Copy that., Grief is Grief

Life doesn’t rhyme . . . and that’s okay.

Expect the unexpected . . . then roll with it. (That’s the tricky part)

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

Long ago, in a lifetime far away, I wrote poetry. Reams and reams of the stuff. It wasn’t great stuff or that well written. It was just another way to try and make sense of the mangled, searching thoughts of a young mom, in late nights with little bodies soundly sleeping.

As women, we’ve gone through so many lives in the one we were given. In my case, I’ve gone through several last names in different married lives. I lost a wonderful young brother; I birthed three children. I was a harried young mom, baking like crazy, driving to piano lessons and soccer practices, scout meetings and school pickups. I dragged oranges to games, towels to swim team and lunches when they didn’t. I was very attached to church, kids and home – and I loved it all. That was one me.

One by one, the kidlets began to fly away and the house became emptier, dinners more of an afterthought and the washer, dryer and dishwasher less on overdrive. I jumped into the work world, both in-house and home office, built an advertising design business, which later added a partnership with a future husband. I suddenly found more time for friends and less time for introspection. And I loved it. That was another me.

The last child left, the weddings happened in succession and grandchildren began to arrive. Having been divorced for a number of years and dated at least my share on that roller coaster of single life, I struggled with money and self-esteem. One day, I found my perfect ‘Match’, love of my life — and married him. We worked together, loved our blended family together, jumping headfirst into the roles of grandparents with crazy adoration. There was of course, a thorn in the rose which showed up before we even said ‘I Do’. The elephant called cancer refused to be ignored, as it threw one curve ball after another into our happily ever after. Yet, we lived our life as best and big as we could and I loved it. It was yet another me.

One day, I came home from my first downward facing dog, Namaste session to find that my husband had suddenly passed from this planet. Many of you have experienced that shock, that trauma so I don’t have to tell you how it devastates in a nanosecond. I had to regroup, find my way out of the dark and into yet another ‘me’. I certainly didn’t love that renovation but, it had to happen. With no alternative, I became both the same and different, both old and new, both sad and happy. Ultimately, the realization that life still stubbornly stuck around in an army of friends, and my immeasurable treasure of kids and grands, I penned this not-so-perfect poem:

     Renaissance

Wisdom never comes

in perfect doses.

It arrives unwitting

As a fragile wisp, or

Bitter medication.

Fed by truth

Pruned strong by life

Stubborn hearts

Resist shallow wars

and good sense.

I am woman, not girl.

mother yet maiden

crone and child

passion and reason.

I am a survivor.

Use my shoulder,

My arms, my laughter.

If not welcomed,

I’ll gather all up

as I turn to leave.

I am not my past.

I’m not the wrong page,

But a new page.

Aging new book;

Reluctant new life.

I don’t melt.

I don’t flinch or run

Unless I am pushed.

And then I walk,

And then I cry

And then I learn.

Like my poetry, life is hardly perfect. It doesn’t always rhyme; sometimes, it even sucks. But, ah, when it works, when words or life pierce your soul, fill your heart or bring you gratitude, that’s everything and then some.

Copy that., Grief is Grief

Just Say It.

Pandemics have a nasty habit of making us question things we take for granted. When life seems a whole lot more fragile, words become a lot more important. Don’t let the right ones get away.

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Whether you’re speaker or listener, words matter. They can heal or hurt; inspire or humiliate, encourage, teach or comfort. They can be the tiebreaker in an argument; a deal breaker in a relationship. They can make someone feel important or diminished; deeply hurt or transformed with love. They can criticize, accuse, or malign. The can also soften a heart and change the trajectory of someone’s life. Words can change lives for worse or for better; or through their absence, leave a hole that is often never filled.

The give and take of words is all part of human speak. We ask work questions about marketing and quality control. We ask about freshness of the lettuce or what’s on sale that day. We ask our kids it they remembered to pack their homework and sneakers for gym as they run out the door. More often than not, we don’t give a whole lot of thought to the mundane exchanges we have every day. Yet, the power of our words is immeasurable.

You better know that in the end, it’s better to say too much

Than to never to say what you need to say again.   John Mayer

There are people who never stop talking and who knows,  I may be one of them. But, with all our talk, talk, talk, what is really said? We use hundreds of words every day – but how many cut to the chase of life? How many of us carve out that critical second to say the one thing that could transform a heart? In a world as uncertain, as volatile as we live today,  we are all painfully aware of our human vulnerability. We are reminded each day, as we see numbers across the world tell the story of humans gone too suddenly, that life is not forever. Just as words we say in haste or anger form a destructive legacy that never be taken back, many that need to be said, that could change everything in someone’s world, are not. The time when they could be spoken is no longer and there is no better proof than the now 100,000 people who have gone forever. Words we wish to have said have disappeared into the ether.

There is no time to leave important words unsaid.  Paulo Coelho

In my book, the most magic words in life are often the simplest, yet time slips by and what we meant to say disappears with it. Yet, words, those very words, can mean the world like:

Thank you. It always amazes me how little we acknowledge kindness and thoughtfulness. Sure we dole out automatic thank you’s like M&M’s, with no real thought. Now, I’m totally onboard with politeness, in any setting, but authentic, cognizant gratitude is the real deal. My mother always told me, if you don’t thank someone who sends you a gift, you don’t deserve it. Words on paper count, too. But as treasured as a call or thank-you note is, the heart behind the thank you makes all the difference. Don’t sell these words short. From a grocery checker to a child being thoughtful, these two little words say ‘I see you – and you matter.’

I’m sorry.  Even if you did something you totally regret and would never do again, an ‘I’m sorry’ is the way to go. In fact, these two little words are some of the most important you can ever say. Apologizing never comes easy. In fact, when we are really pissed, (it happens) that ‘I’m sorry’ seems almost impossible. Said from the heart, though, it means we learned the hard way, that we realized we hurt someone and even if what we did won’t go down in history as Titanic sized, we are truly bummed it happened. Taking responsibility for our actions can go a long way to healing our relationships – and ourselves.

Forgive me. When we value a relationship, our greatest hope, when something goes wrong, is to repair it and restore it to its original condition. We should never take a person we cherish or their forgiveness for granted. Extending the proverbial olive branch with hope, not expectation, is a leap of faith. Acceptance is their gift to us, not an automatic expectation.

I love you. Don’t wait for the funeral or the door closing to tell people how you feel about them. Say it when it counts. Say it as often as it needs to be said or as often as you feel it. Say it before it’s too late. And people who grieve the 100,000 authentic, cherished people, claimed without warning by COVID-19, may always wonder, as I did when my own husband died suddenly, if “I love you” could have been said just one more time. No matter how many times “I love you” is said or even written, not one of us will ever say, “No more. I’m good thanks”.

Continue reading “Just Say It.”
Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

Out of Touch . . . Totally.

Welcome to the pandemic version of ‘home alone’, a place where stillness has a roaring sound, and touch is a thing of the past. We are embracing a new normal – without the embrace.

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As SNL’s Roseann Rosannadanna used to say, “It’s always something”.  Sometimes, that ‘something’, creeps up so sneakily you don’t even notice it until it pokes you on the shoulder. You might have thought it was in the rear view, then, bam — whiplash. Like your very own Pennywise, the shapeshifting clown, it feeds on what gets to you most. It gets under your skin because it’s there that this particular taunting creature, called ‘loss of touch’, lives. 

Yep, loss of touch is a thing. Humans need to be touched. When our arms and cheeks are stroked, nerve cells release boatloads of happy-making endorphins. Simple cuddling can slow the heart rate, and speed up digestion, helping our immune system to be its best self. We instinctively look to hold hands when we’re frightened. We put our arms around each other to comfort; kiss one another to show affection. We need touch to feel safe, anchored — and seen. But, those of us who live alone are on our own – literally. In a time of grief, of quarantine, we go without touch of another human for weeks and months. Stuck in the middle of today’s epidemic ‘touch starvation’, mental health professionals see depression, insomnia and anxiety issues in unprecedented numbers.

Why talk about skin hunger now, when it’s dwarfed by people dying in shocking numbers from a worldwide pandemic, and fear pulses beneath every face mask? Even with an epidemic raging across the globe, we are each quarantined in our own small worlds. Our thoughts, emotions, and feelings still live and grow there. Most have partners, kids that share their quarantine and touch may not be an issue. But domestic violence also finds fertile ground in quarantine and loneliness, anxiety and depression make no distinction between households. Whatever was lacking, lost or thought to be quieted, now has a loud voice and things like absence of touch takes on new life.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch. Leo Buscaglia

When I was first widowed, disjointed emotion and grief were in strong competition. My thoughts centered on coping with the worst trauma of my life. Sudden loss of the person you thought you’d go through time can do that. I assumed nothing, from that point on, that life could throw at me could be worse. In fact, I was pretend badass enough that not even a scary car accident a year later could knock me over. But, when the fog cleared, I realized the elephant in the room was a spouse’s touch I’d no longer feel. Funny how simple neck massages and hand holding can kneecap you. But loss of intimate touch, the kind that says ‘You’re mine. I have your back. I love you” leaves a lasting mark.

To any grieving person, distance is not a new concept. In fact, it’s probably the hardest consequence of loss. The distance of sound, touch and connection gets only wider between us and the person no longer in our world. When we were younger, in the midst of busy lives and busy households raising kids, we barely gave ‘touch’ a thought. We had plenty of it, whether we wanted it or not. Yes, I do remember those times I thought “Puleeese stop poking me” to kids or dogs anxious for attention. Back then, our tapped-out selves yearned for the utopia of sublime peace; maybe even an undisturbed month — alone. I get it. I lived it.

Continue reading “Out of Touch . . . Totally.”
Grief is Grief

An Epidemic of Grief

Grief comes in an assortment of sizes, tailored to fit each type of loss. When you feel like the entire world has changed, grief can’t be far behind.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

It’s been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. I don’t know about your taxes, but if you’re reading this, I’m thankful, at least, the grim reaper is AWOL. Death drops by with nonchalant regularity, taking with him parents, friends, siblings and spouses. In fact, I can include one or more of each in my list of losses. But these are different days, first in lifetimes days when illness and death seem only a sneeze or cough away. And the perfectly fit the MO of a brutal, worldwide pandemic we have come to know as COVID-19.

Worries about, and results of, this coronavirus epidemic have touched nearly everyone around the globe. With each generation, the world becomes smaller, enabling shared experience as well as shared disease from countries oceans away. Since the virus arrived at our shores, we’ve watched death rates climb with frightening velocity each day. Sure, we lived through SARS, Swine Flu, and Ebola but nothing has struck fear in our collective hearts since the flu of 1917. Some infected become merely carriers; some present with mild symptoms. The unlucky others feel the savagery of the disease — and many, too many, die of it.

And that’s where death’s natural partner, grief comes in. Grief is the way we process trauma, death, and losses of all sizes and flavors. It can devastate us enough in normal times, but in the era of COVID-19, grief can be unnaturally derailed. Where do we put grief, when loved ones die alone? How do we express it, when the people death leaves behind are dumped into socially distanced shock and loss?

Mourning rituals are critical to healthy grief and healing yet, uniquely absent in a pandemic. Instead, overloaded funeral homes greet no grieving families. Masses, wakes and shivas are non-existent. In their place, awkward digital groupings are becoming common as family gathers on Zoom to mourn. The basic comfort of connective touch is absent, making grief as grim and devastating as can be.

Losing my husband in a blink of an eye one night was obviously an unparalleled shock. Yet, many have endured similar experiences; mine was not an anomaly. But, to lose a loved one without warning, in a lonely COVID-19 cocoon of masks and humming ventilators, is incomprehensible.  My heart breaks for every single one whose grief is quarantined, without the ability to offer last words or touch. Long ago, when my 19 year old brother died of leukemia, half the town turned out to grieve with our family. My parents deaths, 12 years apart, saw their friends gather to grieve, and when friends died, I shared my grief along with others they loved. These are not those times; this is fear and grief on steroids.

Continue reading “An Epidemic of Grief”
Copy that., Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

MARCH On.

For some, March is a springboard to a blooming new season. For others it’s a slippery slide into grief or depression.

March was always the stuff of angry lions — and I’m not talking about the weather. The month’s windy grayness matched somber memories of my brother, whose birthday and death day at 19 forever book-ended it with shrouded memories. That is, until the year a kooky March wind blew in the guy who would become my husband. That year, March saw a first date in the restaurant that became ‘ours’ for every important celebration. One year later, that month saw a courthouse wedding, totally off script, but when the cancer dragon rudely inserts itself and you need new health insurance, you ad lib. But, since we were crazy romantics, a few weeks later, we also squeezed in both church wedding and casually cool reception, complete with rubber ducks swimming in a margarita fountain. Go figure.

With happier new markers in place, I was able to feng shui the month with brighter bookends. Yes, far too soon Death did come again to end this happily ever after but at least it picked a different month. This is not about how the story ended, however. It’s about things can be revised, with new defaults. If we allow ourselves, we can often see clearly how much a month can really hold, how everything can change according to how we view it and how we embrace it. Time can be inhabited with both good — and painful memories; love and loss, joy and tears. Happy times are no less happy when they are joined by the sad. As both lion and lamb, they can inhabit the same space and, while they are polar opposites, they are part of the same equation.

March is a month of expectation. Emily Dickinson

The flip side of joy is pain. That’s life’s eternal dichotomy. No one complains when the pendulum swings the fun way, when life seems perfect and all in our little world is balanced on its axis, spinning merrily along. But when it hands us things that really suck, things we are helpless to change, whoa! Yet, that IS life; the conundrum of all things good and bad. Like a seasonal temperature inversion, a peaceful, balmy day can morph into a hair wrecking windy storm in a nanosecond. And just as quickly the sea calms, the weighty fog lifts and, if we pay attention, we just might see the big picture with stunning clarity. We find our aha moments.

Continue reading “MARCH On.”
Copy that., Grief is Grief

Everything Happens for a Reason . . . and other fairytales.

by Tori Morrison – UNSPLASH

Believing that nifty mantra wholesale can be hard to swallow sometimes, especially when ‘everything’ ain’t so pretty. We want to believe things happen for a reason simply because order seems a whole lot better than chaos, right? We tell ourselves and others, when we don’t see any other explanation for things that happen in life, that it’s part of a bigger picture in the karma universe. When lives are turned upside down. When our spouse, parent or child is gone in an unthinkable instant. When a sudden loss of job, income, or house leaves us upended and lost. Thinking it was all part of a greater plan might bring momentary comfort, but it can also leave us frustrated and stuck.

We look for reasons everywhere. We try to justify why the world, and the people in it, behaves as it does. We become scarred and scared by experiences that seem to happen for no reason whatsoever. Cancer. Alzheimers. Death. (Anything on that one? I’ll wait . . .) Oh sure, eventually we learn and grow from all the hard stuff. Done right, we even become better people from living through those times, but the ‘why’? That’s the million dollar question.

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. Megan Devine

Things can and do happen for no reason at all except one that’s universal – we are just human beings having a human experience (in other words, shit happens). In our bumbling search for answers, we forget that no one promised us a rose garden. So, we run in circles looking for cause because the effect often sucks. We look back on our choices, decisions, roads taken – and not taken. We might find a breadcrumb, a clue we hope will lead us to believable reasons. But when illness visits, loss completely ravages, we lose our livelihood or worse, someone we loved more than our own life, no facsimile of a reason will ever be good enough.

There’s no earthly way we can sugar coat the why of murder or child abuse, decimating tornadoes or the crushing grief of SIDS. As much as we yearn for any emotional or psychological balm, no matter how well meaning, any phrase du’jour about life events having a reason can’t take away real pain. In fact, it might make people feel even worse. As lousy as it sounds, feeling desolate when bad things happen is part and even necessary to the grieving process. There’s no easy out and attempting to explain it away with platitudes, just get in the way.

“Don’t try to fix me. Acknowledge me. Stand with me. Be with me.” Tim Lawrence

Continue reading “Everything Happens for a Reason . . . and other fairytales.”
Copy that., Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

Refill, anyone?

HELLO . . . I’m __________.

Imagine those cheery little ID stickers with descriptors like “Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty Person” after our names. We’d be instantly busted as relentlessly cheerful or obsessively pessimistic. Awkward. Those who wander through life under a persistent gray cloud might be predisposed to resent endlessly cheery types. And the perennial blue-sky humans would really be unhappy if gloom ‘n doomers rained on their parade.

Me? I’m a happy/not-always-happy hybrid, and I suspect a lot of you can identify — depending on the day or period of life. Basically, I’m an optimist with varying shades of the ‘other shoe is gonna fall’ thrown in. (get it?)

“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which they were created.”  Einstein

Two people can see the same glass entirely differently. Though, given a choice, I’d choose half-full every time. Just because I hum Monte Python’s “Always look on the bright side of life”, doesn’t mean I have it nailed or that my glass is half-full of puppies and unicorns. Hey, I’m the girl, who came home, after an hour away, to find my husband dead, remember? That brand of lightening can really derail even the biggest optimist like a tsunami! But, whether you’re knee-capped by grief, have critical struggles with health or are broken, humbled or depressed by other stuff life throws at you, even a half empty glass can slowly be refilled.

Don’t feel like Pollyanna reincarnated? The reality is that pessimists stay stuck in the proverbial black cloud; optimists find the silver lining— eventually. Optimists are not always the happiest campers and pessimists aren’t consistently gloom and doom. On any given day, things can look positive or negative, good or bad. The best thing we can do is not to lounge around too long in the bottom of the glass. Continue reading “Refill, anyone?”

Grief is Grief, View from the Shoe

The Handoff

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My father died last week . . . at 94. His left behind 3 living children, 10 grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren — and a boatload of complicated emotions.

To be honest, this a tough post to write. It’s so much easier to be funny than painfully authentic but writers need to say the hard stuff, too. And what’s harder, more precious, more frustrating and intrinsic to us as humans than family?

Since the night my dad died, people have expressed heartfelt sympathies I felt unworthy to receive. I’ve struggled to reach inside to the depth of grief that losing a parent brings. Maybe losing my still vital husband so suddenly anesthetized me to old age’s inevitable end, even in a parent. Or, just maybe, the empty, numb feeling is self-protection from a hurricane of emotions just waiting to be unleashed when I’m least expecting it.

If that tv sitcom. Leave it to Beaver, (does that make me old?) was truly an icon of a normal family, we’re all screwed. Life out of central casting is not real life, but I suspect we all secretly want a teeny bit of that warm, fuzzy family picture. Instead, we peel through layers of frustration, hurt, love, and longing that surface with a vengeance when the main players of family of origin are gone. We may not recognize those layers as grief, but they can define it just the same.

When my mom was alive, my dad hated talking on the phone but he certainly made up for it, in spades, the last 13 years. Though conversations were rarely about how I or my family was, he was at long last verbal. He now depended on family for needs my mother hovered over and finally seemed to enjoy (tolerate may be a better word) the ‘kids’, including the oldsters who lived 2 hours away. (If there was any doubt that my husband loved me, I have just to remember our bi-monthly parkway pilgrimages. Muttering through road rage, a body protesting often from cancer side effects, he still took on legendary shore traffic – for me. That’s love) After he died, I continued the trip until a police call reporting my dad seeing 9 people dressed in khakis and red shirts (think Jake from Allstate) made it necessary to move him someplace both nearer and safer.

Welcome to assisted living.  Just picturing how I’d feel when it came time to trade my own house and car for a 2-room studio far away from where I called home for the last 20 years, twisted my heart. But having your parent’s care solely on your shoulders is layered with many emotions, even in the happiest, Hallmark families. Out of three kids, I was now the only game in town so, along with being critical dad’s go-to, choosing the right senior living facility was the could best I could do. We were suddenly both stuck and we both struggled to make the best of it.  Like I said, it’s ‘complicated’. Continue reading “The Handoff”

Grief is Grief

If You Could See Me Now . . .

14064-woman-sunset-girl-arms-blue-sky-clouds-silhouette.1200w.tnWhat am I saying? Of COURSE, you can see me! An ol’ newsman who never met a story he didn’t want to write or tell? I’m quite sure I’ve been in your sights since the night you died. The question is, what do you think? You’ve been gone more than two years so I’m sure, as usual, you have plenty to say as you watch me traipsing through life each day. You knew me really well, as I knew you, but since that night you left, we’ve had way different journeys and I’m at a little disadvantage. Hanging out in the ethernet, I’m guessing you know more about what my trip looks like than I do yours.

Anyway, you may have noticed that I’ve developed a kind of (even more) offbeat way of being, of maneuvering the world on my own. In those first awful months, it was just about staying afloat, treading very dark waters until I found my rhythm. And though rhythm always jazzed us both, this tune was hardly something dance to. I could hardly envision how I would ever get through without-you life but somehow, I’m still here. When you’re dropped in water over your head, you sink or swim — and I’m swimming. (or something like it. I’m no Michael Phelps).

You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you

Here I am,  hanging out in this world and ‘adulting’, as our granddaughter would say. Like all people on the planet, I’m just doing the best I can, with what I have, if you include a personal weird spin. Have you been critiquing this reluctant reinvention? A sweet widow friend you may not have met, echoed that same thought last week, as we joke-texted one night about our packing up Christmas decorations antics. As she wistfully considered her late husband’s appreciative laughter at her fight with her own fake fir, I decided our imagining must be ‘a thing’. That said, if you, my other half, if your new career is ‘wife watch’, here are a few highlights to consider: Continue reading “If You Could See Me Now . . .”

Grief is Grief

Tricked Out Alchemy

AWSBook

Alchemists have an active imagination. Webster may define alchemy as the power to transform something in a mysterious way, but I think grief really tests that description. In medieval times, alchemy embodied the transformative art of turning lead into gold.  Those who practiced it, considered it a metaphor for the inner process of changing consciousness. Sounds complicated, right? Actually, alchemy is a perfect description of grief.

Some say grief is about being strong but anyone who’s been there might have a little something to say about that. When loss breaks you completely open, it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other let alone flex your emotional muscles. If our minds are working at all, we worry that if we surrender fully into the grief spiral, we’ll hurtle, like good old Alice in Wonderland, into darkness we might never return from. But we’d be wrong. It’s hard to imagine that all the tears, anger and exhaustion won’t drown us. Instead, they do what they were meant to do — help to heal us.

Our bodies are pretty great life guides. They know when to rest and when to cry, even when our minds are complete mush. Tears, even the ugly cry kind, are a cleansing release, a vehicle for healing. I didn’t say ‘cure’, by the way. Grief doesn’t come with that. But thank goodness, our body has built-in release triggers that trip the healing process we need to open the door to whatever is next.

“We live on; we don’t move on”.

Nora McInerney

There’s no shortcut through grief. Bummer. We move through the process in our own time and pace. Luckily, along the way, we might uncover our heart’s true capacity to feel and to love.

There’s no ‘normal’ in grief. You move when you move. Period. Continue reading “Tricked Out Alchemy”