Posts Tagged With: grieving

That Fuzzy-Eyed, Staring at Nothing Buzz That Happens

You know that fuzzy-eyed, staring at nothing buzz you feel when you’re running about a week behind on your sleep?

Yeah, that one.

I’ve felt that for a few days now. Seems like a less than stellar way to begin a year. I’m betting I could sleep for three days in a row and still not feel rested. Not that there’s a snowball’s chance in Hades of putting that idea to the test.

wonder woman

To the invisible jet!…Dang it!

I’d be thrilled to get eight or nine hours of sleep at this point. Two nights in a row of eight hours worth of shut-eye and I’d be a new woman. Heck, I’d be Wonder Woman.

It’s not post-holiday letdown, or shopping burnout. Hardly. This year I experienced exactly the opposite of what normally occurs at Christmas, which turned out weirdly good. And, no, I didn’t overindulge with New Year revelry nonsense.

I think, more than likely, I owe this numb brain sensation to more than sleep deprivation. I’m pretty certain I’m in denial about a few things.

Saturday marks one year since my best friend Kathy passed away. All through December she’s hovered in the background of each day. It was a month of “lasts.” Of course, at the time I didn’t really  know they were all lasts. The last time we had a normal day together, the last time I had a conversation with her, her last words to me, last texts exchanged, last soda run, my last “see ya’ later,” her last month of life.

Add in that I did this lousy job at grieving during the year. I did a way better job at denial. I was always in denial, even when we talked about her funeral plans over the years. It was always something in the future. Now it’s all something in the past.

Have I mentioned how much I hate that?

I think I’ve expected some sense of closure by now and it hasn’t happened. But then, I haven’t really done any “work” to make that happen. It’s been a year of life happening to me, not me actively living life.

Abnormally normal, actually. That’s how the year’s gone. Have I mentioned that Kathy used to tell me that she’d keep her battles against an incurable cancer over the weird life I live? Yeah. She said things like that to, what, make me feel better about my life. Or maybe to feel better about hers.

dart boardIt’s been a helluva year in a couple of other ways as well. Which I won’t bore you with or share publicly. Just take my word for it. Crap hit the fan and has stunk up the place. Still digging out. Not sure the smell will ever go away. Sorry for the vagueness. Imagine some things you’d never want to deal with that doesn’t involve death and you’d probably hit the dart close to center.

It’s been an amazing year in some phenomenally great ways, too. Ways that seem to prove that the universe works on some sort of cosmic yin and yang, balancing between good and evil, positive and negative, ridiculous and, yes, sublime. Take my word for it, imagine some of the best stuff ever that could happen that doesn’t involve money and you’d maybe come close to how wonderful life felt at times this year.

Odd, huh?

Throw in a side trip, too.

Throw in a side trip, too.

A yo-yo on a string. That’s me. Spinning, spinning, spinning, hard bounce at the bottom, more spinning, spinning, spinning, abrupt halt at the top. Repeat.

Maybe it’s like that for everyone.

Or maybe, I’m just lucky that way. (Sleep-deprived, brain fuzz, and off-kilter, remember?)

Happy.

New.

Year.

 

 

 

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Categories: Death, Family, Friendship | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Best Advice I’ve Gotten In the Past Year? “Practice Radical Self-Care”

Great recs found here.

Great recs found here.

The best advice I got during the past twelve months wasn’t directed at me. And it arrived through an unlikely source, a Goodreads question and answer session.

I don’t usually follow or sign up for these sorts of things. I think the author’s work normally speaks for itself. But I made an exception this one time.  When Anne Lamott, the author of “Help! Thanks! Wow!” among other hilarious, heartfelt and honest books, accepted a stint on the Featured Author Chat over at Goodreads, I jumped on board eager to pick up some writerly advice and a few laughs.

The directness in Anne’s writing reminds me of my best friend who passed away early this year. They both have a no-holds-barred approach to communication. Say it like it is. Don’t worry about offending anyone. Speak truth. Let it all fall where it ought to.

Feels like I get an infusion of new oxygen in my blood after reading Anne’s books. I figured I’d more than enjoy reading what she has to say in a different medium.

Little did I know how helpful it would be.

Sure, she answered queries about writing and about her personal life. But then, a surprise question and an even more surprising answer came through.

In response to a reader’s question about how to deal with depression and discouragement, Anne Lamott’s answer jumped out at me as if it’d been highlighted with fluorescent green marker.

“Depressed and discouraged is really hard, and plenty to deal with. My response, if it was me, was to practice radical self-care, by being exquisitely kind and gentle and patient with myself, exactly as I would be with a friend. Love and gentleness are always the answer. “ – Anne Lamott, from a Goodreads discussion 12/12/13

“Practice radical self-care.”

I’ve said that to myself over and over ever since I read it. Even more so since a funeral and burial and the ensuing grief that’s hovered all year.

So we’ve all heard that “self-care” part of the equation over the years, right? But “radical?” And how do you care for yourself in a radical way?

I turn to my usual sources. I like the third Merriam-Webster definition of radical.

“Radical: very different from the usual or traditional : extreme.”

So I’ve looked at how I normally care for myself and I attempt to do the opposite, or at least a ninety degree shift.

Sounds difficult. But I’ve given it a try anyway.

So how do I “practice radical self-care”?

  • Letting myself ignore all my lists occasionally and the usual side of guilt they’re served with
  • I say “not right now” instead of “sure, anytime, anything”
  • Simply sitting and letting my mind go blank, often
  • Crying when the tears want to leak out
  • Laughing even if it goes against all reason or feels wrong
  • Planning something unprecedented, like getting a manicure, or a spur of the moment trip
  • Saying “No”
  • Reminding MSH that I’m not depressed, just grieving
  • Practicing my depression treatment steps, just in case
  • Accepting that sorrow and faith can coexist in the same brain
  • Journaling, several times a day if necessary, letting words carry some of the weight
  • Napping, earlier bedtimes, later wake times
  • Talking about how I’m feeling

The other part of what Anne said, I’d applied in situations involving others, but rarely with myself.

“Being exquisitely kind and gentle and patient with myself.

The key word there: “exquisitely,” as in “acutely perceptive, discriminating, intense.”

Kind, patient and gentle with myself. How could I go wrong? That was easier the first month or two after my friend died. But then I hit some preconceived notion of “times up” on the grieving thing and stopped being so easy on myself.
Photo by Kettie Olsen

Photo by Kettie Olsen

So I try again and again. And I remind myself again, as Anne said, “Love and gentleness are always the answer.”

I get radical. I care for myself. Practice exquisite patience and gentleness. I apply the concepts of love and kindness to myself. Kind of extreme ideas for me.

It’s a daily, sometimes hourly process working through depression, discouragement and grief.

I owe big thanks for such unusually worded advice from someone who’s been there to someone still wandering the path toward a new normal.

*~~*~~*

Categories: Cancer, Death, Hope | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Still Crazy After All These Months

Seven months today.

I thought by now I’d feel better, be on the upswing.

But no. If anything the cycle of grief leaves me reeling from an upside down outside loop (is that even possible?) and rockets into this cavernous roiling flame-filled pit of wild emotion I don’t even recognize. Anger, tears, blame, sorrow, regret; those words only skim the surface some days.

Sounds stupidly dramatic.

Kathy would say, “Oh, get over yourself woman.” Then we’d drive over to Freddie’s for their super skinny fries and epic fry sauce and a concrete mixer with caramel and nuts and fudge and two days worth of calories in one sitdown whine fest.

What an awesome listener. The world needs more listeners like her. What an honest, straightforward tell it like it really is talker. We need more of that, too.

If I were to follow her example when someone asks how I’m doing I would NOT say, “Oh, I’m fine!” Instead I’d say, “I’m a wreck!”

I miss her like crazy. I miss us. Our friendship. Our uniquely bizarre mix of humor, life’s experience and often wordless communication created five years of something beyond special.

Now, months later, there’s still this gaping hole of her absence. And I keep tripping and falling into it. Hurts every time. I just can’t seem to navigate away from the edge, yet.

Maybe someday. Maybe at the one year point. Y’think? I don’t know.

She’d be mad at me if I left this post hanging on a negative note. She’d be mad at me for the whole post, honestly. Oh well, she’ll have to come haunt me to shut me up. So there.

Here’s where I insert the jokes.

But just to be safe, (I don’t really want her haunting me) here’s a few fairly good, clean George Carlin one liners. (Hint: it helps to say them out loud in your best comedian voice, with a nice pause at the end for a rim shot, pa da, pum! )

  • If a turtle doesn’t have a shell, is he homeless or naked?
  • Do infants enjoy infancy as much as adults enjoy adultery?
  • Can vegetarians eat animal crackers?
  • How do they get the deer to cross at that yellow road sign?
  • Does the Little Mermaid wear an algebra?
  • Is it true that cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny?
  • If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?

Alright already, I’ll stop now.

Laughter? Really?

I’ve found salvation and solace in laughter the past few months. It’s cathartic. It’s healing. It’s like medicine, without the weird side effects.

I’m fine. Really. Most of the time I am. I just have these moments that last a day or two or three. It helps to write it out loud, kinda gets it out of my system.

I’ll sign off today the same way I used to tell her goodbye. The same way I said goodbye for the last time.

“Love ya, Kathy. See ya later.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The title for today’s post is a take off on a song by Paul Simon, “Still Crazy After All These Years.” It speaks to me on so many different levels. You can listen to it here.

 

 

Categories: Cancer, Death, Friendship, Humor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Can Nothing Feel Like Something?

The pass I’d given myself to wallow, read, sleep, and grieve, expired its “use by” date about a month ago.

“I’m sorry ma’am, that coupon isn’t valid anymore.”

Somehow things suddenly kicked into high gear a couple of weeks ago and my mind and body filled up the space and time I rent from the life library. I went back to the gym, put away my pile of “to read” books, started a new volunteer project, began cooking dinners, even made bread, and made headway with the  stuffpiles that inhabit every room in the house.

photo by Sarang

photo by Sarang

In other words, my life shifted into a new normal. At least I thought so.

Two nights ago, MSH said something completely innocent and ordinary, and with his words the doorknob to my emotional storeroom clicked.

The door opened.

The air changed not in a physical sense, but just as clearly as the temperature and smell in a house changes when a door gets left open in midwinter, I knew something was different.

Can nothing feel like something?

Yes. Without argument. Absolutely yes.

I felt the loss of my best friend as raw and new as January. Instantly.

That emotional door allowed an onslaught of emptiness and loss to escape. I could no more push it away than a person can shove the cold air back outside and slam the door on it. The cold inhabits the room. It takes time and effort to reheat the inside air.

Two days, almost three, and I’ve felt lost again, unable to force away limbo and hurt and sorrow.

It’s not like I’m constantly thinking about her. Not at all. It’s more like her absence inhabits me. How does an emptiness fill something? I have no idea. I just know that’s what it feels like.

There’s a mental numbness involved as well. I find myself not engaging in conversations, barely following the words, the back and forth of it. My body’s in the room, but my mind, my focus, simply isn’t anywhere.

Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki

Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki

What do I do about it?

I don’t know. Keep breathing. Keep moving. Do.

Or maybe I need to not do anything. Maybe I give myself over to the feeling of loss, all over again. Sit in my porch swing and stare, again. Cry randomly, again. Pray more than normal, again. Muster up energy to respond to texts and emails, again. Sleep way too much, again. Stand around aimlessly and unproductive, again.

I’m guessing this sensation will go away eventually. I’m expecting that writing about it, out loud, here, might help.

It might come back again, too. I think grief does these looping things. It’s not a linear, stage by stage processing of the loss, but a kind of wandering path of varying emotions or lack of them. Occasionally the paths cross, I wander on to a different one without even realizing I’ve changed direction.

Don’t get me wrong.

I don’t feel hopeless.

That isn’t it at all. I just feel lost. Lost. Lost. Lost. Or empty. Very empty. Very very empty. As if I’ve been poured out on the sand and absorbed.

Wow. That sounds horrible. It isn’t as bad as it sounds, but then it isn’t really great either.

I’m fine. Really.

It’s just…grief.

This thing:

Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something to which a bond was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, spiritual, and philosophical dimensions.” ~Wikipedia

Sounds complicated.

Multifaceted response?

Dimensions?

Ten dollar words to describe and define sadness, sorrow, emptiness, hurt, and the left-behind perspective.

It’s today’s normal for me. And apparently yesterday and the day before. Maybe tomorrow and the next. We’ll see. Like a lifeboat on the ocean I’ll just drift about and see where the current takes me.

In the meantime, I’ll do my best imitation of a normal person when I’m in public.

There’s this last thought, which I like because it feels hopeful, and it acknowledges that there’s a process in play that I can give myself over to.

“Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.” ~ Emily Dickinson

photo by Klaus D. Peter, Wiehl, Germany

photo by Klaus D. Peter, Wiehl, Germany

Categories: Death | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sudden or Slow?

“Don’t you think it’s much harder to have someone die suddenly than to have them die slowly?”

Multiple myeloma (1) MG stain

Multiple myeloma. Don’t let the pretty color fool you, this is wicked stuff.

A room full of ten women recently heard that question. The one asking is dying slowly. It’s a process that’s being going on for the past four and half years. The one she was asking lost her husband unexpectedly to death six months ago. Neither of these women qualify as old, not by any stretch of the imagination. They are young and at the peak of life’s gifts and joys and grinds.

What a stunning question to ask someone straight out when they’ve suffered such a horrendous loss.

It caught my breath. But they’ve both earned the right at such honesty about  a difficult subject.

But there’s no topic off-limits in that group. Not anymore. Ten years ago, maybe. Now. No.

A short list of some the other losses for that group of friends:

  • Two have cared for a dying or dementia ridden parent who then died.
  • A mother died from cancer.
  • A mother died after a long, long life.
  • A best friend dying suddenly in an accident.
  • A husband suffered a massive coronary, lived, but has lost earning capacity, mental acuity and vitality.
  • A sister with brain cancer.
  • Parents died at the hands of a drunk driver when she was eleven.

The Answer to that question is…

The conclusion was that sudden death was harder to deal with. No warning. No chances to say goodbye, to say last important words.

Although, the slow dying thing isn’t exactly fun for anyone involved either.

My friends talked about extra weeks purchased at the cost of hail-Mary chemo treatments. Talk of hospice and bereavement counseling also bantered about the room.

Honestly, I felt myself trying to physically create an emotional wall in that room. I kept turning my head away from this wrenching discussion, visualizing a barrier, willing my hearing to deafen instantly. Even now, writing about it, I’m leaning away from that side of the room, trying to create distance from such personal stabs of knife twisting pain.

I can’t, I won’t, I don’t want to deal with it.

There’s no escaping though.

We’re all dying slowly.

But that’s not the point is it?

The point is living in the meantime.

Velcade Chemo treatment: Cycle 2, Week 2

Velcade Chemo treatment (Photo credit: tyfn)

That isn’t always easy. Filled to the brim with mean poisons, your body overrun with side-effects, doped up on painkillers to survive the treatment that’s supposed to buy you more time, how do you make use of such poor quality time? How do you smile when the pain is excruciating? How does someone do anything useful, check any tiny thing off their bucket list, interact with their loved ones in a meaningful way under such circumstances? Cancer and its treatment is a personal tornado that rips lives to shreds.

Or maybe your challenges are slightly less complicated than that. Maybe you have chronic pain or a life altering illness. Perhaps you’re unemployed. Maybe you’re always worried about finances. Perhaps you work in a horrid place. Maybe your spouse makes life unbearable. Your parent might need additional care. Your child could have learning difficulties. Your car is unreliable. Loneliness haunts you. Your past feels inescapable.

Or maybe, if you’re lucky, it’s just garden-variety stuff. Busy schedules, sore muscles, what to fix for dinner for the zillionth time, a curfew-breaking teen, piles of bills needing attention, the mountain of laundry requiring scaling, a leaking roof, a tooth ache, weeds.

Living in the moment while living in the reality we find ourselves in. Not always easy. Rarely easy, actually.

Have we created a now that includes eternity or is now all there is? What’s your perspective? Immediate, long-term, short-term? Or maybe with blinders on? That’s a tempting option, but not a great one. How do you get through? What’s your coping strategy?

Death is coming for us all, eventually. Sooner or later. That’s the only way out.

What are we doing in the meantime?

Categories: Death, Mental Health, Wondering | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Moment, and Everything After

Heartbreak and Loss seldom give warning. Suddenly, they are at the door, unwelcome visitors, suitcases in hand, prepared to stay for an unrelenting visit.

At times it feels as if they’ve moved in, become part of the hum of the household, except the household no longer hums.  It jolts, and bumps, and bangs and hurts in unimaginable ways.

Fortunately, blessedly, thankfully, other visitors appear with food for the body when the soul has lost its appetite for life.

Others bring gifts of artistic wonder, of remembering, of photographs, of hugs and tears and attempts at understanding. There are those who bring laughter, some who bring laps for holding the smallest confused hearts. Some bring letters, which serve as a bulwark to support weak knees and helpless hands.

Gifts come in the form of laundered clothes, folded clean towels, floors swept, dishes done, garbage emptied, yard work finished.

Come on down and see us at the Old 193...

(Photo credit: sidehike)

Remembrances appear hanging from beautiful chains around the necks of those whose loss is unspeakable.  A photo, a talisman hanging beside the broken heart, a silver healing balm when healing seems impossible.

Music wraps itself around the injured, broken souls as a liniment, an ointment, a salve, first oil pressed from olives. The warmth of the song soothes and succors, lifts and lightens, cushions and comforts.

Love also appears at the door, and takes up residence. Love is attached to every gift, entwined in every condolence.  Love is woven in every hug. Love is wrapped among every sigh, and is the salt in every shared tear.

Love is the only real gift.

Because Love is the only solace.

Categories: Death, Love | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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