Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Grief: Have I Stopped Writing Blog Posts? I Don't Know

I can't tell you how many times I think of all of you who come to this blog that means so much to me.  In the last few posts I have been apologizing for not writing more often.  Now...even though I often think of writing - I don't seem to make time to do it.  I am sorry for that.  I post every day on my Facebook page Grief Speaks Out:  I look for material, write, answer questions, and post seven things.  I think that is taking all the energy I have for dealing with grief in a writing way.  The page has over 700,000 from all around the world and some weeks reaches over a million people. It is not more important than this blog.  It just became so much bigger than I ever thought it would when I was trying to figure out how to set it up and maybe get the first 100 likes.

Mother's Day is coming up and so many people are sad.  Mothers whose children have died, children whose mothers have died - and also people we don't think of sometimes - women who desperately want children and can't have them.  I didn't like my mother much so it's not a bad day for me - but I am conscious of how hurtful it is for many others.  Then Father's Day.  It seems it never stops.

Someone called me a radical griever.  I like that.  I haven't stopped telling people that grief is a normal process.  It is not a mental illness or disorder.  It didn't happen in the past.  The date my husband died was July 17, 2009 but even almost 6 years later the trauma happens every day - several times a day.  My life is magical in many ways but the ache I have for him, the loneliness, the pain of living without him continues.  Each morning when I wake up it is a challenge to make it a day when I accomplish something - when I laugh - when I am inspired by my grief instead of deadened by it.  Inspired by my grief?  Yes because it measures the height of the love I have and how lucky I am to have that kind of love in my life.  My favorite question to ask people is "With all the pain you are experiencing now - was it worth it?"  I have never had anyone say no.

I have tried over the years to make my husband's life - and our lives together - more important to me than his death.  I try to live for him and for me.  I have other relationships - not romantic - I'm still wearing his wedding ring - but I do think about dating - then I don't.  My relationship with my daughter is much better after therapy and my granddaughter Gwendy is already three.  She is delightful.  I am lucky in my friends.  Especially the young ones who live in some ways in such a different world.

In my years of writing this blog there is a good compilation of things to read. It can stand on its own. A journey I never want to take.  A journey I still don't want to be on. Some things have changed a lot.  Some things seem to always recur.  I still have days of true darkness.  The fifth year was very difficult.  It is exhausting to miss someone so much every day.  I gave myself permission to be a sloth until Valentine's Day was over.  (My series of dates, except for July, is Dec - V-day.)  That worked.  I hid out and isolated and found that my energy came back after taking a break.  I always follow my rule of making plans so I don't spend too much time alone.

I tell people I'm not better and that is because the place that hurts doesn't heal for me.  Yet the layers around it make me better in a lot of ways.  That first year I was all tears and thoughts of death - feeling lost and without meaning.  Then I wrote my first blog post - thinking if I reached even one person it was enough to create meaning.  I had no idea I would have the ability to reach people all around the world.  So many people talk about being lost.  I was lost - and in some ways I still am - but I also was able to be found.  I learned to let my husband guide me and to slowly regenerate myself.

A new question I ask people is if there is another relationship that is not the same - never the same - yet equally important.  Being a grandmother is to me as important as being a wife.  A lot of the love I shared with my husband gets shared with my granddaughter.  It occurred to me that if I had no one - which some people do - have no one - that I probably would have found some volunteer work - something maybe with children.  Meaning doesn't always come to us - sometimes we have to go out and search for it.

I have done what I wanted to do - and what I still work on - shifting the balance so I can have a greater number of productive and happy moments.  Still haven't written the book.  Still haven't gotten my body fit.  I'm traveling again though - reading a little more.  Sometimes it's the little things.  I'm watching the last season of a British TV series - Foyle's War - that I used to watch with my husband.  I remember laying in bed with him  - my head on his lap - watching one of the episodes - and being angry because I fell asleep and he didn't wake me up.  What comfort.  What luxury.  Imagine being able to fall asleep on his lap.  How can a lap no longer exist?  How can they keep making the series when he died so long ago.  I want to share it with him - talk to him about it.  Blah blah blah.

So much of grief is wanting what we can't have.  My temper tantrums are just like my granddaughter's - I want I need I want I need.   So - a bit of that and then - what now? I can't have that so what can I do instead?  A blink of an eye this life is in terms of eternity.  Hopefully when my life is over I will be dancing with my husband in what I call the great party in the sky - but if I am merely dust - that is okay too because I won't know how much I miss him any more.

I am going to Ireland at the end of the month to see friends I haven't seen in over 30 years.  I'm going to be 65 next year and am thinking of changing my name.  Seriously.  I have always hated the name Jan - so maybe I'll be someone else.  I'll never give up Warner though.  I love being Mrs. Warner.  I still hate checking the unexpected widow box.

I'm going to put at the end The Mourner's Bill of Rights which I always find helpful - but first a quote from Julian Barnes which I think is the best description of grief I have ever read.  I am damaged, I am tarred and feathered, I am grieving.  Always.  But I am also laughing and loving and helping people and having adventures.  It's the best thing we can do to grief - grab it and ride it - let it take us somewhere.  It's like when huge waves pummel the shore - some people drown - other people surf.  I think I still paddle about gasping for air - but sometimes I land in wonderful places.

Each of you is accomplishing a lot - you are breathing - you are searching - you are having one moment at a time.  You are doing the hardest thing a human being can do - live without the person/pet you love more than anything.  That is why I call us grief warriors.  We fight a brave fight.  Every minute of every day.

You don't have to let go to move on.  My grief - my husband - they come with me every where I go.  People say you have to start over.  I'm not starting over - I'm continuing.  People say you have to let go of the past. How foolish would it be to forget a rich past that makes me who I am?  Living in the present means being your past and hoping for your future.  This living only in the present idea is very strange to me.

It took me about four years to connect grief and gratitude.  Gratitude that I am grieving instead of my husband. What a gift that was to him.  Makes me angry sometimes too.  I wag my finger at his picture - "You're not supposed to be dead.  It's not fair!!"  More importantly the gratitude is for experiencing such great love:  that I love someone so much and he loves me so much that his death causes me pain.  I think I'm going to be like Betty White or the Queen Mum - one of those women who live a full life but don't fall in love again -

but then - I saw Candace Bergen who so completely loved her first husband Louis Malle and then to her surprise - three years after his tragic death - fell in love again and is happily married.  I know it's not just her - it's many people.  Will it be me?  I don't know.  I don't think so...but then...but then.

We can't see around corners.  I don't know what will happen tomorrow or the next day.  I just have to keep on making choices about what I say and what actions to take.  In my world that means time to just retreat sometimes and sleep too much and cry.  I am still devastated by my husband's death.  But that isn't all I am.  I am a hurt grieving person, I am also someone who loves theatre and traveling and being a grandmother and a good joke and a beautiful picture.  Who else am I?  What else do I love?

I'm an ordinary person.  Sometimes people write me and ask me if something they are feeling is normal.  I am eating ice cream in my pajamas watching TV and I laugh.  I laugh because it is sadly all normal.  The question I ask myself is not, "Is it normal."  - but "Does it serve me?  Is it how I want my life to be?"   Sometimes I can create change - sometimes not so much.  But normal was never my strength.   Anything I have done - you can do - maybe better.

My friend whose husband and only child both died was right.  Grief - if you let it - doesn't go away - but it does gentle down.  Life surprises you if you let it.  You have to let it - and you have to notice it.  I had lunch with a woman once.  She said she was always sad.  During lunch she told me a lot of interesting stories and was very funny.  She laughed a lot.  I pointed that out to her and she said - no - she was always sad.  She wasn't able yet to say - part of me is always sad - but part of me is funny and interesting etc...

So it is never goodbye really - just hello in a new way.  I won't say I won't write another post because you know if I do I'll post again.  I won't say I will though because my life has gone in many other directions.

There's one thing you can count on - I am thinking of you with love.  xo

The Julian Barnes quote (you might cry when you read it - I always do):

“You are not at first surprised. Part of love is preparing for death..Afterward comes the madness. And then the loneliness: not the spectacular solitude you had anticipated, not the interesting martyrdom...but just loneliness. You expect something almost geological-- vertigo in a shelving canyon -- but it's not like that; it's just misery as regular as a job. 
What do we doctors say? I'm deeply sorry, Mrs Blank; there will of course be a period of mourning but rest assured you will come out of it; two of these each evening, I would suggest; perhaps a new interst, Mrs Blank; can maintenance, formation dancing?; don't worry, six months will see you back on the roundabout; come and see me again any time; oh nurse, when she calls, just give her this repeat will you, no I don't need to see her, well it's not her that's dead is it, look on the bright side. What did she say her name was?
And then it happens to you. There's no glory in it. Mourning is full of time; nothing but time.... you should eat stuffed sow's heart. I might yet have to fall back on this remedy. I've tried drink, but what does that do? Drink makes you drunk, that's all it's ever been able to do. Work, they say, cures everything. It doesn't; often, it doesn't even induce tiredness: the nearest you get to it is a neurotic lethargy. And there is always time. Have some more time. Take your time. Extra time. Time on your hands.
Other people think you want to talk. 'Do you want to talk?' they ask, hinting that they won't be embarrassed if you break down. Sometimes you talk, sometimes you don't; it makes little difference. The words aren't the right ones; or rather, the right words don't exist. 'Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.' You talk, and you find the language of bereavement foolishly inadequate...
And you do come out of it, that's true. After a year, after five. But your don't come out of it like a train coming out of a tunnel, bursting through the Downs into sunshine and that swift, rattling descent to the Channel; you come out of it as a gull comes out of an oil-slick. You are tarred and feathered for life.”
― Julian Barnes

The Mourner's Bill of Rights: 

The Mourner's Bill of Rights

Though you should reach out to others as you do the work of mourning, you should not feel obligated to accept the unhelpful responses you may receive from some people. You are the one who is grieving, and as such, you have certain "rights" no one should try to take away from you.
The following list is intended both to empower you to heal and to decide how others can and cannot help. This is not to discourage you from reaching out to others for help, but rather to assist you in distinguishing useful responses from hurtful ones.

1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.

No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don't allow them to tell what you should or should not be feeling.

2. You have the right to talk about your grief.

Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don't feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.

3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.

Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don't take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.

4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don't allow others to push you into doing things you don't feel ready to do.

5. You have the right to experience "griefbursts."

Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.

6. You have the right to make use of ritual.

The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don't listen.

7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.

If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won't be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.

8. You have the right to search for meaning.

You may find yourself asking, "Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?" Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clich├ęd responses some people may give you. Comments like, "It was God's will" or "Think of what you have to be thankful for" are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.

9. You have the right to treasure your memories.

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.

10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Grief: Another Mountain Top, Another Valley

Oh my blog.  I don't write you often enough any more.  I think of you, but I don't write enough.  I'm sorry to those of you who don't do Facebook where most of my writing is now.

I have almost survived my time where the climb from the valley to the mountain top is difficult - and where I slide down into the valley much too quickly.  My husband's birthday is Dec. 11th.  That is when it starts.  Then all the holidays.  Then my birthday/wedding anniversary (for those of you who don't know - my birthday present was getting married) and then Valentine's Day.  Can you believe Friday the 13th is the day before Valentine's Day?  If I were superstitious....

I read a quote somewhere that you shouldn't compare yourself to another person because you know your whole life and you only know their highlight reel.  That's kind of how I've been.  I just seem to be back at why bother?  I've been spending a lot of time in bed watching crap TV.  This week I have a bad cold or the flu or something which I rather like because it gives me permission to do this without guilt.  I had given myself permission anyway.  To not really accomplish anything until after Valentine's Day.  People who don't experience this don't understand how sometimes emotional paralysis sets in and the smallest thing seems impossible or not worth trying.  So that is my valley.

My mountain tops are there too.  So many times we (I) look at what I am not doing instead of what I am doing.  I did still follow the rule that I can only stay indoors one day in a row.  My parents became reclusive when they got older and it made them nasty and sad.  I don't want to be them.  I did go out with friends when I was in NYC and I did have a good time.  I did plan less than I usually do.  I did do things like take showers and keep breathing.  Then - the main thing - the important thing - is that i truly did celebrate with my daughter and granddaughter.  It didn't matter how much I wanted to snuggle into the valley - I left and chose to spend many days including these dates with my daughter and granddaughter.  On those days I managed some times to actually be celebrating.  I love playing with my granddaughter.

Gwendy is 3 so 64 is very old to her.  So old she ask me if I was going to die.  We talk about death in our family.  I said - yes, some day - but hopefully not for a while.  I told her that when I was dead I wouldn't be able to come back any more on the train - because I wouldn't have a body - but that I would come back with love - and would always be in her heart like she would be in mine.  She is trying to figure out what her Mom calls the Great Unknown.  She has had some fish go there and knows that her Mom and I have pets and people there.  She asked me if my husband was imaginary!  Which was interesting - people we love and talk about and can't see - are they imaginary like the pink dragon?  No - because once they were alive and now they are still real - at least to me.

Gwendy said the most extraordinary thing.  She asked me, "Do you miss sleeping with your Mommy?"  I said, "No - I haven't slept with my Mommy for a long time - but I miss sleeping with my husband - with Grandpa Artie - a lot.  I really liked sleeping with him."   She said, lovingly, "You can use your imagination and pretend he is with you."  I told her that is exactly what I do.

So it has been a strange time since I have last written you.  Full of dead moments that I wish I no longer have - but I still do.  It comforts me to know from so many people that even after 20 or 30 or more years these moments - these deep valleys - these dark places come.  I miss my husband so much  every day that sometimes all the energy is sapped right out of me.  Especially this time of year.  But I also made new memories.  Went stomping through snow up over my knees with Gwendy at night with our flashlights to put out food for squirrels and birds.  I want to have adventures with her. Gwendy managed to stay up until midnight on New Years Eve and the three of us made lots of noise and wore funny hats and had a group hug.  We did a new thing this year - we lit candles and put out pictures of the people and pets we have loved on a table in the middle of the room on New Year's Eve so they could be with us.

I had my unhappy birthday cake.  I ate the part that said unhappy.  I still don't deal with my anniversary very well - but I posted about it on FB.  I appreciated the people who acknowledged it.

In NYC I saw some great plays; ate some delicious dinners; had wonderful moments with friends.

People now often ask me if something they are doing or feeling is normal.  It is.  I remember going to a bereavement group in my first year of grieving.  I hadn't changed the sheets on our bed for three months and thought that was very strange.  I met someone who hadn't changed them for a year.  I met someone else who never changed them - just sleeps in another room.  We all do whatever we have to do to survive something that is so difficult, so challenging.  Some people seem to move through grief with more ease than others - but when you see someone who does that - you do not know what is in their hearts.  A lot of people go silent because it is easier.  Someone called me a radical griever.  I liked that.  I know many people who pretend to be fine and then they tell me about their grief and their sadness.

Although it is comforting to know I am not the only one doing something - I don't ask myself if what I am doing is normal.  I ask myself if it is serving me.  I have a life to live.  Each day.  A life that I want to live fully to honor and respect my husband.  Sometimes - like now - I give myself permission to collapse and wallow.  I love wallowing.  I'm not ashamed of it.  But I also don't want the rest of my life to look like this.  I haven't missed a day of posting on the Facebook page Grief Speaks Out.  That's good.  But if I can get my motivation back into place I have a lot I want to do.  I found myself saying that I want to live for a while.  Usually all I feel deep down is that I want to be with my husband.  That's a big change.  I don't always feel that way - but that's the challenge every day - to say - oops - I guess I'm still alive - how will I be alive?

Maybe I should build a lodge halfway down the mountain so I don't go so deep and don't have such a steep climb back up.  Maybe my husband will be in the lodge and when I start to fall he will catch me and give me a boost back up.  Or maybe even the middle isn't such a bad place to be.

I always tell you to take tender care of yourself.  I need to learn to do the same.

Sending you much love and wishing you the courage you need every minute of ever day. xo