... for those who mourn the loss of a soul mate
"He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began." - Leo Tolstoy

Friday, December 13, 2019

Grief doesn't take a holiday

I recently had interactions with two great women and both helped me realize something.
The average person still is uncomfortable around death and is stymied when it comes to dealing with it. Let me clarify - they are stymied when it comes to dealing with a person who is grieving.
One woman told me she has stopped talking about her loss of her husband because she was told it was "about time she got past it".
Another friend told me she just didn't know what to say to someone when they were mourning but she felt bad being silent.
Both experiences told me we have a lot to learn - and a lot to teach.
As often happens when you immerse yourself in a topic, you forget that not everyone has the same knowledge base as you do. I admit I was kind of surprised by both of these scenarios.
Surely, that first person was not that callous to speak those words to a fairly recent widow.
And aren't there enough books and essays about grief out there to help someone when they are at a loss for words over a death?
Apparently not to both questions.
I will assume ignorance for the first person (and not just downright callousness) and I commend my other friend for admitting she needed to learn more.
In any case, just know this - there is no perfect right thing to say - but there is definitely a wrong thing to say.
When all else fails, remember the words of Thumper's mother from the movie "Bambi" - if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
Don't put pressure on yourself to say THE MOST PERFECT thing that will relieve your friend's sadness. You can't do it.  Days, months, even years from now, your friend will not remember what pithy thing you said. But she will remember how you made her feel.
I can guarantee my friend will always remember the person who told her to "get past it". And not fondly either.
I don't remember kind things my friends said to me when I lost John. But I do remember the hugs, the hand holding, the mere loving presence that people shared with me. And it meant so much. Then - and now.
That's all you have to do. Just be there. Just love.
And remember those who have lost someone, especially at this time of year. Grief does not take a holiday. If anything, the holidays make it harder.
Show up and just express love.
It will be appreciated.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

7 Tips for Handling Grief During Christmas

Christmas is one of the hardest holidays to celebrate and navigate when you are unintentionally alone due to the loss of a loved one. You can feel fragile and overwhelmed, making it difficult to engage with others. After my soul mate transitioned, I missed the joy I normally felt during the holiday season.
Here are some tips to help you cope:

1.    Buy yourself a present from your missing loved one. Make it as extravagant or luxurious as you can afford, and let it be something your loved one would have purchased for you. Wrap it up in the prettiest Christmas wrapping and place it under your tree if you have one. Just knowing that one special present is there waiting for you to open on Christmas morning lends an air of expectancy and pleasure. It could be anything from a special charm, plush throw, new laptop, or perhaps a certificate for a spa day.

2.    Get up. Dress up. Show up. Start accepting invitations to gatherings and promise yourself you will attend. You always have the option to find a quiet corner and just observe if you aren’t comfortable mingling. And you can leave when you want to. People will give you space, and they will also give you hugs, food, beverages, and love. These are all things you need during the hardest season to traverse alone.

3.    Immerse yourself in Christmas music. Look for live performances at churches. If you can sing, go caroling with a group of friends to visit shut-ins or a rehab facility where someone you know is recuperating. Some of my happiest memories are of our church carolers vising my mother when she was ill. Christmas music was her favorite, and her face glowed when the room filled with music makers. 

4.    Make yourself some special food treats. It can be as easy as a small batch of deviled eggs or a two-avocado bowl of guacamole with chips. Or try making your signature black cherry Jell-O dessert with whipped cream.

5.    The week before Christmas, make those phone calls to friends and relatives that you usually reserve for Christmas morning. Spread the calls out over several days when you feel up to it. 

6.    Buy yourself a Christmas bouquet of fresh-cut flowers with a sprig of evergreen for the fragrance. You will smell it when you walk in your door, and it will lift your spirits.

7.    Make plans for Christmas dinner. Accept an invitation to someone’s home. Or invite another person you know who is also alone to join you for a meal at a restaurant. If you are truly alone and want to be, that is ok. Think about doing a movie marathon day and enjoy popcorn and gummi bears.

The thought here is to normalize the holiday season and enjoy small bits of it until you can accept and embrace it once again.
Peace and Love

Saturday, December 7, 2019

If we make it through December

Merle Haggard recorded a song many years ago called "If We Make It Through December". It was about how tough December can be and how better times are coming.
I think Merle was on to something.
December has become one of my least favorite months and maybe it's that way for you too.
It wasn't always so.
It used to be that I loved December.
December was fun - building snowmen, cutting down our Christmas tree, vacationing in the Poconos, cuddling by our fireplace, drinking hot chocolate, preparing for Christmas.
But over time, things happened, times changed, and December now brings back memories that are uncomfortable at best and downright sad at their worst.
It seems that several of my most serious health challenges have happened in December.
And I have lost several people who were close to me in December as well.
And of course, there are the holidays.
That time of year where we are supposed to be happy, happy, happy - and when many of us, for one reason or another, feel challenged to be that way.
It could be that relationships are not what we want them to be, or we are fighting financial woes, or we are missing loved ones, both alive and passed.
Regardless, December may not be your favorite month either.
It's okay.
You're not alone.
Do the best you can. Do a lot - or a little - or nothing at all, if that's what you feel.
There is something to be said for faking it until you make it though, so don't give up altogether. Sometimes, making a little bit of effort to get out of your slump helps. You may not feel like doing what you have done in the past but making new traditions has a lot to be said for it too.
Maybe don't buy as many presents this year. Or make some instead of splurging. It really is the thought that counts.
Maybe decorate a little less. Or get new decorations if the old ones make you sad.
Be with friends.
Be kind to yourself.
And if you know someone who is struggling this month, reach out to them.
Invite them to dinner.
Make that phone call.
Drop by with some wine.
Merle said better times are coming.
He was right then and he's right now.
We'll get through this - together.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Finding Balance in Caregiving

My husband Norm and I have always been like a well-paired team of work horses, pulling together to achieve some goal. But somewhere along the way, my yoke-mate stopped pulling quite so hard and I began to take on more and more of the load. Over the years this has been building, I sometimes found myself resenting that extra demand on me. After all, we were a team. Always had been. What happened? Did he suddenly become lazy or had time and age just forced me to become the stronger of the two of us, to take up the slack where he was no longer able?

And then he fell and broke a hip and my role changed even more dramatically and suddenly. In a heartbeat, I went from helpmate to caregiver. I was not prepared for what that meant for me.
As I have taken on the caretaker role, people who have been there keep telling me to take care of myself or I won’t be able to take care of my Norm. Oh sure, sure, I keep thinking, I am doing that. I am doing things to self-nurture ...

I am, for example, still getting my regular massage every two weeks, but I suppose if I am completely honest, I have to admit to feeling a little guilty that Norm is not yet able to get the full massage as turning over is still difficult for him. And thus, the massage is not always the welcome respite it has been before.

But, I say, just last week I treated myself to a pedicure and a rare facial. Always before they have both been my way of pampering myself just a little. It makes me remember I’m a woman, not just a caretaker/housewife/bill payer/bookkeeper/errand runner/home manager/writer/etc. And today I get a haircut. Of course, that is a combination of pampering and necessity. Again, it feels good but only for just a short while.

I have even hired a wonderful respite care person, Julie with Home Instead, to come in for 12 hours a week. She is amazing and willing to do anything I ask of her, but for some reason, I still cannot let go of control enough to actually leave, to walk out the door and trust that Norm will not feel neglected and unloved in my absence. Again, there is guilt over taking care of me, of what I need.

But today I had a major aha moment. I realized that all this time I had been equating taking care of myself with doing small things to pamper my body. And with that pampering came a certain amount of guilt – always. But what about my heart, my soul? Both have been languishing and becoming ever more stressed as the demands of my caretaker role mounted.

I realized that pampering my physical self is not the answer. At least, not in and of itself. It feels good, but it is temporary. It does little to make me feel better, calmer, more accepting of what is for the long term. I need to nurture my heart and soul too. That will take work on the inside. So, I am planning to shift my attention to something new, but very old, something a lot of caring people have been recommending but which seemed to keep getting shuffled off to the “some day when things are calmer” file.

It is finally time to start meditating. So, wish me luck. I have faith that this is the step I need to take, must take, to get me through the most difficult time I have had to face in a very long time. Someone once told me that balance is critical in life. I realize now that, like a lopsided wheel on a shopping cart, I have been out of balance for far too long. It is time to find a new equilibrium as I learn to deal with a new normal.


Monday, December 2, 2019

Every table was filled with laughter.

Thanksgiving was different this year because there wasn’t much of my immediate family to celebrate with. I thought I would probably invite a cousin to share a meal at a local steakhouse or maybe do a movie marathon. Instead, I attended a potluck for 30 people at our church social center. When we started talking about having a Thanksgiving meal, we were optimistic that we might get 10 or 12 people to attend. What started with a few individuals built momentum, and we were blessed to have several couples and some friends join us. We were all tied together by a common thread; however, many of the guests attend our Saturday evening service and were basically strangers to the Sunday morning crowd. Our event coordinator wisely assigned us to tables so groups would be mixed up. We integrated seamlessly.

One of the attendees remarked later that he could hear laughter at every table as people shared stories, recipes, and goodwill. There were no underlying tensions or rivalries or cold gravy. We were all there to enjoy some camaraderie, eat a delicious meal prepared by many hands in many kitchens, and not be home alone for another holiday. It’s easy to pull the covers over your head and pretend the holidays no longer exist when you have lost your significant other or the parents you always celebrated with. Perhaps children have moved away. Being alone and reminiscing about lost loved ones is perfectly fine if that is what brings you peace and comfort at the moment. There is no timetable for grief. Being brave and venturing out alone to join others is another step in the grief healing process.

During the pause between the sumptuous dinner foods and desserts, we played a couple of games and shared answers to questions like if you could time travel when and where would you go? We went from 1776 to finding out more about the constitution to visiting Woodstock. Who is your hero? Mine is Mickey Mouse but others included Thomas Jefferson, husbands, grandmothers, and God. What three items would you take with you to a deserted island? Someone finally said a boat—great answer. What is your favorite Christmas movie? It’s a Good Life was right up there with Miracle on 34th Street.

I broke open my piggy bank (it’s actually just a used Tylenol bottle) to bring coins so everyone could select a coin and then tell where they were living and what they were doing the year the coin was minted. It was heartwarming to hear about other Thanksgivings and some sad occurrences that at the time were off-putting but got better. 

I don’t know about you, but when I attend a happy party, the energy and the mood stay with me. And days later, I still feel the warmth and joy from our first official Thanksgiving potluck dinner. My name is already on the list for next year, and I know another game.