Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Good Grief

For those of you who like happy little blogs and by accident wandered over here, perhaps you might want to quickly excuse yourself and find the way out!

While this blog is entitled "the land of milk and honey" I s'pose I should reiterate that in my experience, the Promised Land, the good place we live in, is occasionally a trail of tears.  A good world.  A beautiful world, but touched by sorrow and loss.

These days I am thinking about death a lot.  Kind of hard not to when our community has encountered so many tragic deaths over the last few weeks.  We had a funeral mass at our little church last week for a prominent lawyer who was killed in an auto accident.  He was a friend to many in our little town.  I also found out last week that another of my customers, Bevery, died.

She was such a vibrant personality!  Petite, but fiery like a pistol!  Always wore a big ole cowboy hat, as is wise in a land of powerful sun.  Along with the hat, bold and beautiful agate jewelry.  And I always saw her with a lovely wide skirt with pretty belt.  And boots.

She gardened vigorously.  Cared for her mother.  Studied health, nutrition, was full of information.  She would come in for milk and honey bread, and bring huge bags of garden goodies for trade.  We ate many wonderful meals last year from the work of her hands.  I don't know much else about Beverly, except that everyone seemed to know her.  That she was strong.  Full of opinions and laughter.

Her departure has made many people sad.

I will miss her intermittent popping in the bakery.  Hearing her tell of her gardening journey here in Alpine and down south.

I imagine there are many people out there who are still grieving the loss of their young friends who died in different auto accidents over the winter here in our little town.

I am tempted to avoid the painful topics.  Tempted because I know how uncomfortable it makes people to hear about pain.  About loss.  I mean, how many times have you heard someone in their loss for words stumble along and try to get people to be happy and think about how much better off the dead are?  Well, no kidding.  It is the person left behind who is now left to pick up the pieces and walk forward, despite the pain

It is frightening to look at pain face to face.  Would be easier to run away and play dead, numbing oneself to emotions that are not fun.  But the other day, as I felt loaded down by more emotions than seemed possible, many of them  not terribly  nice ones, I consciously decided to give myself permission to feel.  To be whole.  Complete.  Even if it were a little rough around the edges.  Okay.  A lot rough around the edges.

Most of us have experienced deep loss at some point or another.  If you haven't yet, you will, unfortunately, that is, if you ever let yourself love.

I am finding that it is important to take a little inventory of emotions periodically.  You might find that certain seasons have a profound affect on you.  The most important losses I experienced all took place in winter.  January and February.  My father-in-law and mother-in-law, with whom I was very close, both died days apart, in my presence, last of January, first week of February.  My late husband died end of February.

What you might notice is that your body will tell you about your loss before your mind.  There is something about the cold that used to invigorate me that over the last several years makes me feel sad.  Muscle memory of those days of deep  grief.  There are times I handle the loss memory better than others.

Trying to stuff the grief, telling myself that enough time has gone on, I should really get with the program, doesn't seem to do much but compound the pain, causing it to ooze out in most uncomfortable ways.  Calling it what it is, saying out loud to a friend that I feel sad diminishes the bad feelings.  In the middle of the sad, sharing memories and stories of the deceased love one also helps me to release some of the agony.  I was going to use the word "pain" again, thinking that "agony" was too harsh a word for the context, but could we please call it what it is?  That kind of pain IS agony.  

Another thing that has helped me tremendously is to share with the most safe friends some of the hardest things I have to deal with as a result of my loss.  Sometimes people want to focus only on the good stuff, which is great, but the truth is, loss hurts, on many different levels. There is a part of us that will cry out for acknowledgement, perhaps in some unhealthy ways, if we don't call it what it is.  For some reason, our culture calls this wallowing.  I have found it to be a wonderful way to acknowledge the truth.  The practice in the Bible is called lament.  After Philip's death I spent hours and hours in the Psalms.  What a relief!  Some of the best grief therapy.  I felt less alone as I read David's poetry, hearing the anguish as he cried out his heart to God.  I felt less crazy.  I didn't have to feel that my pain and anguish meant that my belief in the goodness of God was lessened.  In fact, the more I cry out to God when I hurt, the more I feel comfort and the more my beliefs are strengthened.

It makes me sad to think that some Christians are afraid of admitting how much they are hurt over a loss, because they are afraid it will indicate doubt in the goodness of God.

Just keep in mind that it is important to share your pain with a trusted friend.  One who will not try to "help" make you feel better by just thinking of the happy things.  Sometimes in the middle of a surge of grief, a listening ear is the best medicine.  It helps to be reminded that we are not crazy for feeling sad over loss.

If you like to write, writing is a terrific tool.  Some grief therapist suggest writing letters to your deceased loved one.  I haven't ever done this.  But I do have conversations with Philip sometimes.  I have also had chats with my in-laws and grandfather.  Sometimes I even give myself permission to say hard things, like how difficult it is to be a single parent, how I hate having to raise the kids without Philip, how I wish the kids had all four grandparents, how sad I am that they don't get to take drives and walks with their great grandparents. I wish they could hear stories from my paternal grandparents, see my grandpa at Thanksgiving show off his fake leg, as he kicked the football!

Experiencing deep grief makes some of us very sensitive to the loss of others.  This is not a weakness.  It is a gift to share compassion and understanding, as we grieve the loss of friends and even strangers.  The ability to sit and hear the pain of someone else, offering them acknowledgement is huge.  After Philip's death, the harsh words of reality from my young widowed friends were oddly comforting.  They told me that the pain was real.  That it lasted a long time.  That it would hurt for years, in some regards, forever, but that I would survive.  When they hugged me and told me that I would again feel joy, I believed them, because there was not one ounce of sugar-coated feel-good baloney in a single word they said.  They taught me that to say "I am sorry for your loss" is about the best thing you can say to someone when you don't know what to say.  If you have to say anything at all.

So, when the grief hits, what to do?

Call it what it is.  Admit, to yourself, and hopefully to a safe friend, that it is not crazy to hurt deeply over loss.

Remember the loved one.  Share some of their stories.  Share some sweet memories.  Maybe even share some hard memories.  It might help more than you think to share out loud the situation surrounding the death of your deceased loved one.  Were they sick for months?  Was it hard being a caretaker?  Did you have a fight with your son right before he died in a car accident?  Just remember to share these vulnerable moments with someone who is a trusted, safe friend, who will not rush in to try to fix things. We were so blessed to be in a place near a grief support group, sponsored by an area hospice group, with a licensed, professional therapist leading, offering tools and guidance.  And most of all a safe place to share stories as we all worked to find a new normal.  Check it out, if you can find a similar group.  Scary to walk through the door the first time, but oh, so healing.

Most important of all, be kind to yourself.  Exercise helps my body and mind function the way they were meant to function.  When I feel most miserable is when I drag myself to the door and go for a walk.  But there are times when it is okay to give yourself permission to take a nap.  Or sit down to read a book.  But pay attention.  If you are unable to get yourself up to go to work most of the time, and the rare nap becomes a continuous nap, it is possible that your deep loss is affecting the way your neuro-transmitters are working, and a visit to your family doctor could help give you some more effective medical tools.

Giving myself a chance to see a beautiful, or grandiose scene in nature helps me also. Seeing something way bigger than me or my problems helps put things into a better perspective.  If you are patient with yourself, you will probably discover things that help you feel nurtured and comforted.

I hope for us all, each of us who have moments of feeling like we should wail, feeling like we are burdened down with grief and loss, would be able to say like the poet, David,

"You have turned my wailing into dancing;
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever."  Psalm 30:12,13


Jeanne Ireland said...

This post is the most beautiful, honest, heartbreaking, loving text I have ever read. You put it all out there both for others and yourself. Both my eyes and my heart are swelling.

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Tell it like it is Ginger! If you weren't wailing, I would think something was wrong. Plus, I feel better when I know others are wailing too. Not that I want anyone to have pain. But to know that I am not alone makes me feel stronger. If SHE can still bake bread, I can carry on as well. said...

Jeanne, thanks for commenting.
Hi Deb! i hear ya! How is life in NJ? I miss the Garden State. And of course we will all carry on, won't we? I got one of the kids the giant poster of Keep Calm and Carry On. Of course you know I had to get another one to put right beside that one! The Time to panic and freak out one! I hope your horses are happy.

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Life is good. Well, it's snowing here right now. Good ol' Jersey.

Did you ever sell that house in Virginia?

paul s. said...

Well written. Wisdom gained the hard way. Once again must encourage you to contact an agent or publisher and try selling a book idea.