Sunday, September 18, 2011

This and That

I spent most of this weekend in Bowling Green.  I am finding that being there brings me comfort since daddy died.  I wanted to see my step mom and spend some time with an old friend, but I also had a personal ritual in mind, too.   I love tattoos and had been wanting to get one in honor of my dad for the last couple of years.  Since his death, the need to get it done became greater.  He hated tattoos, hated that I had a few and would hate that I got yet another.  It was sort of fitting though, maybe that last act of defiance, but this time in some twisted honor of our relationship.  I also felt very strongly about getting it done in BG, where he lived his entire life and I grew up.  It is funny the little rituals that we go through to deal with all that life throws us.  After daddy died, I became obsessed with cutting my hair and did so as soon as I could.   In some cultures even today, women cutting off their hair after losing a loved one is a badge of grief.  I've been reading a book about grief that a friend gave me.  In one chapter it mentions how in today's busy society, we tend to hurry everything including mourning our losses.  The writer mentions that once upon a time when a loved one died, family members would dress in black or wear armbands or black ribbons every day for a year.  These tokens were to remind everyone of thier loss. 

Today we are constantly rushing from project to project.  I have friends with kids who seldom have an evening where they are not rushing from work to pick up a kid to take them to ball practice, cheerleading, hockey, youth group or any other of a dozen activities.  Americans work more hours than most any other country.  We are plugged in all the time.  Me too.  We are always asking each other what plans we have for this night or that weekend almost like if you don't have something going on, it's wrong.  Rarely do we just allow ourselves to do nothing.  Sit.  Listen to the quiet.  Unplug.  It isn't how we roll.  At my company (which I can say nothing but great things about) we get three days of bereavement time for the death of a parent.  Other companies give one.  Not to say that you shouldn't get back to work, life does go on after all, but one day?  When you are grieving, one of the hardest things is to accept that the world keeps on turning.  You just feel like everything should stop, even just for a little while and acknowledge that your world has changed forever. 

You can't hurry dealing with grief and it never truly goes away.  Each loss leaves behind it's own little cell of grief that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.  My sister died 33 years ago, but there are moments still where her absence in my life takes my breath away.  My mom has been gone for nearly 13 years and I often have days where I sob as hard over losing her as I did the day she died.  I miss my Memaw everytime I watch a squirrel play in the yard, or eat dumplings.  I am not going to let anyone tell me that I should "be over it by now" or "I should get on with my life".  I am getting on with my life and part of that includes allowing myself to wear my little internal black ribbon for as long as I need to.  No one knows what is best for me but me. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No Two Alike

Grief can be incredibly dibilitating.  It fascinates me a little, quite frankly.  The old saying about death and taxes is so true.  Death is the one thing not one of us is immune to, therefore we all experience loss in our lives.  Friends, family members, beloved pets, odds are you are going to lose someone you love in your lifetime.  Grief will at some time or another be a part of our lives.  I do have friends who have not yet experienced the loss of a significant loved one, but most of us probably have.  Some maybe many times over. Just as there is no escape from dying, there is no escape from grieving. 

I've said before that grief is very personal.  While all of us will probably experience grief in our lifetime, we will all handle it differently.  There are scores of books written on the subject of grieving.  Someone even came up with the five steps of grieving, although not everyone goes through them.  I wear my emotions on my sleeve.  I've always done so.  I honestly don't know how to be any other way.  Others hold tight to their emotions, never show a tear or quivering lip.  Many are somewhere in between.  There is no right way or no wrong way to grieve, just as long as you do.  Grief is important in healing a broken heart.  Someone very close to me, who I have rarely seen cry told me the other night that he feels like if he cries because someone has died, he is in some way disagreeing with God's big plan.  He can't cry because he is afraid of offending God.  I find that to be so beautiful, even though I don't feel the same way.  I think crying is cathartic and necessary and when I shed tears for a loved one, I don't think God is offended by that.

I'm a big fan of the tv series "True Blood" because is is great escapism.  There are lines in that show that sometime just knock me out of my seat they are so funny, like "don't go all lost in nature retarded on me" or "I'm a fairy, how fucking lame".  In one recent episode, two characters were talking about how to go on living after someone they loved died and one said "you just keep breathing, baby".  I loved that.  We just keep breathing.  We just keep taking one step at a time.  We just get through this day before thinking about tackling the next.  We just keep allowing ourselves to have the days you want to scream.  We go back to work, go out with friends, look for a little joy in each day. We know that while no two grieve alike, we all are brothers and sisters in heartache and we are not alone in our experience. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Moving Forward

Today marks the end of my first week back to work after losing my dad.  I spent most of last week alone in my house allowing myself to breakdown and roll with each new wave of seemingly unbearable grief.  I had my "Big Chill" Glenn Close moments sitting in the shower sobbing, I yelled, I prayed, I laid in my bed and wept for hours.  I avoided my friends for the most part and just spent time alone with my grief.  When Tuesday rolled around I dreaded going to the office.  I was not ready to face getting back to work because it meant that life continues whether I wanted it to or not.  Day one back was tough.  I wasn't sure that I could make it through the day.  I have worked at my present company for nearly 20 years and we are a big family.  Knowing that I was going to have to talk to a lot of people, all who were going to ask me how I was doing, was not something I wanted to do.  It was tough.  I had already gone by the office on Saturday to pick up the big pile of sympathy cards that I knew were going to be waiting for me.  I am glad that I did that, rather than face those on that first day.  I managed to make it through the day and each day this week was a little easier to bear. 

Working while in what my friend Tracie calls "the grief fog" is tough though.  It amazes me that I can't remember a single thing for more than a minute.  I remember when my mom died I went through the same thing and that was when I really got in the habit of writing down everything.  Email makes it easier because there is a trail to follow now, but it still just floors me how little I am retaining.  Case in point, earlier today when I got to the office, my low fuel warning on the car chimed.  I honestly couldn't recall ever looking at the gas gauge recently.  When I left the office, I had an appt to get my nails done and on the way, the chime went off again.  I reminded myself that when I left the nail salon to go get gas, I was even chanting it in my head while getting my manicure. I just now realized that I never did go fill up the car.  I joked recently about putting the milk in the oven and the peanut butter in the refrigerator.  I wasn't kidding.  I have been finding things in the wierdest places.  It is almost frightening, this memory loss from grief. 

I hate how fragile I feel.  Fragile is not a word I would ever use to describe myself.  I realize it has not even been two weeks since I buried my father, but I just feel like I could break into a million little pieces at the drop of a hat.  I have never felt like this before.  A few years ago at my 15th anniversary dinner at work, which is one of those affairs where people say nice things about you and you get a clock or something, my friend Rhea said I was resilient.  At the time I thought, wow, that really is true about me.  I'm not saying that my life has been any tougher than anyone elses, we all have our trials, but I have dealt with a lot of stuff in my life.  I keep holding on to that description of me by someone who knows me well, because it gives me hope that I won't always feel like some delicate piece of china.

I am also struggling with anger.  I don't really think it is anger like the kind talked about as one of the stages of grief.  That anger is usually directed at God or the loved one you lost or the medical community.  This is more like I have just don't have any tolerance for things or people.  Maybe this is because I have just experienced a tragedy in my life and so by comparison so many things just seem so trivial to me.  I'm impatient with everything.  I know that this will fade just as my memory will get better and I will become less fragile with the passing of time.  Right now I just feel so inside out and raw.  I am doing the best I can though, trying to find a little bit of joy in each day and moving forward. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Grieving for More Than My Dad

Yesterday someone said to me that I should be grateful that I had my dad for so long.  They went on to tell me that their dad died when he was in his 60's.  Although my reacation was seething anger at their assumption that I had not experienced loss before, I knew they didn't know my sister died at 13 and my mom at 64,  so I graciously smiled and expressed my sympathy at their loss.  I realize that death freaks us out and we never really know what to say to someone who is grieving (by the way, "sorry for your loss" is enough), but most times comparing your loss with someone elses when it is recent, is not really a good idea.  Grief is personal and all consuming and while a recent griever appreciates the sympathy, they probably don't care at all about your own experience.  Not right now.  They will in time and sharing similar losses actually becomes a source of comfort, but initially, not so much.

I am grateful I did have my dad for so long.  Very grateful.  I am grateful that until about six months ago, he had an active life doing the things he wanted.  However, whether he died at 79 or at 99 doesn't change the fact that he is gone and that I am going to grieve for him hard, regardless of his age at the time of his death.  The loss of my dad is about so much more for me than just losing him, though.  My immediate family consisted of me, my sister Karen and our parents.  Karen died as a result of injuries she sustained in a car wreck.  My mom died in 1999 at age 64 from Hep C that she contracted through a blood transfusion that she received after losing so much blood from injuries from the same car accident.  My dad, as you know just died from lung cancer.  That's it.  They have all gone on. 

While I am certainly grieving the loss of my dad, I am also grieving the loss of my entire family.  While my dad was alive, there was someone else on earth who shared memories with me.  He remembered when I overfed the guppies that my Mawmaw raised to sell to Woolworth's.  He remembered when I won a Kennedy half dollar because I won my first grade spelling bee.  He remembered when I dropped the glass of chocolate milk and that milk shot straight up and left a stain on the ceiling in our house that we could never quite get rid of.  He remembered that on a drive to Louisville, we had to turn around at E-town to go back home and get Karen's favorite toy, T-Bone.  He remembered when our family represented Kentucky in the All American Family Pageant back in the early 70's.  He remembered coming to my house to tell me my sister had died.  When he died, a big piece of my history went with him.  Shared experiences are now gone forever.  I can't truly express how sad this is for me.  This grief is so much more for me than just grieving for my dad. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

I Can't Breathe

Anniversaries are are big deal to us.  We are always marking the passing of time.  We celebrate wedding anniversaries, birthdays, years in a job, how long ago we quit smoking or drinking, what day you had your first panic attack.  We know how many years ago we lost a sister or a mother or an aunt.  My father died a week ago today.  How can it already be a week?  How can I have functioned (if you can call what I've done all week functioning) without him in my life for seven whole days?  How is it possible? 

I feel like I am trying to breathe underwater.  I feel like my chest is full of holes so the air pours out of me rather than fills my lungs.  I would rather have a limb cut off than go through this pain of losing someone I love again.  It is the hardest thing we do in life.  There are no words of comfort, no one's embrace, no distraction that can ease my wounds today.  I don't want to hear about time and memories bringing comfort.  I know these things.  I've lived through loss before.  Today I want to roll in the razor sharp edges of my loss.  I want to feel fucking sorry for myself.  I am going to scream and cry and beat my fists into the pillows until my arms hurt.  I'm going to be angry.  Not that my dad died, he was suffering and I am grateful that his pain is over.  I am going to be angry at the disease that took him.  I am going to be angry that we can put a fucking man on the moon, but can't figure out how to cure cancer.  I am going to be angry at the morons who think I should be able to shake off my loss in 7 days time and "get on with life". 

I'm going to admit that even though I am strong, I am also breakable and that I am broken.  I am more broken than I have ever been before.  I can't breathe, I cant breathe, I can't breathe.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Reliving Loss

It is 2:00 in the morning and once more I can't sleep.  Without sounding too much like Oprah, one thing I know for sure is that once you lose someone significant in your life, every new loss reopens old wounds of grief.  I realize that my family is not unique in grieving.   Everyone experiences loss.  It is one of the few things that you can take to the bank.  No one is immune from it.  Some of us may have had more experience than others, but we will all suffer from grief. 

Losing my sister when I was 18 was one of the first major events that shaped the person I was to become.  My parents had divorced a few years before her death and I had never really dealt with the feelings that their divorce left me with. Karen's death left me feeling that no one that I loved was going to be steadfast in my life. I spent most of my young adulthood either trying in all the wrong ways to find rock solid love or doing everything I could to run from it.  It would take me well into my 20's to deal with my fear of being left behind and on my own.

My mom and I had a very close relationship.  In hindsight she probably let me get away with way too much, but she taught me so much about being a strong, independent woman.  She taught me about faith and loyalty and to really care about others.  She was so special to me.  She died unexpectedly in 1999 and her death truly rocked my world like nothing else had.  To make matters worse, my beloved aunt Mary Ann died on the same day.  Mom died early in the morning and my aunt later in the afternoon.  I adored my aunt and her passing, while expected since she was in the final stages of lung cancer, was so devastating.  The next few days were a blur as I dealt with arrangements for my mom in Nashville, visitation for my aunt and funeral in Bowling Green and a burial service for my mom's ashes in BG.  It was a whrilwind and frankly I don't have a lot of memory of those couple of days.  I do know that losing my mom left a hole in my heart right next to the one already there from losing my sister.

My dad and I had a lot of friction in our relationship.  My dad had very defined ideas about how I should live my life and when I didn't follow that path, it was hard for him.  I know he never really forgave me for not finishing college.  I know he disapproved of the party girl lifestyle of my youth.  I know he was sorry that I did not choose to stay in Bowling Green.  I spent a good deal of my life just trying to live up to my dad's expectations and feeling like I always fell short.  Although I know he didn't always approve of my decisions or actions, he always loved me and I never doubted that love.  I know that he was proud of me, of the life I made for myself, for the career path I chose. When he became sick and I knew our time together was short, I never felt that there was anything unsaid between us.  I'm glad of that because it made the time we had left so pure and full of love. 

My heart has broken yet again, and behind the cracks that his passing has caused are the newly opened cracks left by loved ones that have gone on before. Because I have suffered great loss before, I know that I will survive this one, too.  I know that at some point the feeling of emptiness will be replaced with fond memories that bring comfort.  I know that life goes on regardless of how I feel my world has stopped turning for a bit.  I know that sooner or later, the grief fog will lift and things will gradually get back to how they were before my dad died.  Right now, however I can't sleep for reliving the losses of my past along with the newly added loss of my daddy.  I miss him so much.