In New Orleans we are very aware of the power of great waves pushed up by hurricanes. Driving along the coast recently I was reminded of this power and how much had to be rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.
The loss of a loved one can be compared to the power of the hurricane tidal wave: it drags off someone we love and leaves devastation in its wake; the landscape of our life is forever changed. We look around and we recognize the pieces of our lives but they are all scattered, out of place. Some are damaged beyond recognition. Some merely broken. And the realisation that we have to rebuild everything again feels overwhelming, impossible, unreasonable. We just want to sit down in the midst of the devastation and quit. But we can’t. There are other people who have been made emotionally homeless along with us and we have to pick ourselves up for their sake and begin to build a new shelter, a new emotional home, a new sense of safety.
So we gather the pieces together, we reclaim our foundation and we start to rebuild.
It has been 12 years since Katrina and the coast boasts new construction on higher foundations. But in between the new houses are empty lots still unreclaimed, whose owners barely manage to keep the grass under control. Having given up and decided to rebuild their lives somewhere else the owners don’t even want to visit any more.
It has been ten years this March since my oldest son, Malcolm, died. My husband and I are still together, our emotional home has been rebuilt. We have hope and joy; we share holidays with our youngest son and extended family; we build new memories. But in our emotional house, as in our physical house, remains a room full of scattered pieces of Malcolm’s life. We visit the room, using it for hanging up shirts and holding boxes of Christmas items until they return to the attic. And on the bookshelves and in the locker remain pieces of Malcolm’s life that don’t fit anymore but we can’t part with. And that’s just how it is.
Originally written for my Traces of Hope blog, tracesofhope.wordpress .com
Posted in grief, hope, losing a son, loss, Moving on, Rebuilding, sadness, suffering
Tagged grief, Loss, Rebuilding, sadness
“While medications may help to allay some symptoms of anxiety and depression, we hear over and over from those taking tranquilizers and antidepressants that their symptoms persist or, in some cases, are worse. As noted bereavement therapist, Peter Lynch, MSW, said at an annual Holiday Service of Remembrance, referring to the many feelings associated with grief, “The only way through it is through it.” Medication doesn’t make the pain of grief go away. Clients need to understand this important point.”
The only way through it is through it. And for some of us the second year is worse. How can that possibly be? Can I really hurt more than I hurt now? Maybe you are really feeling it, really overwhelmed by the pain of it. But for some people those first few months, that entire year of firsts, is survived in a state of withdrawal from feeling, as if you are observing yourself going through the motions. And after some months it is possible that the defenses start coming down and the reality of the pain begins to be felt. For me it was just a week before I felt it. The day after the funeral. That was when my numbness receded. I was overwhelmed and had to be hospitalized. But for some a whole year can be spent in emotional separation, distanced observation, numbness. As your psyche hopes to build up strength for when the pain becomes more real and the fantasy of “it can’t be true” finally breaks down.
I imagine it must be much harder to resist that fantasy if you don’t get to see your loved one before burial. For example if they die overseas in a military conflict and there are no remains to view. I do believe in the value of that last viewing, of the emotional closure it allows. But me, I couldn’t watch as they closed the casket; I couldn’t watch as they lowered him into the ground. That much reality was too much for me. I was still in the distanced observation stage.
So be kind to yourself. Don’t set expectations on your grief. And don’t allow others to give you a time limit. We each have our own path to take. Just don’t take it alone.
Posted in depression, grief, loss, sadness, suffering, suicide
Tagged death, depression, grief, healing, letting go, losing a son, Loss, moving on, pain, sorrow, surviving suicide
Reflections of a family member whose mother has died:
I’m in pain. I feel overwhelmed. I’m numb. I’m angry. So don’t “But” me. Don’t give me pious platitudes, “But she’s at peace.” Great – what the hell do I do now, I’m freaking out! “But she’s in a better place.” I’m glad, really I am. So where does that leave me? I’m all alone now! She was the strong one; how am I going to make it? “But she’s out of pain,” I’m thankful, God am I thankful! So can you help me with my pain, now? Because I can’t breathe too well, and it feels as if there is a golf ball lodged in my throat.
You just keep Butting me, trying to push me out of my grief. And I can’t say any of these things back to you. I can’t even form my thoughts, let alone voice coherent sentences. I am grieving damn it, just let me be!
And if I say “Thank you,” it really means take your “But” and move along because I’m not there yet.
Too often, when we have experienced a loss, people respond with well- meaning platitudes. These don’t really help you and you don’t need to feel bad for feeling this way. Also, maybe there is someone you know who needs to, gently, be told how you feel and perhaps you can just show them this reflection. Better than butting heads with them!
Over the past few years I have used the opportunity offered by this blog to reflect on my journey of healing from the loss of my son. I thank all those who have reached out to me or shared their stories on this blog.
I have a new book coming out that tells the story of my healing journey and my journey through grief and loss if you are interested in my full story.
Posted in depression, faith, God, Grace, grief, hope, letting go, loss, meaning of life, suffering
Tagged anger, doubt, faith, God, Grace, grief, healing, hope, Loss, religion
When grief is cyclical you visit the grief over and over again. You face the same questions, the same guilt. Sometimes it seems to feel as bad as the first few months, or maybe you just don’t remember how awful that was anymore. Depression has a rhythm, too. The lows seem to get lower but the recovery and equilibrium seem to last longer.
After coming out of my recent depression I had the opportunity to accompany my husband to a retreat center. The truth was I wasn’t ready to be alone for three days and two nights. He was working a high school retreat, but I had the weekend to myself. I brought my memory stick containing my book on grief and loss and thought I might give it a look again. It had been stuck for quite a while on the issue of hope. The book had morphed from the theme of grief and loss to the theme of meaning and hope. The trouble was that I wasn’t sure what hope I had and what shape it took. For two years I had been thinking and reading and, yes, praying, even though I wasn’t sure to whom or for what purpose. Then I sank into depression and hope mocked me from the sidelines of my life. But now I was on the other side of the depression and something had shifted. What I had been reading began to take a meaningful shape. Quotes I had highlighted began to organize themselves, and I found at last I was able to get my head around the possibility of hope. I hoped for hope, and that was closer than I had been in years to actually being hopeful.
So for two full days I wrote. I got to know my book again and began to develop greater coherence. And I worked on the last section, the section that was now giving the title to the book: Traces of Hope. Those were a powerful two days. I felt invigorated and, dare I say it, hopeful that my book might make sense and might prove useful. I wasn’t sure how long these feelings would last but it felt really, really good.
Since that weekend I have sought out and enrolled in a program for Pastoral Care; I have begun attending a Christian church (The United Church of Christ) with a friend of mine, and I have begun a practice of daily reflection or meditation, usually at night because I am not worth a damn in the morning.
Lots of changes. I don’t know how long-lasting this sense of equilibrium will be, but for now I am appreciating the emotional peace. I have written about positive insights and shared positive postings on Only Good Things, http://wholiness.wordpress.com. And I have begun reflecting on pieces of my book on Traces of Hope, http://tracesofhope.wordpress.com. I invite you to visit. I hope to have an ebook ready in a couple of months and, who knows, maybe a real publisher. But that’s a bit too much to hope for, probably.
Posted in depression, doubt, faith, God, grief, hope, loss, meaning of life, Moving on, sadness, suffering
Tagged cycles, depression, grief, guilt, hope, Loss, meaning
Pain abhors words
thinks them trite
Pain gnaws at your bones
causing you to fade
from lack of substance
But over time
(it’s true what they say)
Anger enters then
the proffered hand of Grief
And at long last – weeps
It goes without saying: to love is to lose; to live is to die. Life is just that – love and loss. If we dare to love, we will feel like dying when we lose our beloved. The only question about love and death is: Who will go first? I joke with my husband: If you go first I’ll kill you!
When my mother died a few weeks ago I didn’t seem to feel much. I’m catching up now! But it’s a confusion of feelings: sadness as intense as anger. Yesterday I learned how to scream. I have read about scream therapy and been advised about anger work. I have been encouraged to hit or throw or pummel something other than myself. But I have never managed to do any of this with much energy, so it felt pointless. And my attempts to scream, while driving my car and thus insulated from the hearing world, were always throaty, soprano screeches. Not so yesterday. Yesterday I tensed my chest and my throat and made an ugly, forceful, deep grrr sound. It felt good so I did it again…louder and throatier. And then I cried the rest of the way home. A barrier had been breached.
I am not sure which is worse – having sweet, loving, memories of affection and tenderness, concern and affirmation, and being overcome with grief at her passing, or having no such memories. I tell myself that my good memories are being held hostage by the bad ones I cannot recall; that perhaps as I face the bad memories the good ones will surface, too. That’s what I tell myself.
I do know that my mother cared for me in the ways in which she was capable. My mother taught herself to cook and parent as best she could. The child of upper-middle class parents, she was raised in a private boarding school from the age of about 4, and parented by nannies during vacations at home. Entering nursing school at 18, she was completely unprepared for independent living, but she could dress with taste, recite all the Catholic prayers, crochet and sew, and – of course – play tennis. She could also play piano well enough to have possibly pursued a career in music. But a high school trauma she would never explain caused her to refuse to ever touch the keys again. My mother was a woman of private pain.
My mother loved her children through her coffee cakes, butterfly scones, horseshoe biscuits. She loved them through her hand-washed laundry, not owning a washing machine until she was in her 70’s. She loved her children through her scrubbed carpets and wallpapered rooms – doing all the decorating herself. My mother loved her children by remaining faithful and committed to her husband, a loyalty that cost her the support of her own large family of 8 siblings, none of whom were represented at her funeral. None.
Now I am wondering, did I ever tell her thank you? Or did I just spend my life waiting for the signs of love that 50’s TV shows and James Stewart Christmas movies held out as tantalizing fantasy? Did she know that I noticed her care and was grateful, even though I wished there had been hugs and soft words? I have lost the opportunity to get over my childish, self-centered resentments and be an adult in relation to her. I left home at 18, too. Maybe if I had learned to be angry and to scream 38 years ago I could have had an emotional confrontation and begun an adult relationship with my mother.
Posted in family, grief, loss, Parenting, sadness, suffering
Tagged anger, depression, family, grief, Loss, Loss of a mother, love, parenting, sadness, sorrow