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”

Chick stuff, Holiday Madness

Flower Grinch

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I may have come from the land of misfit toys but, full disclosure, I’m not the biggest fan girl of flowers. Shocker – and on Valentine’s Day, too. But, I have no intention of turning in my woman card. I’m still a warm and fuzzy Libra girl who just isn’t a total sucker for a floral bouquet. Working in my parents’ florist shop might have something to do with my blasé attitude toward blooms. Nothing says bursting the floral mystique more than frantic holidays of cranky last minute orders, stripping thorns and using enough floral tape to giftwrap the entire planet.

Admittedly, flowers are pretty, gorgeous even, but well, they die. Ooops. Shakespeare once asked “Is it better to love and lose than never love at all?” Despite that great advice, the concept of ‘perishable’ never held a lot of appeal – especially in these last 3 years. Still flowers can make your day and have made many of mine, but for reasons other than their horticultural wonder.

“At my age, flowers scare me.” George Burns

The mushy artist in me has been super appreciative of flowers that came to my door looking utterly gorgeous, especially the exotic, wildly lush ones. Some have been flashy, in eye-popping colors and some sailed in, softly hued and gentle as fairy dreams. Humans are wired to love flowers simply because they are beautiful. In fact, when we think of the word beautiful, one of the first things that comes to mind IS a flower. Continue reading “Flower Grinch”

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 . . .”

View from the Shoe

She Laughs

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Tragedy or comedy. Given a choice who wouldn’t pick the latter? But, we don’t always get to choose and when we get that big dose of suck, it can sometimes be impossible to even manage a smile. Yet, so many who have little reason to be amused, show us light every day. “Life would be tragic if it wasn’t so funny” said Stephen Hawking, a genius trapped in a wheel chair forever. Now, if he can find humor in what we would readily describe as a really dismal poker hand, we have every reason to create our own smiley face.

“ From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.” Dr. Suess.

People with the best senses of humor are life’s pied pipers. They are the ones who help us recognize and cope with life’s absurdities. Humor can be just what the doctor ordered, especially when the diagnosis is something we want to mark return to sender. A good laugh recharges your batteries. A sense of humor can improve your immune system, lower stress hormones, relax muscles and lower blood pressure. (Note to self: Remember that a good joke helps the brain on days when I walk upstairs three times before I remembering what I went there for.)  Who knew humor did such a heavy lift?

“The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.” Mark Twain

There are many things that are funny; but these days, even when grief doesn’t make a personal call, there are many very unfunny things that fill our world, too.  In fact, a whole lot is downright scary. These are times we need a little humor, or a lot, but when we are smack in the middle of the scary, a smile is mile away.  Even when the problems of the world take a day off, the negative noise from the Beltway, can snuff out the fragile sprouts of humor. Continue reading “She Laughs”

Grief is Grief

Tricked Out Alchemy

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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”

Politics and other awkward stuff

We’re Bigger Than This.

Flag USA July 4 Celebration Indendence Day ConceptYes, it was inevitable. Post-election fallout has forced everything else that populates my peculiar mind to take a number.  Actually, I suspect every everyone in the US has PLENTY of thoughts to share right now but these are my two cents — so, fasten your seatbelt!

No one escaped the stress and strain of a seemingly endless campaign that often defied description. Regardless of which side of the aisle you sat, the seats have been horribly uncomfortable. Constant rhetoric irritated tempers and eardrums. Hats were promotional party favors. The issues, candidates and constant rallies neatly sliced up this country and escape to Canada became a handy exit strategy.

Election night saw a fair amount of hand wringing, nail-biting and yelling at the TV. In the end, like white smoke from the Vatican chimney, the results were in – there was a winner. Some were thrilled; others not so much to put it mildly. Whether joy or anguish, there was certainly no lack of emotion on either side and some have not recovered. The dark horse won, not by popular vote, but by something most people only heard in high school history class – Electoral College. Social media was on fire, the airwaves were filled with ‘Monday morning quarterbacking’ and everyone was shell-shocked with either happiness or devastation.

Who I voted for and how I felt about the outcome doesn’t matter. I have plenty of company either way. But one thing seems clear. The real election results evidenced the tragic birth of us’ — and ‘them’. Yes, I realize that our treasured ‘melting pot’ has been melting, in many ways, for years beneath the surface of our indifference and complacency. It just took the proverbial last straw of this year’s vitriolic, inflammatory campaign rhetoric for the pressure cooker to explode – and explode it did. Wedges have been jammed between white people and people of color, LGBT and religious fundamentalists, liberal vs. conservative, urban vs. rural, educated vs. uneducated and — men vs. women. We’ve heard the most inflammatory statements. Racial harassment is rampant. A canyon has opened up and we are all in danger of falling into the abyss. No matter which camp you’re in, to say it all pretty much sucks is a mammoth understatement. Continue reading “We’re Bigger Than This.”

Politics and other awkward stuff

Together…We Remember. 9/11/01

september-11th-memorial-3-largeWhen an anniversary marks a death, there is little to celebrate. When it marks the death of more than 2,996 people, an anniversary is a misnomer. Anniversaries somehow denote champagne but celebration is anathema to those left standing after a precious loved one dies. But when those they loved are simply removed from the planet, when they disappear into the either in an instant, words can’t be articulated. The calendar imprints today as the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001, a day to remember – all the days of the year.

Maybe you knew or lost someone in the towers or on the plane. You might have known one of the first-responders who never knew how their pledge to serve would be tested. You might have been watching tv at home or in the office or listening to the radio in your car. Wherever you were, whoever you knew one thing is for sure, you will never forget that day.

This past week, my thoughts were crowded with all the people who went to work that day and never came home. I thought of the terror, the unfathomable horror of a day that began with brilliant blue skies. I thought of the parents, siblings, children and spouses whose lives were ravaged with one phone call. I thought of how many that day were my children’s ages now. I thought of all the family pictures, the photo albums, the weddings, all the sweet things of life that will forever be minus one important person in them. Continue reading “Together…We Remember. 9/11/01”

Grief is Grief

Four Funerals and a Wedding

Happy couple in their new home concept

Nope, not the Hugh Grant comedy.  Jill Smolowe’s book, Four Funerals and a Wedding, is pretty much anything but comedic. Her book chronicles not only her personal grief journey but how she coped and grew along the way. In one chapter she mentions how her therapist suggested that her grief began on the first day of her husband’s diagnosis. That struck me as pretty profound.  Given that my husband’s diagnosis was levied 3 months before we were even married, I realized it would not be at all surprising that unconscious grief followed us through those years. Even as we lived and loved as fully as we possibly could, we grieved by inches.

How do you measure the knowledge, however much you stash it in the closet or ‘put on a happy face’, that many dreams just won’t come true? No, my mind never went in the direction of Charlie Brown’s Sally who said “She didn’t want to live and threw herself in front of a Zamboni”. It was just that gray leaden feeling, a sense that no matter what your plans, there would always be an expiration date that coexisted with the daily business of living. Where cancer lives, everything becomes more complicated and layered. All of life takes on a different hue. Continue reading “Four Funerals and a Wedding”