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Posts Tagged ‘losing a loved one’

When someone you love passes away the fragility of life gets pushed to the forefront. Suddenly you become more aware of how quickly time passes and how fleeting your most precious moments. When Rick, my significant other of twenty years, died of cancer last year this was true for me. When diagnosed, his prognosis was six weeks. Forty-two days, forty-two days for him to get a lifetime in order, say his goodbyes, memorize the rich colors of blue decorating the sky, see the stars come out at night and watch the sun rise in the morning. Chemotherapy and radiation allowed us an extra three months, a gift I will always treasure. There are never enough hours to spare, but each extra day gave us another chance to wipe the slate clean before he left on his journey.

Rick’s passing has heightened my awareness, if you will. Before I may have taken life a little for granted as many of us do. One day folds into the next, we plug in our coffee maker, put on our makeup and muscle through our existence. Often our lives are incredibly busy. With each hour fully accounted for, there is little time left over to pause and admire the new rose blooming on the bush by the front door or to catch the hint of sadness in your teenager’s eyes. Even stopping to breathe deeply and be present in the moment can seem an impossible task while a pile of laundry beckons or a client waits to close an important deal. Yet in the end whether the socks get sorted or the product gets shipped is rendered unimportant when you are faced with writing the final chapter of your book.

Immediately following the death of a family member along with dealing with the overwhelming grief, end of life arrangements, and friends and family coming and going, survivors are expected to take care of all the details involved in day to day living. All this is complicated by coping with what is termed “grief brain” making concentration difficult to achieve and scattered behavior more common than not. I actually came out of the store after doing some grocery shopping and after storing my bags in the trunk I seated myself in the back seat of the car. As I was there alone, this probably would appear odd behavior to the casual observer. Not wanting to confirm myself a complete idiot I looked around as if waiting for someone and waited for the area to clear before hopping into the driver’s seat.

To help me cope with everything swirling around me, I began compiling to-do lists. Some lists were compiled by priority of things that had to be done, while others held ideas for things I hoped to do in the future. Many items on my “have to be done” list I have already accomplished. With Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, at my side I have sold my house and moved to a new rental home. Check. Slowly, I have established new routines revolving around living alone rather than sharing space with someone. Check. This week I joined a gym, something not on my list of favorites but a healthy decision, and begin water aerobics tomorrow. Check, check and check. With each step I have moved a little further away from the life I knew and grown closer to the new life I am creating for myself. I have to say it is game changing.

As this year has unfolded I have found myself searching for the path I want to follow. Standing at a crossroads in my life with so many options possible which way do I go? Certainly I must go forward, but do I veer to the right or to the left?

This period of new growth and exploration I refer to as the “unfolding”. For the person going through it may feel as if they have shed their skin leaving their nerves exposed and raw. Life, as it once was completely changes the moment a loved one ceases to be in it. To expound here, the person passing away ceases to be in it in a physical sense. In my case, I feel Rick will be walking along next to me in spirit always.

For a while, and each person experiences this time frame individually, it seems as though there would never be a day when you will feel “normal” again. As time passes, like all wounds, the rough edges begin to smooth and the sun once again will begin to feel warm and welcoming on your face. Hope returns for a future on some level and unless deeply depressed you begin to explore this new life you are left with.

During this period I began to think about my own life. Though I am definitely looking at the downhill slope there are still, God willing and I don’t get run over by the garbage truck, many years to fill. The choice here would be to sit and feel sorry for myself or find a way to live the most rewarding and happy life I can. I chose the latter. I began to think about what I would like to do with myself. If I have been the one to remain behind it stands to reason this in a way is a gift and I did not want to consider it frivolously.

Again I went to my lists. On my list of exciting adventures I hope yet to do visiting the Grand Canyon, for example, is right up there towards the top. Always I have wanted to see this natural wonder. In spite of numerous trips by car across the U.S. the chance to do so has continued to escape me. Definitely I want to try zip lining, and after a recent trip to Lake Tahoe I have added river rafting down the Truckee River as a must do when next summer rolls around. My son recently went parachuting while on vacation in Santa Cruz. Although this sounds intriguing to me on the surface, I have a feeling if faced with an open door and 15,000 feet of open air space below me I might rethink my enthusiasm, most likely shortly after I wet my pants. We shall see. Though included, jumping out of a plane is definitely hovering (if you will) towards the bottom of the line.

Finding myself heading into my golden years with less gold on hand than loose change, traveling extensively is not in the stars for the moment. If my bank account was representative of my desire to see the world I would be floating lazily across the Mediterranean in a private yacht or dining on trays of succulent meats and cheeses at the Rodostamo Hotel in glorious Corfu. Unfortunately, my budget leans more towards a Motel 6 in Barstow and Taco Bell, but one never knows what the next bend in the road will uncover. Perhaps that pesky winning lottery ticket I never purchase will miraculously come floating through the window? One thing I have learned about my years spent on this earth, is you can never discount anything because life, as most of us are aware, is a capricious host serving up surprises with each passing day.

From each experience good or bad we take with us lessons. It is our choice whether or not to draw from these lessons. No matter what the experience there is something slightly life altering we add to our bag after having lived through both the difficult and the soul elevating times. From this experience I have learned to value today for that is what we have. I have learned to remember to say “I love you” every time I leave someone I care about, to make that phone call to a friend even if you’re busy, and to give when and where you can without hesitation. Make it a great and meaningful day.

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quotes-of-grief

Sitting here I find it hard to believe nearly a year has passed since Rick passed away. Time seems to be whizzing by my face like a moving sidewalk cranked up to mega warp speed. Over the past months I have sold my house, packed up my household goods, found a new place to live in a new area, and moved. Whew. This on top of grieving the loss of my spouse of twenty years and trying to figure out who this strange new person is facing me in the mirror each morning. Sometimes it feels as though my feet are made of cement and can’t or won’t move forward. Miraculously, each day they do somehow pick themselves up propelling me further down this unexplored path.

I stopped writing in my blog when this saga began, or when it ended, depending on your point of view. Writing about grief then following up with a recipe for tangy barbecued ribs seemed to me a poor pairing at best. To be honest writing, though probably therapeutic, seemed a daunting task when dealing with so many other more pressing issues.

So, here I am not whole, but rather slowly piecing myself back together, inviting you to come in once again and get reacquainted.

As usual even in the middle of chaos the universe has introduced a little extra spice to the pot to make my days interesting. Often I wonder if I have a guardian angel blessed with a rather twisted sense of humor who, though eventually cleaning up the messes she creates, enjoys watching as I fall into one catastrophe after another somehow climbing back up out of the fray.

Let’s catch up. As I said I sold my house in the tall trees. This was done quickly for a myriad of reasons. the first and foremost financial. Money concerns were closely followed by the ever present fire danger, too much square footage for one small woman and a fat cat, and a pinch of needing to make a new start in a place without a memory floating by in every dust mote. Moving is not suggested in the first year following such a loss as moving as well as losing a love one both rank a 10 on the stress level scale. However sometimes, such as in my case, life doesn’t offer you a Plan B.

Everyone approaches grieving the loss of a loved one in their own individual way.  A doer by nature, I allowed the sadness to have its way with me until I got up one day and found I needed to get out and feel the sun on my face. Tentatively I have reentered the world around me. In the beginning, I found a grief group that fit me to a tee. Not just a place with sad gut wrenching stories, though there were those to be told, but more a safe haven offering unconditional support with some smiles and laughter thrown in to balance the scales.  Being in a room with other people on a similar journey somehow allowed me to feel less alone. Certainly those dealing with such a loss themselves made me feel more understood, and less like I was floating along in the rapids out of control and floundering. Therapy was another tool I used to buoy myself.  For those of you going through this, having gone through it, or find yourself going through it in the future these groups and a good therapist are so beneficial in helping you find your way through the pain associated with having your life rearranged in such an upending and unrelenting fashion.

So many things I’ve learned as one month faded into the next. You have to face the hurt and sadness full on and move through it. Avoiding it will only allow it to show up perhaps more intensely later on along the way. Friends and family are essential, or were for me. If you don’t have any, find a group and make some. Reaching out when the fear, anger and sadness showed up saved me on days when I felt as though I couldn’t take it anymore.

Eating and hydrating even when the thought of doing either makes you want to hang your head over the toilet is another essential piece of the puzzle. If, like in my case, you were a caregiver the same body which gave you license to push it far beyond normal parameters to take care of someone very ill, will now call in the loan if you don’t return the favor for yourself.

I share this post because someone at one point made the comment “every marriage ends one of two ways, death or divorce”. This means many of us who have chosen to take a chance on love will deal with loss. Many times I have questioned whether it is worse to go first or be the one left behind.

Grief comes in many forms and can manifest itself in many ways beyond human loss. Loss of a job, a beloved home, or loss of financial security, for example, all create a recipe for experiencing the symptoms of grief. As my counselor will say, “grief carves you out” leaving room for you to fill the hole remaining with new experiences. Sometimes I actually feel as if I have shed my skin becoming an entirely different being since that day last September. Who this being is is still blurry in my minds eye but every day I do the work to help her show up and make herself known.

So I begin to find myself again among the ashes of my previous life. A blank book on which chapters are to be written and pages filled with new words and images. At first there won’t be recipes because I’m not cooking a lot but I’m sure the stove will beckon me one of these days soon when my footing feels a little stronger.

 

 

 

 

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