March 26, 2012
Grief Therapy 4, ME Newsletter, Vol. 5, Issue 13
10/27: When strength becomes a character flaw.
Enough already. I’m strong. I’m independent. I hear it over and over, from friends and now from my therapist. Those characteristics have become a flaw. I guess if you project an image of solid rock, people can’t fathom you crumbling. Take right now for example. Proactive me is writing this to share at a later date. Because if I don’t write it now I might forget later exactly what I meant to say, exactly what it’s been like. I’m driven to record, share. Which is in direct conflict with the latest epiphany I am supposed to subscribe to: “You don’t have to give your emotional self to everyone.” Trust me, I don’t want to, but right now I can’t control it. The lack of control frustrates me. Frustration makes me angry; angry makes me cry. It’s only become recently debunked - my self-scribed myth; I only ever cry when I’m angry. Not so suddenly, I cry when I’m sad, too. Or tired, or hungry and exhausted. Or breathing. I don’t know how long the tears have been creeping up on me. They’ve been threatening for so long. I kept adding sand bags to the levee. Still, after all this time, isn’t high enough to keep them from crashing over, sweeping through. And I’ve been diving under those waves instead of riding them. Another monumental advisory this week: new and foreign. Accommodate this phase. Embrace the darkness; cry. Stop fighting it. Accept it. Allow it. Observe it. It is what it is, explained in great detail by Joseph Campbell.
I want to be on the couch cuddled up with the currently spastic kitten. He’s leaping and running and basically expending tons of energy I don’t have. Eventually he’ll tire though. So maybe I’ll set myself up on the couch and wait for that. He’ll crawl up in my arms with stinky breath that the vet says isn’t a problem. And I’ll breathe through my mouth so I can feel his nose muzzle my neck, and fall asleep to his purr. But it’s early evening and that would be wasted time. There are things on my list. I have four days to get them done. Even that isn’t long enough. I’m tired of trying to make progress but failing; root bound. Every task blooms into a garden of weeds. What’s the point of breaking up the root ball if I’ve got no place to put the splits? I’m daunted. And tired. For today, for tomorrow, for who knows how long - I don’t want to be strong, or independent, or responsible. So maybe the answer is just that simple: simply to not be.
March 19, 2012
Grief Therapy 3, ME Newsletter, Vol. 5, Issue 12
10/26/11. The week between my first and second appointment was spent trying to stay alive. Not in a suicidal way, but having to admit my IADLs had gone to hell. Realizing what I wasn’t doing was traumatic. I cried so much that when the next session came, I could for, a while, hold back the tears. That was a coup. When asked about Jeff, well, I’ve told his story so many times out loud, in my head, on paper. I shared my memorial poem, and origins. We talked some more about his big heart and how kids loved him. And coming home to find Jeff and his young neighborhood friend playing Star Wars in the den. Darth Vader mask, light saber, and all. It always comes back to the laughter. I guess it’s my coping mechanism, but I’m glad it makes other people laugh. So many funny stories.
But there was also fear. So much fear. And some anger - over chewing tobacco. I didn’t have to make us so miserable about that. But I needed something to be angry about. It really wouldn’t have mattered all that much. His health was spiraling downward fast. It may have been his coping mechanism. And only one of two things I believe he ever lied to me about.
I only ever tell the funny stories. Or the sweet ones. It makes it seem as though our ife was idyllic. It wasn’t, but we had an unusual advantage. We knew what was coming. More accurately, I knew what was coming and while Jeff chose to favor denial. It was a strange moment when the therapist made reference to his own personal relationship and commented that he very much admired me; for my strength and commitment to myself. My marriage, he said, was a good example. “Sticky notes,” I advised him. That’s the key. “I’ll stop at Staples on the way home,” he smiled. I really think he will.
We talked about how I hate staying home with nothing to do, but hate doing anything. I told him about the condolence cards, and writing notes to friends and family about the notes they wrote to me. I told about the list of things that were said at the family and friends gathering, some funny, some sweet. Some I had forgotten, that made me laugh aloud, again.
We talked about how I am embarrassed and humiliated, worried about being treated differently. I didn’t mention an errant comment wound sustained from an unintentionally cruel blurt, “You really are just the same as everybody else!” I don’t think it was meant in an offensive way, but it registered that I had been knocked down a peg in their eyes. I’m not perfect; never claimed to be. But I have been a pretty good actress. 5 years of keeping in character. Better than a soap opera star – because I worked on weekends, too.
Talking about the fun and the laughter makes me smile, for a while. But around the moment, reality stands, a solid block in my path, a stark white placard faced with big, black, bold stroke letters impossible to miss stating stoically -“That’s all gone.” And it’s true. I can’t argue that part.
It’s a bit of a hilly hike – ups and downs, rain and sunshine. There aren’t always bridges to carry me where I want to go. So I either have to do without or build my own. Doing without means sitting still on the shore or wading through the clawing river intent on shredding my heart and soul.
Building my own means baby steps; doing it on my own in tiny, well planned chunks, so the deep rooted timbers I’m chopping down won’t topple onto me. Or asking for help which means I probably won’t get to do it exactly my way. Do I want to spend another five years in this spot? Damn, I don’t even want to spend today here. But I can’t go back. Can’t change what I’ve done, can’t repair an image that was at best smoke and mirrors. Not all that interested in doing so, anyway.
March 13, 2012
Grief Therapy 2, ME Newsletter, Vol 5, Issue 11
So, no, I did not share this with everyone. I did cry easily and constantly in the evenings. Eventually, I cried during the day, too. It was suggested I should take some time off work in order to let the medication take effect. I balked at that. The downtime was the hard part. Sit still with nothing to do? Where was the sense in that? Showing up and being busy at work was all that was keeping me going.
We sort of reached a compromise. I wanted three days. I figured that was all I’d need. Since it was Wednesday – I counted off 5 days - Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and included Monday – since I had a return appointment on Monday, anyway. That logic was answered with “We’ll see.” Monday found me compromising again. I was tired, exhausted, lethargic, still weepy. I agreed to down-timing the rest of the week. On Monday, with seven days ahead of me, I was scared. What would I do, what could I do, what should I do, if I wasn’t sleeping or crying?
The thing is I don’t do “nothing” well. Having my movement halted, in any direction good or bad, terrified me. I can’t stay in one place, figuratively and literally. I need distraction; reading, on-line games, crafts. Though, the sad truth was, I had no concentration, no staying power. If I started something, I wouldn’t finish, besides, I truly had no desire to do the things I like to do anyway. An inner pep-talk, some self-convincing, some self-cajoling, and quite a bit of sighing, settled me into a long-time list item. Going through the filing cabinet was a short spurt project I could put aside at any moment - no urgency involved, naps posed no dilemma to continuity.
I opened the second drawer, the one with the older files, and grabbed a random hanging file from the middle. Great, I thought. How freakin’ perfect. I’d pulled out a file housing an envelope of condolence cards. I stared at them for a few frozen moments. I contemplated putting them back, and ignoring them. But, knew I wouldn’t be able to get them out of my head. It’s not like I forgot I had them. I truly thought they were somewhere else, so pulling them out of the file cabinet was a surprise. I considered just throwing them away, but I couldn't. Not without making sure there wasn’t something I might need tucked away in between.
Retreating to the comfortable, lamp-lit corner of my couch, cross-legged, pulled-in, pillow-buffeted, wrap-blanketed; I took a deep breath and plunged in. The first card was from a good friend saying she and her family were laughing over funny Jeff stories. The second was from a Michigan Hot Sauce Club store regular – inside was a goofy picture of him and another regular dressed up for a wedding sporting fake buck teeth. The caption said "I hope this makes you smile." I remembered it did then, and marveled that it did again. The third card carried a two page (four sided) letter. As I reread those wise, wonderful, loving words written 5 years ago, I cried some more, and blessed them for what was written. I did everything those words said I would. Even living up to the prediction that, "It will take a little while, but everything will be ok." Of course, I've managed to completely redefine the meaning of the term "a little while."
I am struck by the number of stretch acquaintances who sent notes, and by the depth of all of them. Committed to finishing up sorting thru keepers and shredders after hours of reading and napping and sometimes needing to reread blurred words, I have two piles. Just then the phone rings. After three listings and some price adjusting, there is finally a potential purchaser for the NASCAR collection. The buyer is from Georgia and missed the last bid time out because he was at Talledega.
Yeah, that seems about right, as does the flat price and his willingness to drive to Michigan to pick it all up in person. All fifteen totes, eight pieces of framed artwork, a used race tire and a few cardboard boxes, will go to an enthusiastic small-time collector and good home. I’m just glad it’s going. I don’t want it back. Maybe this week will be about closure after all.
March 05, 2012
Grief Therapy I, ME Newsletter, Vol 5, Issue 10
Here is where a new story starts. If it’s frightening to you imagine how frightening it was for me. Even more so now that things are a bit more under control. Bottom line is I am past the worst. I’m not about to belittle the strength it is taking me to share. It’s strength I didn’t have, and only have now in short bursts, easily depleted. I’m not saying I don’t want help, I just don’t need badgering. I’m pretty sure my current guardian angel was a badger in a previous life. At least now I want to talk. I want to, but still can’t. So, I’ll continue writing.
Grief Therapy: Round one:
First assignment: tell people….
So, I comply, in a safe, removed way. I tell people I’m not likely to see anytime soon, or if I will, it will be in a short, controlled setting with no time or privacy for intimate conversation. In a spurt of long dormant strength, I boldly confess to people I haven’t seen for a long time, some I haven’t seen for years, and probably won’t see for at least a few more.
Stated shortly, addressed simply:
“Well, five years and 20 days late... I began grief counseling today. I don't think this is going to be fun, at all. But, if I want happy meds my MD requires the talking stuff, too. My assignment is to tell people, so I’m telling you. Not sure if you should be honored or burdened, but thanks for letting me share.”
A few rapid responses fly in. I keep the notes and passages knowing I will re-read them later.
“No way. I thought all this time it was something else. Congrats on a good move in a very positive direction! What you went thru sucked! You go girl!”
“No, not fun, but probably necessary and, in the end, will be extremely important for recovery. Best wishes and hugs. The crying will suck but acceptance is on the other side of it.”
“That feels like an honor to me. I'm glad that you are finally going. 5 years might seem a little off, but it has to be in your own time. We love you.”
“I am very proud of you that you started grief therapy today. Congratulations. It will really help you. I don't know if you remember, I started practicing Buddhism after my Dad’s car accident. I chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. It helps me though life’s roller coasters.”
“Stay strong. Good move on starting therapy and taking charge of your life again. Love and miss you! Very proud of you.”
“How was your first session?
- At the end of my long list of ridiculous events this past year and recent years past, the therapist looked at me and said, "You legitimately have a lot to be upset about. And you're clearly showing signs of depression." I cried pretty hard throughout the hour and left there with my usual tell-tale lovely tear-burnt cheeks, tomato afterglow nose and red rimmed eyes worthy of Scrooge. -
… and your sense of humor I see! I hope you are going to give yourself a gift and keep going.”
Despite the positive outreach support of my underminingly chosen out-of-reach-ers, it was the unspoken words that bothered me, caused me pain; the absence of acknowledgments, nothing returned. After years of pushing away and burrowing in, I have successfully established a secure hermitage. My behavior semi-predictable and tiresome: I didn’t show when I was needed. I didn’t answer the phone or email, didn’t respond to letters or cards. I couldn’t care more than a few moments. I was too busy trying to stay my ground in the game of life.