Saturday, March 10, 2012

A New Chapter

 From my upcoming book on Facing Adversity.

The poet Dylan Thomas wrote, “After the first death, there is no other.”  Some have interpreted that line to be a poetic way of saying “we only die once,” but like all good poetry, it is subject to a variety of interpretations. For me, it has always meant that once you truly experience the profound suffering that comes from losing someone you love, you’ll never experience grief the same way again. But that “first death” isn’t necessarily the first time you experience death; rather it’s the first time you experience it in a way that wrenches your heart and soul.

As I write this, I am mourning the loss of my mother, who died at age 92 after a lengthy period of decline. While my heart aches, hers was not my “first death.” I experienced that some years ago when, of all things, a beloved cat died. It was then that I was utterly struck by the pain and loss that death brings and the soul-wrenching loss of grief.  Of course, the grief from the loss of a pet, no matter how beloved, differs from that of the loss of a human, as it rightly should. But the one thing that I learned from that “first death” was how I process the stages of grief made famous by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).

The fact is that we all process grief in our own unique ways.  Some are stoic, keeping a steely countenance and dealing with the emotions internally.  Others are wild-haired and vocal in their suffering, keening and wailing both literally and figuratively.  The comfort that comes after once having experienced real grief is that from then on you know your own reaction, the way you will cope and process it.  And, in addition, you know that you will get through it.  Along with recognizing the stages of pain, you can begin to see the stages of healing as well.

For me, I know that I pass through the stages of denial, bargaining and anger relatively quickly, but become ensnared by depression and deep sadness before I finally come to acceptance.  For me, some time after a grievous loss, even the most sunny of days is tinged with grey clouds in my soul.  But I know, too, that when I first begin to sense a quickening of hope and a calm, no matter how momentary, that the healing is beginning. It may take a long time, especially when the loss is as profound as that of my mother, but having lived through grief before, I also know that healing will come, in its own time and own way.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Vaulting to Easter

I've written a couple of posts and then erased them without publishing because I was sort of embarrassed by them.  You see I'm not really over my grieving yet and well-meaning and well-intentioned friends are getting impatient with me.  It's been nearly seven weeks and they are not only ready to move on, they have moved on. The fact that I'm still not over mother's death and the other things that have happened and am not fully ready to slay dragons and take on new challenges is frustrating to them.

It's a little frustrating to me, too, and it's a bit embarrassing to admit that some days it's really really hard to even get out of bed, much less face the world with a song in my heart.

Deep down, I know that it's okay to take the time I need to process the changes, but it also hard to admit that I am not one of those people who is able to get over and get on with it quickly and easily.

I think one of the reasons people want me to be all better by now is because our modern version of Christianity likes to leapfrog from the cross directly to Easter. In fact, sometimes I think modern Christianity doesn't even pause at the cross, but vaults to the rolled away stone at the tomb, maybe even to the Ascension into glory in one might bound. It's as if because we know how the story ends, we don't want to deal with all that messy stuff of Good Friday along the way.

However, the messy stuff of the Good Fridays of our lives doesn't just zap away because we know there is an Easter.  The cross remains, and it's a cross for good reason.  The living through it is hard, painful and sometimes seems as if it will never end. 

I try to assure my friends that I'm not just wallowing in self-piteous grief to be frustrating and annoying.  I'm doing all the things that you are "supposed" to do to move on.  It's just griefwalking has its own pace and route.  I'm happy that, for some people, their episodes of grief were compact and completed quickly.  Mine is just taking time.  Time to feel, let go and then feel again.  Time to remember, to cry, to buck up and then repeat the cycle.

It is getting easier and less painful, although the betrayal that I still can't quite talk about publicly (but I will as soon as I can legally) has added an extra layer to the process.  When one of the griefs subsides, the other roars in to take its place.

One of the things I have learned thus far is that compassion for one's own journey is an essential aspect of getting through.  I'm hoping that I am learning compassion for others as well so that maybe one day my griefwalking will help someone else who is feeling embarrassed because they aren't "all better" overnight.

For now, I'm working on having compassion for me.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

I spent the afternoon getting the taxes together for my mother and me.  Finally, after wrestling with numbers and information, I went in to pick up all the forms I'd printed only to discover one of the cats had peed all over the stack.  (I think I know which one, but they were both had the "Who? Me?" look when I got there.)

Now after all that has happened this past six weeks, from death to taxes, the cats must have decided that my life was, to use a phrase, piss poor these days.  Wasn't it nice of them to make the comment for me?