Into the Storm

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The longest drive

I was driving home from visiting my oldest daughter for her birthday.  It’s a long tedious drive I had done dozens of times.  After losing her sister, only 20 months younger than her, and her best friend, I count every birthday as a blessing.   She finally looked like my beautiful girl again, except now she was a 23-year-old woman.  Grief has given her a maturity in her eyes too young for her sweet face, but on this day, the circles under her eyes seemed faded and I could now see hope and possibilities shining from within her.

The house she lives in still holds recent memories or her sister.  Bittersweet to look at, but I am still so thankful to look at them.  The funny thing with grief, there is no right way to view loss.  I say it again, THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO VIEW LOSS!  Some people need to put every picture away to cope through their day, some people need every item and picture their loved one held in their presence.  I live somewhere in the middle, I need to keep certain things, and all the pictures, but I have learned that I need to find uses for some things, I need to give it a purpose.  That is just me, I made boot planters, I had blankets made from clothing, I had bears made, I made Christmas ornaments from sympathy cards.  It has given me a feeling of purpose to give things a purpose.

At some point in therapy, even before my daughter passed, I learned most of us carry around these past hurts and feelings we let drive our actions.   We have an emotional feeling about a situation and we impulsively act on it without acknowledging the feeling, processing how it makes us feel and letting it move past us.  My family of the ADHD  variety has always struggled with impulsivity, some of that changes with maturity luckily.

Through losing M, I have had to do this a lot.   Process.  As I was driving home I made the analogy it is like driving into the storm.   Why would anyone want to do that?  Driving into a dark ominous mass that is right in front of us gives us the opportunity to come out the other side.   To try and run from it, ignore it, or pretend it isn’t there does nothing for us.  It eventually catches us off guard and unprepared.

The kind of grief I have been dealing with is called complicated grief.  It’s the only name they can give someone that has suffered through an unexpected trauma.  All grief is different, complicated grief means I didn’t get a reason for my loss like cancer or a car accident.  The passing of my daughter is complicated, to say the least, so what I am doing to keep myself together? Just about everything.

I was driving home thinking about an unpleasant conversation I was going to have about her passing.   It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have, but I knew that if I didn’t have it I couldn’t put this storm, this dark cloud behind me.  I have been focusing on the positive, how to help others in her name and this felt icky.  Just like cleaning out her closet, this needed to be done.  I needed to feel how it made me feel, acknowledge it, have the conversation and move forward.  I made the call as I pulled over at the rest area.

 

 

IMG_4421.JPGAlmost home I see the evening sunset after the rain. The grey clouds moving in the direction I had just come from.  The conversation wasn’t wonderful but I had made it.  I could take a deep breath without thinking about what might be said or what should be said.

Thinking about my recent visit to my daughter, I remember and appreciate the little white butterfly that said hello when I first arrived.  It may or may not have been a little hello from heaven, but I appreciated it all the same.  I have realized we get the signs and messages when we need them, maybe not always when we want them.

My friend at work recently got married.  She had a beautiful wedding in a beautiful private place in either Alaska or Canada.  The wedding she planned as a young girl with her best friend.

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The most beautiful couple

Every young girl these days most likely has a wedding Pinterest site.  When I was young I cut up pictures of gowns and saved them.  My friend from work had done the same I am sure.   She had everything she ever wished for, the most beautiful place, the most beautiful dress, the handsome groom, but she didn’t have her maid of honor, her best friend, who had passed a few years earlier.  On that day, as she stood in the most beautiful place, in her expensive dress, looking into her handsome groom’s eyes, a monarch butterfly circled her and then landed on her white dress.  At that moment she was breathless.  Heaven had sent her a little gift.  Her best friend and maid of honor had sent her love.  Here is the picture of that moment as she stood in the sunshine, still shaken by the storm but surrounded now in light and love.

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The Balancing Act of Loss

D615250F-B73E-424D-8F60-1CE74DA93710.jpegWhen I find myself down for days, I know I need a project or something to distract me.  A goal, a craft, something to pour my energy into.   This can go on for days or weeks, sometimes working through meals and long past the hours when I should be sleeping. The tricky part is this can lead to insomnia, and many in loss of any kind, battle with it.

I talk to others going through this process of living with loss, some years further out than myself, and many threw themselves into work or a huge life change to give them something, anything else to focus on.  The difficulty they then found was at some point they had to stop going a 100 mph as the wall of loss hit them like a tsunami wave.  Some people are unable to work the same career any longer after a tragedy.

I didn’t understand at first the, “wait two years before changing careers,” advice of loss.   At times I have hated everything about the place I work, and I would say 75% of people in my type of grief, also hated their jobs and everything about it.  After some serious inner perspective, I realized this really is more about projection, a place to direct the anger of the loss of control of my environment.  Sure there were things I didn’t like about my place of work, but another grief mama and dear friend so sweetly pointed out to me, these were the people that understood my good days and my bad days, the people that knew who I was and what I am capable of, they know my leadership skills and why I stepped down from most of my positions, they also knew I would come back to it when I was ready.

45FE55FD-50BF-43C2-804F-ED48294A2FF7.jpegIn some ways, I had wished I had found the ability to take a long sabbatical, but I think I may have never gone back to work if I had.  The other side of the pendulum isolation. I also completely understand this.  The truth is it takes so much energy to be social, especially now idle chit chat seems pointless.  I have always been someone the would rather just be real with people.  It is probably why I tend to hang out with people that are the same way.  Even before the loss, I wasn’s someone that would go out of my way to meet people of importance to my career, social status, or my children’s social status.   Even growing up I was more of a tomboy, happier to hang and play cards with the guys or have one or two girlfriends I had known since elementary school, sit up all night with me and watch the sun come up over our sleepy town.

Many people struggling with loss just don’t have the energy for any of that anymore, the problem happens when this becomes so much easier.   It is similar to depression in that it’s easier to stay in your comfort zones where your cat and dog can snuggle up to you and no one cares if you watch movies all day in your bathrobe.  The tricky part is, after a while, getting up and out becomes harder and less appealing.  If we are lucky enough, we have friends that come around to drag us up and out, the ones that don’t care how much we talk or what we talk about.

This is called the balancing act of Loss.   Too much distraction all the time is unhealthy for us and sooner or later the tidal wave comes at us and we can’t get back up.   Too little engagement in the outside world and we can stay incapacitated to the point of also not getting back up.   It’s finding the ability to do things that have meaning and putting some energy into those things, while still giving ourselves permission to sit in the quiet spaces.

373FC591-5A5A-4DA8-B6E5-6A62E4440A62.jpegRecently I took my girls camping.  It is something we have done every year since the girls were little.  It almost didn’t happen due to sports and other complications.  I was determined to go even though It took a lot of energy to make it happen.  While we were camping I had the ability to reflect on camping trips past, the games we played, the food we made.  As I reached into my daughter who passed favorite game, Bananagrams, a bag of probably 200 letters, I pulled out four squares.  They happened to be my daughter’s initials M.M.V. with an A.  @MMV is teen lingo for tagging someone.   I don’t think it was random and my oldest daughter watched me do it and stated, “I sometimes think you make this stuff up, but I just watched that happen!”   Of course, I came home and was physically and mentally exhausted, after all the distraction and effort, I need a day of serious downtime.

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The balancing act doesn’t end after 18 months I’ve found.  I kept thinking I would hit some magical date and everything would be back to somewhat normal.  I have decided to stop looking for the day when something doesn’t make my eyes tear up, this is just who I am.  I give myself permission to be sad sometimes, to feel the moment, the memory, to be mindful of it and acknowledge it.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell some of my acquaintances, (maybe they will read this) Don’t stop asking if I would like to do things.  I know I said no for over a year to most of the lunches, coffee dates and glass of wine offers.  There might be times I am not up for it still, but there might be times that I am.    People isolate for many reasons besides loss, keep asking, keep calling, keep coming over with your hard lemonade, ice tea or PBR and sitting on the porch.  When the cards are put away, and the tissues have been put back in the cabinet, the casserole dishes have been returned from whatever life event we had, we could still use the company once in a while, hopefully, now we will actually accept it.

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On the beach collecting heart shaped rocks found all in an hour 💜

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defining Grounded

IMG_5944The conversations around my house for weeks were centered around Prom.  You can blame Disney, social media, or our culture, but being a pretty princess is somewhere in our DNA or at least part of our little girl daydreams.   The talk was on dresses and shoes, clutches and nails, dinner and transportation, make-up and hair.  What we should have discussed with my introverted daughter, was skills for feeling overwhelmed when 250 teenagers are bumping and grinding in a dance circle.   All and all she did well, she spent more time in the bathroom than the average teenager, but she went, she took pictures, she talked to the people she felt the most comfortable with and next year when she goes again, she’ll know what to expect. She will have ideas on how to navigate the dance circles and awkward conversations.  Honestly, the most difficult things in life are the unknowns.

The day after prom I found a post in my feed about grounding.  It was called,  “Tips to Help with an Anxiety Attack.  Look around you and find Five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. The post continues to say this is grounding.  It can help when you feel like you have lost all control of your surroundings” -The Anxiety Therapist.   The first thing I thought was the person that wrote this has never had an anxiety attack.   When you are feeling anxious, your body gears up for a fight or flight response,  your heart beats faster, you can be agitated or restless, and mostly you have impaired concentration where your mind goes blank.  Not to mention in an actual attack, your vision can become narrowed and your hearing can feel overstimulated.   This made me chuckle to myself.  I just envisioned myself at nursing school breathing heavy with my head down asking, “I’m supposed to touch something, or smell something? Five of what and four of what?  I’ve only had a couple of these anxiety attacks, one in nursing school many years ago, and the other when my daughter passed unexpectedly,  I do, however, see the merit of teaching yourself or a friend the concept of grounding, taking your shoes off or holding an inanimate object.  It is supposed to help with bringing you back to the present moment.  I think that might be a teachable concept that someone can remember when they are feeling anxious if you keep it simple.

Later I was dusting and noticing how the dust was everywhere.  It was on every crevice, top, bottom, sides on all the knick-knacks on my shelving unit.  Two analogies came to mind. First, dust is like a loss.  It is everywhere, there is no hiding it.  It touches everything, every part of your life is touched by loss.    Second is that loss and grief scatters a person like dust in the wind.  I have never felt more fragmented than the months following the loss of my daughter.  My thoughts were scattered, my emotions were scattered, and the concept of time was also scattered.  I am just now slowly piecing myself back together. The concept of grounding comes back to me and I think about different forms of grounding.

Months ago I noticed some people, that were years out from their loss, seemed to be doing a tiny bit better than others.  There were some that were still having a hard time functioning on a day to day basis and others that struggled but seemed to be functioning.  I met with a few of them trying to understand what it was I was going through, reaching for someone who understood the terrible pain.   I started to notice a theme.  My one friend and husband organize a charity for children with the same disease as their son, Another set of parent went on to battle in courts to change a law that would save other children, and another couple works around the clock running a non-profit for wilderness therapy.  A father, I haven’t met in person, collects books annually because his child loved to read.  These people were also still married to their spouses after suffering such a loss, I believe the father was a single Dad before the loss, but he was writing and functioning a few years outside of the loss of his child.  One study indicated that divorce rates among bereaved parents are as much as eight times the norm ().  What did these parents have in common?  A sense of purpose, a focal point, a different form of grounding to the here and now.  Their pieces that had been broken and scattered to the wind brought together for a sense of purpose they had found.

Sitting in my Sunday morning coffee bible study group, somehow the subject of grounding came up, (probably I brought it up).  One man discusses the importance of using grounding wire, it keeps you from blowing your circuit and from the electrical current being scattered everywhere. We talk about how having faith is like being grounded.  Faith helps keep a person from being scattered, it brings light to the darkness.

Our group leader then reads Psalm 119 verse 105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” Without anyone near the light switch that we could see, the rest of the conference room lights, at that same moment, turn on.  Luckily, this time, it was in a room full of people, and one of my friends that was with me the last time I had a similar experience, was there.   God has such a funny way of getting my attention, I felt like I got a “right on” and I can’t help but think my daughter’s sense of humor could also be at play here.