Wednesday, April 10, 2019

This Much I Know

"Healing in grief is a lot like the onset of spring.  It's unreliable and fickle."
~ Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Unreliable and fickle.  Certainly my experience.  It's uncanny how this spring my inner mood so reflects the weather - or is it vice versa?   

Some days, the skies are gunmetal gray and the temperatures have dropped by ten degrees.  It's all I can do to get out of my nightgown and accomplish anything.  A song, a telephone conversation, an unexpected request related to John's death and I'm weeping.  A grief burst to rival the cloudbursts that have been all too common this spring.  

Some days, I wake to sunshine and the expectation of a good day, but by noon, banks of gray clouds roll in and the threat of yet another cloudburst increases by the hour.  On these days, it takes so little to unleash my own cloudburst of tears.  For how could those grief experts who warn you to prepare for the first anniversary or birthday or holiday know how easily I can fall apart at the sight of the first tulip, remembering the delight he took in planting them.  Or the sight of the first hummingbird, reminding me that he is not here to fill the feeder.  Or how even anticipating the first roses brings tears as I know he will never again bring in a fresh rose in the morning to greet my day,  How could they know?

Lately, however, there are days when I think I'm making progress through the forest of my grief.  The sun shines.  It's warm and a breeze whispers the shrubbery.   I have energy, look forward to the day and getting out and among folks.  The memories are sweet.  I barely shed a tear.  I even laugh.  On these days, I can believe there will be more such days, hopefully, many more.

So, this much I have come to know about this path I'm walking - the journey is, at best, unreliable and fickle.  Grief bursts are to be expected at the most unexpected times.  They are a part of the journey, but they, like spring showers, eventually pass.  So, I do best when I take it a day at a time, some days an hour at a time.  

I know that quotes like the above help me to make sense of my experience.  I know that the good days, and there are good days, are cause for celebration. The good days, and there are more good days, are cause for optimism.  I know that somehow, someday, the firsts will not overwhelm me.  I know that I will survive, and maybe, just maybe, even thrive again.  Even if, today, the clouds roll in again.

Monday, February 11, 2019

I Am No Stranger to Grief

"Grief is not a train track toward acceptance.  Instead, it is more of a 'getting lost in the woods.'"
~ Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD

I am no stranger to grief.   I have walked the path of grief alone and as a companion of family members and friends many times in my 78 years.  I have grieved openly over the assassinations of my youth and the shootings too common these past few years.  I am no stranger to grief.

So I thought I was prepared for John's death.  I was naive enough to think I was "ready".  Moreover, I was more concerned that I would be relieved rather than bereaved.  I wasn't - either ready or relieved.  I was shocked, that the pain and fear and regret were so crippling; also shocked that I was shocked.

It has been 12 weeks now, 12 weeks today, and the initial shock waves after subsided.  I have put my feet forward into the woods, deliberately, albeit with no small measure of anxiety and trepidation.  It is helping to think of this as a journey on an unchartered path through a dense forest.  This metaphor helps me when I'm going along, seemingly upright and grief descends like an unexpected branch that smacks me in the chest or an unseen root sending me tumbling face forward to the ground.  It helps when is a ray of sunshine breaks through the canopy of grief and for a moment I feel guilty that I feel OK.

I'm pretty sure not everyone thinks in metaphors nor finds solace in them, but this one works for me.  Grief as a path, an unchartered path through a dark forest.  A path that one has to create slowly, carefully, a step at a time.  Sometimes moving in the wrong direction, sometimes stumbling, sometimes frightened and disillusioned, but eventually finding the clearing.

I remind myself that I am no stranger to grief.  I may not have been lost in so vast, so dark a forest before, but I have made it through a miscarriage, a divorce, the loss and betrayal of friends, my own cancer - I will survive.  Someday, I may even thrive again.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

To Remember

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"Promise me you'll always remember:
You're braver than you believe,
And stronger than you seem, 
And smarter than you think."

~ Christopher Robin to Pooh

I gave a plaque with this quote to John two years ago, at the beginning of his valiant battle with a rare cancer of the blood, a battle he lost the Monday before Thanksgiving.  I wanted him to cling to these words, wanted him to remember every day through the hundreds of transfusions he received, through his steady decline how much I believed in him.  How brave and strong and smart I knew him to be.

Then I forgot that I had given it to him.   He never used the words brave, or strong, or smart when people marveled at how resilient he seemed, how courageous, how amazing that he survived beyond the initial prognosis of six months.  Instead, publicly he would credit it to his orneriness or stubbornness.  Privately, he would declare that he expected a miracle.  For hadn't he survived non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, several bouts of skin cancer.  He was going to beat these odds, too, and be the first to defeat what we had been told was incurable.  He didn't use the words, but every day he lived them.

I forgot about it as I sent him more cards, found other plaques, penned letters of acknowledgment and gratitude and encouragement, and grieved as I watched him decline,  eventually surrender to Home Health Care, and finally to Hospice services.  

Then, on a day following his death, when I could muster the courage to check out his computer and immediate surroundings, I found the plaque and shared it with my sister who had come to be with us, to be with me.  She encouraged me to place it where I could see it.  Where it could serve me as surely it had served him.

So, it now rests on my bedside table where it nudges me to remind myself in the morning and in the evening, in the moments when grief and loneliness descend on me like a sudden thunderstorm, when I fear I haven't enough years left to ever feel content again, that

You are braver than you believe,
And stronger than you seem,
And smarter than you think.

~ John to Angie

I repeat the words and hope someday I'll believe them.  Just not yet.