Layers of grief

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As I walk through this process of continuing my own life as a woman with roles as a daughter, a sibling, a mother, a wife and a friend… despite a family member’s death, I see yet another layer of heavy emotions piling on top of my disbelief and sorrow. It’s not that layers are coming off and falling aside. Oh no, the layers that are accumulating, until I can barely breathe. I am finding that I don’t have time to accept or manage or “shake off” the effects of one before the next layer is there, ready to smother me.

There are so many layers… For me, it started with disbelief, followed by sorrow, consumption, and regret and where I am now: grief. I’m guessing the last layer will not be one of smothering but rather release, when acceptance arrives.

 

Disbelief

Not quite halfway through my drive to see Barbara before her final breath, my husband called to tell me she was gone. Broken, barely able to speak, he advised me to return home. We didn’t make a decision during that brief early-morning call, and I found myself loading up the rest of my son’s and my things and continuing our journey as though there had never been another option. And, truly, had there been? I determined to arrive in time for the wake, tasting my salty tears as I drove, not surprised that she had passed before my arrival, yet at the same time disbelieving.

Sorrow

After the wake, I assumed a support role, as is my nature. Oppressive sorrow at every turn, we did our best to move forward together that week, the entire extended family. Then it was time for our little family unit to drive the 3-day trip back to our house, and we tried to enjoy it for the sake of our young son. We drove, we talked, we took pictures, we listened to music, all the while the disbelief mingling with sorrow.

Consumption and Regret

Back home, my husband unwillingly returned to work. And then, alone with our son, Barbara’s image filled my every waking and even sleeping moments. All consuming, her face shone in front of me, with her mischievous eyes and the laughter behind her smile. I wept some more, daily, consumed with her loss. During that week, regret seeped in and I found myself wondering, “Did I show her enough appreciation?” “Did I make sure she Skype-d enough with her grandchild?” And so forth.

Grief

And now…. add grief to the mix. Oh, yes, I have already sobbed many times with sorrow at her passing. But this… if not for my little one requiring me, I would be incapacitated.

Here is what Russell Williams in the Healer’s Library Forum had to say on the difference between grief and sorrow:

Grief is the name for the intense debilitating/crippling/numbing feeling of sadness that accompany loss – any sort of loss. It can be loss of a job, a relationship, our hopes and dreams, loss of face, betrayal, loss of friends and loved ones. There may be other emotions accompanying loss eg guilt, anger, regret.. hopelessness, depression etc

Sorrow a feeling of deep distress caused by loss but also by other life issues disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others. It has a wider continuum of intensity – from low to high. When high, and triggered by loss – I regard this as grief.

The grief is overwhelming. I go through the motions of living – grocery shopping, taking Little E to the library, preparing meals – as though walking through sludge. Weighted down by grief, it is as though gravity pushes me down. Such effort it takes to hold in the sobs (who has the leisure to cry uncontrollably for days on end with a little one around). I literally cannot catch my breath sometimes. My little one does not understand the hyper-emotional state of his parents.

I hate that there are “steps” to grieving. I hate that Barbara is a statistic. I hate that cancer continues to take people away. I hate that there is no way to keep oneself from it, that everything from cigarette smoke to pollution to pesticides to drinking water and soil to technology has cancer-causing agents. I hate that corporations care only for the bottom dollar, from companies that dump waste into the ground to insurance companies. And, just to be clear, I also hate that I lost my undergarments since our return. At this point in my grief, nothing in my world is good or right. Save my son, who keeps me alive, bringing me both irritation (for who has any patience right now) as well as joy. Yes, he alone can still cause me to at least smile, even right now, at least a little bit.

Speaking of nothing being right … it would be wrong to leave out the popular 5 stages of grief as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined so many years ago. The stages have since evolved, according to her co-author David Kessler (see blog here):

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

While my layers do not line up with theirs, perhaps they run parallel to them. At this point I do not care to inspect what line of thinking or feeling I might coincide with, but rather I wish to explore, in the moment, these surmounting layers. Upon exploration, I hope to discover healing for myself as well as (hopefully) a sense of companionship for you, my readers, who have been here or are currently experiencing something similar. Know that you are not alone in your grief. Know that others truly do understand. Recognize that while the pain remains, the ability to go on also remains. Even at this point I would venture to say that joie de vivre can be made, perhaps in honor of a loved one, if not in and of itself, for the sake of joy itself.

What have your layers been? Have they been similar to mine? Are they more in line with Kübler-Ross and Kessler? What have you implemented as a daily routine to keep yourself present in your life? Have you been able to enjoy life again, and if so, how?

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Grief & Grieving Part 2

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I don’t know how many parts there will be to this “Grief & Grieving.” Maybe 5, as in the five stages of grief? Who knew it would become a series. Or maybe, if I’m not careful, an endless litany, because I cannot control when the bouts of sadness will hit again full force. Like right now. Nothing “caused” it, and if you’ve experience the loss of a loved one, you will likely agree with me that there is no inherent cause for grief submerged to suddenly overflow again, other than that the person died in the first place.

Even though virtual visits with my MIL were more frequent than actual visits, I miss her. Rarely did I see her without a smile, and that was typically when she was engrossed in figuring out Sudoku or a good word for Scrabble. She is the one who taught me, years ago, not to be afraid of Scrabble, and proved to me that I can enjoy it.

I miss her laughing with my son. She is the one who reminds him to keep his room tidy. She is the one who, every. single. time. signed “I love you” to him before getting off of Skype. From the time he was a wee babe. He learned that from her, and he knows her for that.

I miss her efforts to be a good mom for her son. And for her daughters. She wanted to talk (at least) weekly, and to find out what her children had been up to and how they had been feeling. She wanted to know about their spouses, and their children. She supported them the way she knew how, and I want her to know that her very presence was enough. We love her still.

One way to honor her life, I think, is to focus on being content with where I am, just like she was. I am still seeking a physical way to this. The thing I know she put a lot of energy is Christmas. She just loved decorating for Christmas. I’m pondering if there is a way to embrace her life and continue her memory with a Christmas-themed… something. Or maybe there is something I am missing that she also put a lot of effort in (notice I am using someTHING, because we’ve already discussed how much she put into her family).

Someone suggested creating a memory book for her with my son, and I want to do just that. Tomorrow marks 2 weeks since her passing. I expected to get choked up then, not now.

What books/websites/other can you direct me and others like me to explore?

Grief & Grieving

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Of all the people in my life who have passed away that have been close to me, it has all been from the big C.  My guess is that each of us knows at least one person who has suffered from cancer. Some, like a dear cousin of mine and a close friend of ours, fought it and won. Others, like so many of my other friends and family members, have gone to worlds beyond this one after valiant efforts to overcome.

I would like to share my recent journey with you, and open up my heart to healing. You, my readers, I know, can surely offer up how you have dealt with grief and in so doing, provide a comforting blanket of words upon to rest my weary thoughts.

Last night we returned home from a heart-wrenching time with my husband’s family. My MIL was diagnosed with cancer over Christmas last year, and we all thought she had a couple of decent years left. Time passed. She continued looking good and kept up her positive attitude, enduring chemo and radiation treatments. Not 2 weeks ago her doctors informed her that treatments were not helping. Pain management became the number one goal. Then her organs began to fail. My husband flew home straight away, and our little one and I made the rest of the trip by car. The morning after he arrived, she passed into peace, with her husband, one of her sisters, her son and one of her daughters standing at her side. Audible groans and cries gushed forth from the family. Tears streamed down their faces. At least one of them fell to his knees in anguish. A half hour later, my darling husband called to let me know. I was still on the road. Two long days before I would arrive, and only then if I rushed. As I drove, I gulped back sobs and tears drifted silently down my cheeks.

We arrived just before the funeral home closed for the evening, and I was able to take part in her wake. She looked so peaceful. Not a hair out of place (yes, she kept her hair during the treatments), and a sort of Mona Lisa smile playing on her lips. I could almost see her breathing, if I let my mind play that trick on me. She was the sort of woman who just wanted to be happy, and wanted the same for others. She didn’t strive for more, more, more but rather maintained a sense of calm and peace in her daily life, finding enjoyment in the small things, like Sudoku and Scrabble and card games. When she was with her grandchildren, she helped foster positive character traits such as being nice and keeping things tidy. She easily welcomed me into the family when I showed up 15 years ago, referring to herself as “Mom” even with me.

My goal was to be there for the family. Turns out, they were there for me, too. We cried together. We did things in her name together. We laughed together. And one by one we went back to our separate homes, some a 2-day drive away and some an 8-hour drive away. One daughter and her family remains in the same town, along with my father-in-law. I am here to comfort my husband. His siblings have their spouses. It is my FIL I worry about most, having no one to lean on daily. My tears are for all of them, and my MIL’s siblings and grandchildren.

It is with these thoughts I turn to a book coming out entitled “Jody’s Garden.” Fortunate enough to have read an advanced copy prior to all of this happening, I now know it is something to which I will refer again and again throughout the days, weeks, and months to come. I also meditated this morning a bit (something I am not terribly good at). And I focused on re-balancing my energy from negative into at least neutral. Surprisingly, it helped. Now to just keep that up, day by day.

What are some tips that you have found useful in managing grief, both for yourself, and for someone in your household?

 

Self-care may not look the same for all of us

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This week I’m really focused on self-care. It’s something that’s been hit-and-miss, although more miss, because I tend to “count” reading ABOUT it as DOING it. After all, I took time for ME to read stuff FOR me. As much as I love to read, reading about how to better myself is not actually making it happen. Reading IS one of my forms of self-care, but there’s a gnawing feeling that this particular piece of reading should not fall into that category. Kind of like… if you read about intimacy but never actually implemented any of those tips with your SO. Or maybe not like that at all. Tell me in the comments your thoughts on this!

One self-care method that I keep coming across is to set aside time to have fun. This is easier for some than for others. As a task-oriented person, I fall into that “other” category.  I also prefer time alone, so when I’m presented with the option to go out alone (sans child and husband), I often don’t. Or I instead ask the husband to just go somewhere with our little darling so I can be alone. You can guess what happens: laundry, vacuuming, etc. I wouldn’t say that I set out to sabotage myself, but on the never-ending list of things that simply need to be repeated, I certainly don’t include myself on that list.

I’ve committed the entire rest of the this summer to have fun, both with my family and friends and sometimes without either one (the latter will be easier for me!). The goal is to make having fun a habit! I have a few ideas for fun, but I would love your input on this journey, and especially to hear how you carve out time for yourself despite the to-do list. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, on how to have fun for the introvert:

  • Sunset walks
  • Lake/beach time
  • Game nights
  • Using my Science museum membership more
  • Library
  • Reading for FUN not necessarily for learning or research
  • Star-gazing
  • Writing (yes, this is enjoyable and part of my “me” time!)

Shockingly, I am already off to a great start this summer! I went home for about 10 days and spent time with family and friends there. We went to the lake, the park, hung out and talked, ate together… It was good! And only last weekend, my little family nucleus went canoe-ing! All before I consciously made this decision to have fun. (Guess I was more ready than I thought haha)

What have you done so far to enjoy yourself, your family, your friends this summer?