it is time to take better care of myself.  How do I do it without my husband?  The seductively vicious question that grief always throws at me - Why bother doing it without my husband?

I also want to accomplish more.  I have a lot of things I could be doing. A lot of things I want to be doing.  I lack emotional stamina.  I was thinking that my heart is closed.  It isn't.  It is so open and hurt and vulnerable that I feel overexposed and in need of hiding myself away.  Sometimes doing one more thing - even a simple one seems like too much.

Today.  I've gotten a lot done.  I've set goals and accomplished most of them.  But there's movement followed by crashing loneliness and wanting to be still.  I want to eat now.  I want not to feel.  I feel joy and happiness and gratitude.  But all that doesn't light the darkness when it comes.  Someone said when her husband died it was like being a bird with one wing.  Rowing a boat with one oar.  It seems easier to go around in circle than it is to actually get somewhere. d

I've been complaining a lot lately.  Everything irritates me.  I want to stop complaining again.  At my daughter's house there is a jar.  Every time I complained I'd put a $20 bill in.  I said we should start it again...but with $1.  I can't afford a $20 a complaint any more.  Too many complaints.  None of them serious - except for the big one...I'm alive and my husband isn't.

I never thought of that.  Is he still even my husband?  He is to me, for eternity.  But my legal word is widow - not wife.  I hate the word widow.

It will be five years in July.  i am exhausted with missing him.  I want to move forward.  I want to be more fully alive.  I want to do all the things that would make him proud.  I also want to stay perfectly still and let my grief swallow me up.

Ease.  I would like to do things with ease.  Anger and hurt are all mixed up together.  Yet, I push ease away.  I know the things that will help me and so often I choose not to do them.

My granddaughter, pretending to be a butterfly, says: "When my chrysalis is done, I can fly."  Sometimes I feel like I am a butterfly turning into a very hungry caterpillar instead of the other way around.

All I can do is keep restarting myself.  I can keep showing up.  Keep trying fill the time I have left with joy and work and help for others - and play.  I don't thing any of this matters in terms of all the people in the world.  It matters, though, in terms of me.

Sometimes it's clear what I want to write.  Sometimes it's all a muddle.  That's how I am these days all a muddle.  I don't have the stages of grief over time (not that I believe anyone does) but lately they seem to spring up in different forms every five minutes.

Peace and contentment.  I know so many people who claim to have them.  Serenity.  My husband used to say serenity was just a rumor.  When people said they had it - he'd ask them to define it and tell him how they got it.  I have met people who are deeply spiritual and connected with themselves and with others - and yet retain a certain equanimity - a certain slight ripple rather than crashing waves.  Too many people say they have it but you can feel the lie.  You can feel the pain and fear and insecurity bubbling underneath.  I'd rather be honest about all my different feelings.

So - what is taking care of myself?  There are simple answers like washing and cleaning up and eating well and exercising and getting enough sleep. But what it taking care of myself emotionally and spiritually?  I'm throwing a child's temper tantrum again.  I want my husband to take care of me

That's where I am today.  Disjointed.  Uncertain.  But still trying.  Still doing.  Still showing up.  Brendan Behan said, "Every cripple has his own way of walking."  Even after five years I'm still trying to figure out mine.  With love. xo

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Grief: Is Life Precious or Just Annoying?

Shouldn't my husband's death make each day of my life even more precious to me?  If so, why did I not even consider this a possibility until four years and eight months after his death?  I get caught up in how lonely I am for him and how much I want to be with him I forget to consider the possibility that being here on Earth is not a punishment but a gift.  For some strange reason that's not even easy to write.

Let's be honest.  I've never been one of those perky waking up joyful kind of people.  However when Artie was alive we were a comfort to each other.  Our love was something that we found sustaining.  I always talk about his love for life - and he had it.  He didn't want to die.  Yet neither of us walked easy on the earth.  It was just when he was alive we walked uneasy on the earth together, holding hands and that made it better.  We laughed together and understood each other in a way that was very special to us because for each of us it was the only time in our lives we had someone that we could totally trust and share things with in that deeply intimate way.  I miss being cherished by him.  Do I want to be cherished by another man?  I don't know.

Mary Oliver asks, "Listen.  Are you just breathing a little and calling it a life?"  Sometimes I am.  I am hiding away annihilating myself with sleep and TV and food to escape from coming home to silence.  I truly believe Artie is holding me and protecting me the best way he can.  But he's not here in the way I was so accustomed to him being here.  I don't seem to ever totally make peace with that.

Sometimes I have a life full of adventures.  I have greatly increased the amount of adventures I have since that first year of sobbing and desperately seeking.  There is so much I would have missed if I had died when my husband died - as I wanted to and thought I should.

I wrote about this on my Facebook page Grief Speaks Out.  My granddaughter Gwendy blue eyes who is two years and three month has been saying, "Don't talk in the dark. Don't talk in the woods. The animals will hear us. It is scary." It must have come from a story she heard. When I was babysitting her we put on our coats and hats and scarves to go out into the dark night and have an adventure. We held each other's hands. Walking down the front steps she slipped and I held her up. In the field in front of the house it was muddier than I thought and I slipped - but I didn't fall. We held hands and walked one careful step at a time. We started to venture into a very dark place and an automatic light came on as if by magic and illuminated our way. We went back into the dark and walked around in the tall trees (the dark wood), seeing our shadows - tall and big and how they walked in front of us..  Then we went back in to the dark space and made the light come on again.  When we went back into the house we realized that when we held hands we could talk in the dark and not be scared; we could talk in the woods and not be scared. When my daughter came home Gwendy told her, "I had an adventure with Gammy!" Before she went to sleep I told her a story about a little girl named Gwendy who went into the dark wood. She met all kinds of creatures - owls, and mice and many others. They all said hello and asked if she wanted to see their sleeping babies. She went into the woods scared and came home safe with the memories of an adventure and the thought of peacefully sleeping woodland babies and friendly animals and birds. While I was telling the story Gwendy was listening intently with a little smile. If I had died when my husband died as I so wanted to...I would have missed that moment. I would have missed the lesson of how we can go into our own dark wood and not be scared if we only hold each other's hands. 

There are many other things I would have missed.  Each day is precious?  That is a stretch for me still.  I'm not an ungrateful person.  I have a very long gratitude list.  My heart just hurts.  What would I do differently if I could see the preciousness of my life while I still have it?  If I have to look back on my life after I die what will I see left undone, unfelt because of the choices I made.  

I get tired.  I think I will always be someone who needs down time.  I am imperfectly me.  It is a big shift for me to try to even think of each moment as precious instead of something to be gotten through.  I always talk to people about being surprised by happiness.  Why not get better at creating it?  I have often thought with such short lives it is sad that we are so skilled at hurting.  Let us become skilled instead at finding contentment; even in small things.  

What if when I feel sorry for myself (one of my excellent skills!) I think about all that I have and have had instead of all I have lost?  There is so much suffering in the world.  Can I bear witness to it and honor it while at the same time not forgetting that there is so much beauty and love in the world?  In my own life? 

Grief and pain are seductive.  We give them names and some people want to medicalize them.  We make little boxes out of them and put ourselves inside and close the lid.  Here I am, I am a suffering person. Can't you see, there is no way out.  Perhaps I am the one who must change how I define myself.  I must change how I define my relationship to the world. it is my job to take off the lid of the box I have put myself in. It is my job to step out to see what there is to see.   I can always go back in when I need to.  All that hurts, all that is vulnerable is real.  It needs time and care.  However, in the same breath, isn't all that is precious, all that is loving real as well?  Why not climb into those boxes some times and close those lids.  Maybe that's it.  Each moment is new box.  Which box will it be?  When I look into the corner of my day if I have had too many dark and desperate boxes perhaps the next day will be one of searching - and finding - the precious ones.  My life is becomes a search for many different boxes - to see how many there are I can fit into - not just one.

My life is precious AND annoying and many other things.  I wish us all the ability to put our grief in a box or a bag and take it with us into the dark wood to show it we don't have to be scared.  Our grief can come with us on adventures.  Our grief can teach us that our life is precious because if we lived a life without grief it would mean we lived a life without love - and that would be truly grievous.

Come...let us hold hands and see the light flickering in the shadow instead of the shadow flickering in the light.  With love. xo 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Grief: Why Do I Keep Falling Into This Hole In My Life?

I could make this a six word blog post.  Because I am grieving, that's why.

I don't love a generic person.  I love someone who was the center of my world whether we were getting along splendidly or fighting in that way when we were done we said, "Who were those people and how did they get into our house?"  The fights were never physical, just verbal.  I can see now how we could have been more accepting of each other's quirks and had less fights - but nothing we did made the love less.  I think how special it is when someone loves you when you are at your worst.  It is easy to be loved when you are at your best.  This person I love is still the center of my world.  The problem is - he is dead.  So I miss him.  So I grieve.  I don't mind that.  I can't imagine not grieving.  In fact I am grateful that I was so loved that I so grieve. I would like everyone, including me sometimes, to accept that.

Sometimes it is difficult to get used to the rhythm of it.  Am I better after 4 years and almost eight months?  I always say I hate the word better.  I figured out that I am resistant to it because it only describes part of me.  The part of me that desperately wants to feel my husband's arms around me again and share things with him and see his smile and is desperately not really satisfied with him being with me in spirit is never better.  That's the hole.  It is an Artie shaped hole.  Nothing can fill it.  When he was alive and I was having a hard day I would say, "I wish somebody loved me."  He would raise an eyebrow and say with a twinkling eye - "Somebody?"  Because what I wanted was for him to love me - not just somebody.  He did.  I knew he did and know he does.  It was my way of looking for reassurance.  So "somebody" - even if some day I am less stubborn and look for another love relationship and find one - will never fit the shape of the Artie hole.

The part of me that is better is the part all around that hole. I am trying to get used to the truly lovely friends I have made.  (Sometimes I also have that hole of thinking I don't deserve good things. I do.)  There was a time when I was young when I didn't know how people made good friends.  I have less and less time to spend alone - and I like being alone - as I have more and more people I want to spend time with.  People who love me.  I can't get away with saying nobody loves me anymore.  Some of these people I have met through showing up places after my husband died.  That is one of the most important things I do - and have done - since my husband died - show up.  I show up whether I want to or not.  I make plans and I often wish I hadn't.  I make myself go.  I show up and - surprise! - I enjoy myself.  At the beginning when it was almost impossible to have a good time because my grief was so overwhelming - I showed up anyway - not as often - but I showed up.  I waited for some of that life out there to seep back into me.

I am lucky to have my daughter and my granddaughter.  The time I spend with them is very special.  To be a grandmother to Gwendy blue eyes as well as being fun is also an honor and an obligation to be present. To see life through her eyes instead of my own is a gift.

I am lucky to have found meaning in doing this blog and the Facebook page at  The difference is that the blog posts are more of a monologue. The Facebook page is an international community that is compassionate and understanding.  People have made friends outside of Grief Speaks Out.  Someone posted that they are international now, they have a friend in Liberia and one in Australia.  I am humbled by this (as of today it has 330,000 likes) but also very proud of it.

My desire to travel is coming back.  I am reading a little more.

When Artie first died I wept constantly.  I could not understand why he wouldn't take me with him.  I considered suicide.  I got help from many places in an attempt to save my own life.  I am not that desperate hopeless woman any more. I am better.  The hole isn't better - it still HURTS.

Some days, some nights the hole seems like the only place worth being.  The quicksand comes back and nothing seems to matter.  Sometimes I make friends with the hole.  I give myself time to descend into it - to stare at the wall - to be in the center of it.  Sometimes I am impatient with it.  Sometimes I am exhausted.  I think grief warriors are the bravest people alive.  We wake up every morning and live our day without what we want most.  Even if all we do is keep breathing - that is an accomplishment.  We bear the unbearable.  Yet bearing this burden we can still climb to great heights.

The reason I force myself to do the things I do is partly for me but also to honor my husband.  He can't live on earth any more - but I can.  I do it for myself and for him.  His nickname for me was Panache.  I want to still be Panache.  Not to deny the sadness - the pain - the longing - but to grieve with a certain sense of style.

The entire time I have been writing this I have spelled the word hole with a w - whole - and had to go back and change it.  Maybe that's me telling me what I often ignore - and what professionals and friends and family who tell us to move on or get over - don't or won't understand.  I am whole with the hole.  The hole is as much a part of me as the parts that are learning how to be filled up with love, new experiences, emotion, and adventure.  My challenge isn't to make the hole go away - or fill it up.  My challenge is to make the parts of me that aren't the hole happier, more productive, fully alive.

That's the hole story.  We are whole.  We can be fully alive with grief.  It's just that some days it's easier to figure out how to do that than others.  With much love. xo