... 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, January 29, 2016

Our fourth principle

I will admit that grief has no rules.
And it doesn’t.
Years ago, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross came up with guidelines for loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, in that order.
What many people fail to remember is that this was a study initially done with those who were dying and then with those experiencing the loss of the person who died. And, to make matters more complicated, EKR herself later regretted even making this list of expectations, admitting that loss and grief indeed does NOT follow a linear and predictable progression.
Yet, to this day, her initial work is mistakenly held up to be the gold standard for grief and anyone who does not follow it is considered to be impaired in some way.
In fact, a few years ago, the psychiatric community coined the phrase “complicated grief” for anyone grieving longer than 6 months and suggested these people needed psychiatric intervention.
Really? How quaint and tidy. Obviously, not the statement of anyone who has been there.
Anyone who is in the throes of mourning, especially mourning the loss of a soul mate, can readily tell you that they experience any and all of those emotions on any given day in no particular order – heck, in any given hour, sometimes.
And to say that all is said and done in six months is pure folly.
My John has been gone 5 ½ years and while I admit I am in better shape today than I was way back then, there are still days that the hurt returns in full blast and I cry, and wish it weren’t so, and I become upset that this has happened to us.
Is there something wrong with me? I don’t think so. Not at all.
I am functioning as well as I ever did.
I take care of our home, our pets, my finances, my health.
I run a business; I keep up with family and friends; I am writing a book.
I dare anyone to say that my grief is “complicated” to the extent that I need medication and treatment.
Yet, my grief evolved in its own way and I let it and I didn’t condemn myself – or allow anyone else to – when it went on for more than the amount of time that others felt the need to impose on me.
When I didn’t want to celebrate holidays, I didn’t. When I wanted to stay home instead of going out to dinner, I did.
When I felt the need to cry and scream, I did.
And you should too.
Losing someone hurts like the dickens.
Losing your soul mate makes you feel like your heart has been ripped out and to some extent, it has.
Honor those feelings and don’t complicate your grief by putting unrealistic – and false - expectations on it.
This is your grief and your right as the griever.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

You are tarred and feathered for life.

"... And you do come out of it, that’s true. After a year, after five. But you don’t come out of it like a train coming out of a tunnel, bursting through the downs into sunshine and that swift, rattling descent to the Channel; you come out of it as a gull comes out of an oil-slick. You are tarred and feathered for life.”

Tarred and feathered for life appeals to me as an apt description of grief. Today, I was trying to come up with one word that described my ongoing emotional state. The word I kept coming back to was fear. I feel fearful. There is that constant annoying little scary edge to everything that shouts "Danger, Danger". Sometimes it whispers in more of an indoor voice "danger, danger", lulling me in before suddenly throwing the equivalent of a bucket of ice water over my head like the ALS challenges that were so popular. You know what's going to happen and you steel yourself for it but it totally whacks you when the grief rises up in waves and takes over. Having recently moved, I was unpacking a box of office minutiae and in the bottom was a beautiful valentine card that I had apparently saved from Jerry. As I opened the card I knew exactly how his signature would read. "All my love, Jer Bear." was written in his large distinctive script. Yes, the waves hit and I felt my heart being squeezed. And then I realized I am fearful that a time will come when I won't feel the waves.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

It takes patience - grief has no timeline

I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but I know that having patience is sometimes very difficult for me.  I want things fixed right now, not next week or next month or next year – NOW. I think that is, in part, because I don’t like having to deal with sad things or challenges that take time to resolve, for that matter. I would much rather live the part of little Mary Sunshine who always sees only the good stuff and chooses to ignore the things that hurt. But life is not like that.  Sometimes, the only way to deal with the hard stuff is to just let it happen, to be patient while healing finds a way to settle into the damaged areas.

Today, I feel that way about a dear friend who lies, barely conscious, in ICU after having a burst aneurysm in her brain repaired.  Despite all the odds, she is alive and doing amazingly well.  For that, I will be eternally grateful. Now all I want is to see her laughing and loving as she always has. I know that she has a long road to recovery ahead of her but I want her back right now. All I can do is exercise that ever-elusive patience and stand by her side as she follows the road back to us.

I think there is a lesson for me here. Is the patience I need for my ill friend any different than what I need for those I love who are grieving? I think not. They have suffered a terrible loss, one I can only imagine. Just as my friend’s brain is injured and healing, so too are their hearts injured and healing. And as any physician will tell you, healing takes time and the time it takes is unique to each and every person.  Why then, can anyone expect mourning to follow any set timeline?  I sometimes wonder how doctors can know this about physical injuries but do not understand that it applies to emotional and psychic pain as well. Grief, like illness or injury, heals on its own schedule, never one that we impose upon it.  It will eventually find a way.  But, it takes patience for us to allow time to do its job.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Grief has no timeline

Our third Principle is:
I will acknowledge that my grief has no timeline.
I think this is a tough one for many of us. One of the many platitudes that was given to me after John transitioned (I like this better than died) was that time would be my new best friend.
In time, I would be “better” but it would take about a year.
In time, I would feel less sad, probably in a few months.
In time, I would “move on” and be back to my old self – again a year was mentioned.
None of that was true.
Grief and mourning do not fall into any set pattern or follow any clock that I am aware of.
And while the first year is extremely difficult for many people, they hope against hope that all they have to do is get through that first year and it will be easier.
Then, the second year sets in and many are surprised to find that the second year is harder than the first.
It was that way for me and I was totally unprepared. But looking back it made sense. The first year was mostly on autopilot. Just getting through the day was a chore.
The second year is when reality truly sets in and the idea that our soul mate is irretrievably forever physically gone from us in this life finally hits home.
That knowledge is heartbreaking.
And so we begin again to mourn. Maybe not with the same soul-wrenching intensity but there are those days…
And then there are anniversaries that can trigger feelings and meltdowns – the anniversary of their passing, their birthday, your wedding day. These surges of grief can take you by surprise. After all, hasn’t it been a year, 18 months, five years? Why tears again? Why now?
Because grief has no timeline. You will mourn and heal and travel a very circuitous path from loss to making peace with your loss. It’s a crooked little dance.
Never in a straight line.
Two steps forward, three steps back, one to the side and then forward again.
Honor your grief in whatever path it takes you.
Put no hard and fast expectations on yourself.
Honor your grief and the love it represents and know that you will get there in your own way, in your own time.
And it is okay.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Maybe I should have written a note.

Second principle: I will understand that I have the right to mourn the loss of my soul mate in my own way.

Maybe I should have written a note. Dear Friends and Family: Please understand that it’s okay if I need to act a little crazy for a while. Don’t worry about me if I choose to only have a coffee and a really big cookie for dinner, or eat a bag of popcorn or munch on a pretzel because I can’t deal with grocery shopping, meal preparation or face eating dinner alone. I need to feel I am in control and sometimes controlling my meals is all I can manage. I may spend hours aimlessly driving around or wandering the local mall because my home like my heart feels empty.

Every few weeks, after Jerry’s transition, I started a new hobby- sewing dog kerchiefs, learning palmistry, rose gardening, movie marathons- where did you think I got the popcorn?  I needed to fool my brain into believing I could still care about something mundane when my world had basically dissolved.

You might want to try picking a diversion. Something you can become a little crazy and obsessive about- perhaps a new hobby like indoor rock climbing, or adopting a sports team when you were never that into a sport before. Music can give you some solace and offer some distraction. Try opening yourself up to a new genre- ignore rap. Go to a concert. Recognize these distractions for what they offer- a momentary deflection of overwhelming emotions while allowing you to lose yourself in crowd anonymity.

Some of our mourning is manifested in physical tributes. That is the reason people plant trees, maintain a memory garden, or donate money to buy medical equipment in their beloved’s name. Do whatever calls to you and is within your means. Or do nothing if that is your choice because it is your right and your choice.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What Can a Friend Do?

Our second principle says, “I have the right to mourn the loss of my soul mate in my own way.” As a friend, I must revise that to say, “My loved one has the right to mourn the loss of their soul mate in their own way. My responsibility is to allow them to do just that but to provide a loving, non-judgmental safe haven when they can no longer do it alone.”

I think one the most difficult parts of having a loved one who is lost in grief is to see the depth of their pain and want to fix it. We would like to believe that we know what will help, even if we have never personally experienced such loss.  And the impulse to share that knowledge can be huge. The more we care, the more we want to help.

Early in life, we learn from our mothers that when someone has a boo-boo, a kiss and a hug can make it all better.  After all, mommy knows best, right? Well, losing a soul mate may well be one of the biggest boo-boos we can ever experience as an adult.  It hurts. It really hurts.  But just as a mother must sometimes allow her child to work through a hurt on their own, so too must those of us who want to help a grieving loved one allow them to mourn in whatever way is right for them. I have seen friends whose mourning takes the form of frequent and distant traveling.  Perhaps spending time in such unfamiliar surroundings is their way of escaping the desperately sad emptiness and reminders of their loss.  Another dear friend appears to have found solace in moving to a new home and making new friends – lots of them.  I suspect it may be her way of dealing with the isolation that developed as she cared for a dying husband.  I also suspect she sometimes cries behind her new closed door. I don’t think either response would be the right one for me, but I cannot ever allow myself to judge how anyone chooses to mourn.

Grief is intensely personal. No two losses can ever be the same.  Each relationship is unique.  Each couple is unique.  How, then, can we expect anyone to follow some set formula decided upon by society or doctors or peers or anyone other than the one who is living with loss? And yet, in some ways we do.  I think those formulas are perhaps just a little bit too easy an answer. They ignore the major variable of individuality.

So what can I, as friend, do? Probably not as much as I would like to do. But I can lovingly let my friend know that when they are ready to begin moving forward, I will be there to keep them company as they follow the path they must follow, the one they have defined.  They do not have to heal alone and in a vacuum. There is love out here for them.  Not the same as what they have lost, but love for sure. I can ask how they are doing and really listen to the answer.  And yes, I can serve as a judgment-free wailing wall, while they cry their grief to the heavens and my loving ear.

Friday, January 15, 2016

I have the right to mourn the loss of my soul mate in my own way

Our second Principle is:
I will understand that I have the right to mourn the loss of my soul mate in my own way.
This has always been a powerful principle for me. Our culture seems to think that there are “rules” for mourning.
Perhaps, to some extent, there are.
We have protocols for wakes and funerals and burials.
Relatives and friends “pay” their respects at these times of sadness and are inspired to do certain things out of caring for the grieving – they send flowers, they make donations to the survivors or to charities in the name of the deceased, or they bring prepared meals to those who are mourning to spare them having to do anything other than care for themselves. They may offer to run errands or care for children or pets.
But beyond that, there aren’t any customs that I am aware of.
Yet, after my John passed away, all of a sudden people had so many ideas about what I needed to do:
Clean out his office
Get rid of his clothes
Erase his name off all important papers
Don’t move
Go back to work
Take time off
Stop crying so much
Cheer up – he’s in a better place now
Get out more
Don't be so sad - take a pill
After a year, you'll be done grieving
And on and on. You get the picture.
All of these were presented as something I “should” do.
No one seemed interested in how I was really feeling. No one knew the gut-wrenching insurmountable grief I was going through.
No one was there when I screamed to the heavens and banged on the walls in frustration and anger or sank to my knees sobbing so loudly I scared the dogs.
This was my grief – damn it! – and I was going to do it my way and however way I felt I needed to and everyone else could just go to hell.
As it happened there were some people I cut out of my life.
Some temporarily. Some permanently.
My point is no one has the right to tell you how to do YOUR mourning.
You have to do what you feel is right for you. Certainly, you want to safeguard your health so harming yourself is not what I mean here.
But beyond that, it’s up to you.
For example, John’s clothes are still in his closet. Gradually I have consolidated them as I have taken our closet over and I have given some away. Some oversized [for me] shirts have become nightshirts for me. Some of his shirts I had made into a memory quilt. It’s been several years now and I know I will get this done over time. But it will be in my time, not someone else’s version of how this will be.
And it has been that way with all the other shoulds, too.
I encourage you to stick up for yourself, as well, when others try to impose their rules on you.
This is not a topic I can cover in one posting so we’ll revisit this again – this week and in the future in one of our webinars.
But for now, please know that you have the right to do what feels right for you. There will never be anything so personal in your life as how you mourn your soul mate. Don’t let others steal that from you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Love is an energy which exists of itself.

Love is an energy which exists of itself. It is its own value.
 — Thornton Wilder
“I will allow myself to mourn my soul mate, knowing that this will be hard.”
I had some time to say goodbye to my beloved husband. We exchanged those futile “no regrets” conversations which seemed to portend that grief would be a workable state- necessary but not devastating. I knew nothing of grief. The very first day, my heart literally ripped apart. I felt searing pain and heard the tear of muscle. I think I lost consciousness for a few moments. My chest ached for a long time. Later, medical personnel questioned me about my “heart attack”.
In the days that followed Jerry’s passing, I kept looking for my “lesson”. Surely there was a tremendous lesson for me to learn. I wanted to stay home and veg and cry and wail. I also knew I had to pay the mortgage, the car payment and have money for groceries. After three weeks I returned to work. My husband and I had worked together. His office was next to mine. We shared the same clients and files. We ate lunch together every day. I dreaded driving up to that building and would have to force myself to get out of my vehicle and go inside to work.
Sometimes, I think returning to a regular routine like going back to work is healing. It forces you to bathe, make clothing decisions and leave the house. But be gentle with yourself. Try and take some extra time before you are sucked back into responsibilities that require spending regular hours with co-workers and making decisions, especially any financial decisions. Allow yourself to mourn your soul mate knowing it will be hard.