Wednesday, April 23, 2014

April 21 of this year marked one year mark for me since my beloved husband Chuck died.  It wasn't harder than any other day has been since he died-just more concentrated as far as impossible memories.

I'm in Arizona with my kids.  Our younger son and his lovely girlfriend came from Connecticut to join me and another son and our younger daughter in a remembrance of love. My niece came in from a trip through Southeast Asia.  So I had lots of family around.

You know how suddenly the feelings will just not be contained any longer?  And they spill out in tears and shakes and moans and horror?  Yeah, that was me on the 21.  Which is something we've all experienced but maybe you haven't experienced the beauty of how it happened for me.

So often, people stumble to say and do the right thing when someone they love is grieving.  They try to fix it, to make them feel better.  It doesn't work but they don't know what else to do.  So, let me share with you how the young people around me were the perfect picture of compassion as I lay there on the floor, almost but not quite in a fetal position, the grief overpowering my body and mind and heart and soul.

My sons and my soon-to-be daughter-in-law and my niece sat with me on the floor as I sobbed out my agony.  They didn't sound off with cliche's, they didn't try to make me stop crying, they didn't try to talk me out of it.

Here's our hope for the future of grieving that these young people in my life are already practicing.    They pressed kleenex into my hand not for stopping the tears but for mopping the tears.  They put a glass of water on the floor next to me and reminded me it was there to replenish my body so that I could cry the necessary tears.  They helped me steady the glass as I drank because my hands were shaking so.  They gently held my hands which were covering my head as I tried to squeeze the pain out.  They quietly leaned into me as the pain poured from my eyes and spoke how cleansing it was for me to be letting my soul bleed in such a way and they were envious of my ability to do so.  They asked me if I would like a pillow to rest my head upon as I cried.  They sat with me.  They touched my back or my hair or my arm, so gently.  They listened to me as the grief spewed from me and their love for me became tangible and got caught in the corners and crevices of pain and overwhelmed it.

This, I say to everyone out there who wonders what to do and how to do it...this is how to be with someone in grief.  Even in the midst of my grief, I recognized the gift they were giving me.

Since my husband's death, I've striven to keep grief and love balanced.  On the one year mark of his anniversary, the bucket of Love could no longer be contained and it tipped into the bucket of grief and mingled with it and became more than.  More than.

I don't know how this next year will play out.  Honestly, I don't see even into tomorrow.  No expectations.  But this I do know.  Whatever grief there is will always, always, always, be balanced by the hugeness of the Love that is in my life and the love that continues to grow.

Grief and Love and Compassion and young people who instinctively know how to be with all three.

Our future is in very good hands.  Because these young people know Love~




Tuesday, April 22, 2014

GAHHHHHH



I'm sitting here, drinking my morning coffee, and finally realised what day it is.

Well over 12 hours since my post was supposed to go live.

AND when I remembered this, I actually wasn't 100% sure if I had, or had not, done a post.  I had to check on the back end of the site.

When I went to bed last night, I'd felt like I had a productive day - started clearing in the garden to make a new veggie patch, got a ton of laundry folded and away, plus another load done, caught up on some reading, paid some bills. 

I also took my son to his first toddler circus skills class.

It's just my post that wasn't done yesterday - and honestly, it wasn't even on the radar.  Even though "Circus" is on "Tuesdays", I didn't even think about it.

For this reason, I hate public holidays and long weekends especially.

I struggle to remember what day it is at the best of times... public holidays make it that much worse.

But it's not the first thing I've completely forgotten in recent weeks.

I forgot to do an online test for school two weeks ago.

I hope there's not too much more to come...  These two forgotten things are pretty important.

Now I need to go and pay some attention to a clingy toddler who has been demanding attention by using me as a climbing frame as I write (ahhh peace; thank you Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom).

And write a to do list so I reduce the risk of forgetting anything else.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Depression Lies

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I took on a lot at once. School, a new relationship, a few new outdoor sports and hobbies, and as always, the constant urge to reinvent myself to be better, better, better.

This urge comes thanks to my own particular genetic makeup and my childhood combined. If I can be better, I can be more lovable. If I can be more lovable, I won't be alone. That is the drive that almost constantly steers me toward improvement and overdoing it.

I recently went to the Portland Tedx Talks for the second time and the side effect I left with again was the feeling of not good enough. Those people who spoke onstage were wonderful and inspiring and yet my takeaway is I'm not good enough and I'd better start working on improving since I have such a long way to go. I'm not brave enough, or strong enough, or smart enough or passionate enough.

Along with all the not good enoughing myself and everything else I've taken on in my life, I decided to try reducing (very slowly) my anti-depressant dose (not my smartest decision in recent times!) I'd been at 25 mg for a few weeks when I hit a wall. Everything seemed hopeless, irritability was sky high and everything felt personal and hurtful. Overwhelm was the word and the emotion that kept slamming around in my brain. I've had to put on the breaks and go back to basics. Back up to 50 mg, and eventually maybe 100 again. More alone time to recharge, more exercise, more self-care, and much less self improvement.

How could I forget for one second how much Dave's death leveled me? How could I lose sight of how much rebuilding takes out of me? How intense it is, just on its own? How could I think that I could be the way I used to be when the way I used to be is extinct? I feel robbed. I hate that I'm this delicate, vulnerable, exhausted, overwhelmed person now. I fear I'll never be able to be a mom or be a healthy partner for my guy. How could I possibly handle all of that?

I'm guessing that after a few weeks at a higher dose of meds I'll begin to feel more capable and less overwhelmed and hopeless. I'm also guessing that the lack of serotonin in my brain is the reason for my thoughts of my own hopelessness and not a reflection of the truth.

 I'm trying to reach back in my memory for times when I felt more balanced to access those thoughts too. The thoughts I have in a depression are usually terrible lies and not to be trusted. They feel so true, though. They make giving up seem so reasonable and sensible.

Hopelessness and apathy are easy to lean into. Hope and joy are so hard to access. I'm looking forward to the days when they are easier to find. They'll be back. I know that.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Strength Among Women.

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The above picture is a specific shot of the Sex and the City girls that my girlfriends and I send to each other when we miss each other or just need a smile. It is - like the show is for us - a reminder that thru thick and thin, life and love and illness and death, it is your girls who were there for you. I'm sharing it because I was reminded of that tonight.

On this pre-Easter evening, I would like to say,  I really hate being vulnerable. I mean, doesn't everyone? It's definitely not the best feeling out there. Tonight, I felt so completely vulnerable. It's the evening before Easter - my in-laws are having a big party at the ranch. We are grilling and cooking up a ton of good food. I spend the whole day in the kitchen with my mother-in-law… partly because I really enjoy helping her out on these kinds of days and partly because just keeping busy with helping keeps my mind off the obvious person missing. So really, for the most part, I made it through the day alright. I made this amazing lemon-lime bundt cake that was "to die for" (I always feel odd saying that now). But the sadness was underlying. And eventually after dinner and several beers… the flood gates opened. Everyone was out back playing ping pong - I could hear them loudly cheering and laughing over the game and the country music. Laughter. That kind… you know, the kind we used to all enjoy? Yeah.

I snuck out to sit on the front porch. Alone. Crying in my beer. And looking at pictures of my fiancĂ© and I on my phone. And crying some more. And wishing that someone would notice right away when I wasn't there, and would come to check on me. The way he used to when I needed it most. Wishing I was the center of anyone's universe like that again. Or that someone would just happen to come outside and notice me there and sit down beside me to be my friend. But no one came… except one person who walked right past, ignoring me. Which as you know, feels even worse than no one coming at all. And so I sat there more and more alone - just me, the glow of the porch light, and the june bugs occasionally thwacking into my back. I cursed aloud to… what? Someone. Something. My life. My stupid emotions. Him being gone. My pathetic desire to have someone rescue me. All of the above.

Eventually… I texted a few of my girlfriends. My best friend. And one of my also-widowed girlfriends. And my old high school girlfriend. It turned out we were all having pretty emotional nights for entirely different reasons. My best friend has just found out that this guy she really likes who she's been on several dates with is still hung up on an ex. My high school friend is pretty sad because her best friend just moved really far away, she just broke up with her boyfriend, and she had to move back in with her parents to boot. I really wish none of us had been going through any of that crap tonight… but you know, it helped to know I wasn't alone. Even though their situations were very different, that didn't matter. Tonight… each one of us was in need of someone to be there for us and console us and love us. Each of us wanted that someone to be a man, and each of us didn't have that. So we turned to each other. And we found exactly what we needed in each other. Love. And support. And understanding. And a warm welcome that will always be there. And a powerful "I've got your back, you are amazing and don't forget it" sort of feeling that we all needed.

I didn't used to be very close to any of my girlfriends. Many years ago, I had a really hard time connecting with women and I kept my distance from them for the most part. Losing my fiancĂ© has changed that world so entirely for me. I have come to rely on the women in my life in such a deep and powerful way. No matter what our situations or differences… when we are in pain, and we share that with each other, there is a sacred bond of holding each other up that occurs. Its like this unspoken code that all women seem to abide by. And it only occurs when we take the risk to be fully vulnerable with each other.

For the past month or so, I've been resisting taking that risk. It's so easy to do… to try and avoid being truly vulnerable - even with my closest girlfriends - because I just don't want to face it sometimes. But this week as I've had a few instances of both myself and my girlfriends hitting low points and really needing each other… I am reminded again how important, how powerful, and how healing it is to just let it all out to each other. Sure it felt better to let that out with Drew. More comfortable. More secure. But there is something equally powerful about baring your soul to other women. Something that I have never experienced until losing him.

I'm not even sure where I'm going with all this. Honestly, it's late, I've been on my feet all day cooking, and super stressed about a million other things, and I'm on my 5th or 6th beer (the fact that I can't remember which tells you something!). All I can say is that tonight, I am so incredibly grateful for the women in my life. The ones who are widows. The ones who are not widows who still seem to get it. The ones who are older and wiser and help guide me, and the ones who are right in the thick of it with me. I truly do not know what state I would be in today without each and every woman who has crossed my path since losing Drew. They, you, are the safety net that keeps me afloat. The wind beneath my wings. And the fuel that keeps me trying to make something big and bold and powerful out of all of this pain. We may not have the lives we want, but dammit, at least we have each other. And really, that's a hell of a lot.

Bloom



“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.” 

2014 has been one heck of a year.

It's been the year that hasn't ruined me ( as I believe that any year after Michael's death has been one of recovering after the ruin).

But this year has been different.

It's the year that's shown me that even when we think we've sifted through the rubble of loss and feel that seeing the light on the other side will suffice enough (and I fully believe it does)....this year has kicked me in the face to say:

"Look, we're glad you made it out of the ruins, we're even glad that you have learned to dance where you once felt you were crippled to for eternity. Heck, we even love that you've taken that which has torn and tried you to your last fiber and smoothed it out to be fertile ground to plant upon! But this year, all those bulbs and seeds you forgot your soul and heart buried in that ground of hurt...well.....they're blooming!"

And bam! Like that, things I've never thought could or would or I even wanted to be in my life are! and instead of turning my eyes away from the garden's of my perseverance and resilience, I've decided to savor their colors...soak in the beautiful scents and colors...and even pluck a few to take home with me :)

And in doing so...in recognizing, tending to and enveloping myself in the sprung seeds of hope....I have found I have blossomed too.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Alone, With You

Losing the person you intended to spend your life with transforms you and alters you in so many ways. Since losing my person on July 13 of 2011, I can say with 1000% certainty that I am not the same human that I was on July 12th, 2011. I am broken open. I am torn. I am changed. It's not all bad. I don't like to look at these changes as being positive or negative, because it's not that black and white. Nothing is. It's simply a fact that when you face the tragic, early death of your life partner - you cannot walk out of that as the same person who walked in. Sure, there are many elements of you that make you who you are, and those are all still there - but many other parts of you disappear, change form, or emerge as if brand new. These new pieces of yourself take time to recognize and acknowledge, and they are probably still happening and still evolving with time. It is a re-birth of sorts, and it can be challenging and strange and hard.

For myself, just a few of the new "pieces" I have noticed:

 I am a much more compassionate person. It's not like I was some uncaring asshole before my loss, but now, I am so much less judgemental of other people and their situations or why they might do things or behave in certain ways, and I have so much empathy and compassion for so many others, that I just didn't really think about before.

My patience ratio has completely altered in this "after" life. I have little to no patience for stupidity, ignorance, or judgemental people. On the other hand, I have so much more patience for things like traffic, long lines, and unexpected delays or things going wrong in general. These types of things used to annoy me on a much bigger level, and now, I am normally very calm and rather unaffected by these same things. My new brain just automatically goes to thoughts of: We are sitting in 45 minutes of traffic because there is an accident up ahead. Someone might be dead, and someone else may be finding out right now that their person is gone. There are way worse things than a little bit of traffic. 

I pretty much breathe the words "I love you" to the people that I love, all the time. At the end of a visit or a phone call or a conversation, I will tell my family member or my friends: "I love you!" The newer friends that I have made in the widowed community - they all say it right back, because they have been changed in the same way I have. In my old life, I never would have thought to tell a friend "I love you" every single time I see them, but now, anytime I see anyone, I am very aware that it could be the last time I see them - ever. Morbid? Maybe. But that is how my new brain functions - the same brain that did not get to say goodbye or good morning or anything at all to her husband, who left for work one day while she was sleeping, and never came back. Each time I tell someone that I love them, there is a tiny fragment of me that hopes he is somehow hearing that I love him, too - and that I will keep saying it forever. 

There are so many other changes that I could go on to list here, but the one very big transformation that I have noticed about myself, is the way I feel about going out vs. staying home, and how I choose to spend my time. In the first year or so after my husband's death, I was still living in the small-ish and run-down New Jersey apartment that Don and I had shared for 7 years together. I will never forget the feeling I had each day and each hour after his death, being there, surrounded by things and "stuff" that belonged to a person that no longer breathed, and a life that no longer existed. I felt trapped, like I was being suffocated by loss and grief and sadness, and like the walls of our life that was gone were closing in on me and attacking me at every corner. It was awful. Those first few months and year, I did anything and everything to get the hell out of there for as many hours as possible each week. If I wasn't at work, I was accepting the dinner and lunch invitations from my amazing support system of friends, or traveling to my parents house in Massachusetts for another weekend, just to escape those cruel and depressing walls. There were so many days those first 14 months or so, where I honestly didn't see how I would survive this, because I just felt so damn depressed. 

Then I moved out, and moved into a different apartment back in NY, with a roommate. Even though it was one of the hardest things Ive ever done, it made me feel lighter and more comfortable with just "being home." I was able to control what things I held onto and kept that made me feel safe or comfy or that reminded me of him in a lovely and beautiful way, and I was able to remove all the things that made me feel like I was choking on death and sorrow. Once I did that, everything changed. Now, when someone asks me to go out socially and do something, my response is usually well thought-out, and changes depending on my mood that day or that hour. A year ago, the answer was always "Hell yes!", because I did not like the feeling of being with myself and sitting with my emotions and pain and hollow, empty hopelessness. But now? Now, this new me that has begun to create a new sanctuary of safeness in my new apartment, will often times say "No thanks" to friends who want me to hang out. Sometimes, I enjoy the solitude. I need to be isolated and alone, so that I can recharge my emotional batteries, and be able to go out again and tackle the world. It is exhausting to be in a world where most people simply don't understand you, and have no idea what you're going through. It's tiring to be constantly faced with families and marriage and retirement stories and vacation tales and children and new babies and new homes and new parents - all the things you will never ever get to have, because they all died on that morning that he died.

So, the new me carefully picks and chooses whom to spend my time with, and when I am in the mood to go out, or stay home. I am finding that, these days, staying home is often the much more appealing option. Perhaps it is because I am currently teaching all day, then directing a show that puts me in rehearsals 6 nights per week for the next month, just so I can keep paying my rent and keep surviving. Maybe it's because my commute is a huge pain in the ass to get everywhere, so when someone asks me to hang out in the city on a weekend, all I think is: Subway to bus to subway - 2 transfers and a really long walk late at night - is this really worth it on my one day off? Or maybe it is because I am finally totally comfortable with feeling my feelings, getting them out when they need to come out, and sitting inside of the sadness, and the joy.

I love my family and friends with all of my heart, but there is something to be said about just spending some time alone, and being 1000% okay with that. When Don and I were together, he was more of the "stay home" type, and I was always the one who wanted to go out. He would go with me, and he loved socializing with our friends or seeing a movie together or whatever else, but he was incredibly content to just sit home most weekends, with nothing except his guitars, our kitties, the Yankee game, and me. Nothing made him happier than simply "hanging out" and not ever leaving the apartment. And now I know why. Now I feel the same way about being home.

The funny thing is, when I was in our apartment after he died, I couldn't feel him close to me. I didn't feel his presence. All I felt was the loss and the overwhelming pain of what was no longer there. I had to leave our home, and move someplace new, to be able to really feel him again. Because in the same way that saying I love you to friends is also saying it to him, being alone in my apartment is also being with him in our apartment - even though he never even lived here.

I don't pretend to understand it. I'm just in awe of it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Happy




There is a lot going in my life right now that I can't share here.  It's too personal.  But it's good.

What I can tell you is that I am happy.

I never thought I would ever meet this mystical beast ever again, but here it is, showing up in my day and making me smile for no good reason.

Not the legendary, mythical HAPPY that we all hear about in fairytales.

But the happy that comes from lifting your eyes from the floor and seeing that life is really not so bad.
OK even.

I have chosen to believe that my one-sided conversations with Greg are really two sided and that he is letting me know what he thinks and feels about things. 

Case in point ....
I had an attack of the "uglies" the other day.  Not that I am a particularly vain person, but the last time I allowed myself to be vulnerable to another human (other than Greg) was when I was 22 years old and 22 years younger than I am now.
Growing up, I had two grandmothers who were determined that vanity was not a sin I would ever have and so they both managed to convince me that I was a "solid" girl who was plain.  I don't hold it against them - that was the thinking back then.  But I wished I'd listened to my mother who told me what a beauty I was.
Anyhooo  - there I was, having an attack of the uglies last Friday night when I decided to look in a cupboard that contained yet more of Greg's "stuff".  ... and I found a motherload of his old photos.
 He had photos from the night we met (I looked shy and a bit lost) and he had photos from our early dating life that I had never seen.  I looked young and fresh and positvely beautiful.  Certainly not "solid" or "plain".
...and he had a couple of photos of me (and he) all dolled up at a friend's wedding that were positively smokin' hot!


 ...and just like that, the "uglies" went away and I knew that my boy had shown me what he saw when he looked at me.

So yeah - happy.
It doesn't come in with a fanfare and a show of light.
It sneaks up on you and surprises you when you think it has gone for ever...