Friday, July 22, 2011

Final Thoughts on Grief

July 1 marked the one year anniversary of my father's death. For many months, I've justified my sadness by saying, It's only been three months, six months, eight months. Now a year has passed and it feels like my feelings should have changed.

One of my sisters said something the other day along the lines of, Now that a year has passed, his death doesn't really mean anything to other people, or maybe it was, People might not understand that I'm still grieving now that it has been a year. I replied that for the most part, people had forgotten Dad's death the day after the funeral.

It is the dearest of friends who are compassionate about how long grief lasts. One friend called me on June 29, his birthday. Another sent a note around July 1. I am so grateful for their remembrance.

Advice for friends of those who lose loved ones: Mark the day of the birth and death of the dead person and contact your friend on those days. You may not think about it again until you see it on the calendar, but your thinking of it then will be meaningful and touching.

My brother sent me this blog post on grief yesterday. I'm excerpting a few passages; you can read the entire post from the link if you wish.

Grief is like a serious injury. A person with whom I have a bond is gone. That bond has been severed, leaving a deep and tender wound. It hurts. It is sometimes hard to find relief. I have to do what I can to relieve the pain, clean and dress the wound, protect it, and give it time to heal. I must adjust my life to allow for it, and it’s a damn inconvenience, I’ll tell you. Whether or not the person who died “is in a better place” doesn’t change any of that. Grief is not selfish, but grief is about me.

I often compare grief to losing a limb. If my leg were to be amputated or lost in an accident, my life would be irrevocably altered because of that loss. I simply could not live the way I did before. Furthermore, it would hurt. It would be hard to come to grips with my new reality mentally and emotionally. I might even think that God had treated me unfairly. I would be forced to accept new assignments from life—to heal, to rehab, to learn new habits and ways of getting around, to learn what new kinds of support I will need from those around me. Perhaps I will get an artificial limb and learn to do even more than I could before I lost my leg. Perhaps I will develop the desire to help others who have gone through the same experience. Who knows where this road will lead? All I know at the moment is that I’ve taken a turn somewhere and I’m not in Kansas anymore.

An illustration like that helps me grasp what the grieving process is like. If it’s accurate, I think you can see how much we underestimate the length, breadth, and depth of the grieving experience.

- A loved one dies and the company gives you two or three bereavement days. Then it’s back to business as usual.
- Your friends come to the funeral and call for about a week and then you don’t hear from them. The cards stop coming a few days later.
- Your family has to return to work and all their other activities, their visits become less frequent within a few weeks, and within a couple of months they can’t understand why you haven’t gone through dad’s things yet, and why you refuse to talk about selling the house. What’s the matter? Why can’t you get over it and move on?
- No one, not even your pastor, understands why you don’t want to come to church. They forget that you and your husband sat in the same seat for years and did everything in church together. Being there without him just doesn’t feel right. And if the congregation sings that song you both loved, you’ll have to leave because it hurts so much. The children’s ministry coordinator doesn’t get it when you say you’ll have to stop teaching indefinitely and pressures you to reconsider. There are few who can grasp the feeling that it will do you worse to come to church than to stay home.

Thanks for listening. It has meant the world.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Time Goes By

In June I ran over my cat and made it through Father's Day and my father's birthday without him. June 10 made twenty-eight of my mom's birthdays since she died. Today is my friend Catherine's birthday, and her family is celebrating without her too.

My youngest daughter and I shopped for wedding dresses and talked venues and caterers and guest lists.

My middle daughter's cat got run over and died.

My oldest daughter is working things through.

I attended a week-long workshop with the inimitable Zelda Lockhart where I explored some of the family lore in fiction. I visited my friends in Oriental and made a sale of some of my prints and cards to one of the local galleries. I submitted more of my stories and went to my writing groups. I hurt someone.

I went to my boat one weekend, relaxed and did some summer cleaning, had dinner with friends. They'd missed me and I was so happy to be with them.

On July 1, I had a photography exhibit entitled, "The American Experience" with four other people. I took down a photograph of my deceased cat and replaced it with a photograph of a boat in Oriental Harbor. I dedicated my photographs to my dad. Some of his last words were, "I love this country so much."

I'm putting together some amazing writing workshops and already have people signing up for October and February of 2012. The one with Jan Phillips is full and people are still calling.

I've seen some things that appeared to be signs, like this cloud (what was the earth thinking?):

and this word on my floor (which a friend said is the Sanskrit word for "fear"):

I've spent too much time on Facebook and reality TV shows and not enough time on the stacks of books and movies that stare at me every time I walk by.

I've been to my home town and put flowers on my parents' graves, met with the accountant, visited with my brother.

A red-headed woodpecker eats sunflower seeds and finches of every color fight for perch at the thistle seed. In about a week I'll have a jillion tomatoes.

Live goes on.