Relentless Replay

Loss is powerful. Whether the loss is the loss of a lifestyle. Or maybe it is a spouse or a child or an aunt or a grandfather. It could be the loss of the family pet. Perhaps you are mourning the loss of a close friendship. You could even be mourning the loss of your health as you face a medical crisis. These are just some examples, the list is expansive.

All loss is different, even if it is the same type of loss, and they aren’t comparable. Many people lose their grandparents. None of our experiences are the same because my grandparents were different and I am different. Even two people who die from Alzheimer’s are not the same and their families loss is not the same. No other widow shares my exact experience either.

Even so, loss is a great equalizer. We all hurt when we lose something or someone precious. No person’s loss is greater or less relevant that someone else’s. In that sense, loss is the same–it hurts. 

It’s also true that while our experiences with grief are different, there are parts of grief, regardless of who you are or what you’ve lost, that are the same. For example, people who are grieving, tend to be rather disorganized and forgetful. This can make people feel almost crazy. Rest assured, you aren’t crazy (there is one thing you don’t have to worry about)–in fact, you are quite normal.

It is hard to do everything you need to do in order to tie up loose ends as well as remember to help kids with homework or drive the correct route home from work (we have all done it) and buy groceries. Which is probably why so many of us grieving are typically rather exhausted! There is an emotional and mental stress far more powerful than any set of exercises at depleting energy. And, a little nap probably won’t do much good. Be patient; keep working at keeping up with the routine. As you heal you will get there.

That brings us to another piece of grieving–lack of motivation. Chances are things that normally would have sent you rolling in the aisle laughing, now leaves you with only a little smirk. Or special nights out used to make you giddy with excitement now make you want to climb back in bed and just forget about it. Once again, it is normal. Keep fighting the urge. Where the smile anyway, try to get out even when you don’t feel like it. Staying inside and wrapping yourself in grief can be (ironically) comforting and facing the world very uncomfortable. If you don’t slowly start to face the world, it might turn into a habit that could be more life altering than your grief. It can take you to inwardly sad state quickly and it’s hard to turn it around.

I can deal with all of those things. The one characteristic that gets me the most is the relentless replay in my brain. This memory and that memory. Sadness and happiness. It is really hard to stay on task or sleep when your brain constantly heads back to the good times before your life fell apart.

Just like a broken record, here it comes again. It interrupts your thoughts, your music, and even dominates your conversations. It fills the space meant for dreaming. There is no escaping it. Every time it creeps in, unwelcome, and the tears flow. It’s hard to sleep through tears. It’s hard to focus through the haze of memories. It’s hard to feel rested when images constantly run through your head.

No surprises here, with these things going on, people who are grieving can be rather quick to lash out. A once patient person suddenly loses all desire to baby someone else when their own life is crumbling. Comments that never would have given you a second thought before are suddenly fighting words. Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.

These things are challenges that nearly all of us grieving feel. You may feel some or all of these. You might be feeling them but had no idea what was going on. Now that you are aware, you can take some steps.

Be patient with yourself and with others. If this is hard for you, imagine how hard it is for people watching you. See, for them, their lives have gone back to normal and all fairness, you look normal. So, when others see these characteristics of grief shining bright, they really might think you have just turned into the meanest person on earth or a sudden air- head. Grieving being what it is, you have zero desire to baby them along and open your sadness to share with the world. I understand, oh boy do I understand. And, maybe you don’t have to do all of that. Maybe you just say, “I am still struggling, I might need some time to adjust.” and leave it at that.

Here is a big one that is oh so hard to do–rest. Get yourself on a regular schedule. At night you lay awake because you can’t sleep and there is not time for naps because of kids or work and you are so tired, but when it’s time to lay down at night all you can think about is what you should have done and how things used to be…the list is endless. Try to set a regular schedule and stick to it. Even when you don’t feel like you have had enough sleep, don’t hit the snooze, get up and get moving. It will make going to sleep at night much easier. If you feel like taking a nap, talk yourself into a relaxing walk instead.

Go the gym. It feels great to run your tail off or slam a punching bag. It helps you sleep, empties some anger, and the bonus of a stronger tougher you will emerge. Believe me when I say, you won’t regret it.

Lastly, and maybe the most important, seek outside support. Find a support group or find a counselor to talk to, or both.  Be honest. If someone asks how you are doing, don’t feel obligated to give the ‘good’ or ‘doing okay’ answer. If you are having a crappy day, say it, maybe you need to just get it out. Things are so much heavier if you carry the load alone. If you share it and allow someone else to carry part of the burden, you will be surprised how much easier the rest of the day or week can be.

All of this is from either my own experience or watching others along the way. I am not an expert. It doesn’t mean everyone falls into this box or follows a certain pattern, but it gives you a great place to start. Accept where you are and work on ending the relentless replay. This grief will creep in every now and again probably forever, but it won’t be in the front of your mind day in and day out and you will be able to live again. It will feel so good!

 

 

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Day 55: 365 Days of Motivation

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”
                                –Richard Bach

I have said this before, and I will say it again, this isn’t the end of you. It is the end of this chapter. This may be the end of the life you were living. It probably will be the end of you that existed before this event, but this is not the end of you.

Just like the caterpillar, chances are you have locked yourself away in your own cocoon. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think we all need that time. We need time to weep uncontrollably to the depths our lungs will allow. We need to lay still, nearly lifeless–feeling nothing but the pounding in our head. Lets be honest, we are no good to anyone in that moment anyway. Like the caterpillar, there will come a time when we need to emerge.

We need to be ready to grab our new station in life and figure out our place in the world. It’s a difficult and bitter moment that we leave the safety of our broken heart to face the new world we were thrust into. It’s easy to be angry, unsteady, and even unwilling. I can’t imagine it being anything other way than challenging–a challenge we never asked for–and certainly never agreed to take, yet here it is, staring us down.

When caterpillars emerge from their cramped cocoon, it takes them a little while, but they spread their wings and fly. Decide to take that challenge right now. Take a step out of that dark space and when you feel the fresh air, spread those wings and look at the colors you bring to the world. They’re there, I promise.

It is true this is different and something you never wanted–it isn’t going to be easy. People will look at you differently than before. Living alone is harder than you ever imagined. Not being able to share those day-to-day moments with your best friend will be one of the hardest things you will ever do–do it anyway. If you are open to living again, and committed to the process of rediscovery, you will have made the full transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. Possibilities are endless when you have learned to soar.

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Good Grief

We, as people, have this driving need to make everything okay. When things are okay (normal routine of life) we are comfortable. However, when something goes upside down and inside out, we feel it, and we struggle. We want to make it better. The only thing harder than pushing through our own tragedies is watching someone we care about face their own challenges.

Getting to the other side isn’t easy. It hurts like hell. We feel alone. We feel lost, unable to choose a direction that might lead us on the correct path. Some of us pray. Some of us keep a brave face and hide our grief, going about our daily lives as if not much has changed. Some of us growl. Some of us go silent–us silent ones, we cause the most gossip and schemes to ‘fix’ us.

When we pray, our supporters feel better because we are reaching out to a higher power. We we go about our normal days, we seem good to the outside world. We look like we are on the right track– even though inside we are tied in knots. When we growl, people might take a step back, yet there is comfort in knowing we have some fight left in us. But those that go silent worry our family and friends the most.

Depression. That’s what swirls around the minds of those looking in. We must have depression. Sometimes, they are absolutely correct and it is important to know the signs of depression (www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-adjustment-disorder). Other times, we just need space. I tend to be one of the silent.

Here is the truth about me (and many others like me):

I am a talker by nature. I love words (just ask my husband). Usually my words are day-to-day stuff or concern for others. I want to know about you and how you are. I want to hear all the funny things your toddler did and how impossible work was this week. When I am struggling or working through an issue I am often silent.

For people who love me, this sets off the alarms. In part, panic ensues because I am the rock for many and when my foundation shakes, it rattles those who depend on me to hold them up. Those same people care what happen to me and it concerns them when I change so suddenly. Rest assured, I am okay. I won’t crumble anytime soon–this rock may roll a bit, but at the end of the day, it is steady. I don’t walk around asking for help–believe me, when I say, I know when I need help and am not afraid to ask for it when I need to.

My silence is necessary–for me. Know that I may not return your call. I might ‘forget’ a lunch date or I might genuinely forget an appointment. I probably won’t cook and clean like I should–and I might not make it to the store to buy groceries so someone else can do it. I probably will miss paying a bill. I’ll nap more than I should and I will end nearly every night with time alone in a hot bath. For me, that isn’t depression, it’s coping.

In times of trouble, I don’t have room in my head to worry about your day–I’m doing good to get through my own. My head gets so full of stuff that dentist appointments and due dates might go unnoticed. You should call before you come over because I might need to make a path through my cluttered house. No one in this family has ever been starving, so someone else can find the store and everyone needs to learn that leftovers are fabulous–get used to them. While I am in bed, chances are I am doing plenty of sleeping, but I am also running through scenarios, memories, and praying–sometimes doing those things exhausts me so much I need another nap. In the bath I read and I think and I think about what I read (I love receiving words as much as I like giving them away). I probably will growl–probably more than I should ever admit–because sometimes my sadness comes through as anger. This is grieving, not depression.

I can also tell you what I won’t do. I will not feel guilty. We all will be better off if that is clear up front. I know I am doing what I need to so that I will be healthy and whole again. When you struggle, I will allow you to growl a bit too. I have enough guilt about other things, I can’t carry guilt for this too. I won’t be the person who is pretends struggles don’t affect me; I know myself too well to be that foolish. I will not apologize for not being myself. When I go through earth-shattering changes, I am not myself for a long time and I will never be the me I was before the experience. I will be different and hopefully for the better. That is the journey.

Fortunately, most of those who care about me know these things about me. Everyone has been wonderful through the loss of my grandparents (honestly). Losing them brought grief back into my life and made me more sensitive to the things people say and do when grieving, but also how it might be perceived by those who are trying to support them through this difficult journey. I watch people on TV and on social media platforms and sometimes comments are cringe-worthy for me. As much as we want to help, many times we aren’t sure what to do.

So for those of you who are struggling, whether it be custody battles, medical crisis, divorce,  someone’s death, or loss of employment, please know that however you feel it is okay. There is a difference between being sad and being depressed. Don’t let well-intentioned people looking in convince you of your path. At the same time, if you are feeling hopeless, or if you are trapped by sadness to the point where you can’t function, or if you feel like you need to get off the couch but just can’t–seek help. There is absolutely no shame in knowing you don’t have the answers to see the way out. Start with your family physician and if you feel comfortable, seek counseling–it can be more help than you can imagine (I have done both of these things in the past).

If you want to help someone grieve, here are some things to consider. First things first, you cannot get your friend or loved one through this strugge. It is their struggle. Doing it for them or keeping them from the task at hand can do more damage than good. Be a leaning post, carry tissues with you when you see them, and listen when they want to share. As much as we want to have the right words and come up with some quick fix, often that just isn’t feasable. You are not responsible for making them whole again. You are a supporter.

With that said, look for serious signs of depression. Sometimes a depressed person cannot see how deep their struggle is. In that case, sometimes an outsider can share their concern and what they are seeing. Be their mirror.

Please understand, just because they seem sad and sleep a lot does not mean they are depressed. Silence does not equate depression either.  Chances are, as they heal they will open up–when they are ready. It might be different than when you were grieving and it might be uncomfortable for you to watch. If you were in the car with someone who managed to get lost, you wouldn’t rip the wheel from their hands. That wouldn’t be good for anyone. This is their journey–you are there for entertainment and to read the map–let them drive.

 

 

 

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Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Program…

It’s true, I am back. It might be a day (or two) before you see a real post from me. I’m sure I will mention this in future posts, but for now I will keep it simple.

My grandma had dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s. With the rate of decline, we were expecting her to pass, which is why I took a break from writing. I couldn’t focus (at all) and quite honestly, I didn’t want to. Being with her the last couple months was really all that mattered. What we didn’t know is that Grandpa would go first.

Grandma and Grandpa were both in a nursing home with an awesome staff. Grandpa hadn’t always been easy to handle, so when he was his sweet, funny and lovable self, the staff grew close to him. Grandma, even with dementia, was a sassy as ever. She continually beat all the odds leaving the staff and hospice workers baffled at her continued stability.
“She’s a fighter!” They would say.

Her and Grandpa had been married nearly 60 years. Those years weren’t always fantastic years; they had their fair share (maybe more) of arguments mixed in. One thing is for sure every moment was memorable. In the nursing home, they found each other again. He was the one person Grandma always could remember. As long as he was there, she was never lonely. She’d walk with her walker and he’d follow her in his wheelchair, if he could keep up. They started sleeping in the same bed together again. They went to church together. They ate every meal together. They talked and remembered together. Now, don’t misunderstand, they still fussed at each other, even so, it was like they had rediscovered the love of long ago.

Unfortunately, no one could convince Grandpa to take his medicine–his very important medicine–not even Grandma.  His body had lasted as long as it could. We believe (have no proof) that he probably suffered a stroke (maybe many, but this would have been a big one) sometime on late Friday or early Saturday morning. He was unresponsive for the weekend and on Monday we were told he probably would not make it through the night. They were right, he passed Monday afternoon.

We made arrangements, but given certain circumstances, waited until Sunday to have the visitation. We spent the week with Grandma. We wondered what she knew, or if she knew anything at all had happened. We spent the week visiting with guests what would drop in. We talked to her and loved on her until Thursday came and once again we were told she probably wouldn’t make it through the night. She passed at 12:20am late Thursday/early Friday. And just like that, in less than a week, two of the most important people in my life were gone.

Grandpa was one month exactly, to the day, older than Grandma. After nearly 60 years of marriage (three months shy of that mark), he passed just three and a half days before she did. That visitation on Sunday turned into a double visitation, followed by a double funeral on Monday. Some visitors had noticed both obituaries in the papers, others were shocked to walk in and see them both together. Through unbelievable circumstances one thing was clear: their love and dedication to each other.

There is beauty in everything. They were both amazing people in life. Loving, funny, tough, hardworking, and ever loyal–even when things stunk. I haven’t enough words to express how much they meant to me. I have no measurement for how much they taught me. What I do know is this: I do know how lucky I was to have them. Believe me, I miss them terribly. Even so, I know this, the pain will lessen, but the lessons, character, and love will always remain.

Unfortunately, grief doesn’t wait for us to be ready and it doesn’t give us a good dose of pain and disappear forever. Grief finds us all every now and again. This grief is fresh, the pain is sometimes intense. I know being sad is okay and I know I will get better; we will all get better.

My rhythm in life has changed and I need to learn where I am and how this all works–just like many of you. Even though this is still fairly new, the initial fog is clearing and I feel this need to get back in a groove, which includes writing. I don’t know that I will feel like writing every day, or that I will have time (I am still catching up on my stuff around the house that was left untended for months now), but I will be here often. I will try to write a few times a week and if I am not writing, chances are I am reading, so please drop me a line or two.  Keep reading, share with friends–we all could use a helping hand because no one should have to do this alone.

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Hiatus

I am taking a little hiatus while I see my grandmother through the last of her days/weeks. My goal for now is to comfort her and be there for the kids as much as possible. But then look out, I will be back with fervor. This will not be easy for my mother and I, but we will get through it. See you in a few weeks or so. 

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Be a Tree

Now that I have your attention, let me explain.

When my two oldest kids were still mini-people they were great kids (still are, just bigger now). They were generally kind and usually good listeners. It never failed when I needed them  quiet the most, they would go crazy. Rather than yell and scream or try to talk over them I’d say, “Be a tree”. That meant stand still and silent. Generally, they complied because it was a game. Don’t let life make you kick and scream. Sometimes even as an adult it is beneficial to stand still and silent; take a second to breathe. Life has a tendency to be complicated and messy, but if we can force ourselves to take a step back we can see a bigger piece of the puzzle. Be a tree.

While trees do stand tall and still, there is much more to a tree. Think about a tree for a minute. The roots steady the tree and collect nutrients so the tree might grow tall and mighty. It’s trunk wide and ever-growing. The trunk gives way to thick branches that ease into delicate boughs reaching for the sky; tender extensions that sway with the ebb and flow of the wind. For a tree to meet its potential, its roots must be planted firmly in the soil. If the roots are loosely planted the tree will lean and give way to turbulence. A tree needs sunlight; if it remains solely in the shade, it will never grow to its expected height. Does the tree just stay in shade, satisfied in its state? No, the tree will lean and even grow crooked to find the sun it needs to thrive. Don’t be afraid to lean in and find what you need, even if it means changing your intended path. Be a tree.

Trees don’t just wither and die when seasons change; they adapt to their new situation. In the summer, trees have bright green leaves that rustle in the summer breeze. As the season fades into fall and the temperature begins to drop, the chlorophyll production slows. Leaves turn colors and let go; the tree sheds its dead and weak branches. A tree lies dormant in the winter, no growth nor blooms. Eventually, the tree will see a renewal as spring pushes winter aside and the tree will once again grow and flourish. It’s okay to stray from the plan if it means you will be whole. A tree branches in many directions as it grows. Be a tree.

Even strong trees with flexible limbs experience storms or disease that leaves them broken and wounded. There are two possible outcomes: if a tree is not strong enough, it will die; if a tree is strong enough, it will heal. Sometimes trees do succumb to damage, but more often than not, the tree is strong enough to make it through. The interesting thing about a tree is how it heals. No matter how hard a tree tries, it will never be exactly the same. It forever wears visible scars. The scars fade over time, but if you look close you can see the old wound. The tree does not quit trying though. It doesn’t shrivel up because it wears scars–it still stands tall, it still continues to grow, and it still blooms. Sometimes that tree will even sprout new growths right in the middle of an old wound. Those scars are part of the trees history. They tell a story of a long life that was worth living, even through the pain. Those scars are not what we notice when we see a tree. When we think of trees, we think of its long branches, beautiful leaves and fruit, and its majestic stature. You do not have to wear the badge of pain. You are much more than this one awful event. This loss is part of you; it is part of your history and story. What you do with this terrible experience, how you grow from this, and who you choose to become is what will amaze people. Don’t be afraid to keep going; don’t be afraid to heal and flourish. Be a tree.

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Day 54: 365 Days of Motivation for Widows

Courage

Courage (Photo credit: Pete Reed)

 

 

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.  –Ambrose Redmoon

 

There will be few times more terrifying than this. Sometimes the fear is intense and sometimes it dies down to a low rumble, but it rarely leaves. Courage is there too, waiting for you to call it by name.

Like everything, this too has a designated time: when you say so. One day you will wake up and realize that no one lives in fear. You will call on courage and it will rise up, carrying you with it. The world doesn’t stop being scary–no, not at all–instead, know when you sit on the shoulders of courage, fear can never pull you down. You have made the choice to do what you should do, what you want to do, what you feel is right to do, knowing that life isn’t always sunshine. No matter what life is, courage will carry you through.

 

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Day 53: 365 Days of Motivation for Widows

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.  

–Anais Nin
American Author

English: A Magnolia tree blossom. Français : F...

Blossom.

Not many would equate healing as a widow with beginning to blossom and I certainly don’t think this quote was written with that in mind. I can’t think of a better way to describe what happens. It doesn’t happen immediately. There is no exactly timeline that it follows. The only thing that is for sure is you will know it when you feel it.

This healing is hard and it hurts every day. It hurts so bad that it leaves us in a sort of frozen state: can’t move forward and life won’t let us go backward. As we heal, we change and develop until the point comes when you cannot grow anymore without leaving that frozen state.

Stepping out into the world again is terribly scary. The world was scary enough with a partner. You have lost the partner and life has shown you exactly how ruthless it is, so moving forward with life isn’t all that appealing–for now.

The day will come, when it will be too painful to remain inside this box and you will take the risk–when  you need to take the risk. When you do, it might feel awkward and confusing, but if you keep moving you will feel the sun on your face again. Don’t be afraid to  step into the light and blossom; the most beautiful things come after darkness.

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Day 52: 365 Days of Motivation for Widows

Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving Table (Photo credit: CodeFin)

Expect problems and eat them for breakfast.  –Alfred A. Montapert

Today will be hard. It will be hard if it happened yesterday. It will be almost just as bad if it was five years ago. It gets better, but holidays will always feel different from this point on.

If it happened recently, the wound hasn’t healed. It is swollen, red, and painful. If it happened years or a decade ago, chances are your wounds have healed; those wounds, even when healed properly, leave scars. Where ever you are, it is okay just to be there.

Don’t feel pressured to be someone you aren’t today. Don’t feel pressure to be who you were before this life altering event. I urge you to find some company because it helps. If you don’t want to stay long, don’t. If you feel like you would like to talk, but sitting at the table for a formal dinner is too much, skip dinner and go for the conversation. If the normal routine was to sing songs or play games after dinner, hit them up for some good food and then head on home–content with your progress. Everyone will understand. If someone doesn’t understand, forgive them and then forget it–they truly just don’t know.

Whatever happens, wake up and know today will not be as it once was. It won’t be the same tradition and happiness you have felt in years past. Wake up and know today might suck, and then do today anyway. Do it your way, but do it. And when it’s over, know that you won.

 

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Day 51: 365 Days of Motivation for Widows

“If you can’t fly, then run.
If you can’t run, then walk.
If you can’t walk, then crawl.
But whatever you do, keep moving.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

We don’t all start in the same place and that’s okay. We don’t all travel the exact same path and that’s okay too. Start where you are and make your own way. Our journey is ours and ours alone. There will be help from experienced people, people who care about us, but this is our time. Time to do what we need to. Our time to heal and become whole.

This was never meant to break you. It was never meant to stunt your growth. Now is no time to sit and stew, worry and waste away. Instead, move and grow. No big rush; there is no race. Slow and steady, just keep moving.

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