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


  1. Thank you for your posts. They truly do help me to face another day. Bring on 2014.

  2. Great post. Thank you. I'm off to share it at my author's page. You'll enjoy my latest 500 word post "Since We're Still Standing, We May As Well Dance." Yes, we have choices--and after an initial period, many of us find a way to grieve and play and find joy, all at the same time. It's at Sending love and gratitude.

  3. Beautiful post! It can be hard to take such profoundly painful moments and transform them into something positive. Being proactive is so important.