Thursday, August 21, 2014
Depression is always the leading edge of grief. This is an important phase in recovery from significant loss. This is the rebuilding time after a shattering experience and all the little bits and pieces that take so long to accept need to be put back together, often in a different configuration. When people don’t know what they have lost they often get stuck in this awful place. It is that black place where shame and self-loathing override every rational explanation. Any change is loss, wheather it is good change or bad change, and all loss requires some grieving. Grieving is on a continuum, from the death of a loved one, all the way to “Oh rats, I lost my umbrella.” The built in mechanism for dealing with this wide range of feelings is the grieving process, which is as necessary as any other human process.
Almost anyplace is preferable to grieving. Grieving means feeling what was lost and reexamining the old vow to stay away from that place at all costs. These old vows & choices have nothing to do with thinking but everything to do with survival strategies and tactics of a very young child.
It is a place where you feel like a fraud and every achievement, victory or success is just luck; no one could love someone like you because you are flawed with no hope of redemption. This keeps you safe and from asking for anything. This place keeps you safe from anyone getting close enough to see the real you, ugly, bad and worthless.
Keeping frenetically busy and “on” all the time works amazingly well; it fools everyone, even sometimes yourself. It is just when you slow down there is that black hole pulling you in. This was Robin William’s style and when he slowed down he was faced with all those unarticulated, inexplicable overwhelming feelings that he had no understanding of and no skills to handle.
The flip side of busy is going very still, being quiet and withdrawn, that is also safe and people usually leave you alone. The operative word here is alone, because that is all you believe you deserve. It is the place of silence and despair. Where the attempt to climb out of the pit just doesn’t seem worth the effort. You look normal and go through the motions of daily life, but you just aren’t there. You are deep in the pit.
There are many ways out of depression, but only one resolution, or way to heal. Why is this so hard and scary? The short answer is that grieving is a change agent. Once we start, there is no turning back. We can never be the same. That seems to be the purpose of grief, to create a path from one state of existence to another; a before and after. There was life before my daughter’s death and after I buried her. The only way I found to survive that pain and dislocation was to grieve out loud. It was all about rebuilding my life and myself after the A-bomb. Most people think grief is only about death but as I have said in other posts, all change is loss and demands letting go, grieving.
Some ways to grieve:
Crying is the most effective and the most difficult because crying is so all consuming. Crying is also the fastest form of healing..
Walking and talking with a friend over time is healing.
Writing or journaling helps put into words the experience, poems, songs, anything to keep grieving.
Some people find drawing; scribbling or painting relieves that burden of pain and isolation.
Grief requires comfort and support. That is usually found within friends, family, community or faith.
Grief always takes longer then we want, it is important to let it happen.
The long answer is that deep grief changes our perspective and challenges everything we have believed and all our cherished philosophies about the meaning of life. It realigns priorities and fundamentally alters how we relate to others and ourselves. Grief always cuts through our carefully built defenses and drags up any unresolved issues to be dealt with or reburied. Like Godzilla it tromps on the orderliness of our lives and leaves a trail of rubble.
It actually is scary because we don’t understand the intense, all-consuming nature of our own grief and just want to stop the pain and confusion. Given all the possibilities of how the process can go awry, most people somehow manage to get through and recover. Usually with grace and dignity. It is a continual tribute to the human spirit, and I am always impressed.
Saturday, August 9, 2014
I am able
to raw, open
It was during the twenty-sixth year that I developed breast cancer, which was an entirely new problem to grapple with. How to fit that into this whole recovery scenario? There were moments when holding up was hard. I had a difficult time reconciling these two life-changing events. It felt like an earthquake. I remember a persistent image I had of myself, sitting in front of a pile of rubble that used to be my life. It was my job to sort through all that and decide what to keep, what to rebuild, and what to let go of. The reaction from those around me (except my inner circle, especially Morrie) was surprisingly similar to when Sharon died. After the surgery and chemo I looked the same. The message was clear: don’t talk about it. “Now that it’s over, you’re OK, right?” It is hard and embarrassing to talk about the fact that after all the intensity and drama of the sequence of events around cancer, it is just over. Since the outcome for me was good, it seems ridiculous to say that going from being the center of attention to no attention was a bit jarring, but there you have it; again the loneliness. That is why my support group was so important.
I am still amazed by how little focus there is on the family members surrounding the patient, like husbands and brothers, as well as friends and everyone else. I was fortunate to have Morrie Shechtman in my corner during those very dark and frightening days. In addition to asking questions I wasn’t capable of, in the beginning, he fiercely found the best care available. The hardest part for others to understand is that he was able to tell me how angry he was that I had cancer. Why that is so important is that it made it possible for us to stay close during those terrible months. If he had not, those secret, unspoken feelings would have made everything more difficult, and I would have wondered what was wrong that we couldn’t be intimate. There were many other things he felt also, and keeping the relationship honest made the rest possible.
Women who have lost children and have had breast cancer are considered by many to be neither good moms nor sexy. At some point in this struggle, it occurred to me that life was going to go on whether I did or not, so I might as well join. I have not regretted that choice either. An important piece that helped me through that very difficult time was a persistent sense of being “held up” by all the prayers, good wishes, and positive vibes sent my way. I am not a religious person, but that sense was powerful and difficult to ignore. It was the spiritual equivalent of many hands holding up a person during a “trust fall.” I am eternally thankful for all those good wishes. Again, the choice I made was to let people matter and to allow their help to assist me. It is so easy to sink into a private, quiet, internal place that feels safe. The false bargain here is: “If I don’t think about her or talk about her, then she won’t be so gone.”
While fighting breast cancer, my sense of reality was once again upset and I needed to rework my life view one more time. After facing the death of my child, and then my own, my tolerance for political correctness is zero. The flip side of that is that my tolerance for people’s grief has increased. I very much understand people trying to hold on to life as they knew it. I am fiercely for a person grieving any way he or she chooses.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Thirty-five years is a long time to go without ever seeing my “beloved child”. It has been always that tension between my grief and living my life. How to honor both the living and the dead is a never ending process of blending the two. It has been a gradual process of choices that have built up over time, like a coral reef. Each individual animal---or choice in my case---is small and insignificant. but the sum total is breathtaking, though invisible on the surface. By now there is little drama left, and less and less to say. All the building and changes are under the surface. A reef and the human spirit are easily to shatter, but both are also resilient and tend to rebuild in changed forms. Many other losses have occurred along the way, each with its own pain and recovery. Nothing comes close to the up-side down, inside-out world that the death of my child wrought.What is breathtaking is the healing
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
I began to retreat from mentioning Sharon much at all. When new people would ask me how many children I had, I began to skip over her death, respond that we had three boys, and quickly change the subject. It felt terrible, but the alternative felt even worse at that time in my recovery. The choice here was to quietly withdraw and batten down the hatches. Sometimes grief is an exhausting journey. The problem was that many folks would respond that it was too bad I hadn’t had the joy of a girl, so the truth usually came out anyway. It doesn’t seem to matter if the story is told up front or later on; it so dominates the conversation that other issues and considerations often get sidelined.
I don’t know exactly why this time was so difficult. It may have been that we left Illinois and moved to Montana, so I had to leave the only tie I had left to her—her grave. In retrospect, it seems like this was just another cycle in the never-ending “grieving process”; this particular time, the phase of bargaining. I just wanted to feel safe for a while and not engage, or be close to anyone. It is hard to articulate that long-term weariness. Like so many that are “different” and don’t quite fit anywhere, I only wanted to be like everyone else. Being a bereaved parent is unusual, but being up front and vocal about it scares people, or puts them off. There is no all-purpose good choice in this arena, so it becomes a choice every time I meet someone new as to how to handle discussing that part of my life.
There was often some sort of antidote to all the downers, like a sweet, small, touching thing that happened every year for as long as I lived in Illinois. There was always a single red rose on Sharon’s grave on her death day. I don’t know who was responsible for that; I never saw the person. I wish I could thank him or her for that remembrance. It was nice to know someone besides me missed her and visited her