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


  1. Hi Jan, I'm Patti. I've been writing my 5-year letter for a few weeks and I'm amazed sometimes, when I find a kindred spirit, such as yours. The main differences between us are time and service. You had 23 years, we had less than 5. You are doing so much in service for others, I have been rocked by deaths of others close to me and just living challenges me most days. I have reached out and connected with others during the times I can, but I am so proud of the work you have done in sharing your story, the story of Artie and you.

    So happy to read this; it has helped me with my letter for next month.
    Thank you,

  2. Hi Jan--
    I'm Karla and my son is dead.

    I am also many other things--coming up on 9 years--not that time itself has anything to do with it, though it does seem to give a bit of distance that is helpful in seeing things from different perspectives--again and again-- I have many moments where that is not the first way I identify myself. Sometimes it is. Part of my own work as a bereaved mother, as a therapist, as a writer, as a teacher, as a human--not necessarily in that order--is trying to figure out who I am. And my grief plays a huge part in it. As you know, once this happens to us we are never the same. So then what. And who are really anyway?

    I want to tell you that I stumbled across your blog in doing research on a book I am writing and want to tell you that your writing is beautiful, your love for Artie, and your love together is beautiful and I thank you for sharing your story.

    I love the title of your blog and that you are so honest in your grief and in your life. Thank you.

    --I am Karla