... a voice 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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

You Can Do It … taking on new roles

In every relationship, each individual has a whole spectrum of roles they play. In the case of illness, the roles are very predictable. The illness dictates care receiver and caregiver. But in other relationships, where there is no illness, we just tend to fall into our roles as time goes by. It is part of a healthy relationship that we assume the roles most suited to our individual talents and skills.

When I first married Norm, we were both working full time with an hour commute each way. And, we operated an 80-acre alfalfa farm to boot. Both were full-time jobs. Add in that Norm traveled a lot for work and you get an idea that we had to operate as a highly functioning team just to get everything done. It didn’t take long for the physical work and vehicle maintenance to fall on his shoulders while the house, books, bills and taxes fell on mine. It was an arrangement that worked for the whole family.

In time, we sold the farm and eventually we both retired, pretty much. Over the years, we found our roles changing as time and age caught up to us. Eventually we even gave ourselves permission to hire people to do some of the things that became a challenge for us. A landscaping crew. A housekeeper to clean every two weeks. A pool man. A service department to keep the cars running. You get the idea.
We learned that we could not do everything. But right now, I do still have Norm in my life to help with some of the things that we must still do on our own, things like emptying the trash, feeding the pets, the laundry and making the coffee in the morning. He makes good coffee.

Over the years, we have each had our roles but now the roles are reversing, changing, growing. As age has sapped strength in us both and naturally forced him to slow down, I have found myself picking up the slack in things I have never had to do before. It’s part of the natural ebb and flow of a relationship.

I don’t know what I would do without him here. I sometimes wonder how I would manage to get everything done. And then I realize that somehow, I have always managed to do what needs to be done. We all do.

I think of my friends who have lost their soul mate and are now completely alone in an empty house or who have also become the primary caregiver for an aging parent. I have read stories of widowed fathers who quickly learn to braid hair and give makeup advice to young daughters. They all pretty much have to do everything on their own. And they manage. As can you. Despite the grief of losing the one person in the world you loved beyond reason, you will manage. You will learn to do stuff you never thought you could. You may be upset, angry, and not want to do the new things.  But you have to do them.  You can do them.  You will find people who can do things for you. A handyman. An electrician. A talented hairdresser. A yard crew. A team to handle the things you know nothing about. Like the fathers learning how to mother daughters, you may even add new tools to your personal toolbox. Each new role you take on is another reminder of what you have lost.  It is a constant reminder.  But as you do handle each new challenge, you will hear a voice in your head from the other side telling you, “I knew you could do it!”

Friday, January 13, 2017

When memory lane ends in a dead end.....

I talk and write a lot about memories. They are very important to me. When our loved one/Soul Mate is gone, memories are all we have left to hold on to. And I am not just speaking about our thoughts about times gone by. Memories can take all forms. Photos, sights, smells, song, clothing, food - all of those things and more can trigger a feeling in us that then starts us down the road to "remember when..." Hopefully, the remembrance brings a smile to our face. It takes time for that to happen, though. Memories were cruel sharp daggers in my heart the first couple of years after John passed. All they did was remind me of what no longer was. Now, at least for the most part, I can remember and smile. Doesn't mean I am still not sad but the sadness is blunted and the happiness of a fond memory is sharper.
But the idea of memories has got me thinking. What are we without our memories? If you woke up tomorrow with no thoughts about what had transpired in your life up until now what would you be? Or what if you did remember things but remembered them in a jumbled array of order?
What has started this philosophical train for me is a family crisis. My aunt - my dear sweet second mother - has recently been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's. And as anyone who has had to live this nightmare knows, Alzheimer's is a family illness. It affects everyone - spouse, children, caregivers, friends. And the curse of this disease is that it robs the patient of who and what they are. Some days, my aunt doesn't know her own daughter. She can't remember the forty years she has lived in her home. She forgets holidays, routine, how to perform tasks that were once second nature. To carry the metaphor a little while longer, her train of thought, her memories, carry her to a dark place. A dead end, so to speak.
But then, other days she is in a good mood and the old personality comes back. However, everyone knows it's short-lived so they enjoy this time while it lasts.
There is a reason why ALZ is considered a form of death.
We humans are social beings. We need each other and we form bonds based on memory. Is it any wonder then that when we lose our loved one we cling to the one thing we have left - their memory? It's what causes our grief because all we have is the memory. But it can give us hope too. As long as we have the memory, part of them is alive. Like my aunt's better days, a good memory puts the world back in its proper order.
And like my aunt's family, I cling to the wonderful memories I have of John. They give meaning to the life we had and give comfort to the life I have now. Hang on to the memories of your loved one. Don't let anyone tell you differently. They are yours and they are precious.

These are pictures of a memory quilt I had made from some of John's shirts.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

I have found that whenever I talk about the work we are doing with From Grief to Peace, what I say inevitably resonates at some level with the person I am talking to, as though I was guided to reach out at just that moment. Grief is universal. Everyone, it seems, is mourning someone they loved. Or they fear a loss that has yet to happen.

This past week I was having my teeth cleaned and in casual, albeit garbled conversation, mentioned what we have been doing here and our purpose in doing it. Staci, the young hygienist asked me if a soul mate could only be a spouse. Then by way of example, she explained the deep emotional bond she has with her grandmother. It is, she believes, something that is far more profound than the usual grandmother-granddaughter connection.

My answer to Staci was that no, soul mates can be spouses, parents and children, siblings, even best friends. It is the soul connection that matters, not the one that is defined by social norms.

I immediately flashed on the recent loss of Carrie Fisher followed within mere days by the death of her mother, Debbie Reynolds. There is no question in my mind that those two women were soul mates destined to be together in this lifetime. And when one was gone, the other simply could not go on without her. The jagged edges of her grief cut her deeply and that poor broken heart carried them back to one another on a different plane.

That is one way to handle the loss of your soul mate.

But far more often, the one left behind must find a way to carry on alone. The grief and finding your way to peace is a part of your soul’s journey in this lifetime.

At first, you may feel as though the path beneath you is littered with broken glass, its sole purpose to make you bleed with every step you take. But just as the ocean’s constant motion can soften the sharp edges on glass shards, so too can surviving a profound loss and the ups and downs that come with it smooth your path from broken glass to softer sand. As you find a way to embrace your pain and let it be a part of who you are now, the pain will ease, the sharp edges will soften and you will become stronger.

You are not the first to walk this painful path. Nor will you be the last. But when you are mourning the loss of your soul mate, it feels like you are the only one going through this incredibly painful ordeal. You feel alone, abandoned, adrift in life’s ocean. Surely no one else could ever hurt as much, mourn as deeply. The loss of a soul mate generates such a heart-deep grief that it is hard to believe others could understand. But believe me when I tell you that you are not alone. There are others on the same path and for some of them it has started to smooth. Look for them. They are reaching back to help you forward.

Friday, January 6, 2017

My word for 2017 is limitless. What’s yours?

Everyone I talk with has a word they’ve chosen for 2017. Some words are spiritual and I like a lot of them like perseverance, peace, and believe. They are very uplifting. Some are motivational like movement, run, Zumba, or simplification. These words make me feel so tired. Some are downright amusing like sleep, play, zone or laugh. I often see unintentional humor.

A friend of mine selected the word early. As in early to bed, early to rise, early to appointments, early to church, etc. I considered it for a brief, albeit very brief, moment but I enjoy being the proverbial night owl- the friend you can feel comfortable texting at two or three in the morning. I decided my motto this year should continue to be “Always late but worth the wait.”

The next word I considered was trust. Trust means being able to predict what other people will do and what situations will occur. It’s believing that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc. And then I remembered I grew up in Chicago- a city where you lock your car doors, your house doors, your windows and you bring in your lawn furniture if you’re going to be away overnight. I’m kind of afraid “trust” is just not going to work out as my word for 2017. There is just too much baggage with my trust issues for me to resolve in one short year.

Then it came to me. My word choice for 2017 was gratitude. This would serve for acts of kindness, gestures of friendship and endorphin rushes from random gifts of chocolate. I realized I’m often on the receiving end of acts of kindness like my neighbor, David, moving my trash and recycling containers from the curb to the garage for me. Or the sweet couple ahead of me in line at the market asking if they can help unload my grocery cart. Today. I pulled up to a stoplight and the ubiquitous panhandler caught my eye. His sign read Homeless and Hungry. I didn’t have money to give him but I had an unopened packet of cookies so as I drew level with him I thrust the cookies at him saying these are for you. His face lit up and he smiled and said thank you as he reached for the cookies. His gratitude for my small offering made me feel good. I realized I sort of have gratitude already flowing both ways in my life.

After all this deliberation, I’ve decided as a writer, I have a bajillion words all wanting to be used. And I don’t want to slight any of them. So, my word for 2017 is limitless. When something is limitless, there's an unending amount or supply of it. If you truly believe there are limitless possibilities in life, you see no limit to what people can achieve. What’s your word?

Friday, December 23, 2016

The most wonderful time of the year - or is it?

Christmas-time is wonderful and beautiful and uplifting and gives us hope – and can be a terrible time of year for those who mourn their soul mate. Memories of Christmases past haunt us – wrapping presents together, little rituals as a couple, visits to family – together --- these are happy memories but also sad reminders of what no longer is.
Christmas in the Poconos
John and I had a special ritual that we did every year. I am Italian by heritage and one of the things I carried forward from my childhood was the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” that we as a family did on Christmas Eve *. John had never had this experience but he came to love it and look forward to it. Since we didn’t like the traditional fish used, our challenge was to come up with other fun things to eat – shrimp cocktail and crab dip, for instance. We had this meal – usually with some bubbly- while we opened our presents at midnight. As we got older, midnight morphed into an earlier and earlier hour but we still did it on Christmas Eve. It was our special time. Some years we would go away for that holiday. Our favorite destination was a place in the Poconos. We would pack up the car with our presents for each other, our stockings, and our Christmas Eve feast and off we’d go.
After John passed it was very hard for me to even think about Christmas, let alone decorate or buy presents or celebrate in any way. I was lucky in that friends and family understood and respected my need to be alone and cut back. Slowly, after the passage of a few years, the idea of celebrating Christmas became less painful. Last year I put up a tree again and decorated the house a little. This year I did a little more. The decorations are new – it was and is too painful to use the ones John and I used but at least I am making progress.
And I have started some new traditions with some close friends – dinners together and afternoon tea.
Life and time marches forward with or without us.
We each mourn in our own way and our own time.
If you are mourning a loved one, don’t berate yourself because you are not doing things as you think you “should” or friends and family think you “should”. There are no shoulds. Only what you can do now, in this place and in this time. You will know in your heart when the time is right. Forcing it will only makes things worse.
I can only tell you from my perspective. This will be my 7th Christmas without John. Does it still hurt? Oh, yes! Do I still wish he were here with me? With every cell of my being.
But he’s not.
So, I honor his memory by doing things like donating in his name to charities I know he would love. And I celebrate the holiday with friends and we share stories of our loved ones and we smile and laugh and for a few moments they are in our midst again.
We do what we can. You do what you can.
It is enough.
All is well.
Merry Christmas!

* From Wikipedia: Origins and tradition: The Feast of the Seven Fishes is part of the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration, although it's not called by this name in Italy and is not a "feast" in the stricter sense of "holiday," but a grand meal. Strictly speaking, Christmas Eve is a vigil or fasting day, and the abundance of seafood reflects the tradition of abstinence from red meat until the actual feast of Christmas Day itself.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

An Old Gaelic Prayer

This prayer arrived today from a friend and I wanted to share it with you. Some of us might be at a place in our lives when it’s hard to join in with the joy and excitement of folks around us. Let this be our prayer for those of us in such a place right now.

Deep peace of the running waves to you,

Deep peace of the flowing air to you,

Deep peace of the smiling stars to you,

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,

Deep peace of the watching shepherds to you,

Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

May God heal each of our hearts and restore our joy. Amen.

May you be blessed and surrounded by love and light this holiday season and going forth into the new year.