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Tag Archives: loss

The Healing Power Of The Center Square

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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.

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Posted by on August 15, 2015 in Well-Being

 

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Let Your Heart Be Light*

charlie brown

The days are getting noticeably shorter and carbohydrate cravings are growing stronger. By mid-October there’s no denying that there’s a change a coming. The first scattering of little costumed people and dogs have appeared (either going to pre-Halloween celebrations or having trick-or-treating dry runs.) By this weekend the streets will be alive with all manner of elaborate costume. Children will take on the mantle of popular movie, cartoon and video game characters. Young (and not so young) women will dress as slutty; nurses, waitresses, devils and angels. It will all build to the crescendo that is the Village Halloween Parade, an event that celebrates wit, witticism, irony and drag. And then ladies and gentlemen the party really gets started.

Before the last candy corn has been eaten (or tossed) it will be time for “the holidays.” As you pull the fake cobwebs down from your walls you will be implored (by television, radio, podcast, website, magazine, and newspaper) to perfect your turkey. Every year the “experts” come out to tell us the failsafe way to remedy our annual poultry failings. Personally I have never known any Thanksgiving that hinged upon the perfection of the bird. There is way too much family drama (not too mention side dishes) to really focus on grading the turkey. Besides, isn’t gravy’s job to democratize and flavor? But never us mind, the airwaves will blast with brining, frying, boning promises. Tips for new and exciting ways to invent old favorites will appear. As if Thanksgiving is a cocktail party not a holiday celebrating tradition and very specific foods. Let’s face it the only help any of us need, short of an invitation to someone else’s house, is the Butterball hotline. Those little holiday angels make up for every bad customer service phone bank everywhere. We love you Butterball!

While all this media “filler” (or should we call it “stuffing?”) occurs, the rumbling of the real “holidays” train can be heard. The “holidays” as we now seem to call Christmas, begin to be feverishly pitched earlier and earlier, but still subscribes to a certain; Thanksgiving first, etiquette. At 11:58 AM EST Thanksgiving Day, Santa Claus heads into Herald Square signaling that it is now polite to discuss his special day. (By the way, if there is any confusion over the overt euphemism of “the holidays” pay close attention this year. Chanukah will be over on December 5th yet dollars to donuts the talking heads will still be referring to last minute “holiday” shopping and “holiday” gift ideas until December 24th.) There is actually much to be said of this time of year. People’s spirits (outside of shopping malls and large toy stores) are lifted and light. Everything looks prettier as Christmas wreaths and trees pop up in even the most secular of locations. If you’re lucky, invitations and chances to dress up increase and there may even be presents.

For some however, it’s mostly frenzy. Even if you don’t work as a Christmas elf, chances are your workload dramatically increases before “the holidays.” Deadlines and meetings get squished into that après Thanksgiving, pre-getting the hell out of town, period. People (and by people we mean mostly women) who feel it’s their responsibility to create the holiday, don’t necessarily bask in the sights and sounds of the season. There are many people whose activity or responsibilities don’t seasonally increase, but their loneliness or sadness does. Even those not mired in loss or illness, may find this time of year triggering a short-term discrete melancholy. Memories can be haunting as can unfulfilled dreams. Whether we’re leading the holiday charge or feeling the parade is passing us by, it’s important to keep in touch with how we’re feeling. For people who love nothing more than a 4-page to-do list and arms filled with shopping bags, there’s not much internal checking in that needs to occur this time of year. But those little Santa’s helpers are in a great position to check-in on those around them. Everyone knows someone who’s suffered a loss or is naturally fragile. This time of year provides ample opportunity to reach out. Issue invitations or drop by with small gifts or treats. All that matters is that you connect. For those who have a hard time, know your triggers. Step away from the television, especially when It’s A Wonderful Life comes on. Stay away from places that feel overwhelming or lonely. Do less that you don’t enjoy and more that you do. Plan lovely things for yourself. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to read, a place you’d like to visit, a food you’d like to try? Now is the time to plan gifts for yourself. It may seem as if the whole world is trimming a perfect tree, clinking egg nog glasses and singing carols. But the truth of the matter is that very few people actually live in a fantasy world. Most of us struggle in one way or another, and knowing that can be a great comfort.

The best we can do, this time or anytime of year, is to not get ahead of ourselves. Christmas and the New Year are four days of celebration two months away. There are over 60 days worth celebrating until then.

*Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1943) – Ralph Blane & Hugh Martin

 

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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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