Ever More Sparingly, The Grief Still Cuts Like A Knife

We are nearing three months since my sister’s death and, thinking I was merely melon-Colly, I returned from my errands, received a note in the mail, opened it and it was a picture.  I sobbed as if she died yesterday.  When will this subside?  And it isn’t simply the death of my sister that has me so down (though that is enough), it is my own life in this ‘Topsy-turvy’ fashion, that has me even more ill at ease.

I was speaking with my brother the other day and the question came up, “So Ann, what any ideas of what you’re going to do?  Y ‘know, work-wise?”  Skreetch!  Back up the bus… Then it hits me like a brick!  I’m forty-nine (there I said it… almost Fifty, 5 0!), am I even hire-able?  As I’ve written in past posts, I’m at an age where I’m supposed to be settled in  a career, not restarting my life.  What on earth am I to do in this second half of my existence?  Who is likely to hire me now?  Or am I to be like those lovely older ladies waiting on tables, or working in museums.  After my experience at my last place of employment I am honestly too gun-shy to work for another employer.  That place ran their business just ‘this side’ of the law and truly felt they could treat their staff as cruelly as they pleased (still do as rumor has it).

Perhaps I should have counted my blessings more, not tempted fate quite so much.  I just don’t know what to do and Kimball was the one I could talk to about all this.  By now I would have had at least four notes from her, we

eggs benedict for easter

eggs benedict for easter (Photo credit: little blue hen)

would have had breakfast six times; eating Eggs Benedict  as she encouraged me on.   But today only emptiness fills the spot and I’m alone in this huge house that still houses her things.

Everywhere I go I’m reminded of her.   And though not such a bad thing, I feel compelled to redecorate.  Clear out the clutter; making way for new.  It is very difficult to live with the ghost of the past.  While, In the meantime, I wrestle with my unanswered future and where I fit in.  I’m paralyzed by the thoughts of the “what ifs”  versus the  “what could Be’s”; so much so that their spinning in my head has made me dizzy with worry.

I can’t seem to run from the  worry of what to do and if I can even do it at all (or well enough at  all)… I think much of this stems from my childhood and that ‘never good enough’ feeling.  I know, I know; many of you are reminding me what I’ve said before.  That these were the feelings my sister had  and that I swore I would find my blessings and hold them close each and every day (much easier said than done… I must tell you).

Still, this question lingers (and lingers); what am I going to do with this second half of my life?  I don’t know if the tears are so much from my grief or my self-pity.  Most likely both.  What I do know is that I’ve gone back to a place where I’m barely able to move out of bed (that’s not good).  I must get moving again.  Depression is a past acquaintance of mine that I do not wish to share my bed or my living quarters with.

I will come to some understanding and find my passion again, but the loneliness is just too much at times and it is everything in me to stop from screaming.  Still, there truly were times where I could  feel the sun on my face, spring was  in the air; then to feel this.  How, how could I let this happen?  But the more I struggle the deeper I go, like quick sand.

I’m in mourning and must remember this.  My brother mentioned that to get through it he has made misery his friend (misery a friend?), he has embraced it.  Suffice as to say, that once you do this you can move onto the project you wish to get done and you feel better for doing it.  Similar to the famous Igor Stravinsky quote, “do it in cold blood”; he was asked how he could get up and compose each and every day, where does he get the inspiration?  To which he replied, “I write and inspiration follows, I do it in cold blood.”

Perhaps that is what I need to remember when these moods (spells) come over me; to do things in ‘cold blood’ and the inspiration will follow and my lifted feelings will soon follow.

I won’t go so far as to say that misery is my friend, more like a caddy “friend-emy” – one of those enemies you wish to keep closer (keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer types?) – but I think I do understand where my brother is coming from.  And perhaps there in lies the secret (who would have thought?).

Rainy days and Monday’s always get me down… today is a rainy day, but there are a myriad of appointments (plenty to keep me busy).  Should be enough to dull the biting cut this grief has caused.  And it should be enough to lift me from its paralyzing grip.  “Do it in cold blood”, I shall Igor, I shall.

Grief Day 11 – Still Just As Painful (so, when does it subside?)

So many emotions and with each day IThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde po...‘m surprised at who comes out of my reflection.  Honestly, I just don’t know; is it gonna be Jekyll or Hyde (or both)?  Or maybe their twin sisters?  I’ve made a promise to keep myself far from anyone that might take offense at my outbursts for I just don’t know.  And the people, they mean well; but they say and do some of the oddest of things.  There are these friends of my sisters that, though I realize they’ve lost their dear friend, I’m a gassed and their self-contentedness.  They say things like, “what we should do with the ceremony is…”  Or, “we should really keep the testimonies down to a minimum as others might want to say something…”

Really!  My sister, Elizabeth and I actually had a chuckle as she said, “don’t they realize who they are talking to?  I mean, they are dealing with Amelia Mattison MacGregor’s daughters; that should be license enough, don’t you think?”  And we are; we are our mother’s daughters, we will not only plan an event, but we will have everything cooked, cut, plated and ready to serve in plenty of time.  As an example; for Kimball’s wedding our mother made (hand-made) Swedish meatballs.  Enough to feed a few hundred people (it was a lot of meatballs!); and they weren’t those huge, three/four bite sized meatballs you might find in an Italian restaurant either… these were tiny, bites size (Amelia MacGregor mouth size) meatballs; and all hand rolled to boot!

Yep, we are our mother’s daughters.  [sigh]  Like I said, I know that they mean well and want to help.  Everyone wants to help, I don’t want to take away from  that; and I guess that is where Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and their twin sisters come in; I just don’t know when/where they’re going to pop up.  I find that I get so upset over the most menial circumstances or words (it’s absurd!)

So, what do you do?  I can’t go on keeping myself from everyone.  I’m not my sister, I don’t have an ‘edit’ button’; not anymore.  There was a time when I was the master of diplomacy.  I remember when bosses depended on me for that trait.  What happened?  Well, a great deal happened.  My mom, my marriage; alcoholism (marriage/brother), my sister’s cancer.  It was just too much stuff and I never (NEVER) took the time to take time off or was able to take a time out.  And so, here I am; I’m forced to take this time to “deal” with the stuff that is coming up (whether I like it or not).There were a great many months spent dealing with Kimball’s health and I guess much of this started when I was called back the morning of her surgery and the surgeon wasn’t sure he could move forward for fear of the “infection”.   One look and I thought, “infection!”  Looking straight at her Infectious Disease doctor.  While in the hall I asked him, “what, pray tell would make you think, after looking at that, that that was an ‘infection’?”  To which he muttered how imperfect medicine was.  I was panicked, furious, frightened; while at the same time I knew in that moment, my sister’s fate had turned.  I also knew I couldn’t say anything, not to her friends who were waiting for me in the lobby, and not to my family.  I could eventually try to convey the seriousness of the situation to my family; but, I knew that unless they saw with their own eyes, only then would they be able to gabble at the seriousness of our sisters situation.

No, I knew long before the doctors were willing to ever state anything to Kimball, the imminence of her fate.  This grew even clearer when the fluid collected on her lungs and I was being trained to drain them.  And even then, I succumb to the wistfulness of my sister and that all was going to be fine and she was going get well.

So much for a person to shoulder; yet I did.  And for this I am proud; however, one regret remains and perhaps that is what stands in the way of my deliverance from remorse into solace.  That being in her final days I depended on the doctor giving her a clear picture of the situation.  I expected it to be like that of a movie (Terms Of Endearment), where the doctor comes in and says “dear you have a malignancy…”

But, such as life, this was not a movie and that never happened.  At least, not until the day before her death when it came from a nurse on staff.  This brave soul, this wonderful woman sat with my sister and told her the truth (something I should have done weeks before, but lacked the courage to do).  I just couldn’t bring myself to break her spirit, to let her down.  I couldn’t do that and now, wish I had.  She deserved to know the truth from me, not to guess what was happening and to live in fear of the questions circling her mind.  She deserved to know and to have those moments to write the notes she wanted to write, or to make the calls she wanted to make.  And I robbed her of that.  I’m not sure I can forgive myself of that.

So, where does this leave me?  I don’t know.  I will learn to forgive myself and I will learn from this.  But to you, my readers?  I hope this is teaching you to NOT take the easy way.  When something needs to be said, don’t wait for someone else to say it (be it a doctor, or friend, brother or sister); SAY it!  Life is short; oh so much shorter than you know.  And those moments you think will be just around the corner;  those moments could be gone in a flash.

‘I Love You’ are three little words; yet, they are the toughest three words to say.  Most will go a life time without ever saying them or hearing them.  Do me a favor, say them to those you love.  Say them today; NOW.  Don’t wait.  They are just 3 little words.  And (here’s the trick), the more you say them, the easier they come out.  Give ’em a try; you will never be disappointed, I promise.

She Just Won’t STOP! Me? I need a DRINK!

It has been five days since our sister’s passing and for the past four days, since my sister Elizabeth’s arrival; all she can do is work, work, work (even today, on the day of her departure she won’t stop!).  She is like the Energizer Bunny.  Good thing?  I’m not so sure.  On the one hand, it is a great thing in that we have had so much to gather together.

But, on the other hand, this makes me wonder; just what is it that she is trying so hard to avoid and does she really think that she can avoid feeling the pain?  Almost like the proverbial blood over the door as in the days of Moses; if by stayinig busy long enough, the grief, the pain will simply flow by and you will survive it without the torment, without torture.

I want so much to say to her, “it just doesn’t go that way, Darlin’, eventually you ARE going to have to FEEL the feelings.  No if’s ans or buts about it.”  I want to, but she won’t listen.  She will just look at me, over those readers that she wears with the animal print, under her silver bangs that are parted in the middle and with those eyes of deep brown and say, “Ann; I’m fine.”

And I know she is, or I know she will be.  But I can’t help but to worry as Elizabeth is the one I worry about most during this whole process.  She is one that, if you didn’t know her, you might think her as cold, aloof; gruff.  But there is a very tender heart deep in that body she carries as a shield and she guards it closely, even from her own family and very dear friends.  The only time I recall her crying was when Kimball’s Oncologist had “the talk” with us.  Afterwards, the nurses shewed us out of the room to tend to their patient and we went downstairs.  Elizabeth turned her head away, over my shoulder (hands still down at her side) and started to cry.  I reached around, held her, trying to console her.  She could only allow this for a brief moment… all the while not returning the embrace.

I say this not to snub at my sister or to say “what is wrong with you?”  Rather, as an observation.  This poor girl (yes girl) who is still unable to open herself up to the vulnerability it takes to allow yourself to heal, to feel, to grieve; simply won’t.  Grieving is so unique and we all do this in our own way, no two people do it the same; this is true.  But with Elizabeth, her reasons for the how’s and the why’s may  run deeper than  even I had realized.

Going back to the death of our father (1963), she was only six and, doing as she was taught, went off to her room to cry.  So, in the privacy of her room, there she was, crying and carrying on about how much she missed her Daddy.  Next thing Elizabeth knew, somebody (I’ll leave the name out, but they were obviously much older than this dear child) marched in and told her to “grow up, stop crying”; or so my sister recalls.  Now, understanding  this person’s side, he was also grieving and was probably trying to intervene for our mother who was most likely beside herself at the sound of her young daughter’s tirade.  But still, you can see how these things have a way of sticking with us?  It most certainly has stuck with my sister, she still hasn’t forgotten it (or forgiven it for that matter).

“Stop crying!”  “Grow up!”  Made its mark, didn’t it?  Trust me, I’m not laying blame.  I understand where that came from.  Just wish my sister did, for I know she is still hearing those horrible words.  You see, our memories are tricky things.  As a child, things, people seem so much larger; yet when confronted as an adult, those Monsters can be brought back into perspective.

To give you a rather awkward, yet simple example of mine; my Kindergarten class had in its room this long cascading staircase that split from the two large hall doors.  It was beautiful as it curved down and around into the class room.  I remember returning as a young adult shortly after I got married and I so wanted to go down those beautiful cascading stairs, just like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind.  When I opened the hall doors I stopped, looked in and down and burst into laughter.  You see, what was remembered as twenty or thirty stairs was simply five (maybe seven).  Everything was so small!  But that wasn’t how my mind remembered it.

The same goes for all childhood memories, I would imagine.  And, my sister is no different.  Now to say that this is a depressed person would be an untruth.  Actually if there were in fact ‘happy’ genes, I believe she got our family’s quota.  But, this isn’t to say that I’m not worried about her.  We all grieve differently.  She and I finally got through most of our sister’s things (her clothing has been placed in bags for donation, we went through the office, etc.).  On the one hand it was very therapeutic; however, the tears did flood (on this face anyway).

We spoke a bit last night after we got the last bag done and the last of Kimball’s things cleared from her room.   It was actually a very peaceful conversation; I told her about my feelings over the past couple of weeks and how through everything that was happening with Kimball, so many feeling stirred inside me, almost as if to make it so I could see my relationships that much more clearly.  I went on to say how I didn’t understand the anger, the rage, the sadness, the guilt I was feeling at everyone but…  I mean I knew this was part of the process but always thought that was to be directed at the deceased not others for God’s sake.

We laughed at the absurdity and she reminded me that many don’t know how to handle it.  They just don’t know what to do.  Doesn’t make them bad people.  Unlike us, where we’ve been forced to accept grief at a very early age; many have never gone through it.  People don’t have the etiquette ingrained in them as it was in days of old.  This is true, we don’t.   I guess I’ve just been so gullible for so long I simply assumed.  Then it hit me… I’ve done this about everything.  I think that if I think it then we all do; ‘think it’, I mean.  If I can do it, then everyone can.  And that isn’t entirely so, is it?

Grief, it is so utterly individual.  Elizabeth will be fine, this I know.  I pray that we all – all of us (siblings, niece and nephew) can survive this tumultuous time and do so with grace.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.   –Reinhold Niebuhr

Death (we can never escape) – Perhaps we can learn through the process of our grief.

Death… in a few short weeks I’ve experienced the emotional loss of my best friends (or who I thought were and by their blatant absence in my grief, their absence only brings home my point) and I’m experiencing the physical loss of a person so dear to me it seems unreal that my body should be able to function.  It is amazing to me how the heart works; the expression ‘heart-broken’ feels just that – Heart-broken…

You feel as if your heart has been not broken but pulled apart, ripped into pieces.  Yet it beats.  It simply doesn’t seem possible.  As for my friends, I guess one can argue that I brought their anger on myself and to them I would have to agree.  On the other hand, is my friendship not worth the fight?  Am I not worth saying “hey, bitch!  I’m so f’ing mad at you for what you did!  I’m pissed off!”  Don’t I deserve at least that?  To simply stay silent can tell me only one thing, I was right, my friendship meant nothing.  And that kind of heart-break, though it stings like hell, is something I can live with, for you can’t miss something that was only imagined.

But in the face of my sister’s passing, so many others have come forward, people of whom I never would have imagined .  I’ve made new friends and new acquaintances.  And this leads me to realize that perhaps that is the part of life that I have dreaded for so long; that within this life we must endure several little deaths (if you will).  Deaths of relationships, jobs, financial situations, traditions, hobbies; but within and through those deaths we renew and find new relationships, careers.  We stretch ourselves into new hobbies and start new traditions.

I returned from the hospital the night before my sister’s passing after leaving her on both the oxygen that goes into the nose and the mask that covers the nose and mouth.  Her end was imminent, yet she fought.  She fought for a miracle because the thought of leaving this earth was so utterly terrifying to her.  Like many of us, she journeyed through this life never thinking she was ever enough.  That she’d never accomplished what So and So accomplished.  Or, never did the types of things that So and So did, or… simply, that she never made her ‘mark.’

We do this all the time and all the while forgetting that while we are comparing ourselves to others, those “others” are comparing themselves to us.  The grass is always greener, it always looks so lush and the lawn furniture seems to  look that much more relaxing; that is, until you hop the fence and sit in that lawn chair, listen to it creaking while noticing the brown patches in the lawn.

I mention this because through this process of my sister’s journey to her passing, I’ve learned to not hide my light under a bushel any longer and to enjoy my own lawn and lawn chairs.  Along with the puppy that might persist on pooping in the wrong spot (making for those pesky brown spots in my lawn)…

We all have brown spots and we all have creeks.  But we also have (all of us) gifts to give to the world.  No matter what those gifts are, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem; they are something major by way of someone else’s green-eyed monster lurking within.

My sister was very fearful of dying and one might say “aren’t we all?”  To that I say, yes… to a certain extent.  But when you’ve lived your life and are in touch with your gifts and those around you.  When you live your convictions, without regret, then perhaps it’s easier.  And, when we realize our gifts, and use those for others to enjoy (whatever those gifts might be, however grand or small), we have then made our mark.

But when we are constantly trying to keep up and comparing ourselves with “the others”, forever reminding ourselves in what it is we don’t have… then we lose sight on the true prize – peace.

Contrary to what you felt dearest Sister, you were cherished (even envied) by all who basked in your glow.  You never were given the gift of child-birth or children yet you touched thousands through your tremendous gift and passion of education.  It was those who sought your friendship who were in awe of you!  We were overwhelmed by your grace and your beauty, by your love and your spirit and by your courage and your wisdom.

Dear Sister, you can now revel in the joy of the true spirit in which you are and forever will be, LOVE and Pure ENERGY.

I will love you and keep you close to my heart until we see each other again.

The river called Grief; just as we’ve made it through, we get word that a loved one must now place their raft in and face the rapids.

Rapids before the Rhine Falls

Image via Wikipedia

Unfortunately, just as we find ourselves almost ‘down river’ and through ‘it’, we find that a loved one’s raft has been placed into the start of what I call the river of Grief.  And there’s nothing any of us can do for we can’t do take the trip for them, we can only stand on the sidelines and watch (maybe coach).

And, even though we can remember every turn, every ripple from our voyage, those turns and ripples will have transformed for their next voyager.  There’s no way to truly warn them of what to expect or how this voyage will be because we don’t know exactly how they feel or will feel about what has happened; each passage is different.  One thing’s for certain, it’s not always rip roaring rapids, there are some calm pools.  Another certainty is that grief is a funny thing and like its metaphoric river, it can cause us to see and say, and do, some of the craziest of things.

I’ve been grieving over the loss of a ‘dream’ (my divorce), a process where I’m finally seeing the calming waters and the ‘other side’ of my journey.  I just found out that a dear friend of mine’s daughter has now been launched into this grief process after her husband of 10 years passed away just recently.  I can’t begin to imagine what she must be going through.  However, I do know all to well this river.  It’s winding landscape to follow, it’s raging rapids; so uncontrollably frightening and it’s calming pools where it has taken you for reflection.  I can imagine it, but still don’t know it… Not exactly.

As we each embark on our journeys through Grief, and although the journeys seem almost identical; they are very different, because we each experience loss so differently.  Take our river, some might enjoy the rapids for the sheer exhilaration, others will wish for the rapids if for no other reason than to propel through the calmer waters, spending less time on reflection (“why must we drag this out?”, might be their thoughts).  While others might prefer to ride the whole thing, taking in each moment; living it; recognizing it and moving on.

Many wish to go back (the ‘what ifs’) and fight it all the way and not go through this process at all.  But we can never avoid it.  We have to ride it out to get to where we need to be.  It truly is the only way to calm the soul and move forward.

I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by saying it’s the only way to ‘closure’; but for this girl, getting through this process has opened up doors I had shut and truly forgot were ever open.  It truly does free up the mind.  But this is the clincher; you have to allow yourself to ‘GO THROUGH IT’ and get out the other side.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I’ve been through this process enough to know you never get use to it and there is always something about yourself that is in need of enlightening.  Whether it’s about you, or your relationship with the deceased, there is always something to be learned and something to do about it.

I feel for my friend and her daughter and know that this won’t be easy (it’s not supposed to be), and I do know that, if she’ll allow it, it can be a wonderful time for discovery.  A time for her to discover new strengths in herself that she never thought she had.  Could also be a wonderful time for her to discover some things about her mother and father, her siblings (good or bad).  At any rate, this is a precarious time in her life.  It’s one where there are no rules and she is going to have to go about this literally one step at a time.

I wish her love and hope in this time of strife.  I hope that she can do what I’m doing and that’s take a step back and rediscover herself and find her best friend… her!