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