Category Archives: Grief

Pity? Party of One?

So, I’ve kind of been over here all “Lesley-Gore-It’s-My-Party-And-I’ll-Cry-If-I-Want-To” and here come some friends busting in the joint with gifts for me, screwing the whole thing up. Nothing will kill a good pity party vibe like getting an amazing gift. Here are three of the ones I got:

“You spoke my words.”

That’s a pretty tough gift to beat there. After reading “How To Survive The Loss Of,” a friend told me her own experience of losing her “life” after a sexual assault. (I put life in parentheses there since I don’t mean her life in the terms of pulse and brain activity. I mean her life in the sense of her home, her marriage, and her job. You know – nearly everything but her pulse.) I have known her for many years, laughed with her over a million things (she’s the funniest woman ever) and I had no idea that she had survived an assault at all, let alone that she had she survived wave after wave of polluted crap that smashed into her afterward. She stood up to each wave, but, like me with the loss of my wallet, it was the loss of something small that sent her to her knees. I’ve always really liked her and I am blown away with the honor of having her say that I had spoken her words.

“Your writing is insightful, funny, and grammatically correct.”

Another huge gift! After reading “I’m Pretty Sure I Should Be Rich By Now,” this friend, who is a wonderful writer himself, called to encourage me to continue to write, saying that he enjoys the thoughts that I share and how I share them both verbally and mechanically. What a delightful surprise! It’s always wonderful to hear that your work resonates with others and, even better, that it doesn’t make someone twitch! Bonus gift! I know that sometimes I take liberties with grammar; however, if you visit with me often, you know that I generally do it for emphasis. It’s important to me that my language mechanics be as nearly correct as I can make them so that you can hear what I have to say without being distracted by the monstrous way I’m saying it.

“Your writing is always very concise, reflective, and thought-provoking. The reason I miss it so much when you are silent.”

This was after I asked her to read “Mixed Metaphors Inside the Asteroid Belt” prior to publication. My thoughts are like ping-pong balls in a tornado – bouncing all over the place, hitting first this thing, then that thing, then each other. It’s bedlam in there! And that particular piece had even more metaphorical collisions than most; so, I needed to get another set of eyes on it. Sometimes I am afraid that connections, analogies, and metaphors that make perfect sense in my head sound like the Mad Hatter when I let them out. It’s both comfort and confirmation when someone understands the point I’m trying to make with my occasionally unconventional comparisons. Again – awesome gift!

Each of these gifts (and others I didn’t mention) have gone a long way towards helping me through grief and get a handle on what I need to get done next. However, as I mentioned, they completely ruined the Pity Party for One I had going in full swing over here. While it’s still true that I can cry if I want to, I feel less inclined to do so.

Thanks, you guys.

Sounds We Feel

I like music – all kinds of music. Here lately, I have found myself listening primarily to my Move It playlist on Amazon. This list includes music that makes me want to walk, dance or just nod my head, and it includes music by artists ranging from Avril Lavigne to Godsmack, from Shakira to Rob Zombie, from Charlie Sexton to My Chemical Romance. It’s a weird mix, but it works for me.

I prefer to listen to this playlist using headphones to minimize distractions. As I mentioned last week, I am a Disturbed One and I really love the drum track from The Light, especially through headphones. I noticed this week how much I also enjoy the bass track from Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way, which made me realize how much I enjoy bass tracks from other songs like Voodoo and Live and Let Die. The thing about bass guitar, though, is that I don’t know that I hear it as much as I just feel it. I mean, I must be hearing it because I can differentiate the different tones; but, it doesn’t feel much like a sound on my eardrums if that makes any sense. Still, I find myself trying to find that bass track and follow it.

During periods of grief, my mind is disordered. There is so much going on in my head that I can’t seem to get my mind to settle on anything. I’ve heard this mental state referred to as a pot of boiling water and I think that analogy is apt. There is a lot going on all at one time and it’s difficult to get a handle on anything. Finding one issue or thought and focusing on it is more like pulling out the bass track in Bohemian Rhapsody than you might think. Finding order in the chaos of Vicarious helps me find order in the chaos of my own mind.

We all have tools to get us through periods of difficulty. It’s important to continue to use and develop those coping mechanisms that work. It is just as important to seek help when those coping mechanisms are overwhelmed. And it is crucial to recognize that coping mechanisms that include self-harm must be replaced with edifying ones. I mention that because while my loud music therapy may not make any sense to you, it works for me and it hurts nothing. However, if I were drinking Stoli through a fat straw while I was listening to the loud music, that would be another issue entirely.

If you are using a destructive coping mechanism, please seek help from a mental health professional. Call a psychiatrist, psychologist, grief counselor or suicide hotline. Get help to find mechanisms that will let you actually survive whatever it is you’re grieving, working through or experiencing. Call someone and do it now.

If, however, you are just looking to tweak what you’re doing and you wanna share some loud music, hit me up. I’ll share my playlist with you. And, if you’ve got some jams to share, send them on!

Now, I’m late for my therapy session with Rush and Tom Sawyer charges by the hour.

Peace.

The Contradictions of Grief and learning to call the wolves

A friend of mine sent a text just to check on me Monday. At first, I told her that I was fine; but, then I told her the truth. Grief is a strange thing. When you are dealing with the grief of losing a job, some days you wake up like, “Ooh-rah! New challenge! Let’s do this!” Other days you feel like you’re just circling the Drain.

I admitted to her that Monday was a Drain day for me. As it happened, it kind of had been for her, too. She is grieving the death of her sweet 19.5-year-old Yorkshire terrier Pedro. It was a great comfort to me to know that I wasn’t circling the Drain alone and I appreciated both her text and her honesty more than she knows.

I once knew a woman who would regularly quote Jeevan Pradhan by saying, “If you… throw me to the Wolves… Then I will come, leading the pack…” When she said that, you could almost hear P!nk and Gwen Stefani singing bra-burning, Helen-Reddy-style, ooh-rah, feminist power anthems. And there are days when I feel exactly like that – a Dharmesh Agravat “You can’t throw me to the Wolves for they come when I call” kind of feeling. Then there are days when I feel like the chewing gum stuck to the roller rink floor.

In my current situation, no one threw me to the Wolves – it was just a business thing. It happens. This process might actually be easier for me if there was someone I could target with my anger, but there just isn’t, which kind of sucks, too. Anger is a stage of grief and my stage really wants a target. The fact that it doesn’t have a solid one increases my frustration, which makes me even angrier. It is wholly unsatisfactory to be angry at a Situation. But, that is where I find myself. UGH! What a completely ridiculous cycle – and one that I must break if I am to ever call the Wolves.

I am a huge fan of the band Disturbed, a Disturbed One, as the band says. They recorded a song called The Light which is a personal favorite for several reasons, not least of which is the drum track. (a-MAZE-ing) I recommend listening with headphones to really appreciate everything going on in there. I also recommend reading the full lyrics, which I’ve included below. The line that I keep repeating to myself on my Drain days is: Sometimes darkness can show you the light. It’s a hopeful thought for surviving the Drain days on my way to creating more Ooh-rah! days. As I concentrate on the Light and understand the lessons of the Darkness, I’ll learn to call the Wolves.

Then, before you know it, I’ll be back, leading the pack.

Like an unsung melody
The truth is waiting there for you to find it
It’s not a blight, but a remedy
A clear reminder of how it began
Deep inside your memory
Turned away as you struggled to find it
You heard the call as you walked away
A voice of calm from within the silence
And for what seemed an eternity
You’re waiting, hoping it would call out again
You heard the shadow reckoning
Then your fears seemed to keep you blinded
You held your guard as you walked away

When you think all is forsaken
Listen to me now (all is not forsaken)
You need never feel broken again
Sometimes darkness can show you the light

An unforgivable tragedy
The answer isn’t’ where you think you’d find it
Prepare yourself for the reckoning
For when your world seems to crumble again
Don’t be afraid, don’t turn away
You’re the one who can redefine it
Don’t let hope become a memory
Let the shadow permeate your mind and
Reveal the thoughts that were tucked away
So that the door can be opened again
Within your darkest memories
Lies the answer if you dare to find it
Don’t let hope become a memory

When you think all is forsaken
Listen to me now (all is not forsaken)
You need never feel broken again
Sometimes darkness can show you the light, beautiful

Sickening, weakening
Don’t let another somber pariah consume your soul
You need strengthening, toughening
It takes an inner dark to rekindle the fire burning in you
Ignite the fire within you

When you think all is forsaken
Listen to me now (all is not forsaken)
You need never feel broken again
Sometimes darkness can show you the light

Don’t ignore, listen to me now (all is not forsaken)
You need never feel broken again
Sometimes darkness
Can show you the light

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Dan Donegan / David Draiman / Kevin Churko / Mike Wengren
The Light lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

How to Survive the Loss Of

Through the years, my aunt Judy has given me some great books. The three that have had the greatest impact on me are: The Gift of Fear, Against Rape, and How to Survive the Loss of a Love. Because I like to continue a good ripple of sharing knowledge, I have bought and given (or rather lent and never seen again) several copies of each of these books myself. The first two are amazing books and I still recommend them highly; however, it is the third one on the list that is relevant here.

The book is a small one and can really be read during a single, long, soaking session in the bathtub if you like; but, the authors recommend that you take it slower than that and I agree with them. I can’t remember when Judy gave me the book, whether it was the first time a boy broke my heart or during the aftermath of one of my subsequent abysmal choices in a potential mate. Whenever she gave it, the book has been useful to me during more than one romantic disaster and during other losses, as well.

The thing that struck me most in my first reading was how they defined “loss” and how they applied the stages of grief to so many events – even small daily ones like missing a phone call or, like today, my old wallet being chewed up by a beagle puppy.

Of all of the things that have happened in the last month, that was the one that sent me to bed for a nap. How silly is that?

The truth is that the wallet was one I got as a “free gift” when I ordered the Highlander series videotapes. Yes, videotapes. (I told you it was old.) It was pretty disreputable looking already, but I liked it. It was soft and all nice and broken-in. It was convenient to move from one purse to another or to just stick in the pocket of my pants or in my hoodie pouch, which is where it was today. It fell out while I was playing with Dexter and in the ten seconds that I didn’t realize what he was doing, he had already chewed it up pretty badly. It is still useable – or it would be if I didn’t have this neurosis about broken things. But, I do; so, the wallet that I have carried for the past 22 years or so, will be discarded.

And that was what drove me to a nap.

Not Ellie dying, losing my job, my roof leaking, missing Christmas with my son, my dad falling, or me being sick. Nope, none of those things were enough. It was the destruction of a freebie, 22-year-old, worn-looking wallet that finally sent me to pull the covers up over my head.

But that happens, right? I mean, after Katrina, the thing that really sent me into a meltdown was realizing that I had to buy new Easter baskets because the ones I’d used since childhood were destroyed. Bear in mind that I lost literally nearly everything I owned, but it was the $10 Easter baskets that had me breathing into a paper bag.

I’m not a mental health professional or a grief counselor; so, I have no clue why that is. However, what I do know – what I learned from How to Survive the Loss of a Love – is that grief is real and must be experienced. Regardless of what kicks it off, the feeling must be acknowledged, felt, and moved through. That last part is incredibly important. It must be moved through, not lived in. However, if we don’t acknowledge our grief and allow ourselves to feel it, we are more likely to get stuck in it.

So, I’ll grieve over this silly little wallet, take a nap, cry, blow my nose, then order a replacement and get on with it.

Mixed Metaphors Inside the Asteroid Belt


I vaguely remember the moon landing – at least I think I do. My first memories are from when I am a little younger than two; so, it’s possible that I actually do remember it. But, whether it’s the first moon landing that I remember or another moon mission, the result was that my childhood heroes were astronauts. And Little Joe Cartwright. And John Wayne. But mostly astronauts. That never really changed, either. Those early explorers and daredevils are still heroes to me – even to the extent that my son is named in honor of Gen. Chuck Yeager. I was awed at their bravery to fly into the perils and into the unknown of space. After all, there are dangerous things there – black holes, Marvin the Martian, comets, meteors, and (of course) asteroids.

That’s kind of where I feel like I am right now – in the midst of the asteroid belt. For the past few weeks, it has felt like I have been hit from all sides, and I’m reeling. Now, please understand that I still know that I am very fortunate and that things could be worse than they are….MUCH worse. However, the fact that things are not as bad as they could possibly be does not preclude me from mourning my losses or from feeling overwhelmed. As a counselor once told me – whether you step on a land mine or get shot in the leg, you are still wounded. You are allowed to feel the pain of a leg wound even though you didn’t step on a land mine. So, here I am, unexpectedly dealing with a metaphorical leg wound.

I’ll be honest, my wound treatment today consisted of staying in my pajamas all day. They are the new pink cat pajamas that I got for Christmas; so, they are cute, but they are still pajamas. I have unabashedly worn them all. day. long. I set one goal for myself today and it was not to change clothes. It was to wash, dry, fold and put away all of the laundry. I got that done. I also baked a batch of cherry, macadamia, white chocolate cookies, and cleaned up the kitchen. So what if I stayed in my pajamas?!

I set the goal of completing all the laundry to begin the process of steadying my world. I am trying to control the controllables. I can’t control Ellie dying, the roof leaking or losing my job; but, I can control whether the clothes are clean, folded and put away. Tomorrow, I will take all my trash and recyclables to the collection center. One small step at a time, right?

Those small steps may not seem like much; but, to me, they are life. They are a signal to myself and to the universe that I am still alive and that I am still fighting. These recent hits have left me bruised, sore, and limping; but, I’m still here and I’m still walking.

I’m sure there are people who can have months like the one I just had and come out of them just fine. They take the hits like Deion Sanders – spinning out of them and continuing to run. Good for them! I’m more than a little jealous, but that’s not how I’m made. I don’t spin out of a hard hit sporting a million-watt smile. I go down like a bag of rocks then I bitch and moan the whole time I struggle back to my feet. But, guess what. I do get back to my feet.

The process seems slower and more difficult every time, but I still get up – whether I call it an asteroid hit, a leg wound, or an NFL tackle. I got up today and I will get up tomorrow.

And, who knows? Tomorrow, I may even change out of my pajamas.

Object Permanence and Animal Rescue

Why I suck at fostering animals.

Object permanence is typically acquired when human infants are between four and seven months old. At this point, the baby understands that, although she can’t see something, that thing is still there.

I think I may have been absent that day.

Just before Christmas, I arrived home one day to see a new cat peering at me from the vent to the crawl space under my house that the ferals keep knocking out. It looked like a pretty small cat – likely female and less than a year old. It had a pretty little blue and white face and, when it turned, I could see that it had no tail. I thought I’d call it Bob. Except that everyone has a bobtailed cat named Bob, right? So, I called it Les instead.

As you know, I have a feral colony around my house that I have fed for several years. Our Mommie and Twin have been with me for six years now while other cats have appeared and disappeared over time. I see strange kitties on the regular, but I don’t see most of them for very long. Fast forward a couple of weeks. Les was hanging out beside the house when I got home. It meowed at me and I meowed back. That baby lit out at a run towards my feet! “You speak the language!” it seemed to say. Anyway, long story short, it was isolated in the house that night. Turned out, it was a she. I posted her photo all over the place and took her to a local facility to check for a chip. No joy; however, the lady that scanned her had just lost her 14-year-old cat and said that she would take Les if we couldn’t find her people and if she wasn’t pregnant. Several days later, we had her spayed, vaccinated and tested for kitty leukemia and kitty AIDS. (Both tests were negative.) With a clean bill of health, the lady confirmed that she still wanted Les and the dread began to build in my chest.

I have too many cats – five in my house now. I can’t afford any more. Still, I started crying early this afternoon and was literally sobbing just after I let Les go. Her new lady will love her and she will have a great life, I’m confident; however, to me, she just died. I left her and will never see her again; so, for me, she’s dead and I’m grieving that, as silly as it sounds. I did the same thing with O’Malley, a feral kitten my sister and I caught and I socialized and fostered. Both kitties will continue to exist outside my sight. O’Malleywill continue to snuggle in the crook of your arm. And Les will continue to pounce on unattended spectacles and wag her tail stump like a puppy. Both cats will be loved and cared for and will live much better lives that they would have as ferals.

I know that, but I don’t feel that. My heart is just crushed. Maybe one day I’ll get the hang of this fostering stuff.

Probably not.

Please spay and neuter your animals.

 

Grateful for Grief

Gosh, I can’t believe that I haven’t written since May! I write in my head all the time, but I somehow just don’t seem to make it to the keyboard, if that makes any sense. Today, however, my spirit hurts and sometimes the only way to get relief is to let the words flow.

On Saturday, I attended and spoke at the memorial service honoring a very dear friend of mine. I don’t know if we met in 1991 or 1992; but, whichever it was, it was a long time ago. I may not know the year, but I know that it was late spring and early morning. I was working my first flight of the day in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when this pilot from the training department was in my office, asking a bunch of annoying questions and just generally getting in the way. Finally, I looked at him and said, “Captain, they don’t pay me to babysit pilots. Find another place to be.” He did and thus began a very complex, sometimes convoluted friendship.

I hadn’t seen Lance in over a decade, I realized on Saturday, but that didn’t seem to matter. He was never far from my heart and we checked in with each other every couple of months, just as we have done for the better part of 30 years. We were friends through a baby and hurricane (mine), a marriage (his), and jobs and moves for both of us. It is inconceivable to me that he won’t be texting some joke in a couple of months. While he hasn’t been a physical presence in my life for a long time, he’s always been out there and I’ve always known that if ever I needed him, all I had to do was call. I believe he knew the same thing. I certainly hope so.

Lance is my third friend to die. My 82-year-old dad says it doesn’t get any easier to let them go. On the one hand, I think my dad kinda sucks at pep talks; but, on the other hand, grief is the proof of love, I think. If I had not loved Joey, Sandy, and Lance, I would not grieve their absence. Certainly, not grieving for them would have made a few days of my life easier, but not having known and loved them would have made my whole life so much emptier. I am already grateful that the loss of my friendships with Joey and Sandy were worth grieving. Someday I will feel that gratitude about my friendship with Lance.

Someday.

A Friend for Ellie

Trey and Ellie were my two BBDs – big, black dogs. As you know, I had to help Trey across the Rainbow Bridge in February and we are all still adjusting to a household without the old man – Ellie especially.

Ellie came to live with us several years ago when I had to go out of town for a conference and asked my sister Chele if she would come and stay with my son while I was gone. She said that she would, but that she was fostering a bitch with five pups that weren’t weaned yet. Barracading the family in the kitchen was easy; so, I told my sister to bring them on with her. “But,” I said, “you listen to me and hear what I’m telling you. I don’t care how cute those puppies are, they are all. going home. with you.” (See how I never said anything about the mama?)

So, my sister arrived with this painfully skinny black dog and five of the cutest puppies EVER. I had them all named within five minutes, much to Chele’s dismay. (I didn’t realize that you weren’t supposed to name foster puppies. It makes it harder to send them to new forever homes.) Anyway, I named them all and we got everybody into the house where I inquired about the mama whom they called Princess.

She had wandered up to some guy’s house. He started feeding her and thought he was going a great job since she was getting so fat – then she dropped five puppies. Knowing that my sister is a soft touch with the canines, he contacted her and dropped the whole family off with her. Chele said that while the dog would let me pet her, she would not come to me and that she was head shy. This mama dog was just heartbreaking! So thin, she looked like her bones were about to cut through her skin. And she was, indeed, head shy, but after a few minutes she walked up to my chair, sat next to my feet and put her head on my knees. Yep. She picked me. What was I supposed to do with that?!

Now, we already had Trey who had become destructive since the death of my previous cat – the 19-year-old (some say possessed, I say precious) Isabeau. He wasn’t too keen on the puppies (especially after they tried nursing on him. Poor guy flipped out over that! One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.), but he loved having Princess around. Since she had been a stray for some unknown period of time, she was very  fearful. When Trey tried to play with her, he frightened her. However, he was patient and sweet. Eventually, she came to trust him and they were wonderful playmates even after we renamed her. (There is only one princess in my house, honey. Moi.) So, Princess became Ellie and our home to one BBD became home to two. Until this February.

Once a month, my friend Kent comes to stay with me for a few days. He brings his BBD puppy Khaleesi with him. Last month was the first time he came and the first time Ellie met Khaleesi. And did those two girls ever have a wonderful time! They played outside all day every day and came in exhausted every night. I knew that Ellie would enjoy having a friend, but I underestimated how much. When Kent arrived on Wednesday, Ellie saw Khaleesi through the window and she, who never goes out the front door without my permission, bounded out the door as soon as it was open, joyfully greeting her friend on the sidewalk before the two of them went running through the house, out the back door and into the yard to play just like the little girls that they are.

I have no intention of adding to my horde and, with four cats to play with, Ellie is a long way from lonely; however, it’s great that she can have play dates with someone her own size. And, for the next several months, every month, for five days, there will be play dates and a friend for my Ellie girl.

Where Did My Wagon Go?

Take a look at the picture above. Look closely. See me anywhere? C’mon! Really look!

Nope. I’m not there on account of: 1. I’m old, but I’m not that old, and 2. I fell off that wagon several miles back, honey! All kinds of falling off the wagon been going on here.

As you know, last week was just a hideous one and I fell off the healthful eating wagon. I ate a lot of garbage during the week and managed to mess up the healthful choices I made by either eating too much of them or eating them with a dressing or cheese that negated the good the nutritious foods were doing me. If I were an alcoholic, I’d have been in the gutter. I binged in the same way, particularly when I realized that it was time to let Trey go.

A few times I caught myself eating things that didn’t even taste good to me and, in fact, kind of made me feel sick to my stomach. But, I continued eating them, anyway. It was almost as if I was using the food to punish myself in some way for not being able to help my old friend. I remember doing something similar when I would quit smoking, but fall off the wagon and have one. Often, I would then smoke so much that I would literally make myself sick – give myself nicotine poisoning – to punish myself for failing. (Am I the only one who does this? I’m pretty sure I’m not; but, if I am, don’t tell me, okay?)

This morning, I’m paying for that. I feel awful. I feel like I’ve got the chips and salsa sweats. My whole system feels clogged. My sinuses are wrecked and I don’t know if that’s from two weeks of sobbing, emerging airborne allergens, or food allergens. Maybe it’s a little of all three. Whatever the cause, I’ve worked up a roaring case of vertigo. Yep, I ate a bunch of garbage and now I feel like it.

As I’ve shared with you before, I believe very strongly that it is crucial that we allow ourselves to feel our grief and to work through it. Although there are varying opinions on the number of stages of grief, most agree that there are at least five: 1. denial and isolation, 2. anger, 3. bargaining, 4. depression, and 5. acceptance. Gorging like Henry VIII is part of my stages one through four. Making myself sick is actually part of stage three for me. Although progression through the stages is never smooth or one-way, I am moving closer to acceptance. In acceptance, there is the continuation of the life that does go on.

So, for that life, today I will buy new walking shoes, then Ellie and I will go for our first walk without Trey. Where we all once walked several times a week, we haven’t walked in many months because of my work schedule and Trey’s hips. It’s time for us to start that part of our lives again. It will be sad for me and if you see me walking at the park, I’ll likely be crying; but, life does go on and we – and our wagons – go on with it.

My wagon is my will and it’s been with me the whole time. While I didn’t ride it or use it, it never left me. Now, as I choose to adjust to a new normal without one of my fuzzy children, I’ll climb back in that wagon and ride it awhile.

The Ringing in My Heart

The first singer I ever saw in concert was Elvis Presley – don’t hate. I remember my ears ringing after that concert and after every one I’ve seen since. The music is always so loud that it’s like my ears turn down the volume themselves to get some relief. In all actuality, the tips of the hairlike stereocilia in my cochlea have been broken by the sound and continue to send false information to my auditory nerve even after the noise has stopped. After about 24-hours, the tips repair and the false signals stop, ending the ringing. While the damage is repairing, however, it’s harder to hear the real auditory input for all the garbage.

The last couple of weeks have been like that. I’ve taken several pretty serious emotional hits that have left my emotional ears ringing. I’m having a great deal of trouble at this point hearing much of anything. Anything, that is, except, “I love you.”

I have heard that through the ringing from friends, from family and from some people that fall into both categories. I haven’t been able to respond well; but, I’ve heard you. I have heard some of you especially clearly.

There are friends who say, “Let me know if you need anything,” or “Let me know if I can help.” Those friends are sincere and are valuable. However, there are also friends who say, “Here’s what time I’ll be there,” or they just show up, or they call or write because it’s all they can do at the time. Those friends are invaluable.

I have far more of you than I deserve and I am so grateful.