Things Not to Say…

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“Let me sit next to you and hold your parachute”

My youngest daughter, while walking out the door today said she was quitting her internship at the local NAMI art therapy position.    I asked why?  I thought it was a good fit?   She went on to tell me how her instructor for the internship had told her that her losing her sister was meant to be and that she would be stronger for it.    I was shocked that someone working with teens in the school system would say that to her.   How could she not realize she just told my daughter that her sister’s death was the reason that she will do well in this world?  I told her, unfortunately, people don’t know what to say, or how to just sit next to someone and listen.  They feel the need to help, provide advice, even if none of it is helpful or is useful.

22 months ago, when my daughter passed, someone wrote to me in a card, “God only gives you what you can handle.”  I actually had to look up the verse, 1 Cor. 10, because there is no way God would give me the death of my child because I could handle it??   Actually, in 2 Corinthians 1, Paul explains that he and his companions were “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired life itself.”   I am guessing that it didn’t sound as pretty in condolence cards.   Instead, 2 Cor. 12:9 “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Most gladly, therefore, I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”   Again, maybe these words would be more helpful, but what people want to do, is to make themselves less uncomfortable when faced with the unexplainable, like the death of a daughter or sister.

Just recently, as if we haven’t had enough loss, my oldest daughter’s boyfriend unexpectedly left the relationship and then soon after also passed.   The double loss for my daughter is unfair.   Even I caught myself at first, trying to offer lame words of condolence to her, luckily I stopped myself.  The loss is not rational.  Taking my own advice, I just listened when she wanted to talk, I put my hand on hers when her eyes fill with tears at the restaurant.   I cannot take away her pain, or make myself feel better with empty words.  I can sit with her in her grief, acknowledge how she feels once again her life path altered.  I didn’t try and tell her maybe it wasn’t meant to be, or she will be stronger for this, I just sat next to her.

My youngest daughter, who has some emotional regulation issues, burst into tears when she saw her sister walk in the door and move back home yesterday.  She couldn’t express it, but she felt the sadness of her sisters’ new loss and her reaction was an honest expression of her love for her.  She later asked me, why has this happened, again?   (I even had a couple co-workers ask me the same question).  The old me, before the unexpected loss of my daughter, might have tried to justify a loss in a way that could make me feel like it wouldn’t happen to me.   I explained to my youngest this morning, that there is no good answer.  We live in a messy world.   I told her about my 18-year-old patient last week with facial bone cancer.  He has about 5 years to live with that prognosis.  I recognized the parents drained and exhausted facial expressions, like one I have held,  as he was being prepped for surgery.  The boy expressed content at whatever he had left, compelled to live his last few years to the fullest,  the look on his parent’s faces seemed to say they felt differently.   It is unfair and there is no answer.    We can just love and support each other, sitting next to each other in the valley.

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In my garden of remembrance

 

 

 

 

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 💜