Monday, April 14, 2014
My journey back from a puddle by her grave has been possible because Morrie Shechtman wouldn’t allow me to die with her. He prevented that desire in me by caring enough to keep challenging me. That I chose to let that happen is why this story is thirty-plus years old. I am forever grateful for our partnership. Throughout these years we have been through many other challenges, losses, and hard times. All this has been easier with Morrie on my side and by my side. He has never wavered from his faith in my value and in me. He is the only person that has hung in with my terrible struggle to recover, year after year, decade after decade. He has insisted over the years that my poems and story can be helpful to others. This is my attempt to fulfill his faith in me.
I chose the casket
To bury my child in
Pink satin pillow
White velvet trim
Her hands folded on her breast
With my heart held entwined
I had to decide
What tomb, metal or wood
How can a mother be reduced
To raw, primal agony and ever get up again?
Strong arms hold me up
Brave hearts help me choose
And because I have you to come back to
I make it through
Monday, April 7, 2014
This has always been the tension; the terrible grief countered by the healing thrust. Ten years out was sort of nowhere land. The grief still dominated much of my thinking and feelings. I was beginning to back off from mentioning my bereavement with new acquaintances because it just didn’t come up as often. Time does make a difference. I had found Compassionate Friends and other support groups helpful for quite a while, but at some point I just moved on. I remember so many other parents during that time. One mother I got to know pretty well captured the longing of most of us. Her eighteen-year-old son was killed trying to beat a train at the crossing. She so wanted to go back and do that day over. She had a thousand things that, if she had done or not done, would have changed the timing and he would still be alive. I, too, have wished that, over and over, just one small thing done or said differently would have changed things. That was the topic of conversa- tions for years, the “if onlys” and the “what ifs,” the terrible pain of wondering if it could have been different, but knowing it never would be. We often clung to each other like we were drowning, and I guess in a way we were. We were always searching for relief and redemption.
Hanging in is the greatest gift you can give a bereaved person. Everyone gets sick and tired of the same old story, the same old grief, including the bereaved. Still it goes on, and on and on. The other gift is honesty. When you just can't hear it one more time, please tell the person that "not today, maybe tomorrow, but not today." I urge bereaved people to keep a list of ten or so that you can rotate through. There is always someone on that list that can listen today.
Friday, March 28, 2014
Over the years, since 1978, I have heard a refrain that troubles me and seems unfair. It’ s the frequent response I hear from those around the bereaved person. So often I hear people say, “Oh I was just a friend” or “I am just the cousin.” As though their grief isn’t as valid somehow. It is. I don’t know how one measures the degree of pain for the death of a loved person. “Mine can’t be as bad as theirs” is what I often hear. Perhaps, who knows, but whatever degree of pain anyone feels is as important to his or her life as it is to the central figures in the tragedy. In answer to that mistaken assumption I wrote the following article, “On The Other Side of Grief” for all those who are on the other side yet part of the inner circle. Shutting down grief always creates distance and safety; getting close risks being vulnerable to loss once again.
Just as grief is the natural and normal human response to loss, so is our response to a grieving person. It is very difficult to see someone we know who has experienced a great loss and not want to "do something" to help. Both grief and the response to grief have gotten lost along the way. This essay then is about describing and supporting our natural and normal responses to someone else's grief. It is a parallel process and embodies similar stages, but requires only the awareness to trust what we can do to help.
This parallel process is important not only to help the grieving person recover, but also to accommodate and create the inevitable new relationship with the bereft person. Significant loss irrevocably changes people and therefore any and all relationships. So part of the helping process is to accept the changed person and relationship along with their loss.
There is so much to say about loss because the range of emotions and behaviors is so enormous. Much has been written in recent years about the stages of grief that have become part of the common wisdom and seem pretty accurate. However, the mourner
does not experience stages - just feelings. Often these are strange, unfamiliar and very intense feelings that people have spent a lifetime learning to control. So reassurance is one of the first responses anyone can give. It is often helpful for people to at least understand what is happening to them. Then they do not have the added burden of thinking something is wrong with them. What is "wrong," is that they have lost something or someone significant.
It seems important to understand that any encounter with a grieving person is unsatisfying. This is so because neither party can give the other what they want. We do not have the power to give back what has been lost, and the grieving person cannot give us the smile and assurance that our help has made everything all right. The greater the loss, the longer this will be true. However, over time our help does help. It is analogous to applying salve to a wound. The salve will not magically heal, but over time the salve plus the healing power of the body, will at some point heal the wound.
What seems important is to recognize some of the signs of mourning and to know we will have a parallel process.
Having dealt with grief from the inside out as a bereaved parent and a bereaved child, and from the other side of grief as a professional, there are a few other things I have learned.
Sudden, shocking loss is one of the most difficult aspects of our humanness. I am talking about any loss, not only death. There is divorce, loss of jobs, loss of health and youth, moving, etc. And the biggest surprise: Wonderful events always embody loss. The birth of a child, marriage, a promotion, a new house and any success means leaving something behind.
Most people move through grief in the context of family, friends and community. Many with the help of their faith and church. It is only a problem when a person gets stuck in one of the stages. This brings me to the two most common questions asked. First is "Well, how long will this take?" or "How long should it take?" Second is, "Is this normal?"
In the attempt to answer these questions I have defined grief as either acute or chronic. Acute grief is the normal, natural process that people move through. Chronic grief is when the grieving process is shut down and stuck in a particular phase of the grieving process. It doesn’t matter how or when this happens, if the process is shut down it will never be finished.
The first year is the hardest. It is the hardest because it is the anniversary year. Each holiday or special time is the first without the lost person, lost job, lost community, or whatever the particular loss might be. Around the first year anniversary a marked change is usually evident. Not that grieving is done, but the acute submersion is less. I am deliberately not being very specific, because grief is so individualized. To set time frames would compromise the respect and dignity of a person's right to grieve in their own time and in their own way. There simply is no logical sequence to all the feelings - they come when they come, and not on schedule.
However, given all that, there are some behaviors that suggest when a person is in chronic grief. Let me step back and say that what makes grief so mysterious and hard is that it cuts right through all the defenses and touches our core. In cutting through it touches all other grief and unresolved issues and brings them to the surface with the current grief. That is a lot of the sense of being out of control and feeling crazy. If there are significant unresolved issues, the defensive system will go into overdrive and the result is that a person gets stuck. Much like a record, just going round and round in the same phase. This is also true for those around the grieving person. If we have unresolved issues, we will have a difficult time being around any grief. It is difficult to discern the difference, because "stuckness" is simply an extension of normal, acute grief. The key is that it "feels off" to people around them.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
protest so much
I cannot seem
“The pain of her
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Reaching out is hard
Bereaved families never congregate in easy to identify or common groups. We are scattered through out the population. That keeps us safe and at the same time isolated from each other. As I say in my book, it’s all the small choices along the way that make the difference in recovery. Below is one of the thousands I made along the way.
A newly bereaved person needs an advocate because she is just not “with it” for months. Another of those small choices that proved to be far reaching came after the funeral. Both Morrie and I were just tired. He made the absurd suggestion of, “Why don’t we stop at Burger King and just be alone for a minute?” At that moment anything was fine with me, just stop the world. So that is what we did—had a burger, fries, and a Coke. Those few moments allowed me to regroup enough to go on. That incident was the beginning of a pattern that still works for me: the intense grieving followed by something mundane and “normal.” If I ignore the intense feelings, then I never get the mundane and normal, because those intense feelings are always trying to escape.
I have learned over the years that my grief upsets most folks that haven’t dealt with their own, and my sadness triggers theirs. The further one gets from the funeral, the less tolerance others have for one’s grief. “Shouldn’t you be over it by now?” is the most common question. What an absurd and insulting statement. Bereavement is a condition that never clears up. The loss of a child is a never-ending process of feeling wounded and regaining wholeness. Telling grieving parents to get over their grief would be like telling an amputee not to miss her arm.
When I am
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
That is my world
How do I survive?
Why do I want to?
You are there
Monday, November 11, 2013
Your death has
I am gutted
like a steer
has spared me
What I didn’t expect,
had no way
was that the
new depths of