Tag Archives: death

Releasing the Year

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This year I’m finding rituals to be quite comforting and helpful. They are an important part of the grief process and have allowed me to let go. Each day that I kept track of Brian’s medication, dosed out his pills, helped him bathe and dress, fed him, and loved him allowed me to let go of him knowing I’d given my best and my all. Watching his body be prepared and taken from this house enabled me to release him a little more, Feeling the weight of the box of ashes showed me that life is not permanent and we have to release our attachment to it when the time comes. Celebrating his life during his memorial service gave me the means to let him loose, so to speak, into the world of memories and moments that are shared by all who knew him.

Throughout each step in grieving, I’ve experienced glorious and excruciating emotions. I’ve fought some and invited others, but each one is essential in completing the process of surrendering a loved one and releasing our tight grip on them. That certainly doesn’t mean I have thrown away what we shared. No, quite the opposite. I’m learning to put our past together in its proper place, holding it dear.

Along the road to wholeness, I’m finding the significance of releasing the past to make way for the future. So I’m preparing during December to leave 2012 behind, not forgetting it, but letting it stand as a milestone of learning in this crazy and beautiful thing called life. My sister in-law (also my friend and kindred spirit) gifted me with a tangible way to move from this year to the one that is right around the corner. My project the other night was to create a page of gratitude. I broke out my markers and set to work, filling the blank white space with words. That turned into the Wordle you see above. Funny thing… once you start writing down all you’re grateful for, you think of new things to add. I keep revisiting that page and adding to it. Gratitude grows the more you acknowledge it.

My word for October was Promise. When November rolled around I turned to Renewal. In thinking ahead to December, the first word I thought of was Release, so it is fitting that I have been focusing on saying good-bye to what has been a devastating and delightful year. It has brought challenges and I’ve somehow managed to overcome each one. I’ll never forget 2012; it will no doubt stand out as a turning point, the place where I had to stand and look behind me and then press on to what was ahead with courage and curiosity. I’m finding a sweet satisfaction in reflection and release as I slowly and fondly bid farewell to the year. The next question in my Incredible Year Workbook is “Are you ready?” I can say with enthusiasm (and a few jitters): Yes! I will check that box with a brightly colored flourish!

Releasing the Past to Make Way for the Future = Joy

Pen & Paper Therapy

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Wow and thank you. The responses I have received to Waiting for Normal have made a big difference in my week. Not only did you leave nice comments, but I got text messages and emails that also encouraged me to “just keep swimming” and know that normalcy will return, albeit in a new form! I even had a spark of normal when I woke up feeling rested and refreshed this morning.

The longer I navigate the waters of grief, the more I come to deeply appreciate that there are common experiences (oh, the joy of knowing you are not alone), but there is freedom in moving through those sometimes treacherous seas in your own way. One of the most trying emotions to work through, for me, is anger. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a peacemaker and avoid anger and negativity if at all possible, or if there is some guilt associated with being angry at someone who is dead. The reality, however, is that I’ve had moments of being truly angry and I’ve had to find my own way to deal with the madness of being mad!

Paper and pen are where I find my outlet. I have said before and I’ll say it again, that keeping a journal is incredibly therapeutic and I can’t recommend it highly enough. When I toss and turn it sometimes helps to write down what I’m wrestling with. When I’m really sad I just put the pen to the paper and usually I work through the sadness. If I’m angry, it helps to write as though I’m speaking to the one “causing” the anger. I’ve written letters to Brian telling him that I’m mad at him for dying and leaving me alone and talking about how he is missing out on what was supposed to be our next big adventure. There have also been times I’ve been so angry with people who have hurt me that I’ve written down all the horrible things I’d like to say… and then I tear those pages up. It moves me to a place of forgiveness. My journals also help me when I talk to others about what I’m going through. I’ve typically processed so many feelings that I’m able to string my words together and really communicate what’s going on. And when those conversations leave me with questions, I head back to the blank page and seek answers. Last, but certainly not least, I write about the good, the joy, the happy tines, and the love I feel. Those are moments I don’t want to forget, moments I want to be able to look back on and say, “Aha! I am loved and cared for. I do have reason to keep going and find my joy.”

I’m certainly not going to say that you must start a journal. I’m simply saying that this has been working for me on my worst and best days, and all the ones in between. We all have things inside us that can boil over and explode, sometimes as destructive bombs and other times as awesome fireworks. Avoiding the destructive explosions is my personal goal. There is enough of that in the world already. So I diffuse those by purging my mind of negativity and hurt on the pages of my journal. I’m all for shooting off beautiful fireworks of positivity, but I don’t want to forget those flashes of goodness, so I record those in my journal so I can hang on to the memories.

Joyful on Purpose is where I share with you and write just a small portion of my heartaches and also my happiness. I hope it’s been a place for you to come for refuge when you are feeling clobbered by your circumstances and need to know you are not alone. I hope it’s also been a place for you to celebrate your joy as you read how I’m able to find mine. Thanks for being part of my journal and my joy.

Pen & Paper Therapy = Joy

Waiting for Normal

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Sometimes I feel I’m on a strange roller-coaster and you are all joining me in my ups and downs, wondering when this ride will level off. Another widow advised me, before Brian passed away, not to make any decisions or any big changes for a year. I listened, but in the back of my mind I just knew I’d be different, able to do things in my own time and my own way. In some ways, that is probably true, but I am beginning to see the wisdom in her words. She’s lived through many years of the different life that follows losing the person with whom you shared an existence. She probably knows far better than I that time is a great healer and guide through grief, and that your perspective can change from one month to the next, or even one day to the next.

It’s not a big secret that I am an introvert, a person who craves solitude and doesn’t mind quiet. But solitude is quite different than loneliness and quiet doesn’t always mean silence. Unfortunately, filling the loneliness and silence isn’t as easy as it may sound. You can’t just go out with a friend or watch a comedy. It doesn’t work that way because the one you long for the most can’t be replaced with a laugh track or even another person.

I have a lot of trouble sleeping these days. For a while I was okay, falling into deep sleep and waking up rested and ready to go. That was probably because of the chaotic sleep patterns I had while Brian was sick. After he died it was a relief to have uninterrupted sleep and not worry about his comfort and care. That’s all far behind me now, and I find that sleepless nights have returned. The worst has been a period of almost two days with not much more than a wink. The norm is several hours that are restless and sometimes filled with dreams I’d rather not remember. Once in a while my body finally shuts down and I sleep for 10 or 12 hours. I wish for a regular pattern.

Family dinners are nice and I appreciate that I have my parents here to support me. I even enjoy cooking meals and the routine of setting a table and calling everyone to dinner. But they are nowhere near the same as they once were. He’s just gone and that has changed everything. I’ve been out to dinner and it’s great to be waited on and share a meal and good conversation with other people. But it’s not the same. His laughter and jokes aren’t there. And I drive away alone, not wanting to face that he won’t be there when I get home either. Eating out by myself is a new experience and one I should learn to be comfortable with, but I’m not. It has nothing, yet everything, to do with sitting alone. I was part of something and now I’m not. It was taken from me.

I had a normal life. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was good and I liked it. I had a family and a little world to tend to. It was ripped from my hands without my permission. That hits me more often and harder lately. Sometimes it makes me angry and the last words I want to hear from anyone are “things happen for a reason” or “this will make sense someday.” I do understand that we have no control over some circumstances, only our reactions to them, and I have been very fortunate to have lived and enjoyed what I have. But I feel selfish sometimes, wanting to rewind and have what was. If I were to make a big decision now, it might be to run very far away and leave everything familiar behind me, to start over where not a soul knows me or knows what has happened. That could possibly be a wonderfully amazing adventure, but not the smartest decision. Or I might try to reconstruct a very similar and familiar type of life to replace what I had in order to get those feelings back again. That could also be a great adventure, but not a really smart choice.

Instead of running or replacing, I am sitting still and waiting. I’m trying to wait patiently for the time when life will move forward… or maybe just sideways. I have responsibilities, things I need to do and wrap up before I go anywhere or try to do anything new. Then, I need to learn to be on my own. I need to learn to be comfortable coming home without anyone to greet me. I need to know it’s okay to live alone, cook alone, do laundry for one, and be happy without him here.

This is my sweet November of renewal and I have been focusing on gratitude and finding joy in the little and big things that are good in life. There’s a lot there – I haven’t lost everything, that’s for sure, and I don’t want to be grumpy and whine and wallow. This season will no doubt turn out to be a beautiful and transformative one. Time will surely show me that normal isn’t only what I had, but what I will one day have again in a new way.

Waiting for Normal = Joy

Promises to Keep

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…But I have promises to keep, 

And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep.

(from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost)

On Saturday I went ziplining. All those who are Facebook friends have already been inundated with photos of the day 😉 ! Afterward, I told a friend how much I loved it and that I would like to travel via zipline. Standing at the top of the first line, knowing I was putting my life literally on the line with a piece of metal and rope, my heart was beating a little faster than normal. But as the guide let go and I started forward, the only feeling was exhilaration and happiness. My smile was huge. The view over the treetops was awesome and I got that familiar feeling that happens now and then: I’m such a tiny piece of a big and wonderful world. As each person in our group took to the line and zipped away, they became smaller and smaller, just little dots on the landscape.

Inside my pocket all day was my old phone full of pictures of Brian. I took it along so he could join me on one of my first adventures. I missed having him there because his enthusiasm would have been infectious and entertaining. We had talked about ziplining before; it’s a common excursion on cruises, so we figured we would end up on a line in a rainforest somewhere on a cruise stop. And we no doubt would have if time had been on our side. Instead, I find myself trying to keep the promise I made that I would do some of the things we planned together. I can check one off the list! He would have been proud of me for being spontaneous and deciding to book the trip as soon as it popped up as a possibility. He would have been proud that I put an invitation out there for others to join in. He would have been proud that I followed through and that I loved it.

There are other promises I still have to keep: writing, following my passion, scuba diving, visiting Europe (preferably on a shoestring with one backpack), living outside the United States for a while (Anyone have a place that needs watching for an extended period of time?), taking chances, and living life to the fullest. All of those things, quite honestly, are going to be challenging for me. Ziplining was getting my toes wet on the steps of the shallow end of the pool; the rest will be like a canon ball off the high dive. But each one will be worth it for what I will gain and also because…

Keeping Promises = Joy 

A Safe Place

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For the first time, I am ready to admit something. I don’t like walking through the downstairs living toom. Every time I do I look to the spot where a hospital bed sat for months and a man tossed and turned and moaned and ached and finally took his final breath. That’s hard to stomach and I can see so clearly in my mind that metal bed. I could trace the outline of it if I were asked. If I sit on the couch, I remember the view I had night after night of Brian’s head as he tried to sleep and the hours he spent playing with the bed control, eventually getting to the point where he wasn’t sure what it was for. Every time I leave and come home, I walk through the living room, past the spot where I used to have to step over the line that brought Brian oxygen; it was always snaking its way across the floor. I tripped over it countless times! It’s the place where I brought meals and drinks and medicine. It’s where a man so energetic and full of life left this world. The room doesn’t look the same to others. Now it has different furniture and the mantle and shelves are decorated again. But to me it looks exactly the same. It’s the spot where I whispered in Brian’s ear on May 27, 2012 that it was okay and he could let go and where I held his arm while a nurse held his wrist and told us when his pulse finally stopped at 12:07am on May 28. It’s the place where I looked across the bed, over Brian’s lifeless body, and just shared a silent moment with my brother of understanding and sadness.

I retreat upstairs a lot to the living room and bedroom of my own that I created in the weeks after Brian’s death. There are only three pieces of furniture that remain that were ours. Everything else is different and it needs to be. Even those pieces of furniture hold memories, but thankfully not memories of death. Brian and I didn’t spend time in the loft or my bedroom, so those rooms where I sit by myself are a kind of safe zone for me.

It’s been said that time heals all wounds, and I suppose that is probably true. But for me, not enough time has passed yet. The pictures in my mind are too vivid. The memories are just too fresh. So I make the walk up the stairs to the safety of my space and I concentrate on the memories before February 10: diagnosis and May 28: death. For now, it’s where I find my peace, my rest, and my joy.

Our Safe Places = Joy