Tag Archives: death

The Healing Power Of The Center Square

Life has a way of happening. Most people, if they’re fortunate to live long enough, have to deal with dismal happenings. Even if you are inclined to wrap yourself in an insular protective bubble; never venturing out or letting people in, your body itself might cause you anguish with illness and decay. How we deal with what life throws our way speaks volumes about who we are and who we’ll ultimately become. There are people who can put their heads down and forge on through, brushing away darkness and fear like flies on a horse’s bum. These people most likely have a fined honed coping mechanism (most likely in the form of a bottle or official diagnosis.) And while forging through pain and loss may feel like kicking furiously to the surface for a lifesaving gulp of air, it will undoubtedly at some point bite you on that bum. If you are made of flesh and blood, you probably need to feel sad when sad things happen. You needn’t wallow, wail or simper, but you do need to experience the loss.

If you are in the throes of misery right now you may be asking; “For how long?! When can I just get on with my life?” I am so sorry to be the one to tell you this; but this is your life. Bad stuff is no less relevant than good stuff or status quo. It’s all part of the same experience. But as humans, especially western ones, we love us some timeframes. Upon hearing about a fatal illness the immediate question is always “how long do I have?” When we are told of an engagement the first words out of our mouths are; “when’s the wedding?” We are not comfortable simply being. We like beginnings, middles and ends. This isn’t a 21st century phenomenon; ancient religions have proper mourning periods that dictate when we are to reenter the world. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with guidelines but they can get in the way. We tend to focus on “how long will this take?” versus “what am I feeling?” and “how have I changed?”

Eliminating a deadline is not the same as embracing stagnation. We can move forward while being present. Conscious progression is possible when we discover what practices and coping mechanisms work for us. The only way to do that is trial and error and keeping an open heart, mind and eyes. A sense of humor always helps too. Most definitely filed in the “error” folder of the coping file was a colossally bad choice I made many many moons ago. I was in an intoxicating heartbreaking tumultuous all-consuming glorious doomed romance for a year or two when I once again considered leaving him. It was going to take enormous resolve and plenty of girding to choose to walk away from the most exciting and meaningful relationship I’d ever had. So where did I go to build this resolve to throw away cinematic romance with both hands? Paris. Oh if I were only kidding. Someone had offered me a free trip to Paris and I assumed the universe was telling me to go away and get some perspective. Clearly the universe and I were playing a game of telephone; ’cause boy oh boy did I mangle that message! Can you imagine? Paris. I won’t insult you by painting the picture.

I’d like to think that with each passing year I get a little less stupid. But I might just be kidding myself. For months after my husband died I kept visualizing myself at the beach. I finally got to a point where that seemed possible and off I went. And where did I go? Of all the beaches on this entire planet, I chose the one that most resembled where we had honeymooned 18 years earlier. I had consciously avoided the exact country but had subconsciously chosen a physically identical resort, climate and ocean. The good news is that unlike the unproductive Parisian pathétique, on this beach I sobbed my way through a bottle of sunscreen and a dozen pomegranate mojitos to a new stage. I likened it to taking peyote. I’m guessing. I wailed into the water while eschewing make-up or regular hair care (hey, that’s my version of a sweat lodge.) I spoke to no one and if it weren’t for texting, would’ve befriended a soccer ball. And when I returned I drifted into a new stage that felt manageable and even hopeful. I was ready to start figuring out what moving on meant. So maybe it wasn’t all that misguided, my beach destination.

There are many stages of sadness and grief and they aren’t necessarily linear. Just because you no longer feel utterly paralyzed doesn’t mean a song or scent will not send you back to bed. Events can occur that are so eerily similar to the original loss that they can cause you to not pass Go and head directly back to the beginning. But unlike before, you know the way out. During the first few months of no longer being married, household silence was profoundly disturbing to me. I had always been an NPR-on-all-day kinda gal, but the last thing I wanted to hear was news, or worse, blithe commentary. I needed mindless comfort. I needed auditory macaroni and cheese. I found it on the Game Show Network (no seriously, there is such a thing.) There I found my childhood friends, Fannie Flagg, Richard Dawson, Brett Somers (aka Mrs. Jack Klugman), Paul Lynde and others. In a million years I never would’ve guessed that memories of childhood would ever be a comfort, but hey, that’s how bad off I was! Every morning, after drinking my tea and staring off into space, I’d gather myself up and head for the television. For one blessed hour I would have the company of old friends (and do my best to ignore the incontinence and walk-in-tub commercials.) It was about as different as it could be from discussing the New York Times with my husband every morning, and I dare say that was the point. The recently familiar was excruciating but the historically familiar was a comfort. Fast- forward a year and a half later when an intense and whirlwind relationship ended in a hauntingly similar manner as my marriage, and I headed directly to Fannie Flagg (via her author persona versus her game show persona.) I knew that her folksy approachable style was something I found to be soothing. (That is how multiple psychic sh*tstorms can be educational!)

I don’t watch game shows any longer. To say I’ve moved beyond that suggests a linear path, I’ve moved away from it. And that is the point. Finding what works for the moment is key. When it doesn’t serve you toss it aside. When talking about your loss is no longer a comfort or a relief, stop talking. You can’t control people’s curiosity but you can control your indulgence of it. You are the author of your own story. No one else is allowed to edit. If you want to identify as the mother of your deceased child, go right ahead, you are. If you want to present yourself to the world as someone entirely new, go right ahead; and feel free to continuously revise. And when this whole world starts getting you down, know that your own version of the center square will always be there.


Posted by on August 15, 2015 in Well-Being


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Nobody Knows Our Sorrow

Sally Field

Pain and loss are deeply personal states and often very lonely ones as well. We share in each other’s joy and accomplishments with ease. Happiness is not complex, it simply is. But pain and loss are layered and very specific. Despite our own personal experiences we can never truly know how someone else feels. This doesn’t matter when we are celebrating happiness. Nobody celebrating a marriage, birthday, or addition to the family needs empathy. It’s when our world has become small and dark and hollow that we crave understanding.

There are people who are comfortable with the loss of others. They are often drawn to professions that care for and about the bereaved. However the majority of people follow the evolutionary dictum of trying to avoid loss and pain. We shy from the enormity or contagion of pain and loss. Often we don’t know what to say, or in our nervousness spew forth a ridiculous (and potentially painful) cliché. Even people who themselves have endured their share of sh*&storms don’t necessarily know what to say. “I’m so sorry”, while honest and empathetic, doesn’t seem sufficient.

The throes of anguish and despair can feel very lonely. How can the world go on as if nothing has happened? The weight of the personal pain often wants to make its presence known. A stranger’s reflexive “How’re ya doing?” sounds like a serious inquiry. It may feel disloyal to a memory or oneself to answer; “Fine.” Expressing our loss and pain is important, but it can exacerbate the misery if we do so indiscriminately. We all want to feel understood and comforted. The former is far trickier than the latter. Only those who really know you can understand you,up to a point. Pain is personal. We can rail, blog, and rant about nobody understanding our specific hurt, and perhaps the very act of purging is of comfort. But expecting others to comprehend the intricacies of our experience while understandable doesn’t advance our own understanding. Self-care, and ultimately recovery necessitates that we understand our own pain. Fully understand it, care for it, and find a place for it.

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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Well-Being


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New To The Neighborhood

Why is it that time and time again we are ill prepared for entirely predictable events?  We know that giving birth and having an infant in the house will be all consuming and exhausting, but still feel surprised to find it to actually be so.  Freelancers, consultants, contract workers and artists, are serial professional monogamists, yet still experience disorientation at the end of each gig.  It stands to reason that (if we’re lucky) our parents will age.  Yet, with each incremental stage of their decline we feel ourselves breathless and floundering.  It’s in our best interest to be able to feel frightened or sad (lack of affect is a sign of serious trouble!) but why do we also feel “caught off guard?”

Nobody likes surprises (which is why surprise parties are only fun for the people planning them.)  One of Mr. Rogers‘ most insightful and comforting songs was I Like To Be Told.  He understood that children, with no frame of reference, find most of life surprising and unsettling.  But we grown-ups are supposed to be pretty well versed in the vagaries of life.  Of course events which could never be foreseen (both good and bad) occur, but it’s not those that leave us feeling as if we “really should have a better handle on this.”

Could it be that being truly conscious and cognizant of future hurdles and hardships is just not a pleasant way to live?  Would being at full boyscout readiness at all times rob us of the joys of spontaneity and hopefulness in life?  That could be the answer, if in fact cynics and pessimists find themselves in ship shape when things go a bit awry.  Does a gloomy Gus face a parent’s accident, illness or decline with an attitude of “finally! something I’m good at!”  Maybe.

What is really at the heart of the issue is that of mastery.  We feel caught off guard because of the novelty of the event in our own life.  Yes, we know the event is inevitable, but until we’ve tackled it head on and survived, we feel uncertain.  Life tilting events, by their very nature are not extremely repetitive (if you’re lucky) so there is little chance for mastery. With each of these events (illness, job loss, death, etc.) we feel as insecure as we did as children, yet the situation calls for us being our most adult.  The solution to our feelings of helplessness and insecurity is not to wish for more opportunities to develop mastery.  What we can do is remember that we know enough to do the very best we can do.  We’ve experienced bumps in the road before; this is not our first time at the rodeo if you will.  Hurdles are just that; hurdles.  There is quite a distance between each one (otherwise hurdles would be called bridges.)  When the floundering sensation becomes too much, never underestimate the restorative powers of a cup of tea, and a little Mr. Rogers.

It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive.
It’s such a happy feeling: You’re growing inside.
And when you wake up ready to say,
‘I think I’ll make a snappy new day.’
It’s such a good feeling, a very good feeling,
The feeling you know that we’re friends. (Fred Rogers,1967)


Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being


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