Wednesday, November 23, 2016

About those phases of grief...

My phases have been interwoven and all over the place.  From the get-go my "Shock" was mixed with "Realization" and "Transition." I knew life as I knew it was over. Disbelief that it had actually happened was there; although I had predicted this would happen for years. As I say, it has been the worst "I told you so" of my life. Anguish, alarm, anxiety were all there BUT I knew I had a whole slew of things I had to do to be safe and survive. I never felt like I could sit and let the world just stop.

I felt helpless - so I attacked that with planning, with buying a security system, by getting my new locks done.  I felt separation anxiety so I tried to fill my time so that aloneness wouldn't overwhelm me. I allowed myself to cry and cry and cry some more. I still do. When I'm angry about it, I punch things that won't hurt, I kickbox and I yell. He is not coming back. That is a fact I recognized immediately, and no amount of stagnation in a wallowing stage will change that or actually make me feel any better. Starting a new job in the midst of this took a HUGE toll on my body. Between the stress of the death, of family situations, and the new job, I was emotionally frazzled and my blood pressure was up. I overbooked myself so I retreated. I made sure I drank hibiscus-based tea every day to lower my blood pressure and calm me.

Throughout every single part of this trauma, reality and transition have been a part. Insomnia and exhaustion gripped me hard, so I forced myself to conserve energy. I don't beat myself up if I am too tired to work out. I've learned to adjust so that my workouts are still a priority and that exhaustion doesn't prevent exercise from happening.  I've actively made a point of taking control of my life. There hasn't been a stage where I haven't taken a good hard look at what responsibility I could take to make it better.

I don't see anything "romantic" about remaining single, about wearing my grief like a badge. It better serves me as an undergarment - it is THERE. It is part of my wardrobe. It is important. However, it is not going to be the outfit that I present the world every day. There is a new Keith Urban song called "Blue Is Not Your Color." Blue isn't mine - it just isn't practical to live my life relishing pain. It doesn't mean I loved Pat any less. It doesn't mean I don't love him still. It means that I am alone now. I have a life that must be lived without him. Whether he died one month ago, four months ago or even if it is two years at some point. There is no time frame where I'm suddenly "allowed" to live. I'm alive NOW. I will be busy living in that now.

The following phases are courtesy of a paper by Brooke Brite.

Phase 1 - Shock. Physical symptoms of this phase include weeping, sleep disturbance, loss of
appetite, and weakened muscles. Insomnia may persist.  Characteristics typical in this phase include feelings of unreality, confusion, disbelief, helplessness, and alarm. The confusion in this stage is the result of the inability to conceive life without the deceased.

Phase 2 - Realization. The realization phase brings prolonged stress, separation anxiety, and
disappointments. Crying, feeling angry, guilty, abandoned, and fearful takes a toll on the body. Prolonged stress is unhealthy and may lead to health problems in this phase. As exhausting as grieving may be, it is far worse to suppress emotions as it takes even greater energy to do this. Separation anxiety, another characteristic of this stage and can cause severe pain

Phase 3 - Retreat.  This phase is most commonly characterized by withdrawal, despair, decreased social support, and feeling helpless or hopeless. Physical symptoms consist of an increased need for sleep, fatigue, weakness, and a lowered immune system. The body needs to slow down and
conserve all the energy that was exerted in phase two. By the time phase three is reached
the bereaved is near exhaustion.

Phase 4 - Transition. The characteristics of phase four are accepting responsibility, taking control of
one’s life, transition thinking, regained confidence and role changing. Physical symptoms
of phase four include heightened energy levels, stable sleeping patterns, a stronger
immune system and a sense of physical well-being.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Take care of you...

One of the things that I have been told repeatedly since the day Pat was admitted to the hospital is this:  Take care of you. Again and again this advice is offered, most recently by a friend who experienced trauma in her life and by the school counselor.  Take care of you.  It seems simple, right?  It's not as easy as it seems.

As a wife we are always taking care of our husband. As a mother we are always taking care of our children. We don't plan for those roles to end. For most women I know this is self-sacrificing service. We rarely say "no" (and when we do, we usually get raked over the coals and berated for our refusal). Over the years we forego nice underwear to buy our kids shoes. We give up hang outs with friends in order to drive our children hither and yon. When grandchildren come along, we give up evenings and weekends to spend time with them. We offer midnight support, hand-holding, hugs, listening ears and whatever is called for. When is there time to take care of ourselves?

Death happened. Devastation ripped open my heart and stomped on it. My life went all topsy-turvy, everything different, foreign, alien. Plans for tomorrow, next week, next month, crushed.  Dreams for the future, gone. Finances, housing, insurance - you name it, it is caught up in the vortex. You can't sleep, you can't eat. Anxiety and dread fill your every waking moment.  Taking care of you now seems necessary but impossible. How do you take care of you when you are in the midst of a freefall?

 A fronte praceipitium a tergo lupi - A precipice in front, wolves behind. This is what happens.  You start to crawl out from under the pain, under the despair and defeat. You find reasons to wake up and live.  And someone finds fault with it -- they want you to be well enough to manage life without assistance, still sad but comfortable enough to not be needy and in their way.  Certainly not happy. Never happy.  There is apparently a time frame that determines when you are allowed to find happiness or not. If happiness happens to surprise you, damned if it isn't inconvenient and ugly to your critics. By all means, do not be so ridiculous as to hope for there to be any joy to be found in seeing light creep back into your eyes.

Decisions have to be made. Do you sink or do you swim? Do you live or do you die? Do you hover in some half state between life and death just to please someone else who isn't walking the path you are forced to walk? Dum viviumus, vivamus - Epicurus.  "When we live, let us live."

I choose happiness.  I choose to take care of me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Identifying too well with my favorite poem...

Rudyard Kipling's "If--" has always spoken volumes to me. It resonated within my soul and for years I fixated on one part in particular, which is in red print. Little did I know that this season of my life would have more and more of the poem coming alive to me. It's all about stoicism - that concept of keeping a stiff upper lip. Me, I'm feeling very fragile lately, but this poem inspires me to suck up my hurt, suck up my failures, and somehow keep marching on like a good little soldier.  Anyhow, colored are the parts that are demanding attention in my life right now.

If you can keep your head when all about you  
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;  
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, 
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, 
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;  
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;  
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
    And treat those two impostors just the same;  
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
    And never breathe a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,  
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,  
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

“It was part of war; men died, more would die, that was past, and what mattered now was the business in hand; those who lived would get on with it. Whatever sorrow was felt, there was no point in talking or brooding about it, much less in making, for form’s sake, a parade of it. Better and healthier to forget it, and look to tomorrow.
The celebrated British stiff upper lip, the resolve to conceal emotion which is not only embarrassing and useless, but harmful, is just plain commons sense” ― George MacDonald Fraser, Quartered Safe Out Here: A Harrowing Tale of World War II

Friday, November 4, 2016

Not much of a gardener...

I was never much of a gardener
But I gave myself fully to growing a life
I labored its garden and gave it my all... I did
Poured myself fully
Spread my very life into its furrows
Watered that seed
Watched young sprouts turn to young plants
Saw them burst forth with fruit
And then in a moment, it is gone
Not drought, not harvest but sudden abandonment
Empty fields, vacant rows
Remnants of what was
What is --
Now some barren landscape
On one hand full of possibility
But on the other
So painfully stark
A field left after harvest
Forgotten fruits left to rot on the vine
Chaff and stubble amidst the clods of earth
Fall is come, winter is a moment away
Wondering if it is even worth the toil
To plant those winter crops
Did you know that if you plan
You can grow
In the cold?
I nod my head and speculate
There is life in that dirt
A heartier seed could be planted
But I'm tired
And I never was much of a gardener
Yet still...
There is life in that dirt
There is life in that dirt

Saturday, October 29, 2016

About the hierarchy of need and the criticism of others...

I had two really good conversations over last couple of days which seem different but they really tie together.

My daughter and I were talking about living your life and not "should've-ing" others or being "should've'ed" by them. The old adage about walking in someone else's shoes is very true. Unless you are "in" someone else's life, living it as they live, you have no comprehension of the intricacies of their existence that compel and propel them.

People have subtle and not so subtle ways of should've-ing you. Grief does not give you a pass card on that.  I've felt the should've-ing and the barely veiled innuendos about how I should behave or embrace aloneness, be strong, be independent, how some other way is the more noble way or whatever. This usually isn't about my happiness; it is about how how someone else wants to see me handling sorrow  and being thrust into aloneness. It's for their own benefit, not mine. Certainly it is not about what is helping me to survive.

And that is where the second conversation comes in - survival mode. In talking with my friend last night - whose walk has many similarities with my own - this came up. When you are in survival mode, you do what needs to be done to get your through the day or through the night. Things that might be important to those should've-ing you fall by the wayside.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Need portrays several levels of "need" that motivate human creatures. The first, most basic layer, is physiological needs - food, water, sleep, shelter, homeostasis. Let me tell you -when you lose your closest companion many of these get WHACKED OUT. Some people eat too much, some people forget to eat. I'm a forget-to-eater. Sleep becomes elusive. I spent a couple of months flailing around trying to find homeostasis again. The second level involves safety needs. Security of the mind, body, property, health, employment, family, morality, etc. Right away I freaked out about my housing ("How am I going to afford my house with my husband, the main breadwinner gone?") and personal security ("How will I feel safe with my strong, protective husband no longer by my side?"). I went out and learned to shoot my gun, got my Conceal Carry Weapon license, put in new locks and bought a security system. I got a second job to cover the costs of my health insurance (which Pat had always carried). My need for safety has definitely been a dominating motivator. My need to protect my health has led me to drop some activities to prevent burnout. Working at school, working at the gym, and working on the children's Christmas program are what I know I can handle right now. Since I trimmed demands on my time, my blood pressure has gone down, I've been sleeping better and have been slowly working towards a state of stability. It might not be the ultimate state, but it is what works for now.

The next level - love and belonging. That's harder. Especially when you have other people that are dealing with grief, too, and trying to find their own homeostasis at the lower levels. A father dies and you lose some of your sense of safety and security,no matter how old you are. I know I felt that when my own Dad passed away in 2011. Sometimes I still feel like a lost little girl with him gone. Within that whole motivation for love and belonging is the "not wanting to be the fifth wheel" and not wanting to be an outsider or in the way. When you have been married and had a constant companion for 33 years, you always have someone to talk to, as Pat always said, "the other half." Rip that half away and you feel half a person, half-baked, half-lived. You can be silently condemned for not embracing your aloneness and have them assume that you "don't like yourself" because you don't like being alone but it is ridiculous. It goes back to: unless they wear your shoes and experience the complexities of who you are and exist, it bears no rank. If someone widowed for years never dated or remarried pointedly expresses that their love for their husband didn't permit them to "move on" that is THEIR walk in THEIR shoes. Not yours. So are any arbitrary time limits - you can't date for month, for six months, for a year, forever... if you do or don't, it has nothing to do with lost love. It has to do with SURVIVAL.

Needs for self-esteem and self-actualization are the next two levels. For me, they often manifest in the midst of other levels. Achievement, self-confidence, respect of others, respect by others  As Maslow said, "What a man can be, he must be." Accepting who you are, finding your creativity, navigating the world in morality. I feel that accepting my strengths and weaknesses now doesn't prohibit me from discovering or developing more strengths later.

With that - I accept that I am in survival mode. I accept that there are those both close to me and on the periphery who may be chalking up "should've-ing" my way or disliking decisions I make, such as the big one: not to remain alone. “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’ ” Genesis 2:18

My need for morality in alignment with scriptural principles is a guiding factor in decisions I make in that area. I do know that for my *survival* sitting alone with my dogs, my cat, the cat that owns me, and my porch possum is not beneficial for my feeling of security, belonging and safety. And while there are those who think "strong, independent women are sexy" I could care less. My dad used to call me his "Little House on the Prairie" daughter, If you recall, people go crazy out in the frozen plains alone. Even Tom Hanks' character in Castaway needed Wilson to maintain a semblance of sanity.  Someone else said to me something about "survival of the fittest" in the last couple of weeks. Well, this is what this is for me -- and this is where I can truly say my personal strength lies, fighting for survival. No matter how many times I've cried and visions of driving in front of a train, off a cliff or whatever have flashed across my psyche, I've beat them down and captivated those thoughts in obedience to my Lord.

1 Samuel 16:7 "“for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
Psalm 138:3 "In the day when I cried out, You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul."

Friday, October 21, 2016


The rain beats against the house
And my heart beats inside my chest
In silence, cold beneath the ground
Your heart beats no more

It's grey out there in this downpour
And it is grey, the sorrow in my soul
No crimson, yellow, hue of elation
All color is buried in that grave with you

They think I'm moving on too fast
Racing away from your memory
In that dirt, you and I
We know the bitter truth
102116 - gep

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How long is "okay" before you are allowed to live?

Apparently, in order to satisfy the world - or adult children - the way to truly grieve is to be locked away (where they can't see you cry) but be mourning, alone and miserably unhappy for long, long periods of time. Too busy with their own lives to come around much, to see all the stuff that has to be done with their father's things (too depressing for them), but the widowed mother is still expected to sit, alone, in that home...grieving. Grieving and surrounded by the chaos of a life that has ended all too soon.

I *am* grieving. I will never stop grieving my husband and the loss of the life we shared. However, I have a new life that I *must* come to terms with. I simply adjust and adapt. I realize fully and clearly that my husband of 33 years is NEVER coming back. How can you be "disloyal" to someone who is in the arms of Jesus, who is enjoying the presence of God?

As Morgan Freeman's character, Red, said in The Shawshank Redemption, one needs to either "Get busy living or get busying dying."  I choose life. I choose a chance at happiness.

If that makes someone unhappy, then so be it.