Do No Harm

Related image

As I embarked on my grieving journey I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know that I would be on a journey, as I like to characterize my long period of grieving after my husband passed away. It was truly a sad, lonely and terrifying time. I begged God for relief and then stopped talking to Him altogether. I felt abandoned and full of despair.

In the early stages of my grieving (which lasted for many,many months…years really), I would recall the period when Chuck was ill. Even when I dreamt of him, which was very infrequently (almost never today) I would,initially, have dreams of an ill Chuck, mute, but bearing silent messages.

When Chuck was ill, there were many things I would have wanted to say to him. I wanted to bring up how if he had done this this way or not done such and such that way maybe his predicament could’ve been avoided. I wanted to scream at him actually and list the things I felt might’ve changed his plight. But alas, I held my tongue as I felt to add insult to injury would only have caused him more pain. I loved my husband with every fiber in my body and to do him more harm with words, just to get the anger off my chest , would have been cruel and insensitive. Chuck didn’t ask for deadly cancer, and he was already in excruciating pain, so I decided it was best to let him go in peace. It was, after all about him, not about me.

After Chuck was gone, I ranted and railed at God, as I tried to make sense of the random act of craziness that had swept into our lives and disrupted our family. I remained angry with God for a long, long time. Once I was asked what I thought God felt about my being angry with Him. I answered, “God is God,He can take it… and He will still love me anyway.” God’s love is unconditional  and I had to practice unconditional love toward my spouse as I held back on things that were on the tip of my tongue.

On the flip-side, I had a few people who said rather insensitive things to me after Chuck died. Here’s a few examples: “You’re still wearing your wedding band?”, “I’m like you, because since my divorce/separation,which is also a loss…….”, “You’re so lucky, my life has been not nearly as lucky as yours because of these circumstances in my life” (then the person proceeds to list the not so great things that have occurred in their life,always ending with)”… and at least you had your time with Chuck”. Most of the time I didn’t know how to respond to these comments. Generally I would say nothing, but I slowly distanced myself as I didn’t want to be the recipient of insensitive comments from folks who thought they were being well-meaning.I also felt that people wanted to show that they understood when really, they did not. The words that were chosen were at best insensitive and at worst really stung.I was already in pain and didn’t want that pain compounded by thoughtless epitaphs.

Image result for person covering another's mouth

As I would soon encounter others who had suffered the loss of a spouse, one of the most common threads amongst all of us was how we all took umbrage with the insensitive and thoughtless things that people said to us.Sometimes, surprisingly, it would come from those who were close, those whom you would expect to tread softly on your fresh wound. At other times comments came from those who were well-intentioned but truly missed the mark.

I would suggest that if someone has experienced the loss of a spouse or loved one, the person offering condolences should select one’s words very carefully. After loss, most of the time, the grieving are in a state of shock, even if they seem to be handling everything.They’re not looking for shock therapy, but for compassion.If you care for your friend or family member you really shouldn’t want to add insult to injury by saying things that add to their pain. Some people are not like me and will lash out, others like me will back off. It’s a very vulnerable, precarious time for one who grieves and as he/she makes their way through uncharted waters, they will experience internal changes that will have personal far reaching effects as they move their lives forward.

The death of a spouse is a life-altering experience, as it should be. Be thoughtful, gentle, kind, no comparisons to divorces, and separations. Death is death and is unequal to any other known human experience in its finality. Every loss by death is different, never equal, or worse, just different.

God is the only one who can take it. You can rant and rail and scream at Him and He will love you anyway. However, you can’t get away with that with mere mortals, especially when they are in an altered state. Be thoughtful, mindful of the hurt and pain they’re going through. Be kind, gentle, hold your tongue, watch your words…….. do no harm.

Related image

Read more in Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse               available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

Getting Through the Pain of Grief

I’ve been reading a lot of posts on various sites  about how people are coping/or not with grief after loss. One of the most frequent questions one asks is, “How can I get past the pain?” People talk about how “they’ve lost a brother three years ago and it still hurts”, a “son who died six months ago and they can’t seem to get past the loss”, a “marriage to a husband for 47 years, and the person feels like they’ve lost a limb”.A recent loss of a spouse,the couple having been  married for two years.It doesn’t matter the length of the relationship, excruciating hurt and pain is just that.Many people do not believe that they can ever get past the pain and torment.Those who have not lost a spouse or felt the loss of a loved one don’t always understand.

Getting past the pain of grief and loss is not easy. You can’t just shake it off or hide away for a month and emerge whole again. After the loss of a significant loved one, you are never the same. I will repeat:  you will never be the same, nor should you or anyone else expect you to be. It’s like losing a puzzle piece. The missing piece represents the hole that has been created after the death of a spouse or loved one.
How then can we get past the pain and suffering that accompanies loss ? The first step is to allow yourself to grieve. This is the time to wail, scream, cry, jump up and down, rant at God.Do anything that helps you to release the pain. In the beginning of this process you will feel as if you are getting nowhere. But I can assure you that as time marches on, you will begin to feel a gradual  easement of your excruciating pain. Some people are angry and need to express those feelings as well. They’re angry with a loved one who has died for having left them. There may be residual anger from circumstances that occurred during the time that the person was alive. That coupled with depression creates an emotional instability and stagnation that can block a person from moving on with one’s life. Sometimes people don’t want to move on with their life. A person may have the misguided sense that to do so would be a betrayal to the one they have lost. So they remain stuck in place, suppressing the grief, although feeling the pain so as not to lose the essence of their loved one.You can feel the pain of grief without really grieving. It’s like running in place.
There is a saying that time heals everything, but it is what you do with time that helps you heal. People do grieve in all kinds of ways. When grief is fresh, I would suggest that one should start to grieve immediately. This is when one should seek the help of a therapist or grief counselor. The one on one aspect of healing care will allow those who are not sure that they want to be in a group, to be able to express their feelings in a safe environment. These practitioners are trained to comfort and assist people who have acute pain after loss. When grief is fresh this is not the time to hold it all in as somewhere down the road, the grief will reemerge and may not be so easily assuaged.
The year that my husband died, at the beginning of my long grief journey, I was introduced to acupuncture. I was so out of it that when suggested, having no fondness for needles per se,I decided to give it a try, hoping it would help alleviate the deep ,deep sadness and pain I was feeling  and dealing with daily. The depth of my grief was so great that I thought that this was my new normal and that I would never ever be able to escape from this new world that I found myself in. I went to acupuncture for many months, once a week at first, then twice monthly, and finally once a month. The series of sessions did help to lessen the pain and to decrease the anxiety that I was experiencing. I soon began to feel less anxious, nervous and full of despair. It would be a while before I understood that this was a new normal, nothing like my past life which included life with my husband. I was beginning to feel again and I was able to shake off the numbness that had permeated my being and left me exhausted and alive, but barely. One session, as I rested with little needles sticking out of my arms, head, and legs, I began to cry and cry. The tears streamed down my face as if flowing from a small waterfall. I missed my husband and just ached with a desire to see him just one more time. I would think of everything and weep silently. When the doctor came back to remove the needles I told him that I’d been crying. He said that that was good and then added, “cry cry cry weep weep weep. Rent a movie that makes you cry and watch it over and over and over again. Crying is good and necessary. It will help you to release the pain.”
He went on to say that when he was about to go to medical school and was in the midst of exams, he lost his  fiancé to a drunk driver. He was heartbroken, but couldn’t deal with the pain and hurt, so he stuffed it away and never grieved. He said that that event had happened 20 years earlier and now he was beginning to deal with issues from that time. A few weeks passed, and before I went to my next scheduled appointment, I received a phone call from his office saying that the doctor was no longer available. He’d developed a brain tumor and could no longer practice medicine. I immediately thought about our earlier conversation and how his inability to deal with the pain and loss at that earlier time in his life, had only delayed the grieving process. Unfortunately, the longer it wasn’t dealt with a small rock became a huge boulder. His advice to me to get it out, was singularly the best advice I received early on after the death of my husband Chuck.I was learning how everything in life has a consequence, every action and inaction.
I recommend that those who grieve, should not delay beginning the process. It is true that everybody grieves in their own way and sometimes folks delay the grieving process to avoid the pain, but from my experience diving right in is preferable to waiting. By waiting you are actually doing yourself more harm than good. The journey will take as long as it needs to as time varies with each individual. But embarking on the journey is crucial to getting through the process. Sometimes individual circumstances can interfere with one’s ability to begin to grieve. Many have children to care for and other family obligations as well as jobs to go to. So it’s very difficult to fit grieving the loss of a spouse, or loved one into one’s everyday routine. But it is essential, we must become conscious grievers and we have to set aside time every day to mourn and become one with the grief.Sometimes caretakers begin the grief journey as they’re caring for an ill husband,wife, or parent etc.They’re not necessarily aware of this, but  the long goodbye can jumpstart one’s grieving.There should be no stigma attached to grieving, feeling sad, or reaching out for help, this goes for men as well as women.Sometimes well-meaning family members can help us to suppress the grieving process, but we must follow our own path in order to maintain our mental and physical well-being.Myths about being strong, not showing weakness prevent us from grieving and letting go.
Here are some of the ways that one can begin to deal with devastation and torment after loss:
1. Bereavement groups- a group is  great for those who are in a slightly advanced stage of one’s grief journey. Usually around four months after the loss, one should be ready to become a part of a bereavement group.After careful evaluation, you  will be with others who have experienced loss. I would suggest finding a group where all the participants have suffered the same type of loss for example child, spouse, parent.In my case I was in a group where all of the participants’ spouses had been treated at the hospital where the bereavement group was now being held ,Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and all of us had spouses who had died from complications of some form of cancer. A common thread helps the griever  to feel comfortable as one begins to open up and share his or her story over and over and over again.This will become the greatest story ever told as you open up about your lost loved one, their lives, your life with them and their passing .You will find that group members will listen to you with rapt attention, and will understand your experience more than people who are closer to you.My bereavement was the place I could go and feel that everyone in the room understood me and what I was going through. The bond amongst members and,hopefully  the gradual healing that will take place depends on your desire to be open, connect and not create obstacles that prevent you from being a part of this potentially importanat healing experience. This is the first step toward moving forward in the  new world as we begin to share stories, ask questions, cry together and alone, and start to heal.
2. If you feel that you are losing your mind,forgetful, anxious, and hopeless then consult your physician. He/she will be able to evaluate you and decide on a course of action that can help alleviate feelings of depression, despair, and sadness.
3. You may also want to try an alternative health practitioner. They also can assist with devising a treatment plan that doesn’t rely on heavy-duty prescription drugs such as antidepressants.
4. I suggest other ways of coping and getting through the grief after loss in my book Brave in a New World, which is available on Amazon.com and other worldwide booksellers.
What I’ve written here are methods of coping and getting through the grief and pain after loss. Hopefully some of these ideas will assist those who find themselves grappling with the pain of fresh or residual grief, both of which can impact one’s life as they try to create a new one.
Getting past grief after loss is the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my entire life. The emotional impact, the pain, is a very life-changing and individual experience and it will take you places that you’ve never before encountered. Dark, lonely, numbing places. One may feel as if this will be a permanent state of being and ,it could be when grief becomes melancholia. To avoid reaching that stage, I would remind people that they begin to grieve consciously and immediately after fresh loss. Don’t try to distract yourself from the pain as it only prolongs the process. You want to reach the point where the pain becomes less acute and you’re able to lead a productive life as you begin your “new” normal. My friend, Dr. Lee, knew the results of delaying grief. He understood that the health issues he was experiencing 20 yearslater, was a result of his never having mourned a great loss in his life.
I knew, instinctively, that I had to begin to grieve, openly, honestly and deal with the unknown path that lay ahead.
It is a journey I never expected,but one I feel that I’ve navigated well. I availed myself of everything, from counseling, alone time, spiritual routines, and time with friends. I knew what I was experiencing was life-changing and although, initially I wanted to follow my husband HOME, I eventually came to know that I had my own path and this experience was one I was meant to have. I adjusted to my new life and embarked on a road that would lead me in a direction I did not choose but one I was given. I believe now that this is my destiny.
Allow yourself to grieve deeply,honestly,unabashedly after loss but be mindful of opportunities that will come from the experience.Don’t let a rock become a boulder.

Read more about navigating the grief journey and how I made it through in Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse  at Amazonhttp://tinyurl.com/qghzw3e or  Barnes and Noble, and allother e-booksellers.

Widow to Widow

Dear Sheryl,

First off, I want to extend my sincerest condolences to you on the loss of your husband Dave. Although I do not know you, your essay resonated with me so. I too lost my husband (to cancer) in 2009. The grief and  pain from the loss of a spouse run so deep it is like none other. All loss is different, not worse, just different. I had so much to tell you, a stranger and kindred soul; I wrote it out, but it was too much to post on FB. I wanted to write you something more. The compartmentalized thing, the void in your bed, (yours with the arms of your mother holding you as you wept… mine with soft pillows). There is so much of your experience that is so familiar. I had the time to grieve and cry, and wail, as I had retired and had nothing but time to do just that, grieve. I soon realized that no one talks about the suffering and pain and all the emotional ups and downs of the grief experience.When I was thrust into my situation I didn’t know any widows or widowers who I could talk to about what I was experiencing. Back in 2009 there weren’t really any online grief communities, but there are many now. Other people are uncomfortable about what to say and they don’t really know how to treat you or be with you, the first time they see you after your life changing event. I’ve written a book about my experience called Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse. I talk about how I dealt with the varying stages of my grief Journey in my blogs on my website at http://www.braveinanewworld.wordpress.com. If you have a moment read some of my blogs, they may bring you comfort.

I am already years ahead of you in my grief journey. I know that you are still in the numb stage. However, I must add, that in 30 days you’ve managed to figure out so many things that will fortify you as you move your life forward. The love of your husband will remain with you and your children as long as you live. You may know that now, but you will know many more things as you continue on your life’s journey….I promise. I mean, I’ve become an author… because of my husband’s passing. It’s not a new career path that I chose, but one that was given to me. I also co-facilitate a grief recovery group for people who have lost spouses.

When I wrote my book it was as if my husband was giving me the words, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I want to empower the griever and I want them to know exactly what it is that they are feeling. The outside world would rather you close yourself away and grieve or get yourself together quietly and not let them see the pain and the suffering that you’re going through. So kudos to you for writing and sharing your thoughts with us. It is more than I could’ve done in thirty days.

The only book that helped me make sense of everything was a gift from a friend: Healing after Loss by Margaret Whitmore Hickman. You might want to read it if you have a chance.

You, my dear Sheryl, will at some point see the light at the end of the tunnel. You’re in the beginning stage of this life-altering experience, but I promise you, you will come out knowing things you’ve never ever known before. You will have a new wisdom and you’ll look at the world and those around you with a newly enlightened perspective. You have lost your beloved husband, but the word widow will not define you-you will define it.

Best,

Yvonne Broady

PS

It’s been 4 years since you’ve lost Dave. You have rebuilt your life and found new love. This is what Dave would’ve wanted for you: to grieve and then live, with clarity of purpose, renewed strength, peace of mind and joy.

The Firsts

image

A few years ago after my father had passed away, I bumped into a couple I knew. It was nearing the Thanksgiving holiday, and I mentioned to them that my father had passed away that past summer. They said,“Oh you’re about to experience the Firsts. You know, the First Thanksgiving, the First Christmas without your dad.” Now I had been thinking about how this was going to be the first Thanksgiving without my father, but it was surprising to hear somebody else actually refer to these milestones as the Firsts.
As the year progressed and each new First approached, I would feel my father’s absence and long to see him again. After my husband Chuck passed away in 2009, I was rather anxious about the Firsts. I’d be experiencing the First Valentine’s Day, birthdays – his and mine, and numerous other holidays. Throughout that first year, however,I had a few,shall we say,experiences that let me know my husband Chuck was near. That first Valentine’s Day in 2009, I was looking in a box and right there in the box was a little teddy bear and a sweet Valentine’s card from Chuck. Apparently it was one he had never given to me, so it was an unexpected gift that first Valentine’s Day. A few months later, as I was looking through a box of greeting cards that I keep on hand for birthdays and special occasions, I found a Mother’s Day card from Chuck to me. He’d written, “To My Sugars (which was his pet name for me), Love, Love, Love, Chuck.” I couldn’t believe it, and I took it to be a sign from him that he was watching over me. I cried and cried bittersweet tears. This all occurred on the day before Mother’s Day of 2009.
The rest of 2009 I would experience many Firsts. Chuck’s first birthday, my birthday, our wedding anniversary, and many other holidays and events that normally he and I would have noted or celebrated. There were even some holidays that we might not have ordinarily made a big deal over, but his absence made those days even more glaring.
On Christmas Eve of that year, in 2009,I had gone to Magnolia Bakery (yes,of Sex and the City fame, but the one closer to me) to purchase Christmas desserts. This had become our tradition over the past several years. I always phoned in the order early so I could beat the line and get in and out, and then I would come home and Chuck and I would put the finishing touches on Christmas dinner. This particular day in 2009, was a very cold,frigid day, and it was beginning to snow. I love snow, and my husband and I loved to venture out in the first snow of each winter season together.
So here I was, in the season of Christ’s birth, and in the year of my husband’s death, all alone for the first time in many years. I was waiting for someone to pick me up. I sat on the bench outside the bakery and tears rolled down my face. I couldn’t believe that the next day, Jesus’ Birthday, my husband was no longer alive to experience it with me. My grief was still fresh, and everything seemed like it had just happened yesterday. As everyone hustled and bustled around me, with shopping bags, running last-minute errands, I couldn’t understand how life still went on and my husband was no longer a part of it. That was my First Christmas Eve experience without my husband.
In 2010 I would no longer be experiencing The Firsts. Now I would no longer be able to say, “Chuck just said that a few weeks ago”, or “Chuck told me that a few months ago”. Now,the first year’s time-frame had been blurred by the passage of time, which included all those Firsts.
Mourning the loss of a spouse consists of many layers. It’s like peeling away at an onion;sometimes you feel as if you’ve gotten a handle on your feelings and then out of the blue you’re hit with a memory that throws you off.
Dealing with The Firsts was very challenging for me, and it’s probably one of the few times that a little distraction by family or friends was a good idea.My family and friends always came through.They sensed or just knew that I might need them and came up with ideas and things for me to be a part of.I,who had been the planner and organizer for so many years was now the recipient of so many who wanted to do for me.I accepted these gifts of distraction gratefully. Whatever the occasion,once it passed, the sadness and anxiety eventually faded.As time wore on and months and years changed ,I would never look at subsequent years’ special occasions, that Chuck and I had celebrated and experienced together,the same as The Firsts. This is not to say that those special occasions of the second year that Chuck was gone, weren’t painful, but the pain began to slowly subside with time.It was a slow and gradual progression. The key was that I grieved and didn’t hold it in. I felt great sadness for the loss of the life that once was, and the loss of the person I had been partnered with. I felt it, and in time I was able to let the pain go. I did not beat myself up if I faltered, and today although some things still hurt, I can truly say I’m in the midst of my new beginning. It was a slow journey,but one day I noticed that I was feeling a bit better about my new life, and that was truly a First.

Sacred Ritual

Related image

When I was in the midst of taking care of my husband, I was actually in a vortex, the “caretaker vortex”.When I stepped outside of that bubble, I did normal things. I went to work, ran errands, did everyday chores, but once I stepped back into that “caretaker mode” I had a routine that kept me focused, organized and helped me to make sure that all of Chuck’s needs were met without interruption. It was my official responsibility, which I did with regularity like clockwork, over and over again. It was the same day every day, but there was a comfort in those routines, as I cared for Chuck and prayed for a miracle.

This was a special, almost hallowed time…doing those repetitive routines. I made sure his meals were prepared, doctors appointments were made and kept, the house was clean and germ free for him and I was always near in case of an emergency, of which there were many. This was my life, my new life after Chuck’s cancer diagnosis. I was thrust into this new world without warning and I had to step up to the plate. No more summer plans, no more family reunions, no more holiday family gatherings, birthday parties, movies or other normal activities that we did together. I was just making sure that my husband would survive his circumstance so that we could one day get back to  life normal. As I look back on those days which were hard, tiring, relentless, repetitive, and long I now take comfort in that very special time. It was a sacred time between my husband and me.

After my husband died and I emerged from the bubble, I felt as though I was stepping into a brand new world, a new life without my husband. It was all so unsettling and I felt off kilter. Soon, I would be able to move forward, but that would be a long time coming.

I am now convinced that my prayers for a miracle were answered. No, Chuck did not survive his circumstance, but he did have stage IV pancreatic cancer and there are many who do not survive past three months. My husband survived for one full year after diagnosis and I believe that our love, bond and routine kept Chuck here for a little while longer. Our new life was held together by our commitment to each other, our faith and our belief in hope. I’m sure I was more hopeful than he as his health began to rapidly decline toward the end of 2008. I’ve even come to the realization that our routine, my life in that sacred vortex with him, delayed his death. I am also convinced, had it not been for me, he would’ve let go of this life sooner than he did. I believe he hung in there for me and I know I kept him here for me.

Image result for new beginning

I’m not absolutely sure that I did the right thing, clinging to my husband’s fading presence, but I know that a long while after he had passed away, I would look back on that last year with him as something special. As hard as it was for me, I know it was even more difficult for my husband as his body, riddled with pain, deteriorated bit by bit. Little did I know that that experience was preparing me for the life I have now and since his death, I have, in time, been reborn.

Palm Sunday represents the foreshadowing of death and the road to triumphant rebirth. For me, it symbolizes all that I went through and with the advent of Holy Week upon us, I am reminded of my own long, dark journey into grief with the hope of a glimpse of light. When, after a long while, I finally saw it, I knew that that was my rebirth…..my new beginning.

I have now come to the conclusion that in the 22 years that Chuck and I were together, the period in which he was ill, saying that long goodbye, was truly my most sacred time with him. And when he died, I knew that he had also been reborn.

To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World:A Guideto Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu