... 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, July 29, 2016

The music that is our soul mate's name

There is a meme running around Facebook on the grief pages that essentially says something along the line that you shouldn't be afraid to mention the name of someone's loved one who has passed. You won't be reminding us that they are dead and making us sad. We already know they are dead. But talking about them makes us happy.
That was the long way around to saying what it said in much shorter pithier terms but I'm sure you get the idea.
Tom Zuba author of Permission To Mourn is a grief expert, if there is such a thing. He has experienced a lot of loss in a few short years [his son, his baby daughter, and his wife] and he has made it his life's work to change the face of grief and how we the grievers and you the supporters of us react to and experience grief. We owe him a lot.
So, the point of my post today is to reiterate what I hope I have already made obvious - please do not shy away from talking with us about our soul mates whom we have lost.
I had a very nice experience myself just this week. My air conditioner was due for its annual check-up and I went with a new [to me] company. The technician they sent was probably one of the most upbeat and happy people I have ever met. In fact, he reminded me a lot of my husband John. This man's name was Rusty and he smiled all the time. He was efficient and knowledgeable and we fell into an easy conversation while he wrote up my bill as we stood in my kitchen. We talked about many things and as we Arizonans often do, we got around to talking about where we lived before coming to AZ and why we chose AZ. I can't tell my story without mentioning John because it's all wound up together. Inevitably, Rusty asked what my husband does for a living now and I had to explain that John had passed away in 2010. Rusty said the usual "I'm sorry" but he didn't leave it at that. No, he mentioned that John must have been very young [thank you, Rusty - that must mean I look young too :)] and he was even brave enough to ask me what happened. So, I was able to tell my story. I got to mention John's name several times. I was in the company of someone who cared and showed interest; who didn't change the subject and make me feel uncomfortable.
Rusty will never know what a gift he gave me that day.
So, I am telling his story here so that his example will live on.
This young man knew innately what we [Tom and the Facebook meme and we at From Grief To Peace] have been trying to teach.
We know our loved one is gone.
Talking about them isn't going to make us sad - or sadder.
In fact, it will do the exact opposite.
For those few minutes, talking about John made him alive again.
John and I were together for 34+ years.
He was the person I laughed with, loved with, argued with, made up with, vacationed with, ate with, sat on the deck with, drank wine with, slept with, worried about, kissed, hugged - and a million other things with.
Just because he is gone now doesn't erase all that. Being able to talk about him with someone is a treasured gift.
So to those of you who mourn the loss of your soul mate - talk about them. You have that right and it's needed to keep their spirit alive. It helps the healing.
To those of you who know someone who is mourning the loss of their soul mate, please don't hesitate to mention them. Say their name. Ask for stories.
You have no idea how happy you will make us.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

What Grief Is All About

I’m a little bit old fashioned. Every morning, over coffee, I read the newspaper – yes, the print version – from front to back. Every day, I see any number of obituaries and I have reached an age where I scan those listings looking for familiar names. I am always a little relieved when I don’t find anyone I know there.

I suppose most of the people in those obituary listings did not expect to die that day. Nor did their loved ones expect to lose someone they love on that specific day. I think death catches everyone unprepared, some more so than others. None of us is ever completely ready to die or to lose someone we love, even when long illness has set the stage.

This morning, I got to thinking about those people who are listed there. Some of them have long, very descriptive obituaries, a testament written by those left behind, if you will, to a full life. Others are little more than three lines sometimes asking for anyone who knew them to come forward. How very sad. I know that at some point in their life, those lonely people were happy children, hopeful teens, increasingly disillusioned adults. Somewhere along the way, they lost purpose and never found it again. Until one day, death found them. I would like to believe that after transitioning they were able to see some impact they made on this world.

I believe that when we mourn, what we are really mourning is the loss of a life that impressed itself upon our heart. Each person who touches us in one way or another in our lifetime leaves a mark. Some of those connections are brief and the marks they leave are relatively superficial. Others, like our soul mates, are so deeply imbedded in our very soul that losing them is very much akin to major surgery. The scar left from the loss is both deep and permanent. We never return to the shape we were before they came into our life. The impact they have made on the world and on us is immeasurable and we memorialize and mourn the end of that impact. But when all is said and done, isn’t that what grief is all about?

Excerpted from my soon-to-be-released book, Breathing Again...thoughts on life after loss.

Friday, July 22, 2016

More gifts from John's passing

I've always been a planner. Anyone who knows me knows I have perfected planning to a fault. And I haven't met a spreadsheet I didn't like. :)
I have always been a person who looked forward. Sometimes with anticipation, sometimes with dread.
For me, there has always been the next challenge, the next event, the next fun thing to do with my Sweetheart.
But I struggle to be someone who lives in the now. It's something I know I need to work on.
And now, since John has transitioned, a lot of days seem to slide into each other. I often feel adrift. I have no anchor.
Nothing to look forward to.
Nothing has any meaning.
This is all foreign territory to me. It's thrown me off my axis.
John always told me things happen just the way they are supposed to. It's hard for me to believe that some days. But I am learning that he was right.
I am learning that even in my sorrow there are many gifts for me; blessings I can find that I can hold on to.
So, instead of looking forward to a future that seems empty to me, I am learning to look around me in the now and appreciate what I find.
And when I do I see that:
I have been given the gift of friends and friendship.
I have been given the gift of learning to take things as they come and to plan less.
I have been given the gift of not taking life and myself so seriously.
I have been given the gift of gratitude. Gratitude for the life John and I shared, the love we were blessed with. Gratitude for the gift of a mate so perfect that I felt almost perfect too. No, he was not a perfect person. None of us are. But he was perfect for me. I could not have become the person I am now had it not been for him.
And I have been given the gift of fearlessness in the face of death. I welcome it now and that has freed me to see life in a different way.
I am going to pay this gift forward. It gives me pleasure to do so because I am spreading love instead of fear and it makes me feel good to do it in John's name, keeping his spirit alive on this Earth.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Wishing and Hoping

When you are grieving, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to get from point A, we’ll call it your bed, to Point B, we’ll call it taking in nourishment, to Point C, actually cleaning up and leaving the house. If you are not required to show up at a 9 to 5 position, it is very easy for the days to run together. Do you ever realize as you are sitting at your computer reading emails or checking Facebook, for the umpteenth time, that you not sure what day it is? Is it Friday? Or is it Saturday? You experience a slight rise of panic as you hurriedly check the date at the bottom of your computer screen or grapple for a calendar hidden under the stack of loose papers on your desk. Lacking structure for each day causes a maelstrom of hours lost to inactivity, lethargy and indifference.You wish you could turn back time to those few hours before you fell off the earth. Back to just before the tipping point of no return when your loss became irrevocable.

When I was a young child, I would seize the annual Sears Christmas catalog known as the wish book. I would spend countless hours as I pored over the pages carefully making my choices of gifts for each member of my family and, of course, for myself. I would take sheets of notepaper and copiously list a brief description of each coveted item along with the page number and the price- a very rudimentary example of those Excel spreadsheets we later learned to endure. Little did I know I was setting myself up for my current wish list exercise known as Amazon Prime. I find when I am being held telephone captive, especially waiting on hold trying to reach a live, albeit intelligent, person usually at an insurance company or a government agency, I idly peruse the world’s largest online wish book seeking that same vicarious childhood thrill of the hunt and the discovery. I make various wish lists and then flood them with items I have no intent or the means to purchase.

Wishing (less than 5% fulfillment possibility): feel or express a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable; want something that cannot or probably will not happen.
Hoping (95% fulfillment possibility): to desire especially with expectation that the wish will be granted.

Until my husband passed, I never realized there was a big difference between these two words. I just thought it was a cute song by Dusty Springfield. You know the one I mean? Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin'… Hoping is to desire something with a full expectation that the wish will be granted. This expectation is usually fueled by actions on your part to insure it happening. For instance, hoping to get a good job would mean preparation by taking classes, training and finally submitting a kick ass resume along with a killer cover letter to a range of prospective employers. Hoping to meet someone special would entail researching the qualities equaling your “special”, and then showing up, appropriately attired, at a venue where the type of person you want to meet would most likely frequent. These points of contact could be universities, museums, churches, concerts, sporting events or food emporiums. I have first-hand knowledge of successful meetings at each of the aforementioned locations with the addition of a laundromat (think Irish troubadour band imported for St. Paddy's Day in Chicago).

Wishing, on the other hand, would be reading the job ads and spending the proposed salary daydreaming of purchases, lifestyle changes and vacation trips, but never taking classes or spending time training to learn and hone the required skills to make yourself qualified for the position you are seeking. Or wishing to meet someone special and then spending time searching profiles online without actually putting yourself on the line.

Bottom line: Hope is possible if you are willing to do the work. Wishing fills/steals valuable time you could be using to fulfill your hopes. It’s your choice.

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

I had called twice. No answer, just voice mail. After the second call, I started to worry. Our friend was barely a week out of the hospital following back surgery. At first he had stayed with his son, but now he had been home alone for several days. Before we could go check on him in person, he came hobbling down the stairs to meet us. Everything was fine.

But what if he had not been fine? What if he had fallen and was unable to get up or reach his cell phone? How long would he have lain on the floor hoping for help?

This was a very real situation and it made me think of all the people in my life who live alone. Some are widows. Some are divorced. Some have been alone for a long time and have learned survival skills. But others are new at the loneliness game and perhaps are so immersed in grief that they do not think in terms of what can happen with no one to notice how long it has been since anyone saw or talked to them.

I think this danger becomes greater with age. When you have to show up every day for work, people notice when you are not there. But retirement can be a whole different circumstance. Throw in an absence of immediate family or close friends on top of losing the anchor that was your soul mate, and who is there to notice when you drop off the grid?

Now I know you may desperately want to isolate yourself in your grief. Many people do. That is normal. But know that one day, that will change. And also know that even as you seek solitude, there are those of us in your life who care about you and want to help in any way we can. That includes simply staying in contact, however briefly.

I used to see the “Help, I’ve fallen and can’t get up” life alert commercials as something of a joke. Now I understand the value of those devices. But if you are grieving and alone, that is so impersonal.  One friend of mine has made an arrangement with a business acquaintance to send him a daily “good morning” text just to let him know, as she says, she made it to another day. As a widow, that has sometimes been a major accomplishment for her but even when she most wanted to be alone, it was something she could do without too much interaction. And it was safe.

Know that it is okay to ask for help. In fact, I know I would be honored to be trusted like that, to be needed like that by any of my friends. The fact is, everybody needs somebody sometimes. And there is never a better sometime than when you are at your lowest.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

“Enjoy your stay in jail!”

These were the final words yelled at my friend by a supposed IRS agent before he hung up on her. It all started with a message on her home phone with words to the effect of “This is Lauren Matthews from the Internal Revenue Service. Return this call immediately regarding the imminent seizure of your property and impoundment of all bank account funds. Do not ignore this phone call.” My friend, anxiety already starting to rise, returned the call immediately, and was told the call was being recorded and she had an outstanding debt of $30,000 including tax, penalties and interest. Before she could ask any questions the agent said he had to read a statement to her outlining rights and laws she was subject to and what the “counts” were in the “lawsuit”. The two pages sounded official and terrifying. She asked why she hadn’t been notified of this before and the agent said correspondence had been sent to her home address, which he recited to her as well as her email address. She asked for specifics and he said he had to transfer her to another agent for that information and to set up payment arrangements. The next guy also said the conversation was being recorded. When she requested specific information like years of tax returns with amounts owed and the dates of the letters sent out, and requested copies be sent out again he became verbally abusive and threatened her with the sheriff coming to arrest her within hours if she didn’t take care of the delinquency immediately. When she said she need more information, he shouted “Enjoy your stay in jail.” and disconnected the call. The call lasted about 15 minutes. Within minutes after the hang-up, her phone rang and someone said they were from a state regulatory agency which she couldn’t recognize and her driver’s license had been revoked and it was illegal for her to drive her vehicle.

She called me in an almost hysterical state and related this awful story about her funds being impounded, her property seized, possibly going to jail for a $30,000 debt she didn’t know anything about and that her driver's license had been suspended. I asked a few questions ascertaining she hadn’t received any correspondence from the IRS and she hadn’t received any driving citations or let her insurance lapse. I told her I was sure it was a scam. That’s not how the IRS operates. My friend is an educated, rational business woman, and also a widow who happened to be going through a stressful period. She was totally unprepared for a blitz attack from some corrupt vermin who make their living by preying on vulnerable individuals. Widows and widowers who are stressed are especially susceptible. This strikes at the very core of who they are because they have already lost their center which makes them more at risk, more apt to believe someone who acts as if in authority and is abusive and threatening.

After I “talked her off the ledge”, her words, she got her panic under control and took some positive actions. She found out the police could not do anything because a crime hadn’t actually occurred although it was apparently an attempt at extortion. She filed a report with the phishing department of the IRS to report the scam. She contacted the motor vehicle department to confirm that her license was in good standing and there were no outstanding tickets or warrants. And she put a freeze on her credit so that no one could open any new accounts without her being notified first of the application.
I googled the phone number the supposed agent had left and found out there were numerous reports of scam phone calls from this number purporting to be calls and messages from the IRS. I also found out the IRS placed phone scams as No. 1 on its tax scams list this year, up from No. 2 last year, when it received more than 90,000 complaints about such calls. To set the record straight the IRS will never:
  1. Initiate contact with you by phone.
  2. Call you asking for personal or financial information.
  3. Call you and demand immediate payment without the opportunity to appeal through the mail.
  4. Call you and require that you pay your taxes over the phone through a specific method such as by credit card, debit card, or with a wire transfer.
  5. Call and threaten you with arrest, audit, deportation, or suspension of your driver's license or business license.
  6. Call and be angry, aggressive, emotional, abusive or hostile.
  7. Have "the police," "the DMV," or other law enforcement groups call you and say they will come and arrest you if you don't pay.
Getting back to my friend, shouldn’t it be a crime to subject someone to profound distress and anxiety with the intent to extort funds? Days later, she is still very upset over the ordeal. I don’t know how soon this particular group of thieves will be caught and prosecuted but I do believe that karma is a bitch and preying on victims with fragile psyches should double that curse.

Friday, July 8, 2016

I miss my soft place to land

Do they still foam runways when planes are coming in for a landing and they are in trouble?
I remember many years ago - when I was young and enjoyed flying and didn't worry about all the things that could go wrong - being on a plane that was getting ready to land and it was having trouble getting the gear to come down.
This happened probably somewhere around 40 years ago so you will have to excuse my memory. The details are a little foggy. All I remember now is that we were told that the gear would not descend properly and we were going to make a risky landing and they were going to foam the runway for us. I don't remember being scared. We were told what the procedure was going to be and how we needed to respond.
And as it turned out we were far enough out that they had time to play with options.
As it happened, all ended well. The gear finally came down and we made a safe landing (sans foam) and everyone cheered the pilot for his skill.
There are days since John has passed that I feel like I need a bunch of that plane/runway foam.
This past week has been one of those times. The violence we are subjected to every night in our daily news is overwhelming at times, especially if you are, like me, at all empathetic.
And then to top it off I have found out some difficult and stressing family news which is going to need my attention in the coming weeks.
Suffice it to say, my nerves are frazzled to the snapping point.
In the past, I would have had John to talk to about all of this.
To hug.
To go out to eat with and just bounce ideas around with.
And to laugh with. John was always so good at finding humor in almost anything.
In John's embrace I felt safe and protected.
Now, I need to rely on myself - and friends.
And while that is all well and good, it's not the same.
It never will be.
I need my other half. 
I need my sweet Love.
When the world turned harsh, he was always my soft place to land.
God, how I miss him.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

I'd Like to Know...

It’s 3:00 am and I’m wide awake. I ran the dishwasher, set up the coffee pot for the morning brew and stocked the refrigerator with bottles of water and cans of diet soda. The dogs have each enjoyed their bedtime treat and they have taken their nighttime posts, one guarding the doorway to my office and one strategically flanking the hallway. No intruders will get past these vicious ten pound guard dogs tonight.

What I would really like at the moment is my husband to talk to. I’d like to conspiratorially trash the political candidates with someone intelligent enough to counter my arguments without lowering themselves to uttering hyperbole banalities.

I’d like an opinion on whether I should have a carpenter enlarge the doorway to my bathroom or whether I should try and locate a narrower wheelchair that won’t be as comfortable but will have a tighter turning radius which will cut down on the nicks and gouges to the woodwork. Or should I do both?

I’d like to know whether going for physical therapy on my shoulder will be worth the time investment over the next 4 weeks or if I should just keep icing it at home?

I’d like to know whether you eat food in heaven or if you don’t need it and just remain trim.

I’d like to know if you can see me missing you.