Posts filed under ‘dying and grief’
These are two notes I wrote out to a support group after Russ died. I’ve been meaning to post them here, as a couple of people had asked for them. I remember that after the January 18 one, I couldn’t write at all for a long time, and that was how the grief evolved. It got “worse” in some ways. My sister still talks about the first meal I cooked, two months later, and I stood there, stunned over French Toast, not remembering how to make it. I moved through living like peanut butter, and the effort of putting anything into my mouth for nourishment, even provided to me, seemed just too hard. So here are these:
January 9, 2005
Grief. It’s this state of being, maybe something like being in a foreign country, and I speak only a little of the language, and I blunder along, and really just want to go home. I know that it can be fun, and will be fun, but right now, I’m into this world. It’s not exactly lonely, it’s just internal. It’s definitely not unexpected; in fact, before Russ died, we talked about the teamwork we had in bringing him to death and how I would need him after; but he’s not physically there; no soft warm skin, no cooing voice, just me and the internal, and the flow of tears. I eat a little, and then I’m done. I sleep a little, and the tape player of my mind kicks in playing tapes of the death, of scenes through the years, obsessively trying to remember details. I can’t multi task. I sort of like looking terrible. Russ had cancer, and I have grief. There aren’t any IV’s for this thing, no appointments, just me and my heart and the journey. Everyone says time. I remember that I got Russ to make tally marks for his Boost drinks to be sure he got in the basic nutrition; now I’m thinking I need rudimentary “survival” strategies for myself.
I love getting the books from so many of you…they are HUGE support for me. Words are a connection for me in learning about me, about healing myself. I welcome more books! Be sure your names are in them! I also have really loved the cards. I must say that each one touches me so; I have to sort of wiggle them around to see the words past the tears, and the tears so pour, and that’s a good thing; your acknowledgements affirm me.
I’m going to attach the obituary in case you missed it. Each thing that I do is so hard; I went to The Herald with that picture of Russ, and the Obituary guy Nick, was saying nice things about the writing, about the picture…I couldn’t help but think how any time someone walks through the door with a red face and a wad of Kleenex sets off a call button for Nick to walk out to guide someone like me to a quiet area. Shoot, then I cry by accident on pictures. I give; this is grief.
I’m wondering what to do about this little avenue of info to you; no more emergencies, but so many thoughts. I had thought I would write to you about Russ’ death, which all by itself, was really a beautiful thing, and maybe I will do it.
Here’s something I wrote in 1992: “My sadness is like a mushroom. I’m a perfect creature made by God, but I can be so fragile. I grow a lot after “storms,” but it’s not easy. I feel very alone. I feel like collapsing.” I love this thing that I wrote. It fits how I feel now so well; but the odd thing is that I wrote it in response to a pain that I now view as a “nothing.” It’s like the kids who wail over a paper cut that we can barely see; but is the pain legitimate? I think so. Pain is whatever pain is whenever it happens under whatever circumstances. What is worrisome is that the pain can be so big and so serious; I really feel that I have entered into a whole new zone of my life. I wonder if now I will be impervious to the “little pains?” I don’t know. It just really makes a lot more sense to me about those old folks, including my parents, who just always seemed to have quiet wisdom about pain in life. My dad used to look at old pictures of his buddies from the war, all those guys lined up and smiling, and there he would be, quiet. I think I get it now. Does my dad feel joy? Oh, yeah, but he has those silences. I think I’ll be part of that group of people now. Does that mean I’m getting “old” now? Maybe.
So it’s hard to do things. I meant to go to this fabulous dance weekend, which I signed up for about the time Russ was diagnosed; we both thought that certainly he would live much longer than that. He would have wanted me to go, to laugh, to twirl, to flirt, to hear the lively music. But I couldn’t do it. I just simply couldn’t do it. It really is as though I am sick; and it IS a sickness; the soul is trying to rebuild, and it’s hard, and there is nothing really overtly joyous about it. Moments of peace, joy in seeing rainbows or the whales spouting in the bay, but not really people oriented. I keep wondering where the humor is; the humor so many of you appreciated during “our” time—and I think that’s it—there is no “our” any more. I worked very hard for Russ. I poured all that I had into him and his path to death.
I likened the work to giving birth; I never gave birth, and frankly, always hoped to. I wanted children very badly. Sometime in November I realized clearly that I was instead, “giving death.” It’s the same “thankless” struggle and sucking of body and soul for another. Yet the struggle is the heart and soul of living, of the cycle of life. It’s the most significant contribution we can make: Birth. Death. A gift to a person who is on this planet, over whose life we have no ultimate control, yet so desperately needs a love to guide him or her in or out. We clean the path, sweep it lovely and rid the rocks, then the other walks it and I can’t pull him back. The cycle of life. There is no choice.
These days, it’s as though I’ve forgotten that Russ was ever ill. I miss the morning coffees, I miss the laughter, the play with the puppies, the silly talk we had between us and especially the warm embraces. I still go home and call out to him as though he were there. Oh, my mind has so much catching up to do.
November 16, 2005
There’s an apricot tree I have in a bucket in the backyard. When I got the house, it was pretty and lovely, and I managed to have one luscious apricot from it before a, well, “friend” chopped it down. After time, a sprout came up from down the stump somewhere, and I was sort of surprised, and thought I’d take better care of it to see what came of it. It continued to somewhat grow, but when Russ and I decided to build the shed in the spot that it lived, we dug it up, tossed it on a sandy mound and figured it wouldn’t ever come of much of anything, anyway. In the spring, lying there on its side with roots exposed, it had flowers. We got excited, put it in a pot, and started planning for a garden. Russ loves that little tree. The tree shows endurance, vitality in adversity, and hope.
I know that analogies can seem trite, but they make sense. We pull them out so often in life. I keep thinking about those birthday candles that would drive us to the point of frustration as we initially smiled, blowing them out, and they wouldn’t blow out, just wouldn’t blow out, and everybody would laugh, the wax would go all over the cake.
I was showing my students my little sketchbook that I carry with me in my pack. I hadn’t looked at it in quite a while. I have drawings of Russ, relaxed, plump, serene. I have a cartoon sort of thing of our life together; the Baja trips, the dogs, the kayaking, the morning lattes…and the knots build up inside of me.
Hope…we get up in the morning and immediately we have hope. Hope is stronger than muscle, stronger than statistics, stronger than herbs, stronger than medicine. Do we let go of hope? I don’t think so; I think the big challenge is to reconfigure hope…something like the Eskimos that have 80 or so words for snow, we need to develop 80 or so ways of understanding hope. I guess that goes along with the “Serenity Prayer.” I have a wallet-sized version of it I carry with me, one that my niece gave me that has a cute picture of a polar bear cub on the back. I really do say it and say it, trying to really absorb the cycle of life and it’s hard…
I saw the moon yesterday morning; big and full and orange, reflecting over the water, dancing its color as it does so often for me for all those times I’ve spoken to it. I know life and nature isn’t trying to tease me, or test me or even provide me with answers; it just IS, and I guess I have to love it for that.
I think that’s all I want to say for now.
February 12, 2008
I was at the Farmer’s Market this afternoon, my usual Tuesday evening haunt which has the triple lure of being outside, meeting people, and buying produce. I bumped into a friend who reads this “blog,” (I always feel compelled to put that word into quotes. There’s just something annoying about that word that I refuse to adopt as normal vocabulary) and who, over the past few years, had been wondering about Russ and didn’t know that he had died. I wrote a fair number of emails during the course of Russ’ illness with cancer (and this friend somehow missed the list of all that), some after he died, and then in time, I started this blog, and I guess I haven’t been writing about cancer, dying, death or grief really at all. To analyze myself, I might be protecting any of you from the deep and sad stuff, maybe I’m protecting my own vulnerability, or maybe I was just plain tired of writing so much about it all for so long. So, periodically, I’ll post some of the things I wrote under the heading of, oh geeze…a label? I guess I’ll call it death dying and grief, and maybe include some excerpts from my journals that I kept after he died. I read a lot of books on grief then—ha, ha, 47 to be exact. It’s one of those odd stories that came out of that time. A few months after Russ died, a lady from Hospice called to offer me support in some way, and I simply said I wanted the books. I read them all; children’s books, poetry, scientific, religious, behavioral, psychology, and for some reason, I kept a list of the titles in the backs of my journals. I wrote several journals, and they are all precious to me, a deep and tender time of my turning inside out and inside and out again and again over that time. My friend asked me hesitantly if it was okay to talk about Russ right there in the middle of the market, with the guy selling jade looking on, the buzz of people going by. We had actually started our conversation about it when he asked me, “Do you have any stories brewing around inside of you?”