My Grief is Not Your Grief…

“It’s like being covered in bruises and fearing the next time someone bumps into you.”

Grief is something we all experience at one time or another. Grief because someone we love died, grief from unmet expectations in life, grief because of losing a relationship, grief from realizing the dream we had of our life isn’t going to happen, and many other reasons. But, even though we all experience grief, my grief is not your grief. Even if we are experiencing grief for the same reason, my grief is not your grief. Even so, all grieving people need you to be gentle. It’s like being covered in bruises and fearing the next time someone bumps into you. It was customary in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to wear a black arm band as a sign of mourning. A sign for the world to be easy with you because you had suffered a loss.

My mom died, very suddenly and unexpectedly on April 19. Just a little over a month ago. She had lived with me and my husband since November of 2019. She was in good health for 87, and was especially happy in the last month of her life. The day she died, she was happy and laughing and we had been outside enjoying the sunshine and the lovely day. We were riding in the golf cart around our property, looking at the flowers and watching the dogs and bunnies and two of our granddaughters playing. In the span of about 30-45 minutes she went from that, to being dead. I still can’t wrap my head around it. Or my heart.

Yesterday, I took my husband to the same ER that my mom died in a month ago. It was overwhelming to me to be in that same place so soon. Because of COVID restrictions when my mom was in the ER last month, I couldn’t go back to the room she was in and she died alone, then they let me see her. Now, I was in the same waiting room. I walked to my husband’s exam room and saw the room that I last saw my mom in after she died. No one knew all the anxiety and sadness I was feeling. I didn’t express it, but I felt it in every cell of my body. I was overcome with so many emotions, but no one could tell.

Today, one day later, I MISS my mom. Gut wrenching grief that feels like I’m being punched in the stomach. Maybe it’s because of all the triggers yesterday. Maybe it’s because I got mail for her today. Maybe it’s because my husband is in the hospital and I’m alone. I don’t know. I don’t care. I just want her to be here, sitting on the porch with me and laughing. It feels like the first day after she died. Like I’m starting all over again. I’m just letting myself feel it and crying it out. I’m not afraid of this terrible, painful emotion. I’m walking through it, but I hate it.

There are many books written that include the five stages of grief, as identified by Kubler and Ross. Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. Any good therapist will tell you that these are not linear. You don’t experience them in any particular order, for any particular length of time. You don’t go from one to the next, finish that one never to return to it again, and move on to the next. My experience with grief has taught me that I can experience them all in the same day.

When my dad died three years ago, you can go back in my blog and read about my feelings of being tossed in a sea of waves, then tossed up to the beach, only to find myself on sand that kept washing away leaving me unsteady. I feel that now with my mom’s death, but it’s not the same. I still had a parent left then. I’m angry often that I’m an orphan now. My parents tethered me somehow to this world, and now I feel untethered. Like an astronaut that was hooked to his ship with a line and the line breaks and he’s free floating in space. I’m angry that I didn’t know she was going to die that day, and I didn’t get to tell her goodbye. I’m sad all the time, though you can’t always tell. I’ve tried bargaining with God to have one more day with my mom, just to say goodbye. Sometimes I’m in denial, like the many times over the past two days I’ve picked up my phone to call my mom and update her on how my husband is doing. Or when I tell myself she will be at home, playing with her little dog, when I get there.

I know that my siblings loved my mom fiercely. Just as much as I did. But, I also know that my grief is not their grief. I know that it looks different in all of our lives. It doesn’t matter that we are going through the stages differently. All grief is valid grief. You can’t always tell a person’s pain from talking to them. No one in the ER realized the trauma work I was doing in my head, and the fear and anxiety I was battling.

Please be kinder than necessary to people. You never know the battles they are inwardly fighting. Don’t equate their emotional expression, or lack thereof, with their healing process. So many of my patients are doing trauma work for something that no one else knows even happened to them. Sometimes I wish I could give them a black band to wear so others would be gentle with them. Sometimes I wish I could wear a grief band so others would know how fragile I feel right now. Some kind of outward sign that says, “Please be careful with me. I’m not okay.” Assume others are fighting battles you know nothing about, and move towards them with gentleness and compassion. Those of us that are believers have a commission from God, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Something for all of us to strive for.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

So I’m shifting…

It’s been a little over 8 months since my dad died. I’m still figuring my grief out.  This week has been a struggle. It happens. This morning I’m coming out of a four day funk that was really hard. But, today seems better. If you’ve lost someone you love, you know. I wrote my feelings. Maybe the words will resonate with some of you.

grief

At first, my grief made me feel as though I was adrift in a dark ocean.  Tossed about, at the mercy of the waves. One day, I realized I had washed upon the shore. Laying on my belly, exhausted, but on the ground in the light. Still later, I found myself standing, but the sand under my feet was shifting and not predictable. Recently, I felt as though I found my footing. Sand that is mostly packed, that holds me steady as I go through the day. But, it’s still sand. Some days, with unpredictability, the sand under my feet shifts. I’m unsteady, tentatively taking steps to see if I sink. Some days I can’t. It’s too much work. So I stay still. And then, just like that, I stand again, unfounded confidence urging me to move forward. I accept the cycle.  Right now I can’t imagine that solid ground is an option. Then again, at one point I didn’t imagine that sand was an option to being tossed in the waves. So I’ll keep moving forward. Allowing myself kindness and compassion for the unsteady days. Enjoying the sun on my skin, and the feeling of the water washing over my toes. Knowing he loved to see me smile.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules

So I’m healing…

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. I’ve been healing and celebrating and saying goodbye and hello and goodbye again. It’s been a year of hurricanes, not only in my country, but in my life. A category 5 that wiped me out and I’m rebuilding.

My father died this year. Whew…that’s still so hard to say. My dad was the best. I learned about God from my dad. Not just words, but what a father is, and what a father does, and how a father makes you feel. I learned about family from my dad. I learned a lot of other things from him as well, how to ride a horse, how to change a tire, how to …………. fill in the blank. My love of flying, of cars, of city lights at night, of chocolate ice cream…all from him. My ridiculous sense of confidence in new situations, my generous spirit, my compassion, my patient nature…all from him. He was (still hard to use past tense) the best father.

So this summer, my hurricane season, went something like this: My oldest son graduated from basic and we made a few trips to Georgia so he could see his wife and kids. He was starting Airborne training and would be there a few months more. Dad was ill often. I made the 2 hour trip to my parents’ house several times, sometimes staying a day, sometimes staying a few days depending on how he was and what Mom needed.  At one 19441758_10155482791693739_1128828333922711115_opoint he was in the hospital and I had been there a few days without my husband, my oldest daughter called and said she was heading to the hospital to have g’baby number 8. I told Dad and he sent me off with a kiss. I sped home, picked up my husband and got to the hospital in time to kiss those sweet, new baby cheeks.

Dad was not doing well and I headed back up there. That was pretty much the story for the month of June. My dad was moved to the nursing home.  July 4, he gave up. The storm hit with full force. I thought I had prepared, I thought I had boarded the windows and hunkered down, but I was wrong.  The deepest, greatest sadness I’ve ever felt came, and settled on me like a heavy, wet wool blanket. My protection was my husband, my children, my siblings, my mom, the house of family that my dad had worked so hard to build stood strong. We had a public visitation, and over 300 people came to pay their respects to my family. I had friends drive several hours to show up for me, and it meant the world.  We planned a private family funeral for a few weeks later.

 

The Sunday of the funeral came, and our giant family celebrated the life of my father. Every single person spoke of my dad’s great love of his family. That Friday, g’babyHaven number 9 was born. Her daddy was able to get leave from the Army and come home for 10 days to hold his precious new daughter.  As excited as I was, I was torn to my core with grief that my dad would never see this great granddaughter that he had been so excited to meet. I left the hospital crying uncontrollably and couldn’t go back that day. The 10 days flew by and we had to tell our son goodbye again. He was broken leaving his wife and 3 children, again.

In September, my husband and I went to Florida for a week. We stayed in the same hotel on the beach that my parents had stayed at for the last 20 years. We invited my mom to come with us, to rest and heal, but she understandably wasn’t ready to leave home.  It was wonderful to sit on the same beach watching sunsets that I knew my parents had sat on so many times. The peace in the eye of the hurricane.

We then said goodbye to our youngest son as he headed to across the world for deployment until June 2018. His wife and 2 year old moved in with us as she would be having their second daughter in a month or so. At the same time, we moved our older son’s wife and three kids across the country to finally live together again after 10 long months of separation. Again, a hurricane of sadness and happiness swirling and blowing together.

22769642_1317678038343022_4388228918228156563_oOctober 17 g’baby number 10 was born. Her daddy made it home the next night and got to spend 10 days kissing his girls. But, alas the 10 days were up and we again told him goodbye until June of next year. My heart broke watching my son leave his family.

My hurricane season brought devastation. My life has been altered in ways it will never recover from. My hurricane season brought life. Three new babies that have helped heal my heart and brought so much joy to us all. My hurricane season brought goodbyes that I didn’t want to say. Goodbye to my sons, goodbye to my dad. My hurricane season brought sadness. Watching helplessly as my mom grieves her husband of 67 years. Watching my brothers and my sister grieve their dad. Watching my children and grandchildren learn to accept that their time with their grandfather is over. My heart breaks for them all.

Here’s the thing: My dad lives on in every act of kindness that I see my kids do for each other. He lives on in every phone call I make to my mom and my siblings. He lives in every story my siblings tell and every memory I share with my grandkids. My dad lives on in photographs that show him being there for all of us. He lives in the faces of my brothers and phrases we all use. My hurricane season was chaos, but the aftermath is full of love, and the house my dad built stands strong.

Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,

Jules