Friday, January 17, 2014

Grief: Loneliness

When my husband was alive I had a quote about how one could be married and still feel lonely.  Sometimes when we fought about things or I wanted him to behave a certain way and he didn't I felt lonely.  I had no idea what loneliness really was.  We are both damaged people.  Friends of his often told me I was a saint for putting up with him.  I wasn't.  He put up with me too.  It was part of the beauty of our relationship that we loved each other not only at our very best but also at our very worst.  He called it buying the whole package.  We had a pact - and we said it often, "Nobody Leaves".  I would say, "Don't leave me, okay?"  He would say, "I could never leave you.  Loving you is like breathing."  Then he stopped breathing.  He left not because he wanted to but because his body was too sick to stay.  I gave him permission to go.  Then I learned what real loneliness is.

I don't feel guilty but I can see more clearly now the ways in which I could have done things differently.  Our journey of teaching each other about love and life isn't over.  It is part of the reason that I so want it to continue.  I feel that as much as I learned about him while he was alive - I have learned even more since he died.  I believe that in his new form he is also learning.  I don't know if there is reincarnation - but I want there to be so that we can love again - marry again - and this time have a new starting place.  In his dying time he looked at me and said, "I am sorry for all the ways in which I failed you."  I replied, "I am too.  I am sorry for all the ways in which I failed you."  That exchange stripped away all the things that had come between us over the years.  We got back to the very alive essential core of our genuine and strong love.

The loneliness during our marriage came - I think - from simple things.  I would be writing at the computer and he would come downstairs and want a kiss.  I would think he wasn't respecting my work.  Now I know nothing was more important that that kiss.  He would go upstairs to his man cave and watch sports or movies.  I wanted him to be downstairs with me.  Now I know I could have made more of an effort to join him where he was.  We so often have expectations of how people should treat us we miss what is most precious.  We also had, of course, many wonderful moments together.  Holding hands at the back door looking at the roses bloom.  Walking on the beach.  Our love of bad puns.  Too many things to list.  I like to remember it all as best I can.

What we didn't appreciate (like most people) when he was alive was how precious every moment was.  As he got older I did make sure that whenever he left the house we gave each other a big hug and kiss and told each other how much we loved each other.  I was on some level conscious of the possibility of death - but not conscious enough.  My sense of loneliness while I was married would have been less if I had seen things more from his point of view than mine.  It is so normal to be that way.  When I see couples now I want to shake them and say - cherish every moment.  But when people are alive it isn't always easy. With my daughter now it is the same thing.  We are human so as much as we love each other - we also irritate each other.  I try to remember what I learned from my husband dying - that our relationship is more important that what I am feeling at the moment - but sometimes I get hurt and angry.  Sometimes we both say things we don't mean.  Why is difficult to treasure every moment when someone is still alive?  I think it is for most people.

When I found out that Artie didn't have very long to live I thought, "Well, we really messed that up."  We did and we didn't.  From where we started - we came very far.  I wish we had had more time to go even farther - deeper - into knowing how to express that deep love we had for each other.

The loneliness now is a different kind.  In some ways I feel that I have not relaxed since the day he died.  Each kiss is precious.  How can there be no more kisses?  How can there be no more hugs?  How is it I will never see his smile again, never have the love going back and forth between us as we gaze into each other's eyes. It creates such unease in the middle of the happiest moment to know he won't be waiting at home for me to share it with him.  Simple things make me lonely.  Seeing a t-shirt he would like, finding a new TV program or movie to share, hearing a story I can't wait to tell him.  The loneliest part is that we truly understood each other.  I am lucky to have good and loving friends and family.  Loneliness is not being alone.  Loneliness is for the relationship between myself and my husband.  I miss that relationship.  He is not replaceable.  No one will every look in my eyes just the way he did.  No one will understand me the way he did.  No one will every think I am special the way he did. I won't have history with anyone the way I have history with him. He is the only person who ever took care of me - and I am the only person who ever took care of him in that very special kind of way.  I live in a city with millions of people.  None of them is Artie.  I am important to many people - but there is no longer anyone alive to whom I am the most important person in the world.

We were both independent people.  We liked missing each other and having time alone - so I would travel and then come home and tell him all my adventures.  I was the only woman who never bored him.  Our minds as well as our hearts were joined.  How can it be that he is not here when I come home? I can search the whole world over and never find him.  I can feel his spirit and his love.  I believe in that.  I believe our relationship continues but I am still encased in this earthly body and he is not.  Little me on earth needs flesh and bones and I can only have spirit.  To be blunt - it's not easy being in love with a dead guy.  Yet I am.  I continue to miss him more; love him more every day.

What does he look like now?  With that last exhale - where did he go?  Is he a ball of energy?  I still picture him looking like he did when he was alive - but what is left of his body and face are ashes now. I'm not delusional.  I know he is dead, I know his body is ashes, yet it is difficult to accept that all that energy between us - all that love - has shifted shape in ways I cannot begin to understand.

Loneliness is part of the daily trauma of someone we love dying.  When people want to know why we aren't over it yet it's not because it hurt the day they died - a year ago - 50 years ago - it's because we live with the loneliness of missing them every day.  All day, every day.  There is something exhausting about that.  It doesn't mean we can be fully alive;  that we can't fill the years we have left with wonderful times and meaningful action.  I have started to think of my life each day as an empty basket. I can leave the basket empty or I can go into the world and find glittering jewels and pine cones and roses or whatever I want and need to fill it up.  I have to fill up my own basket now. There will be no more physical presents from my husband's presence - just spiritual presents from his presence.

My big question, as some of you know, for 2014 is if I want to try to have a new relationship.  I still feel so married. If I fall in love again in one way I will feel less lonely because I will have someone to share things with in a new way...I won't always come home to an empty house.  In another way I will still be lonely for my husband.  I know people who are quite happily remarried and yet sill miss their spouses who have died.  I can imagine being happy - I am often happy - I can't imagine every not being lonely.

Loneliness is one of the challenges of grief.  Not to drown in it.  Not to be smothered by it.  I wish for all of us that we have the love of family and friends - and if we do not - we seek it - so that love can be a cushion for the loneliness we feel because we are still alive and the person/people/pets we love so much have died.

I am getting close to my birthday which is also my wedding anniversary on February 3rd.  I feel like I am rocketing back into the past.  As much fun as I have - and I am doing quite a lot these days - every road seems to lead to an Artie story.  It does make me less lonely to know that there are so many people who understand how I feel.  So many people whose memories are a strong force in their life and who know that a relationship and love do not end because of death.  I wish us all laughter and comfort in the midst of this repetitive throbbing loneliness.  With love. xo

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Grief: Hey Grief - You Don't Own Me. Bring It On!

I have asked some grieving people about making choices.  Sometimes the dark side of grief answers this question with a resounding, "NO!"  It says to us, "I am the black hole that will always suck you back in.  You can't run, you can't hide - I am coming after you so you might as well lie down sweetie.  There's nothing you can do."

I have news for you dear Grief - you are a seductive liar.  I'm not going to turn way from you.  Sometimes I am going to embrace you.  However, guess what?  You don't own me.  I'm not saying you aren't good at the surprise attack.  The one that knocks me back to bed to stare at the wall.  I'm not saying you aren't cunning; convincing me that I am more comfortable lying in bed doing nothing than being out in the world living my life.  Throw your best punch.  I'll crumble, I'll cry but you know what. I'll get back up again.  I'll laugh at you because as menacing as you are you are the gift I have been given to remind me that every moment of your pain made feeble by the power of the joy of love.  Artie's love is grief's kryptonite.  (kryptonite weakened Superman's powers.  I am using it here as a metaphor that the love our beloved dead can weaken the power of even the strongest grief.)

I didn't know this when my husband first died.  I felt annihilated.  I ate only ice cream and watched endless DVDs - when I wasn't crying hysterically in the privacy of my own room and often publicly.  But even then I started to bob and weave.  I punched back.  I went everywhere I could think of for help.  Therapy, bereavement groups, comedy classes, on-line resources, Richard Bandler's ridiculously expensive small group, Steven Gilligan's Trance Camp.  When I went to places like Nick Kemp's Provocative Change training or the neo-Ericksonian hypnosis conference, I always volunteered to be a subject.  I got bored with talking about me and took training with Doug O'Brien in NLP (neuro linguistic programming) and neo-Ericksonian hypnosis.  I showed up.  At the beginning it wasn't very often.  I went to something in New York City called Culture Circle where artists of all kinds (musicians, poets, writers, cooks, pottery makers) shared their work - no criticism unless asked for - only praise.  I went to plays and slept through them until I didn't any more.  I got angry at the idea that if I didn't stop grieving in 6-12 months I had a mental disorder called complicated or morbid grief and started writing this blog. I think the medicalization of the natural process of grief is dangerous and ridiculous.  How foolish would it be for me - for any of us to stop missing and loving these people who are so important to us.  The work is not to get over it, let go, move forward - unless you want to (some people want to - and succeed at it).  For me the work is to use all the love and life you have to transform your grief not reject it.

I don't grieve for everyone the same way.  My parents were cruel in ways I won't explain.  I did not grieve for them when they died.  My friend Judy was very special to me - as was my daughter's best friend Jon - but they were not the reason for my being.  I grieve for them - I miss them - but their deaths did not devastate me.  My husband's death was like a tornado that left the house that was myself in sticks.  I had to rebuild.  I am still rebuilding.  This is not complicated or morbid.  My husband is the only person who ever took care of me.  We understood each other completely.  We weren't always good at acting loving - but the love itself was always strong and pure - and we kept our promise - nobody leaves - until Artie's body was so riddled with cancer I gave him permission to leave to go somewhere to be fee of the limitations of his body.  The depth of my grief is a measure of the height of our love.

I'm not special.  People have called me extraordinary.  I'm ordinary in many ways.  In the beginning I had a lot of frozen dead time.  I still have too much - but I've been able to shift the balance.  I show up more, have more happy moments and more productive ones.

In the past I would have said I had no choices.  It wasn't true.  The first choice I made was - after considering suicide quite seriously - to keep living.  The second choice I made was to figure out how to give my life meaning.  It was to make myself available to other grieving people the way my husband had made himself available to other addicts and alcoholics.  I made a lot of other choices but those - and the choice to find help (and I am not a person that likes to ask for help) were the most important ones.

I don't have a choice about when I will see my husband again. I can say, "Come back, I know you can't, but come back." as many times as I want to and he won't come back because he can't come back.  That dearly loved face and body is a small pile of ashes in a plastic bag.  How is that possible?  A lion of a man reduced to a small pile of ashes.  Oh yeah.  He's not in those ashes - he's in what my daughter calls The Great Beyond.  He's also in my heart and all around me.   Because I can't have him back physically  I don't have a choice about when the next wave of grief will hit.  What I do have a choice about is what I do when it does.

I like to make time for grief.  I like to spend time with my dead husband.  Sometimes I make the wrong choice.  I would have been better off this New Year being with my granddaughter.  Being alone left too much room for self pity.  But that's okay.  If I'm going to make choices sometimes I'm going to make wrong ones.  I don't think spending a day in bed every once in a while is a bad choice.  I don't think falling down every once in a while because I am still so incredibly sad and pained and exhausted with missing him is a bad choice.  The question is - after all these years of unwanted practice - can I sometimes make different choices?

I have chosen to not let his death taint the wonder and joy of my memories - to roll them back to the time they actually happened.  i have chosen to sometimes talk about being with him when he died and what it felt like to put his lifeless arm around me for one last hug - but more importantly I have chosen to think of him as alive most of the time.  Live Artie makes me happy.  Dead Artie often makes me sad.

I have chosen - when I remember -  to keep asking who I am besides someone who grieves - what else do I see and hear and smell and touch and taste that give me happiness when I am willing to dnotice it.

If I even say the words - I have a choice - I have empowered myself.  I don't have to believe it - I just have to say it.  I have a choice.

Every morning when I wake up in the morning I have a choice.  If after I post on the Facebook page Grief Speaks Out I feel overwhelmed and go back to sleep until noon - I have a choice at noon.  If I spend a day in bed watching DVDs (sorry folks - I love British and Danish television - I will never give that up) the next day I have a choice.

If I don't like the choices I make - I can forgive myself and accept myself the way I am.  (That's not always easy for me - but I know it's the best thing to do.)  My mother was a super critic.  She lives on in my bones.  She's the voice that says I will never do anything right.  I'm a great believer in the saying, "Kill your critic."  Like a horse whisperer or dog whisperer - we can be grief whisperers.  No choke chains or beating up ourselves - we are hurt enough already, we don't need to hurt ourselves more.  Reward ourselves, be tender to ourselves, give ourselves treats when we do something we are proud of.  Even in that turbulent beginning I tried to do one thing a day I could be proud of.  Sometimes it was as simple as taking a shower or paying a bill on time.

I hope this year - 2014 - I will choose to do more writing, I will choose to fight in more arenas for the rights of grieving people to be heard and accepted.  I hope I will choose to take better physical care of myself, to be kinder to myself and others.  (Those of you who think I am always loving - I am a champion user of curse words - and grief sometimes makes me extremely impatient and irritable.) What i hope that I do when I am laying there looking at the wall - feeling only enveloped by the dark devastating cunning black hole of grief is that I remember what I have written on this page - that I have a choice whether to stay there or to reach out to others and ask them them pull me out when I cannot pull myself out.

It's not easy - but it is easier.  It is easier partly due to all the people who have come into my life since Artie died.  It is easier partly due to actions I have taken.  It is easier partly due to the passage of time.  For me - time doesn't heal - but it teaches me new lessons - new ways of looking at things.  To look outward instead of inward.  To look at someone who triumphs over burdens more severe than mine.  To look at something that makes me laugh out loud.

Those men and women who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with their legs blown off who walk and run and hike.  They inspire me.

My husband inspires me.  You all inspire me.  I wonder what choices I will make tomorrow.  Tonight it is time for a healthy dinner and some of these DVDs.  When my computer tells me I am running on low battery power it is a sign I should turn it off soon.

I ask you to say - as an experiment - at least once a day - Yes, I have a choice.  I may not feel I have a choice about how deep my pain and grief are - but I have a choice about what actions I can take.  Say...Yes I am grieving, yes I am stuck, yes I am sad, yes I am devastated, yes I don't know who I am any more but what else am I?  Who else am I?  I can choose other things to be.  I can choose other emotions to feel.

Go ahead - dare to laugh at grief.  Dare to find meaning in your life.  Dare to get up every time you fall down (even if it's six days later).   I didn't know I was going to be so fierce today.  I thought I was going to be broken and empty like I felt last night when I was crying - sobbing - like I did at the beginning.  All the things I have done today (in addition to all the things I have not done) have brought this feisty powerful woman out.  Perhaps it is my husband -my lion of a man husband - using my vocal chords to ROAR once again.

I kind of like this feeling.  I hope you catch a bit of it and     now    feel your life force moving through you in a new way.   Say it with me:  2014.  Bring it on!!   Did you whisper it?  Say it only in your mind.  Be defiant.  Shout it.  I am ready.  Bring it on!!  With love.  xo