Archive for the 'Grief and Grieving' Category

Holiday cheer?
Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Val, the author of Dig Your Toes In, recently wrote an excellent post on dealing with loss during the holidays:

It’s been building for a few weeks now, and I didn’t even realize it. I have this intolerance for … a common holiday attitude, and suddenly the intolerance is smacking me in the face and begging to be shouted. And so—well, I’m going to blog it.

The Pet Peeve that I’ve suddenly discovered is the constant obsession—on the radio, in ads, by folks that we talk to—about the “stress” of the holidays. The “hustle-bustle.” The “Millions of things that have to get done.” Rather than a celebration of the holiday season I have encountered again and again a huge collective, “O Poor Me!” factor regarding all that must get done.

Holidays are hard when you’ve lost someone that you love. Remembering all the special things that the person did when preparing for the holidays. Reflecting on the holiday memories. The thoughts that come rushing in, uninvited, about missing that person. It’s all bitter sweet. It’s wonderful, because it keeps your loved one close, but it’s terrible because it causes the ache to swell again and again and again. Yes, I am missing my Mom this Christmas, even as I gleefully gear up for the festivities. Even as we do our holiday projects. And it is this missing, and the experience of the past few years of my world being turned on it’s head that gives me this intolerance. This I know.

I would be lying if I told you that I haven’t felt some anxiety and tension over the “gotta get it done” factor of Christmas. I have. We’ve worried that the humble offerings we’re giving to our friends and extended family won’t seem like enough to them, since we’ve tried to scale back spending by focusing mainly (and as cost-efficiently as possible) on our small family unit. I’ve fussed over recipes, and worried over presents getting here in time. I have. I am not immune, despite the words I am about to write.

But the “stress” of this Christmas is nothing like the “Stress” of the last two. The last two Christmases were the hardest, darkest, scariest that I have known. The last two Christmases the stress that I felt was real—and beyond my control. It was so much more than being exhausted by my choice to take part in “the hustle and bustle.”

Two years ago, my Mother had just been diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. We were still trying to wrap our brains around the diagnosis. I was scared to death. I wasn’t sure where to be. It was my first Christmas to have my husband home with me, and it was the Christmas sitting in front of a year when my husband would be gone on short detachments the majority of the time before his eventual deployment. We weren’t sure if he would be home for the birth of Little Miss. We also weren’t sure if Mom would be around for the birth of Little Miss, and then if she was how much time they (and we) might have together. There was uncertainty everywhere. And at times the world seemed like a very dark place.

Last Christmas was the first after my Mom died. It was very, very hard. I hurt over the things that we “always did” that we couldn’t do that year. I didn’t know how I would get through Christmas Eve without doing the special things I always did with her. I couldn’t imagine Christmas morning without her at the table of her and Dad’s house. My husband was in Iraq and I missed him so terribly—especially while in the midst of the grief stuff—that I didn’t know what to do with myself. And just when we thought that things couldn’t get any worse, Husband’s grandfather became very, very ill and the words, “They’re going to make him comfortable,” were used. Husband’s family and I quickly mobilized and I found myself visiting again at the deathbed of a family member that we loved very, very much. I put in the Red Cross call to my husband, and while we had decent communication so I was assured he knew what was going on, the official message took nearly a week to reach my husband’s superiors. There was talk of him taking a whirl-wind trip home to hopefully be with his grandpa, but he didn’t have the leave time to cover it. Working through those logistics in the midst of the situation—the grieving, the aching, the hurting. That was stress. Husband wasn’t able to come home, and wouldn’t have been back in time anyway. Grandpa died three days before Christmas. His funeral was on Christmas Eve. My heart was as heavy as a rock. The grief and the pain and the hurt and the missing seemed to consume me. There didn’t seem to be any light anywhere.

But. I knew better. Because you see, that Christmas after Mom got sick I heard the message over and over and over again that Christmas isn’t about hype. It’s about a light in the darkness (faithful blog-readers. you knew it was coming sometime, didn’t you?). And I have to tell you, I grabbed onto the hope of that light with everything in me and didn’t let go and I’m convinced that’s the reason I made it through both years. And I DID find light. I found it in the strength that wasn’t my own that allowed me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I found it in the smile and giggle of my beautiful daughter. I found it in the courage and strength and shared hurt of my husband’s voice on a phone-line connecting us while a world apart. I found it in the comfort and love that I found in being with Husband’s family on that whirlwind trip to be with Grandpa and to attend his services. I found it in my Daddy graciously “pushing back” Christmas so that we could celebrate it together after we’d returned back to his home. And, I found it where it was found 2000 years ago, “in the squatty, dark light of a stable.” In the form of a baby that was born to save the world. including me.

And so. Well. When I hear about the stress. About the hustle and bustle. About how terrible it is that people have to spend time buying presents and writing cards and baking things and visiting people, I just want to SCREAM: “Don’t you get it?!!! This isn’t what this season is about!!! This is about time with our families! This is about taking time to be together! To hold hands! To take joy in the presence of our loved ones. Because not a single one of us is guaranteed another Christmas!

I want to shout, “Get your priorities straight! If the ribbons and bows and cookies and candy recipes that don’t get to ‘soft ball’ stage are going to give you such an ulcer, throw them out the window and find the real joy of the season.” Of being with people that you love, and realizing what the point of the holidays really are: Light in a dark world!

I would take the “stress” of this holiday season—the financial worries, the putting together of our holiday offerings, the worrying over getting everything done—five times over before I would want to relive the past two Christmases. And yet those Christmases contained light too. And I look back to that light and find strength in it.

So that is my holiday diatribe. And the bottom line. The point that I’m trying to make is: Don’t get so caught up in the hustle that you miss the miracles. Don’t get so caught up in the bustle that you forget about people who are suffering through their hardest Christmases ever. And feeling so alone in that.

Remember the light in the darkness. Hold onto it, and offer it to someone who might feel that the darkness is winning this year. And: Look around at the people that you love. Drink them in. Make the memories. Cherish them.

Make the choice to slow down and refuse to become part of the rush. It *IS* a choice. When the world stops because of something awful those things fade into the background and you find out how unnecessary they really can be.

Remember the point of Christmas and the Holidays. Look for the light and love one another.

Salvation
Thursday, November 16th, 2006

I wasn’t gonna celebrate Christmas this year. You see, it was Eric’s favorite holiday. He loved his family’s traditions, buying and wrapping gifts, Christmas music, decorating, the whole nine yards. And I was planning to deny its existence this year, to refuse to decorate and bake, and possibly not even visit my family for the holiday. There was a moratorium on holiday cheer in the works; I had already told family members not to expect gifts or cards from me this year because I just didn’t know if I could bear the atmosphere long enough to make any purchases. By gum, if I was miserable for the holidays, everyone around me was going to be miserable too, dammit.

That all changed today. I found the Christmas spirit in a sex toy shop.

While I had been Googling phrases such as “offbeat Boston,” “alternative Boston tourism,” and “local Boston” in preparation for my trip, Sweet and Nasty was the only listing that routinely appeared in the top ten results. It turns out that the bakery/confectionery-cum-sex toy shop (heh heh) was a local institution, and is even listed in several mainstream, highly recommended travel guides. And because I am the sort of person that really, really wants to be the eccentric old lady full of highly amusing anecdotes when she’s sitting in a nursing home somewhere, I suggested that we visit. Because really, whose life is complete until they’ve sampled a penis cake?

It turns out that the store, aside from selling novelties and questionably-shaped baked goods, also purveyed a wide assortment of insanely funny and wildly inappropriate holiday greeting cards. One of my favorites has a charming picture of a 1950s-era Pollyanna on the cover, with the lyrics to an old Christmas favorite, “Oh, I’m getting nuthin’ for Christmas! Santa says I’ve been bad!” On the inside of the card is a single word: “Asshole.”

And as I stood in the aisle, laughing until my sides hurt at the sheer audacity of the cards (and snatching up more than a couple for purchase), I had my revelation: I’m not supposed to deny the holiday season this year. This Christmas will be a difficult and painful one for me, but there will be no good of attempting to bury my head in the sand and pretend that the holiday doesn’t exist. I can find my own way to celebrate this year, and it might be extremely non-traditional and slightly tinged with anger that Eric isn’t here with me. But if I can find ways to express that anger in a constructive, smart-ass manner…well, that is what Eric would have wanted. He would have wanted me to find a way to laugh in spite of it all, and to celebrate in his absence. After all, remembrance is what the Christmas season is all about.

Ps. The cake was delicious.

naughty cupcakes

Anatomy 35
Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

Anatomy 35, by Tricia Harding

Concentration
eludes me.
Talk of cadavers and hyperplasia
steers me eerily away from the classroom
with its flourescent lights
and too deep seats.
Instead I am holding his hand,
grown pudgy after days of excess fluid,
signs of organ
failure.
He grips back,
assuredly.
But, really, he doesn’t.
They have dimmed the lights.
Reverence?
I suppose.
They say it will be “soon.”
Why does it have to be at all?
I have no interest in cadavers.
Or hyperplasia.
I do not like the wooden seats.
I only want to hold his hand.
I want him to grip me back.

Am I depressed, or is this normal?
Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

No matter what path one follows in life, everyone experiences bad days, weeks, or months. Feeling down in the dumps is a common occurrence. But when does a routine sadness cross the line into a depressive disorder?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, if a person experiences one or more of the following symptoms, it may be time to visit a medical professional for a depression screening:

* Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
* Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
* Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
* Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
* Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
* Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
* Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
* Restlessness, irritability
* Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

Several months after my husband’s death, the weary, wandering soul of depression sank into my bones. At first, the symptoms were easy to ignore; I had just lost the love of my life, of course I was going to feel sad, angry, and hurt. But little by little, the sadness overcame me until I was no longer functioning in my professional, social, or family lives. Certain that I was being a burden to those around me, I quit visiting family and returning friends’ phone calls. I became unstable at work and lashed out whenever an unexpected challenge was handed my way. Seeking an escape from the increasing desperation that I felt, I began tucking a beer or two into my grocery cart during my weekly trips; the local store carried my favorite brew from a small town in Pennsylvania, and only one or two wouldn’t hurt. But one or two per week quickly devolved into one or two per night, and then the large-size, 22-oz. bottles came into the play. My heart, mind, body and soul all knew that alcohol would not solve my problems. However, I was still on the waiting list to see a primary care physician as a new patient and was also wary of taking any psychopharmaceutical medication. For the meantime, the pleasant numbing of good beer buzz was my escape from the sadness that was crushing me.

After several months’ wait, I finally got to see the doctor, who promptly made it a point to prescribe an SSRI (anti-depressant), as well as an anti-anxiety medication. Despite my initial reticence, the medications ultimately helped me cope with many of the circumstances in my life that contributed to my diagnosis of depression. My treatment is ongoing, but making the first step and seeking help is a decision that I have never regretted. I urge you to please take an honest evaluation of your own circumstances–and to seek help if necessary. Depression is something that far too many of us feel we must simply “cope” with–when we could be receiving treatment.

Seeing Halloween in a new light.
Monday, October 30th, 2006

Ever since I became a widow, people have been warning me about how hard the holiday season was going to be for me. I have been bracing for the emotional torrent that Christmas will surely bring ever since he died.

Little did I know that the difficult holiday season would start way too early. I am now seeing Halloween in a whole new light.

Being affectionate of the macabre and having a dark sense of humor had facilitated a long love of Halloween. I’d always been into good scary movies, trick-or-treating, and wearing a costume. One of our happiest memories as a couple was the time when we mentored a group of teens to design, build, and act in their own haunted house. My husband and I were “scarers” during the event and frightening passersby with a one-two punch. He even helped me in painting the exposed areas of my body with a ghostly bluish-grey pallor, complete with oozing flesh wounds on my neck and face. Halloween used to be incredibly fun for both of us.

And now, I see the cheerfully “dead” costumed children, and I know that no make-up, even the make-up used in the scary movies, can replicate the look of a dead body. I see the yards decorated with fake tombstones and wonder if the families inside the adjoining homes spent any time this year visiting a real grave. I used to think that persons who opposed the celebration of Halloween were religious proselytizers, but now I see the true nature of the holiday, soulless as corpse’s eyes.

Why, oh why must Americans take a meaningful ritual and turn it into something completely devoid of deeper meaning? Day of the Dead, the holiday on which our Halloween is loosely based, invokes the same dark imagery but instead celebrates the dead with offerings, shrines, and remembrance. Would it kill us to add some depth to our celebration and candy?

So, sorry kids, I’m not playing this year. You can keep your dead cheerleader and dead football player costumes, you can keep your candy and your empty, commercialized holiday. I’m remembering someone real, someone warm and loving and caring, someone whose death is all too recent and honest and painful. And I’ll pay homage to him, thanks.

Bridesmaid Blues: Memories of a Love Lost.
Monday, October 30th, 2006

Next week, I’ll be serving on bridesmaid duty for the first time for a very good friend of mine who I’ve known for almost eight years. And I’d be lying out my teeth if I didn’t say that I am having mixed feelings about the whole thing. I love my friend, and I am truly happy for her and her fiance, who is a hell of a guy. But this will be my first wedding after my husband’s death, and I can’t help but think that being surrounded by a lovey-dovey celebration of couplehood is going to make me extremely sad and/or bitter. I can try my best to remain positive and be the supportive friend that I so desperately wish to be–but I don’t know if I realistically will be able to escape the memories of my own wedding and romance for the entire day. And I cannot promise to anyone, even myself, that I can be happy with memories of a marriage that was cut far too short, and a love that I am so desperately missing right now that I am moved to tears over just about anything.

Truth be told, I have been lashing out over the most minute things lately. Will this attitude continue at the wedding? I am so nervous that I will not be able to hold it together during the festivities, or that my presence will cast a pallor over the event.

The best accessory for this bridesmaid? A mini-tube of vaseline–so that I can maintain a constant smile through my tears. Like a pageant contestant, I’ll march down the aisle with my poofy dress and my vaseline perma-smile under my tears. People get sappy at weddings, right? This shall be my excuse and my disguise, all wrapped up in a tiny parcel from the drugstore…

Information for Friends and Family.
Monday, October 30th, 2006

Mostly Risible, a blog by a funny, sharp-witted woman who also happens to be a hospice volunteer, posted these items on grief at her place recently. I would like to share them because these pieces were very helpful for me, and might help others deal with a friend’s, or a personal loss.
For those who have experienced loss of a loved one:

Please don’t ask me if I’m over it yet.
I’ll never get over it.
Please don’t tell me he’s in a better place.
He’s not here with me.
Please don’t say he isn’t suffering any more.
I haven’t come to terms of why he had to suffer at all.
Please don’t tell me how you feel
Unless you’ve lost someone in the same way.
Please don’t ask me if I feel better.
Bereavement isn’t a condition that clears up.
Please don’t tell me at least you had him for so many years.
What year would you like your loved one to die?
Please don’t tell me God never gives us more than we can bear.
Please just say you’re sorry.
Please just say you remember my loved one if you do.
Please mention my loved one’s name.
Please be patient with me when I am sad.
Please just let me cry.

Unknown Author

For those who know someone who had recently experienced a loss:

How to Help Grieving People- What You Can Say, What You Can Do

  • Read about the various phases of grief so you can understand and help
    the bereaved to understand.
  • All that is necessary is a hand squeeze, a kiss, a hug, your presence.
    If you want to say something, say "I’m sorry" or "I care."
  • It is not necessary to ask questions about how the death happened. Let
    the bereaved tell you as much as they want when they are ready. A helpful
    question might be, "Would you like to talk about the death? I’ll listen."
  • Don’t say, "I know just how you feel."
  • The bereaved may ask "Why?" It is often a cry of pain rather
    than a question. It is not necessary to answer, but if you do, you may reply, "I
    don’t know why. Maybe we’ll never know."
  • Don’t use platitudes like "Life is for living," or "It’s
    God’s will." Explanations rarely console. It’s better to say nothing.
  • Recognize the bereaved may be angry. Encourage them to acknowledge their
    anger and to find ways of handling it.
  • It is good to cry. Crying is a release. People should not say, "Don’t
    cry."
  • Be available to listen frequently. Most bereaved want to talk about the
    person who has died. Encourage them to talk about the deceased. Do not
    change the conversation or avoid mentioning the person’s name. Talking
    about the pain slowly lessens its sting. Your concern and effort can make
    a big difference in helping someone recover from grief.
  • Be patient. Don’t say, "You’ll get over it in time." Mourning
    may take a long time. They will never stop missing the person who has died,
    but time will soften the hurt. The bereaved need you to stand by them for
    as long as possible. Encourage them to be patient with themselves as there
    is no timetable for grieving.
  • Offer to help with practical matters such as errands, fixing food, caring
    for children. Say, "I’m going to the store. Do you need bread, milk,
    etc.?" It
    is not helpful to say, "Call me if there is anything I can do."
  • Accept whatever feelings are expressed. Do not say, "You shouldn’t
    feel like that.
  • The bereaved may appear to be getting worse. This is often due to the reality
    of death hitting them.
  • Depression is often part of grief. It is a scary feeling. To be able to
    talk things over with an understanding friend or loved one is one factor
    that may help a person not to become severely depressed.
  • Don’t say, "It has been four months (six months, a year, etc.). You
    must be over it by now." Life will never be the same.
  • Don’t avoid the bereaved. It adds to their loss. As the widowed often say, "I
    not only lost my spouse, but my friend as well."

by the Funeral Consumers Alliance

Black Heart; Black Funny Bone.
Monday, October 30th, 2006

During a recent personal trip to Pennsylvania, I realized that my husband’s passing had imparted a sense of humor to me that was so black and dark that others simply refuse to understand it. The trip was overall a successful one–most of my time was spent visiting with family and friends. There was only one hiccup throughout the entire weekend, when I was sitting in a local bar with a mixed group of about seven friends and acquaintances:

Friend: What do you do when you’re out with your friends and some weird guy comes onto you and will NOT take the hint and leave you alone?

Me: Well…I have a comment, but it will probably only be appropriate to me…

Friend: No, go ahead…we all know each other here…

Me: (said in the most sarcastic way possible) Just tell the guy that your husband just died. I *guarantee* that no one else will hit on you for the rest of the night.

(insert sounds of crickets chirping, tumbleweeds rolling, and jaws hitting the table here)

Looks like I need to work on a few things before I’m approved for a mixed social setting again. Yeah.

Unexpected Moments.
Monday, October 30th, 2006

Last weekend, I realized that I simply cannot shop at the Somerset, PA Wal-Mart Supercenter anymore. For some unknown reason, I become a stark-raving lunatic whenever I enter through the automatic sliding doors.

Take, for example, this excerpt from a post I wrote last spring, recounting an experience that I had immediately following Eric’s death at Chez Wally-World:

For the most part I am stoic on the outside—although most ironically, it was that soulless bastion of consumerism that is Wal-Mart that finally brought me to my knees. I did not cry at the funeral home or church or cemetary when we were planning your services. However, I fucking lost it in the Men’s Underwear Department. Your undertaker had asked that I purchase some underwear for you to wear since my parents forgot to grab some—and I was carefully picking out the very best, combed-cotton undershirts (the ones without the scratchy tag in back) and the very nicest socks and briefs that Wally World had to offer. I think that the gravity of the whole thing hit me when I thought, “I had better pick out the most comfy stuff since he’ll be wearing them a long time.” More than one shopper saw me blubbering away, hunched over the blue shopping cart with a pair of men’s microfiber dress socks in my hand. Clean-up on Aisle 5!!

And last weekend, I had gone into the maw of the beast for the simple, quick purchase of a photo frame. Trying to avoid running into old high-school classmates (one of the pitfalls of going into the only large store in an entire rural county is that there is always someone that you know in said store, who Really Wants to Catch Up), I cut through the cosmetics aisle to reach the home department. And therein I found my downfall.

Mixed in with all of regular make-up products was a special section of Halloween accouterments. There were sparkly fake eyelashes, face paints of every color, and crazy wigs. There were also Goth-style nail polishes with mini-tombstones as the bottle topper.

And then I noticed the promotional photos on the product packaging. Each model was carefully made up to look cheerfully dead. I saw the artificial asphyxiation pallor created with Blue #2 and White Base make-up. I saw the rows and rows of products that made death look like a fun party gag.

Then, I went a little bit crazy. I picked up a handful of mini R.I.P. Tombstone Death nail polishes and said loudly, “Death isn’t fun. Death isn’t FUNNY!”

And the lady at the other end of the aisle looked at me furtively, then quickly shuffled into the next aisle.

Yeah. I am definitely on my way to becoming the next crazy lady of Somerset.