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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Finding your 'Piece of Paradise'

Life is often funny, sometimes crazy and a little bit sad, but then again, if this wasn't the case, we would be bored silly. My life is all this and more, and there is very little I would change. For example, weekends at my house are quite interesting, very seldom is it quiet, and honestly, I love it. There is comfort in being surrounded by family and friends, in knowing that people enjoy gathering together, that it is still great to want to have a family dinner. What makes it even more fun, is you just don't know who will show up next.

But yet, isn't that life? We are going along, doing our own thing, when the doorbell rings, there is a knock on the door, or we get a call about something totally unexpected. Now comes the choice, do I answer the door, or just pretend I am not home, do I pick up the phone or totally ignore it. The outcome is totally dependent on our decision. Maybe I really don't want to have company, maybe I rather not talk to anyone. None of us are immune to this, we all feel this way sometimes. Hoping the world will go away.

I have always enjoyed having company, visiting, sitting around my table sharing a meal with family and friends; but when Rachel died, for a time, I wanted to be alone. I didn't want to answer the door, speak on the phone, or even deal with simple tasks like cooking or eating. This was hard for some of the people who were close to me to understand, especially since I was always outgoing, not afraid to have a great time, often the 'life of the party' cracking jokes and making others laugh.

I still have my moments, where seclusion is what I want and long for, but I have learned to create these moments. I have found a way to shut out the world, and allow myself to just be. The beauty of it all, is that I take the opportunities as they come. I often have to pick up my son from practice, and I will make it a point to get there a little earlier, bring a book along and just give my self 10-15 minutes while I wait. It may sound silly, or really 10-15 minutes, how does that help? It is amazing, giving myself those few precious minutes to be alone, to sit quietly, or to read, is enough to clear my thoughts, to allow my self to do nothing at all,or something I love to do. It is my oasis in the midst of the desert, it gives me so much, re-energizing me, and allowing me to quiet my world.

After Rachel's death, I sought the quiet, the solitude and longed to find ways to shut out the world. It was not that I was hiding from reality, on the contrary, I was trying to find my way through it. This was what I wanted, what I needed, it was what was right for me. I have spoken to others, and I have seen among my own family, how the opposite is true. I wanted the quietness, others needed the noise, did not want to be alone, dreaded the moments of silence and solitude, they looked for any excuse to envelope themselves in busyness.

Neither scenario is right or wrong! Everyone has to find their way through tragedy, through grief, through crisis and through life. And as I have mentioned before, and so many others have echoed, our ways of coping, living and existing, is as different as each and everyone of us. The most important thing anyone of us can do, is to find what works, what helps us keep our sanity, re-energizing us and keeping us going.  

There are so many ways that you can find your 'little piece of paradise' amidst the chaos.  For me, reading, taking a walk, or simply just sitting quietly, is enough.  For my husband, he will watch re-runs of a favorite show, and allow himself to laugh, to slip away from the cares of the day.  We all need the find our 'happy place,' a place where we can draw the strength we need to carry on.  A place that allows us to forget or remember, even if only for a few moments.  After Rachel's death, I had a couple of quiet places.  My bedroom was a calming haven, when I wanted to be alone before bedtime, I would just close the door and allow myself to cry or do nothing at all.  When my home was to chaotic, I would go to the seashore or for a walk.  And if I wanted no one to bother me at all, I would go and sit at my daughter's grave (trust me, no one bothers you, even if there are others visiting graves as well). 

We often forget to take care of ourselves especially when we are grieving.  Regardless of what you are grieving for, learn to take time for yourself, give yourself a few minutes a day to just unwind, to re-energize.  Give yourself permission to do nothing at all, and stop listening to those who keep telling you that the only way to make it through the grief, is to keep busy.  Just keep in mind, what will happen to you when there is nothing to do?  Eventually, even the busyness becomes a burden.  Yes, keep active, live life, but remember to stop, slow down and give yourself time to 'smell the roses.'

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sometimes you have to let the road guide you!

This past weekend our parish held our Confirmation Retreat (teenagers who are preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation - a sacrament of initiation in the Catholic church), of which I have been a member of the team for so many years, I have lost count.  I enjoy and look forward to being on the team each and every year, it gives me the opportunity to share my faith journey with others, as well as glean knowledge to continue my own. 

Part of the retreat day is listening to the 'witness' of others, who have found their way through life, and have come into a closer relationship with God.  Catholics are definitely not the only ones who offer retreats, sojourns, contemplative experiences, etc., many religious and spiritual organizations, do the same.  This same concept is used for those suffering from addictions, such as alcohol and drugs, those who are dealing with life's uncertainties, such as divorce, death, and any other issues that leave people in a state of flux.  Listening to someone else's story, helps us in our own journey, whether it is our faith journey, our grief journey, our road to recovery, or simply gaining guidance in parenting, or life skills; if we are open, we can gain so much from just 'listening.'  

This weekend was no exception, we asked some individuals to share their stories with the focus on getting young people, adolescents to share.  We have come to understand that listening to an adult share their story is one thing, they are 'old' of course they get it, but having someone who is close to the groups age, has an amazing impact on the group.  

We have a group of dedicated young teenagers who help us every weekend with our faith formation program, as well as helping out in other ways around the parish.  So we asked them if they would be willing to share their experiences, why they decided to help out, and what do they feel they get in return. Two of these individuals were able to give us a hand, and to my great joy, my son was one of them.  But I also had my reservations, why, because my son can be brutally honest, not a bad characteristic, but I worried about what he might say.  As the date drew nearer, I kept asking him if he had written anything down, what are you planning on talking about, so on and so on.  To which he just kept asking me, 'don't you trust me!'  'Yes!' I would reply, but I just don't want to say anything that might not be okay.  Finally, I just gave in, said a prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide him and gave it over to God.  

Saturday morning we both got ready and headed to the retreat site and my only question was 'are you ready?'  to which he simply said 'yes.'  Jacob and his friend Sierra helped us with set-up and then sat and discussed their respective talks, what music they wanted to play and who would go first, ironing out all the little details.  Then the confirmation candidates began to arrive, and all else was forgotten as we welcomed them, laid out the house rules, and began the day’s activities.  Once the ice-breakers were completed, they were gathered for their first talk, they listened as one of our team members shared his story, then they went into the break-out rooms to discuss the talk, key points, and anything else they wish to discuss.  

Now it was Sierra and Jacob's turn.  Sierra began her talk, shared her journey, why she helped out, and how she loved being involved and teaching.  Then it was Jacob's turn, I held my breath as he introduced himself, not knowing what my son was about to say or what thoughts were floating in his head.  His opening line floored me.  Jacob looked at the young people gathered there and said quietly, 'No one should have to go through what I went through at the age of 14.'  He paused, and then continued, 'My sister died and I was forced to 'grow-up' fast, too fast.'  

Rachel died 4 1/2 years ago, and in all this time, Jacob has refused to talk about his sister's death.  If her name was mentioned in conversation, he would leave the room.  He could not deal and did not want to deal with the pain and confusion of losing his sister, his friend.  As Jacob continued to share, I held back tears that kept threatening, and a pride and relief surrounded me, without my son's awareness, he had taken the first steps towards healing.  He was talking about it, he was sharing his story, he was letting himself express the hurt, pain and confusion that followed his sister's death.  

As Jacob continued his talk, he let them know that he had been very angry with God: why had he taken his sister?, why had He let this happen?, where was God when we needed him?  All the questions that plaque each and every person who has had to deal with tragedy and loss.  Eventually he came to the realization that God felt his pain, knew his pain, and that God had in fact been with him the entire time.  He shared how it was because of his faith, that he was able to go on, he had something to hold on to.  He learned to talk to God, to yell at him, to just unburden himself.  To quote Jacob, 'I talk to God just like I talk to my friends.'  'If I'm upset with them I let them know it, if I had a great time I let them know, if I am confused or unsure of something, I ask their opinion and get their advice, after all God is my Father and friend.'  Jacob reminded them that we all need something to hold on to when the going gets difficult, when no one seems to care or understand, we have God.  'It is so sad to hear that some have no faith, no beliefs, no God, we all need something to believe in.' 

As a mother, I could only stand by helpless, knowing my son and daughter both were hurting after Rachel's death, but I also knew I could not force the issue.  I had to give it time, I had to 'trust' that when the time was right, they would begin their journey towards healing, towards acceptance.  This simple exercise of allowing my son to express himself, trusting that he would say the right things, that he would do okay, was a powerful reminder to me, that if I believe, if I trust, in time (maybe not as quickly as I would like) things have a way of working themselves out.  It does not mean you ignore them, for me I just let my children know that when they were ready, I would be there to listen; and then only if they wanted me to.  I also let them know, that they did not have to come to me, they could talk to anyone whom they felt comfortable with, I would not be offended.  

As parents, we want to fix everything, kiss the boo-boo, bandage the cut, but there comes a time when we realize we can't.  When Rachel died, I realized that I was powerless to do anything to change the events, I could not kiss my daughter's accident away, there were no magic band aids, I could only stand by, watch and trust that this was how it was meant to be.  Not at all easy for a parent, so can you imagine a brother or sister.  

In the reading that I have done, often a sibling fears that the same thing will happen to them, or worse yet, why didn't I die instead, why am I alive.  According to The Sibling Connection: 'the experience of losing a sibling results in adolescents feeling different from peers, being more mature than his or her peers, and being angry and insecure in relationships.'  They feel a sense of abandonment, they may even feel guilty because they may have had mixed feelings about their brother or sister.  I am willing to bet that Jacob felt he was protecting me from further pain by not talking about his sister.  It is hard for adults to cope with, I cannot imagine what it must be like for a teenager who is not only in limbo between childhood and adulthood, but now facing the fact that we are not immortal.  

We all face difficulties in our lives, we all have to deal with the good as well as the bad, unfortunately it is a major part of our human existence.  How we choose to cope, who we reach out to, and what we hold on to, plays a big part in how we heal.  If you have someone in your life who is grieving, whether it is grief caused by death, divorce, devastation, or any other upheaval that causes pain, confusion and anxiety, give them time and space, but always let them know you are there for them.  Whether it is now, or later, you will be willing to listen, and please do not be offended if they go to someone else.  Sometimes it is the total stranger who has no connection with the events that allow you or someone you love to unburden themselves.  

Finding our way is as important as arriving, we need to get lost, we need to ask for directions, we need to retrace our steps, and we have to understand that there will be delays along the way.  Besides who knows what wonderful opportunities may be there waiting at the end of a wrong turn, or by stopping to get directions.  My son's journey has taken him a while, but by sharing, he is beginning to find his way, he is accepting the detours and delays, and with a renewed sense of hope, is headed toward healing.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reaching another 'milestone' in my life!

This past weekend I celebrated two major milestones in my life, I turned 50 on Saturday and we celebrated 30 years of marriage yesterday.  Two very important events in my life, my birth of course and my marriage.  

So lets discuss age.  My age does not bring about regrets, fear, anxiety or any of the range of emotions that I have seen exhibited in others who reach this age.  Yes there are things I wish I could change, but for the most part I have had a good life.  It doesn't mean it has been all straight roads and that I have just breezed through life; no it has definitely had its adversities, I have taken many a wrong turn, and have had many a days that I wish I could just get off the crazy train.  

So why do I consider my self fortunate, why does my age not frighten me?  I have done a lot in my life, and at the age of 20 I began my life with my husband.  Together we have raised a family, we have traveled, we have watched our children grow, we have shared trials and have rejoiced at accomplishments. Of course we all wish from time to time that somethings could have been different, other paths could have been chosen, life could have been less harsher, and so forth.  I have come to learn that with each wrong turn, I have discovered new and wondrous things; with each adversity, I have found a strength I didn't know I possessed; and in those moments that seemed so harsh, so unrelenting, there was a quiet gentleness that reached out to me.  

At the age of 45 I had what I now consider the most painful year of my life.  The death of my daughter, Rachel, left me so tired, confused, hurt, abandoned, the list of words could go on and on.  Yet here I am now, 50 years old, and yes there is still pain, yes it still hurts, and occasionally there is still confusion, but yet, here I am.  I stand now on the other side of all that uncertainty, not yet fully standing in the light, but knowing that I am so much closer now.  Does it mean I have fully come to comprehend why my daughter had to die, NO; what it does mean is that I have come to accept that she is not returning, she is gone.  In place of her physical being, I am now fully aware of here spiritual presence.  No, I am not seeing ghosts, I just know she is with me.  I feel her presence in my heart, she is on my mind, and I think of her often.  

For example, yesterday my co-workers decided to surprise me with a birthday cake.  They sang happy birthday and when it was done, I began to distribute a slice to everyone seated around the table.  As I was doing this, the phone rang, it was answered, and without giving it a second thought, the receptionist looked at me and said 'Rachel is on the phone for you.'  I stopped what I was doing, looked at her and simply said 'what' as everyone else held there breath.  No, it wasn't my daughter, but a young woman who was simply calling to ask some questions about an upcoming event; but the timing was unbelievable.  Even though it wasn't my daughter, it was her way a letting me know that she too wanted to wish me a happy birthday.  Even my co-workers felt that it was more than mere coincidence.  

Too often we will miss these simple messages from our loved ones, or we choose to ignore them, believing it only to be our over-active imaginations.  Occasionally they will be witnessed by others and we can either accept them as such, or brush them off as nonsense.  For me, I choose to see them as a way of communicating with Rachel, my dad and other loved ones who have died.  However you perceive these occurrences in your life, is your choice and yours alone.  I only ask you to be open to the possibility that they can happen.!  Am I wiser?  Have I learned anything from the lessons life has given me?  Have I allowed myself to grow?  These are my questions as I look forward to many more years to come.  Of course, I fully hope that I have gained some wisdom along the way, that I have learned my lessons well and in doing so, have grown into the person I am now.  I can honestly say, that with the death of my daughter, I have become more compassionate, more understanding of other's weaknesses, and more willing to listen to confused ramblings of a grieving person, regardless of why they grieve.  On the flip side of the coin, I find myself becoming impatient with those who so readily brush off the pain of others, who will not try to look at something from the other side, who refuse to take on another perspective.  In my impatience, I also feel a sadness for them, and I often pray that they will not have to cope with any harsh realities in order to learn empathy, to show compassion and understanding.  

Life is definitely what we make of it.  How we choose to live, how we perceive what happens to us, and how we move forward from adversity, says so much about you.  What is your motto?  How do you see that cup in front of you, is it half-full or half-empty?  Is it woe is me, or how do I look for ways to move on from here?  I cannot answer these questions for you, neither can I imply as to how you should answer them.  For me asking myself these types of questions, is a great barometer for how I feel and where I am at any given moment in my life.  One thing I would recommend, is from time to time, asking yourself some of these questions.  By doing so, you can get a great pulse of who you are, where you are and what is important to you.  Allow yourself to be YOU! to be the best you possible.  And if there is pain, let it help you find strength and healing, use it as a tool to help you find yourself.  

Live you life, fully, regardless of where you've been or where you are coming from.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Friday, March 11, 2011

In our Prayers

Today the world is saddened by the terrible earthquake in Japan, and as a world we mourn the loss of too many lives.  Let us all keep them in our prayers, and I pray that they know that our hearts and souls reach out to them in this hour of need.  That they may find comfort in each other, and find the strength and courage to go on, recover and begin to heal.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

STUG, what in the world is that!!!

'We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good bye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'  
President Ronald Reagan, January 28, 1986, in his speech after the Challenger tragedy.
How so true for all our loved ones, for all those who have died, even the forgotten are never truly forgotten, someone somewhere remembers, even if they don't know their name.  Many us pray for those who have been 'lost' to death regardless of our religious beliefs, in the hope of helping all souls who death has taken from us make their journey to Heaven, Shanti, Nirvana, Slumberland, Spirit Land or into the afterlife.  

In my last posting I spoke to the types of grief individuals experience, and how they impact us as grievers.  I would like to take it a bit further.  For some of you, if you were around at the time of the Challenger tragedy, these simple opening words in this post brought back memories, evoked a response, you might have even been watching the event, you remember.  If you were at all connected to any of the crew on board, you might even feel a sadness, a longing.  

Grief is our internal feelings, those feelings and thoughts we keep in our hearts, those emotions others do not see, the rambling thoughts we often do not share.  Grief, however, is not to be confused with bereavement - which is the outward display of our feelings and emotions. 

Bereavement is what the world sees, our external demonstration of what we are feeling internally, this is what we see after we have been told of the death of a loved one, during the ritualistic parts of a funeral, and so on.  

As time passes most of us become grievers, internalizing what has occurred, finding the strength within, and learning to accept the new 'normal' in our lives.  We find ourselves having less and less episodes of externalizing our grief, we have left our bereaved self behind to take on the role of griever.  

4 1/2 years have passed since Rachel's death, and yes I very much grieve for my daughter every day.  There is seldom a day that she is not on my mind, and some days more so than others.  Events, locations, expressions, and so much more can trigger thoughts of Rachel, my dad, my grandparents and other deceased family members.  Some bring a smile to my face, others leave me sighing, and still others will bring a tear to my eyes.  

Occasionally I will find myself truly crying, unable to stop myself, often these episodes occur when I am alone, but once in a while I will have a meltdown while speaking to someone on the phone, or in a crowded place.  As many of you know, I recently came back from vacation, it was enjoyable, but it also held so many memories of Rachel, of what she enjoyed and what she held dear.  So needless to say the last couple of weeks have been emotionally charged.  Just last week I found myself crying uncontrollably while driving home.  Granted I had had a long day, I was tired, but yet something triggered thoughts of Rachel, and would just not let go.  Luckily I was alone, and I let myself go with it until I exhausted my tears.  

I experienced STUG - Sudden Temporary Upsurges of Grief.  Yes there is a name for this type of reaction, for this type of sudden heaviness, for this type of grief, an overwhelming need to externalize what is bubbling up inside.  This grief comes from out of nowhere, totally catches you off guard and unprepared.  I have found myself going from laughter to sudden burst of uncontrollable crying, which leaves me drained and confused.  

Yes you are normal, this is very much a common occurrence, and since grief stays with you, you may find it occurring from time to time.  Will it diminish in time, one may only hope, but from what I have seen, heard and read, it can resurface at any given time.  Especially if we experience a loss of something that is linked to our loved one, a favorite piece of their furniture has to be thrown away, your deceased loved one's pet dies, so many things can trigger this sudden grief.  

When these episodes occur, it is best to run with it if you can.  If I am alone, like I stated before, I let myself be in the moment.  If I am with others, I try to find ways to control the outburst, or take myself away from the scene, hopefully while no one notices.  

These upsurges can be difficult for others to understand, especially if it has been years since your loved one died.  They may feel that you are losing it, that you should be over it already, that you definitely should have moved on.  I am fortunate that I have some people in my life who not only understand, but let me be, let me cry, don't try to stop me, or walk away.  For those who do not understand, I exercise patience and realize that they may me uncomfortable with my sudden outburst, the unwarranted tears, and my expression of grief.  

If you have a friend or family member who occasionally experiences 'STUG' moments, let them be, allow them to vent, let them know it is okay, even if you don't understand what is happening.  If you experience them yourself, be good to yourself, let the tears flow, let yourself be in that moment.  These episodes often end as quickly as they start.  My drive the other day was less than 5 minutes, and before I had gone just a few blocks, I had felt my emotions welling up, I had cried, sobbed and was composed again.  Because I had allowed myself to cry when I needed to, I was okay, I felt a sense of relief, of unburdening, and it was good.  

If you feel what you are experiencing isn't normal, ask someone who has gone through it before you.  You will be very surprised to find out that anything goes when you are grieving, and what may not seem normal, is very much normal indeed.  There are no rules when it comes to grieving, so to quote Captain Barossa (Pirates of the Caribbean), 'There more like guidelines anyway.'   So just remember, anything goes and always allow yourself the space to grieve, and if at anytime it is more than you can handle, always seek help, do not try to go it alone if it seems to difficult for you.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Can I just stay here?

Vacation, getaways, sojourns...they all describe a break from reality, a time when we can simply forget about things for a while.  If you have not taken one in a while, I strongly recommend you do, it does amazing things for your mental health and well-being.  There are however, some people who live life as if every day is a vacation, they refuse to deal with the situations around them.  They retreat from the world hoping everything will go away.  

There are many a time when I wish I could do just that, live as if nothing was amiss in my world, as if everything was just sunshine and roses.  Yet I wonder, what would I miss out on, what would I not see or understand, what lessons would I not learn and what strengths and gifts would I lack.  We need not only the sunshine but the rain as well, we need the clear skies and the cloudy, we need it all in order to become who we are.  Each storm in our life makes us more prepared for the next one.  

Grief is one of the storms very few of us can avoid, and I have learned that death and dealing with death never truly prepares us for the next loss, but it helps.  Each death is met with emotions, feelings, and it's magnitude is reflected by what this person means to you, and how much you love them.  The death of my father was difficult, after all that's my 'dad,' but my daughter's death goes beyond anything I can explain.  Anyone who has lost a child knows full well what I mean, it is a deep wrenching of our hearts, it goes beyond any pain one could ever imagine.  Yet so many of us survive, so many of us go on, and even if we take a break from reality for a while (I was home a year after Rachel's death); we pick ourselves up, and manage to go on.  

There are as many ways of coping and dealing with grief, as there are people.  Each one of us has our own very unique way of working through the bereavement, mourning and grief.  Some of us face it head on and try to find our way through the entire 'process.'  Others will put on a brave front and hope they don't come crashing when reality sets in.  While still others will try not to deal with it at all, or are not given the opportunity to grieve.   

What causes grief -- Love, dependency, expectations.  The more we loved them the more we hurt, the more we miss them, the harder it is to accept or understand.  Dependency - this person provided for our needs, we could rely on them to be there, they 'completed' us and made us feel whole, loved and cherished.  Expectation - we made so many plans, there were so many places we wanted to visit, so much we wanted to accomplish, all vanished.  This was a person we valued, who meant so much to us, and now we are deprived of their love, their physical nearness, of them.  

Understanding the causes of grief, helps us to understand why so many of us find it hard to move on after the death of a loved one.  It is also because of these causes, that many refuse to deal with the grief at the time of death.  Looking at this and trying to understand my own grief and how others grieve, I decided to outline the different types of grief, and what they mean to the bereaved.  

The types of grief vary, and are dependent on the situation and the individual, and are as follows:** Anticipatory grief - when we begin to grieve well before our loved one has died, or any other anticipated event in our lives, job change, divorce, etc.  We recognize this grief most often when people are dealing with a terminal illness, and everyone knows and understands the outcome.  Ambivalent grief - where the feelings are mixed, there is a conflict within the grieved person; sometimes a love/hate relationship, or anything that can create an inner turmoil.  Latent grief - at the time of the death or loss, the grief is pushed aside, it is lies dormant, hidden, until such time when they feel they can deal with it; generally surfacing long after the event.  Shadow grief - is grief that always follows you, you are unable to find closure, it varies in its intensity, and it can  occur long after the death, and at times is intense with sporadic, intense pain.  Anomic grief - or first time grief, generally seen with children.  Disenfranchised grief - occurs when the situation does not allow the grief to be recognized or acknowledged as true grief by society; such as the loss of a close friend, a life partner, disabled person, etc.  Unresolved grief - is unmitigating grief, it is as intense today as it was yesterday, your capabilities to function are as diminished as when you first began grieving, it won't subside.  

The key is to recognize that we all grieve, we all experience losses in our lives that leave us second-guessing, unsure of our surroundings, trying to simply keep our heads above water.  Recognizing what we are going through as grief, and allowing ourselves to grieve, goes a long way in our healing.  When we give ourselves permission to grieve we free ourselves to express our emotions, thoughts and innermost conflicts.  We face the hurt and pain, and by doing so, find ways to cope and deal with it.  If however, you do find yourself unable to grieve, or recognized yourself as being trapped in grief that seems unrelenting, unhealthy or causes you to be unable to function, seek help.  Asking for help can guide you through your journey, help you understand what you are going through, and guide you to healthy ways of resolving your grief.  As my professor said in class today, 'the only way to over come grief, is to go through it.'  Circumventing it will only cause it to resurface down the road.  'Express don't repress.'  

Grief is natural, it occurs whenever we have loved, whenever we have allowed someone to be important and special to us.  The more we loved, the greater the grief.  Taking a sabbatical, or trying to escape grief, will only last for a while, it will eventually catch up to you; bringing you headlong into reality.  So remember, it is okay to take short breaks, to get away for a while, it will re-energize you for the task at hand and give you the strength you need to go on.  But don't try to take a permanent vacation from grief, because like any vacation, you eventually have to pay the bill, and step back into reality.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

**Notes from my Psychology of Grief class, and Prof. John C. Tormey, thanks for your insights.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Getting Away!

I was reading a friends blog, Nancy's Point and I realized that getting away can give you a chance to refresh and re-energize.  It can also be a source of anonymity; after all you are just another face in the crowd.  No one knows what is happening in your world, nor do they care.  They like you are 'getting away' leaving their world behind to take a break, much needed rest, and to forget about their worries.
I have had many opportunities to be among people who know very little or nothing at all about me.  It is really a great feeling, they have nothing to compare you to, no standard to go by, and no pre-conceived ideas about how you should act or behave.  It honestly gives you a chance to truly be who you are, no restrictions (other than avoiding anything illegal, of course), it is dreamy to say the least.  

Right after Rachel's death that is what I longed for the most.  I preferred total strangers to family and friends.  It wasn't that I did not want or appreciate their company, it was just that I wanted to feel 'normal,' to feel like everyone else, to blend in.  A place where I didn't have to explain myself, discuss my daughter's death, her funeral and everything in between.  Maybe if I blended in with everyone else, the pain would be more bearable, the hurt would somehow subside, maybe I could stop the tears, all that I now recognize as a form of denial, a way to push away the inevitable reality of my situation.  

But was that the only motivator?  No, I needed to give myself space, to find neutral ground, to find places where I could be me.  These escapes relieved me of the label that I wore around family and friends, that of being a parent who had had to bury her child, who had lost a daughter to death.  It allowed me to let down my guard, remove my mask, and breathe.  When I needed the understanding and comprehension of others, I sought out those individuals who knew me, knew my situation, and understood some of my pain.  

It is really funny how we find ways of coping, of regrouping, of moving forward.  How we look for our strength not only in our family and friends, but from the knowledge that the total stranger does not know me.  There is a stigma that surrounds death, a belief that an individual must and should act a certain way.  That a bereaved individual must refrain from certain activities, avoid public places, and be required to wear certain clothes, etc. For some people, this works for them, for me it just meant that I was being forced to conform to something I'm not.  Being with total strangers freed me from these imposed constraints.  

I am a free-thinker by nature, I like to look at everything from every angle, and I detest being pushed into something that I don't feel is right or necessary; it is like trying to put a square peg into the round hole.  So when opportunities presented themselves that allowed me to 'get away' I did.  I would find solace in knowing that I was just another person going about their business, able to just melt into my surroundings.  To quote Nancy, 'to be free.'  

 Many of you may find it difficult to get away, no time, maybe it can't be done for financial reasons, or any number of things, but you can create your own 'mini-vacation' or 'getaway.'  I like the seashore, and am very fortunate enough to live close by the ocean.  For some there are mountains and lakes, for others maybe just a park or nature preserve.  Others find that a stroll in their very backyards does the trick.  Find your special retreat place, get away to it once in a while, allow yourself to let go of all the constraints of your situation, or the restrictions placed on you by others, and to be free.  One of the comments I read on Nancy's Point was that they went out into their garden, and just planted, weeded or simply sat and looked at the flowers and plants, and that was enough to relax and renew them, to let themselves feel 'normal' again.  

 You will find your way through your grief, a way of coping with your pain, a way to being 'normal' again and a way to live.  Know that even though you know you are a very different person, that your life has changed, not everyone else does, and there is liberation in this knowledge.  A realization that you can go out again, that you can walk through the mall, sit in a theater, or just simply go out for dinner, without the pity, stares and whispers from familiar faces.  When I get the chance to take a vacation, or a business trip as I have recently done on both counts, it is great to know, that I am just another person stepping off a plane or getting out of my car in a new location.  I am someone totally new, in a new situation, with a chance to have a new start, even if it is only temporary.  

So live your life, step out once in a while, and take a break, giving yourself space.  This space will allow you to grow, to understand and to accept your situation, giving you to strength to go on, helping you find ways of dealing and coping, forming the 'new' person you are becoming.  So pack your bags, whether it be actual luggage, or your emotional baggage, and get away, find that place that lets you be you, while allowing you to be just 'another face in the crowd.'  

Blessings! and until we meet again. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Juggling, I can do that!

Anne's Beach, Keys, Florida
How quickly times passes!  I have been on vacation and even though I had my laptop with me, I could not access the Internet.  It seems the tropical breezes were not conducive to Internet connections.  I however did start typing in notes for future postings and will start getting those up on my blog.  

It was a wonderful week of warm weather, beautiful scenery and lots of family and friends.  It was a time to relax as well as take in whatever Miami had to offer.  We enjoy getting away in the dead of winter, it is a warm spot for us in what seems a dreary and unrelenting northern winter.  

As my family and I took in the familiar sights of Miami, Key West and its surroundings, I couldn't help but think of Rachel.  My brother, who was also with us, would occasionally point out a favorite spot that Rachel liked to hang out at, the Clevelander Hotel on South Beach, or that favorite beach spot in the Keys; she was on our minds.  We would spot a butterfly and immediately someone would say, 'Rachel's here,' even before the thought hit my mind.  

Most people, even those close to you, sometimes do not know the inner turmoil that can be invoked by simple memories, locations, or the mere scent of suntan lotion and miles of sandy beaches.  I don't cry outwardly, but silent tears course their way through my mind as I reminisce, as favorite spots are passed while traveling, as fond and beautiful memories bubble up.  

Rachel loved Florida, she enjoyed her trips to Miami, Tampa and the Keys, it was very easy to convince her to take a flight or road trip, and I often received a call letting me know she had done just that.  2006 was no exception, my mom was heading up north to spend some time, and wondered if anyone would like to come to Florida to accompany her on the drive north.  She would be up north for a few months and wanted to bring her car with her.  Rachel volunteered immediately and so plans were made for her and her brother to fly down to Florida and then drive back home with Vo Mary.  None of us realizing that this would be her very last trip to Florida, and in a style all her own, she fully enjoyed her time there.  So needless to say, Rachel was on my mind extensively throughout this vacation.  

In my Psychology of Grief class, we discussed how events, locations, sights, sounds and even smells can trigger memories, how they can have an effect on you, even when you least expect it.  Grief is for a lifetime, let no one tell you any differently.  It hurts so much because we loved so much.  What does begin to happen is that we find ourselves more capable of controlling our reactions, of thinking of the wonder of what they meant to us, and what was special and important to them.  Occasionally tears will roll down my face, and when the urge is too strong for me to control, I simply walk away from others, and let them flow.  This too is very normal, and I have come to learn that it is okay, and may occur totally unexpectedly, but it is because of what they meant and still mean to us, it is because we loved them then, and still love them very much now, that sometimes unbidden tears will flow.  Let them.  I do.

It will be five years in September, and I know that for most of the people around me, it was a sad event, but they have moved on, not that they have forgotten, but only that they have their own lives to live.  It can be hard for those of us who are grieving to understand, but it is the reality of loss.  Think of the last time you went to the wake of someone who died, or sent a card; yes you felt sad, you felt for that friend or relative, but you did what you could, and you really need to keep moving.  You let them know you cared, you were there when they needed your sympathy or empathy, but after all, you still have your life, your child, your parent, your spouse and all your responsibilities to deal with.  

Some people in your life will understand, and listen to you, even years later, knowing that maybe you just need a willing ear.  Others will believe that everything is passe and you should be very much over it, and moving on.  For these individuals, you put on a smile, you go about your life, and you live it as normally as you possibly can.  I find that having both of these scenarios in my life, keep me in a sort of teetering balance.  On the one hand I know I can say and react the way I want to; on the other, I have to be careful not to show too much emotion or express my feelings.  Sometimes I feel like a juggler, trying to keep all my worlds going at the same time, making sure that the right piece is in the right place to keeping it all moving, without anyone noticing the occasional slip up.  

Those individuals around you who have suffered the loss of a loved one, will understand.  Those who have lost a parent, know the pain of others in the same shoes, the same is true for those who have lost a child, a spouse, etc.  These understand, they know that there will be times and occasions that will cause you to stop, to assess, to allow the memories to fill you, they have been where you are.  I am grateful for so many people in my life, for so many who put up with my musings, with my memories, who allow me to cry, even now.  In turn, I am also grateful for those who go about their lives, who know that there is loss in life but expect people to move on; they give me the strength to but on a smile, to force myself to act accordingly, to put on a brave front.  

Thank goodness for support groups, and liked-minded people, who allow me to let my guard down, who let me express myself, who let me miss my daughter, and who remind me that it is okay.  These individuals give me a welcome reprieve from keeping up the brave front, and trust me it can be difficult to sustain at times.  They are those who like your family, see you at your best and worst, and still love you any way.  Who understand when your words and actions don't make sense to the rest of the world, who know your pain, who see through your confusion, and who lets you be in the moment, whatever that might be.  

We all will have our moments, we all will have our ups and downs, our sorrows and happiness, the comings and goings, and we will all somehow survive.  One of the most important things I have learned, is that I do not have to go this journey alone, I can and choose to find others who can and are willing to help me.  People who understand what I am going through, who have been there before me, who can help me keep 'juggling' when there is an occasional slip up.  My recommendation to you, is to find such individuals, keep them close; find support groups - especially groups who are dealing with your specific loss (be it death, divorce, or any other myriad of events that can cause grief and suffering); there are so many people out there willing to listen, willing to help.  

Be patient with those who feel that you should have completely moved on, they do not mean any harm, they just do not understand YOUR pain.  Most importantly, be good to you, cry if you need to, laugh as often as you can, and enjoy everything that your loved one means to you.  Know that even if laughter seems difficult to you at the moment, it will come in time.  You will smile, you will enjoy life's simple pleasures, and you will laugh and dance.  You will have a new rhythm, you will have learned new steps,  you will have learned to cherish the love, the memories and the joys. You will revisit favorite locations, and find the beauty in the memories, you will feel a love that goes beyond any you can ever imagine.  You will know that your loved one is with you always, just as I felt Rachel's presence on this vacation, you too will know they are with you.

Blessings! and until we meet again.