No Rewind

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. –C.S. Lewis from A Grief Observed

IMG_2526One of the worst things about grieving is that life still keeps happening all around us. Our personal world has been altered forever, but flowers keep growing, the earth keeps turning, babies are getting born and we are still in a place that no one else can see.

I don’t care if it’s been three days or three years, the death of our other half is sometimes fresh and painful and sudden as a bee sting. Or being hurled by the riptide and undertow only to come out gasping and stinging with sand and stones and shells.

So we go on. But that place of loss changes. We are faced with it and don’t know what to do with it because all we want is for the pain to stop. But there is no rewind on life. Things will never be the same. We have to get used to that.

It doesn’t means life will always be awful though. Lisa Irish has a beautiful book called Grieving–The Sacred Art: Hope in the Land of Loss.  She explains “conscious grieving” as an alternative to floundering around by ourselves in our own grief as if we have no control. But we do. The book goes through stages of conscious grieving, complete with tangible exercises to help us along the way. These “Promptings of Hope” are not religious dogma or new age nonsense; they are practical, tender ways to make it through grief with yourself as an active participant.

It is by no means an easy process, but as Irish states:

“Grief is not to be avoided but learned from. It is not a symptom of brokenness but a pathway towards transformation. …  Grief’s tears return us to the truth of who we are… our most vulnerable authentic self.”

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I am still figuring out who my “authentic self” is without Kent, but there is always so much to learn… .

I first met Lisa Irish at the International Women’s Writing Guild Summer Conference.

This is an annual event that is first to go on my calendar. Everything else must orbit around the Summer Conference.

There is a home for grieving and transformation here. Now, technology has made it possible to stay connected to the incredible, brave, soul-bearing women of the guild. They are my sisters.

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If we can stretch out amongst our many selves and listen, we may find a new tune. No need to rewind.

Remembrance by Choice

There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.
Aeschylus

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It happens whether we want it to or not–change. Memory lives.

Another marker of loss sounds like sighing.

There was the first 4th of July without him, then the second, then the third, fourth, and fifth. And the memories of past fireworks over the White Mountains come down like hail, sharp and insistent.

Not all memories are worth keeping, but we aren’t in charge of that, are we?

 

I have come to realize that we can be in (at least) two different places at once; why not? Particles do it. Quantum physics says so. The “experiencing self” and the “remembering self” are two different selves. Right now, my experiencing self is full of stress because I have a deadline coming up, while my remembering self is drifting through past summers.

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Memories need coating, like M&Ms.
During the day, that nightmare wasn’t so bad, was it?
Remembering our lost love is sugar-sweet; usually only the best times come through.
That’s okay with me.
I don’t mind selective memory.
I think if we remembered everything we would go mad.

 

 

The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory
Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy — and our own self-awareness.

 

 

Time moves in one direction, memory in another.
William Gibson 

Why is memory so complex?

Mightier than the Tears

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“The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” Mark Twain

Excerpt from The Beds We Live and Die In (a memoir in progress)

During the hour and a half eighty-mile ride to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Sleepy Hollow location, we listened to Howard Stern. “Terrestrial radio is dead!” he declared. It was the summer of 2010, and the Mel Gibson tapes had just come out. He verbally assaulted Oksana Grigorieva, his former girlfriend and mother of their (at the time) eight-month old daughter. Over the phone he ranted, screamed, threatened, and someone released the tapes to the press. Mel Gibson going crazy over the phone kept Kent smiling for the ride. Howard couldn’t get enough of the story and neither could we. It’s the perfect example of laughing at the jokes but not the situation. Mel Gibson threatening a woman is not funny. Howard Stern making fun of Mel Gibson ranting and raving is funny. Howard would play excerpts of the tape and then laugh about them. He said, “This is his best [role] ever.” I would think Kent was sleeping, and I’d look over at him wrapped up in a Mexican blanket with his eyes closed but he was smiling. Howard could always make Kent laugh. Hey now, Howard. Thank you.

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I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death. –Robert Fulghum 

Laughing is healthy.  As difficult as it is sometimes, we must let ourselves laugh. How can we not?

 

 

 

You Are the Bell

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Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29″
Poem by Rainer Maria RilkeTranslation by Joanna Macy and Anita B

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night, be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses, the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you, say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

My reading of the poem:

The last thing we want to do is go deep into ourselves, especially after the death of a partner. But that’s exactly what needs to be done. “…feel how your breathing makes more space around you.” Death may be the eternal bell tower, but we are “the bell.” We can hear each other ring, “I flow…I am.” We can get strength from knowing we are not alone, far from it. Death is the universal constant. DSC_0037

I should be writing the last chapters of my memoir right now, but who wants to relive the pain?

When I cry, it’s not about missing Kent as much as it is feeling his absence like a physical wound. My memories of him are all about the sickness and the pain and the evil cancer.

I can remember him whole, alive, laughing. But it takes effort. Rilke’s speaker asks, “What is it like, such intensity of pain?” Good question. How do we express this grief?What is it like?

 

 

Fear and Loathing in Everything

Unlike Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream, widow-ness is a savage journey in and of itself; it’s a journey into nothingness and everything-ness at the same time. The inconceivable amount of texture to life is both a terrifying void and a

gentle comfort. We have all heard the milk-toast platitudes: There can be no light without darkness,  Time heals all wounds, blah, blah, blah.

But a savage journey requires a savage heart. There are no safety blanket statements to make grief more palatable. The strength required to live with grief is constant. It doesn’t matter if it’s been four days or four
years or four decades–losing your mate is a forever loss.

So I look for the texture of summer shaded wind, and I hide from the blackhole inner dark spots.

I listen for the softness of  morning, and I cringe at the Barred Owls’ cries.

“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.”
― C. JoyBell C.

A doctor once said to me, “You aren’t IN pain–you’re just AFRAID of pain.” To an extent, that is true. I am afraid to let myself think about Kent for too long sometimes because I know it brings on the sadness. I am afraid, at times, to let myself hurt.

The problem with this is that If I don’t let it hurt, it hurts anyway and all at once and out of nowhere. 

I can’t control my grief, but I am learning to roll with its punches.

 

“Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.” (Hunter S. Thompson)

 

What’s the best way to roll?

In the World of Yes

 Of all the “what ifs,” how many “at least it didn’t _____” are there?
So many near-misses, so many itcouldhavebeenworse moments in life. This fractured place of maybe-ness is a grey, foggy place. I like concrete reality better, but sometimes we fall into the grey patches, or they just find us. We cannot stay long in these spots because, well, they aren’t real.

 

“Love is a Place”

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places
yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds —ee cummings

How do we keep on when everything appears … too much? Or not enough? Yes is a good word to practice. Yes, I will go out for lunch with you. You find the crowbar inside yourself that gets you off the couch, out of the bed, away from the comfort of home…away from sorrow’s welcoming hug. Yes, I will volunteer at the library. How to invoke the crowbar? One of the best voices in my arsenal of YES is Augusten BurroughsTHIS IS HOW: SURVIVING WHAT YOU THINK YOU CAN’T.

“…all of us are made not only of what we have but of what we lost. And loss is not a subtraction. As an experience, it is an addition. Even when we lose a leg or an arm, there’s not less of us but more. Human experience weighs more than human tissue.” -Augusten Burroughs

We aren’t made to be happy all the time–we just aren’t wired that way. Grieving is light years away from simply unhappy, but my point is that there is a world of Yes. We can’t live there all of the time–probably shouldn’t–but it’s an important place to visit.

Beating Hearts

They look so strong up close, almost like trees.
Remember how we used to walk around the yard in the early frosty spring?
Remember how you called their young shoots “little celeries?” Or was that
me?
I don’t remember now, and you aren’t here to ask.
From farther away they are delicate…fragile, floating into the new season almost first (right after the crocuses).
I need to look up the scientific name of these beauties. Maybe
Then I will begin to understand–
to understand how light can turn things alive,
to understand how color can have infinite hues,
to understand how the texture of green feels in sunlight.

I cannot look at these bleeding hearts without feeling your breath on my neck
your laugh in the sunset
your chest hugged against  mine
in time
beating hearts. 

 

 

 

New Names Needed

We need a doula for widow/ers. And a midwife also. Help at the beginning and ending.

 

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The widow/er midwife would help with the immediate stuff; choose the funeral parlor (Isn’t it odd that they are still called parlors?),  cancel the credit cards, make a Facebook Memorial page, arrange the funeral/ceremony, make sure the widow/er doesn’t drown themselves in alcohol or sleeping pills or forget to eat for days at a time. It would be the midwife’s job, all of that horror. Then the doula would come in and help with the ongoing horror like receiving guests and cards and flowers and listening to everyone say how they are so sorry. The doulas would be right there by our side when we break down at the funeral and practically have to be carried out. She would stick around for the sifting of the insurance and medical bill nightmare. How would we know when we didn’t need the doula anymore?

We wouldn’t. She will be so enlightened that she would know when it was time to leave.

The doula would know that there will always be another person to help. And there is.

The person who helps the most is our own selves. That deep primal part of us who knows that survival isn’t dependent on healing so we better get to work.

What would we name a widow/er midwife and a widow/er doula? If we name them maybe they can exist.

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Advice Sharing

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They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.
Andy Warhol 

 

Time heals all wounds…No. It really doesn’t. We heal ourselves and help each other heal. Time has very little to do with it.

This is from a BBC Series called “Like Minds.” It’s worth the watch.

 

 

How can we change the way people perceive grieving?

Words, Words, Words

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Polonius: What do you read, my lord?

Hamlet: Words, words, words. (Hamlet IIii)

It’s easy to forget that other people exist when a spouse dies. No one can know what you are feeling–can they? What about other widows? We know that no words can comfort or explain, but because we are widowed we have a sense of what NOT to say.

People shouldn’t assume that everyone’s default setting is theism. “At least he is in heaven…it’s all part of God’s plan…his spirit is always looking down on you.” That last one really creeps me out. First of all, if Kent is in some spirit world, I would hope he has more enlightened things to do than peep at me. I don’t believe in a heaven or hell or god or gods so it doesn’t help that this imaginary being presumably is in control of our fate. It’s like saying, “Don’t worry–Odin totally has him covered up in Valhalla.”

Most times we are speechless when we hear of another’s loss. That’s because we cannot empathize with it, cannot understand it. I often wish I could go back in time and say just the right thing to make someone feel better; I am not a quick wit. I am a writer, and I need time to process my thoughts. I came across this great op-ed piece called “Dear New Widow: Remember That You are Never Alone” by Danelle Boyles teNyenhuis today. She talks about what she would have liked to say to a new widow. There are some beautiful sentiments in this piece. Here is one:

I’m trying to make my life meaningful as a tribute to the love we shared. You will find what works for you.

The phrase a “new widow” has me thinking. It will be six years this Thanksgiving that Kent died. Does that make me an “old” widow? A “middle-aged” widow? Time is far too strange. Some days it feels like he died yesterday and other days it feels like he was never really there–that he was part of some fabulous fairytale I concocted in my mind. Another question I have about words is grief versus mourning. I found a website

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called Funeral Basics (SOMEone had to to it) and it describes grief as internal and mourning as external. Apparently, without the public act of mourning the grief we feel inside becomes “carried” grief. This prevents us from dealing with loss. More on this in next week’s post. I’ll leave you with more words. Sometimes they are all we need.

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love. –Washington Irving

 

 

 

I answer the heroic question, ‘Death where is thy sting?’ with ‘It is here in my heart and mind and memories. –Maya Angelou